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Volume 6680

Beppo the Bear
Not Exactly Poetry in Motion --
But Poetry, at Least...
By John "Bridge" Martin

First Edition Cover Art by John Coleman Burroughs
John Coleman Burroughs debut: Oakdale Affair and The Rider - wrap-around DJ -  2 b/w interiors

John Coleman Burroughs didn't give away any surprises when he did the cover art for the 1937 first edition of Edgar Rice Burroughs's "The Oakdale Affair" and "The Rider." 

   The book contained two novelettes, but it is only the first one with which we are concerned in this article. "The Rider" is a wild tale of adventure in a European nation unrelated to the events in "The Oakdale Affair." 

   Coleman, son of the author, did art for several of his father's books and he knew his father's stories well. His cover showed two people with flashlights shining down a dark stairway, and one had to flip the book over to the back cover art to see that what they were staring at was the body of a man. 

   But when Ace published a paperback edition of "The Oakdale Affair" sans "The Rider" in 1974, painter Frank Frazetta had a completely different idea for what ought to go on the cover: A menacing grizzly bear with a chain around its neck. 

   It was an excellent painting and typical of Frazetta's work on other ERB novels, many of which showed ferocious beasts threatening ERB's heroic characters. Yet, the painting made some Burroughs fans unhappy. Why? Because it gave away one of the book's surprises. 

   When Bridge and his new companion, known only as the Oskaloosa kid, enter an empty house to take shelter from a storm, they are both spooked by the sound of a heavy body moving down the hallways, dragging what sounds like a chain. That would be enough to set anyone on edge in a spooky building on a stormy night, and the reader is kept guessing for awhile about just what kind of creature this might be. 

   However, before long, it is revealed that the animal is a bear, and a barely tamed bear at that. The bear, named Beppo, is just manageable enough to grudgingly go along with the direction of its keeper, a gypsy gal naed Giova. But it is always regarded as a wild animal which can revert to its savage nature at any time. 

   As someone pointed out, you can only be surprised once. And so, for those who have read The Oakdale Affair, a second reading will not quite engender the same suspense as reading it for the first time. 

   For the 2019 ECOF (Edgar Rice Burroughs Chain of Friendship), the sponsoring Chicago Muckers, a chapter of The Burroughs Bibliophiles, decided to publish a new edtion of "The Oakdale Affair," using ERB's working title of "Bridge and the Oskaloosa Kid." 

   Popular artist Joe Jusko also chose the bear as the subject of his cover. He painted a view from the back of the menacing creature as it watched a man with a flashlight coming down the stairs to the cellar. 

   So, once again the "surprise" about the bear was given away by the cover art. However, by this time, it could be assumed that just about everyone who would own a copy of this volume was familiar with the story anyway. So, keeping the bear a secret after all these years no longer seemed like an important thing to do. 

   I had that same outlook when I wrote a poem to appear at the end of the book. Kenneth Manson, one of The Muckers involved in planning the ECOF and the book, knew of my love for poetry and knew I had written several poems about ERB and his characters. I had also acquired the fan nickname of "Bridge," because the character in the book often quoted the poems of Robert Service and Henry Herbert Knibbs in his literary appearances. 

   It would made a rather boring poem if I had left out Beppo the Bear and, indeed, it would have been difficult to even write one that danced around the fact that a temperamental bruin was a key part of the latter half of the story. 

   So, in addition to Jusko's cover painting (which is also printed in black and white for the book's frontispiece), there is a third "spoiler" in the book, that being my poem. 

   However, may we assume that the words of Edgar Rice Burroughs will first enthrall readers of this work and they will already know how the story comes out before turning the page to where we find the poem. 

  And by the way, I have slipped in an additional stanza, so this poem is four lines longer than the one that appeared in the book! 

~ John "Bridge" Martin 

Bridge and the Ballad
of Beppo the Bear
By John "Bridge" Martin

Ed Burroughs wrote a tale about "The Mucker," Billy Byrne,
Who met a hobo name of Bridge while living his "Return,"
When Billy finally found true love the two took separate roads,
As Bridge continued wanderin' with poetry and odes.

Yes Bridge was fond of rhymin' lines to occupy his mind,
And they were often focused on the love he hoped he'd find.
He didn't know her name back then but in his mind he'd see
The one whom he, poetically, called sweet Penelope.

He found the name "Out There Somewhere" amidst a hobo poem,
And caught a vision of a lass who'd make her heart his home,
Somehow he thought he'd find her in the sweet and sunny south
With buds of roses in her hair and kisses on her mouth.

But when he finally came across the one who was so fair,
She wore a soft checked cap instead of flowers in her hair,
Her form was hid by clothing that a chauffeur might have worn,
And yet her essence sparkled as a sunny summer morn.

He quickly saw that essence though she’d tried to keep it hid
By dressing in the fashion of The Oskaloosa Kid.
And once she teamed with Bridge they worked in unison to thwart
The dangers posed by lewdish “fellows of the baser sort.”

And after going through a time of peril, stress and fear,
He won the right to look into her eyes and call her dear,
But that's another story, and it's one most folks have read,
As Bridge and Abigail hung onto life, though good as dead,

So after great adventures that were often hit and miss,
The story finally ended with a love-fulfilling kiss.
Though Burroughs didn't tell us all the whens and wheres and hows,
We're pretty sure that Bridge and Abigail recited vows.

And then, a merry saraband and blissful honeymoon,
Perhaps where breakers gently kiss a sandy Blue Lagoon.
And afterward more wedded bliss in, oh, let's call it Oakdale,
Where they'd sometime reflected on the past and all its travail.

And Bridge would happ'ly entertain his sweet and loving wife
With his own rhymes about the roads they'd traveled in their life.
And now we see them sitting in the garden's wicker chairs,
As Bridge reads her a poem he's written 'bout a friend of theirs:

He didn't understand us; he didn't seem to care,
But we, said Bridge, survived because of Beppo -- yes, that bear.
We'll prob'ly never really know just how there came to be
This dancing bear who entertained the townsfolk for a fee.

Its trainer was a wanderin' man who fought and killed and stole,
A fitting definition of "A Man without a Soul,"
But he was good to Giova, the daughter by his side,
And he was good to Beppo (any less was suicide).

But in this strange relationship the bear was forced to be
A simple entertainer for a paying crowd to see;
Bring on the bear, the people'd shout, so we can watch a trick,
They'd laugh and make that clapping noise as Beppo did his schtick.

Giova kept the bear content with nightly treks to town
To raid the cans of garbage that were easy to be found
Where it would scavenge sustenance to keep its hunger damped
And then she'd lead it back to where the family was encamped.

But dad was not a healthy man and subject to the fits,
Which often would possess him and becloud his very wits;
One stormy night while scavenging a vacant dwelling place,
A deadly seizure knocked him flat -- he'd run his final race.

The bear had no instructions, but 'twas something made it stay
To guard the silent body in its own primeval way.
We hid out in another room, and heard its grunts and gait,
As Beppo, in the hallways, was the master of our fate.

Giova found the both them and brought her dad's remains
Out to the woods as Beppo walked along while dragging chains.
Next day we happened on them, and we learned the truth at last,
That Beppo was a big brown bear on which our fate was cast.

Though leery of the beast our group continued on its flight
From those who sought to do us wrong, perhaps that very night.
And weary of our run we found an old abandoned mill
And slept within -- but, stealthily they came to make their kill.

At once they jumped upon us, wielding blows and kicks and blade,
But 'cross the room the bear broke loose: Charge of the fright brigade.
"That Beppo, he go mad," resounded Giova's sharp cry:
“He kill ever'one, for Beppo, he got evil-eye!”

Well, evil eye he may have had, but something made him go
Not after us but only for the ones who sought our woe.
He flattened Dirty Eddie, who was kicking me when down,
And struck Columbus Blackie when he had you on the ground.

Just who that bear'd of turned on next is now a mystery,
For cops showed up and quickly brought an end to the melee;
Two shots were fired and Beppo dropped; his end was quick and clean,
What once was terror on four legs was now ursine serene.

The roundup of the suspects was achieved efficiently,
The only sounds now heard were voices of authority.
But next to Bridge and Abigail beneath the stars above,
Giova sobbed, "He ver' bad bear...but all I have to love."

Bridge read his poem to Abigail then slipped it in his coat
And tried his best to never mind the thickness in his throat.
And life went on and both enjoyed the mem'ries they would share,
Of intrigue, love and danger, thanks to Beppo – yes, that bear.

The ERBzine Art Collage from our
ERB C.H.A.S.E.R. Bibliography Series

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For much more ERBzine info on this book by ERB:


ERBzine 7089
Kenneth Manson
Project Leader's Report
ERBzine 7090
Jess Terrell
ERBzine 7091
Laurence Dunn
Report from the UK
ERBzine 7092
Laurence Dunn

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