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Volume 7182

Part Two: You’ve Come a Long Way, Lady Barbara
by Alan Hanson

 Smoking in ERB’s Fiction II
by Alan Hanson
Shallow, insubstantial stereotypes, with quivering lower lips and heaving bosoms. Naïve, teary-eyed ingénues who crumble in the clinch and seek the protecting arms of men. “He was a product of his time,” is Edgar Rice Burroughs’ best defense when critics point to his weak portrayals of female characters. ERB himself would have contended, no doubt, that he was misunderstood, and his defenders can point to a number of strong, independent heroines that he created. Here, though, the focus is on how he dealt with one controversial aspect of female behavior — smoking. During the first half of the 20th century, society looked with quiet disapproval at best at women who smoked. As Burroughs wrote during those years, did he follow the conservative line, or did he allow his female characters the right to light up without shame? The evidence is mixed, and interesting.

For starters, a reading of all ERB’s published stories turns up a list of 97 characters who are seen smoking cigarette, cigar, or pipe. Of that 97, only 9 are women, and although it can be argued that ERB created many more male characters than female ones, a nine-to-one ratio is still quite disproportionate. The fact that Burroughs’ women rarely smoked might indicate that he believed that they shouldn’t. However, it is too early to reach such a conclusion. Judgment must wait a closer book at the nine women who smoked in ERB’s stories.

It is certainly a diverse group of women playing a wide range of roles. For the record, the nine Burroughs female smokers are Little Eva in The Efficiency Expert, Genevive Glassock in Beware!, Lady Barbara Collis in Tarzan Triumphant, Tille in The Rider, Gaza de Lure in The Girl From Hollywood, Annie Foley in The War Chief, Daisy Juke in Pirate Blood, and Naomi Madison and Balza in Tarzan and the Lion Man.

Since Annie Foley and Tillie, both of whom are pipe-smoking caricatures who appear only briefly in their respective stories, they merit only a brief look. ERB admitted Annie Foley had little to do with the story in The War Chief. Her chief purpose was having brought Andy MacDuff into the world, and then, along with Jerry MacDuff, having transported the baby by wagon from Missouri to a point in New Mexico along the Rio Grande. There, as their mules shuffled through the dust, Jerry stuffed a plug inside his cheek and Annie relit her pipe. A moment later they both were dead, and their son became an Apache. Burroughs described Annie as “ignorant, illiterate, unwashed.” Tille was an equally earthy woman to be found at Peter’s Inn in the hills of the kingdom of Karlova. There, “in the smoke begrimed kitchen adjoining the bar, Peter’s frowzy fraw broiled with her steaks before a glowing grill. From the pipe between her toothless gums to the dirt upon her bare feet she was all athrob with the ecstasy of a true artist.” Both Tillie and Annie Foley were obviously outside the mainstream of civilized society, and so can give no insight into ERB’s attitude about women who smoke. Therefore, let us leave them as we found them, as characters fashioned to create atmosphere in their respective stories.

The High Society Nonconformist
Let’s move on to Genevive Glassock, who surely was a certified member of society, American high society, in fact. In Beware! Genevive appears as a visitor at the townhouse of Mason Thorn. The daughter of Mrs. Peabody Glassock (you know, of the Philadelphia Glassocks), Genevive is described as tall, blonde and openly flirtish. In response to her mother’s admonition, “I wish you would cease smoking occasionally, Genevive,” Miss Glassock strolled over to handsome hero Macklin Donovan and, petting his arm, purringly asked, “Do you think I smoke too much, Mackie?” That caused Mrs. Glassock to lament about her defiant daughter, “Oh, those children! It doesn’t make any difference what I think, or what anyone else thinks.” Genevive’s smoking is portrayed by ERB as a daughter’s reaction to a possessive parent. It speaks more to Burroughs attitude about defiant youths than it does to his attitude about women smoking. For insights into that latter attitude, then, we move on.

Nervous Actresses, an Innocent Girl, and Two Lost Souls
Like many smokers, both male and female, Naomi Madison had a fidgety nature. “No one knows what we artistes suffer, with our high-strung, nervous organizations,” she told Rhonda Terry as the two actresses rode in the back seat of a muddy touring car. Of course, Naomi was out of her element. In Hollywood she was great in “cabaret scenes and flaming youth pictures,” but there in the African bush, three months out of Hollywood, Naomi was a wimp. The first time the Bansutos attacked with their poisoned arrows, Naomi fainted. Later she needed a smoke to calm her crumbling nerves. “Naomi Madison sat down beside him (director Tom Orman) and lighted a cigarette. She darted fearful glances into the forest around them and across the river into the still more mysterious wood beyond.” Naomi was a coward, starkly in opposition to her understudy Rhonda Terry, who was steady as a rock throughout the film company’s terrible ordeal in Africa. The fact the Naomi smoked and Rhonda didn’t is an indication, however slight at this point, that Burroughs identified the smoking habit as an undesirable character trait.

This weakness of character is shared by four of the other Burroughs women smokers. Before taking note of what these four have in common, let’s take a quick look at each woman and the circumstances surrounding her smoking, as shown by ERB.

When Tarzan visited Hollywood in 1932, he arrived on the same train as Balza, “the most beautiful and most popular little lady in motion pictures.” Things had changed quickly for “the glorious Balza.” When Tarzan first found her in Africa a year before, she was a wild-girl, gibbering and snarling like the beasts with which she was living. As he left her with the motion picture safari, Tarzan told her, “Balza, go with these shes. Do as they tell you. They will cover your beautiful body with uncomfortable clothing, but you will have to wear it. In a month you will be smoking cigarettes and drinking high balls; then you will be civilized.” Tarzan was wrong. Just two weeks later, he stood on an eminence and watched the motion picture caravan heading back toward civilization “In command of the rear guard walked (assistant director) Pat O’Grady. At his side was Balza. Each had an arm about the other, and Balza puffed on a cigarette.”

Not all would-be actresses found the glamour and fame that Naomi Madison and Balza did. Consider the following scene. “Five minutes later the door opens again, and the woman comes back into the living room. She is humming a gay little tune. Stopping at the table, she takes a cigarette from a carved wooden box and lights it.” On the surface, the picture is pleasant and innocent enough. However, the women mentioned was Gaza de Lure, who had just emerged from the bathroom after taking a hit of morphine. In Hollywood smoking was an integral part of the habitual, dope-filled life of Gaza de Lure. “The smoke from a half burned cigarette lying on the ebony case was rising in a thin, indolent column above the masses of her black hair.” Naturally, Gaza’s drug habit overshadowed her smoking habit, but the cigarettes added to and helped complete the image of a woman who had forfeited all right to respectability.

Little Eva was equally lacking in respectability, but her weakness was not drugs. Into Chicago’s Feinheimer’s Caberet every afternoon at 4 o’clock came Little Eva for breakfast. Later each evening she would return with an escort, though never the same one. In his job as a waiter, Jimmy Torrance would see her there twice a day. Once over breakfast, Little Eva asked, I wonder what’s the matter with me? I’m getting awfully nervous.” Jimmy responded, “I would think anyone who smoked as many cigarettes and drank as much whiskey as you would have perfect nerves.” Despite all of her bad habits, Jimmy treated Little Eva just as he would a “decent woman,” and that both surprised and pleased Eva.

Daisy Juke was used to the respectable kind of male attention. She was the daughter of “old man Juke,” an inept California farmer. In spite of that, high school star athletes Frank Adams and Johnny Lafitte were both in love with her. They were all going to college together, when, during their senior year, oil was discovered on the Juke farm. Johnny was left out of the Glenora oil boom and, drifting away from Daisy, became a policeman. When he next saw Daisy, she was quite changed, both in status and behavior. One day he pulled over a speeding car and found the driver was Daisy Juke. When she recognized Johnny, she laughed and lighted a cigarette. “I’m awful sorry, Johnny,” she said. “It’s new and I wanted to see what it would do.” The new expensive car, the smoking and the liquor on her breath all served in that encounter to repulse Johnny from the girl he once loved. They parted then, only to meet later in the novel under far different circumstances.

Balza, Gaza de Lure, Little Eva, Daisy Juke — as smokers, they all had two things in common. First, with each of them the smoking habit was found in the company of other degenerating habits. Gaza was a drug addict; Little Eva was a prostitute and a whiskey drinker; Daisy Juke had liquor on her breath; and while Balza is never seen drinking, Tarzan’s comment to her makes it obvious that smoking and high balls go hand-in-hand. With these four women, Burroughs created a scenario of disrespectability, of which smoking was a sign. Second, each of the four women had an altar ego. Gaza, as Shannon Burke, regained her health and self-esteem in the rugged, active atmosphere of the Pennington ranch. Little Eva took back her real name, Edith Hudson, along with her respectability, when she gave up her nighttime work and got a job as a stenographer at the International Machine Company. Balza, the wild-girl, gave up her innocence to become Balza, the glorious actress. Daisy Juke, the high school sweetheart, had a terrible fall. She lost all self-respect, and, as the Queen of Diamonds, took her own life in the South Seas. It is important to note that in each case, the respectable alter ego did not smoke. Gaza de Lure and Little Eva often smoked, but Shannon Burke and Edith Hudson never did. Likewise, Balza and Daisy Juke never smoked until fame and riches stripped them of their innocence.

From a look at how he portrayed his characters, then, the preponderance of evidence seems to indicate that Burroughs disapproved of women smoking. Very few of his female characters were allowed to smoke, and the majority of those who did were women of weak character. Furthermore, when ERB gave respectability to one of these women, he took away her smoking habit at the same time. Perhaps Burroughs’ attitude about women smoking was best voiced by one of his male characters. And who could be more objective than the ice-man, Jimber-Jaw, who took a look at 20th century civilization from an unspoiled, primitive point of view. “O what good is a mate in your country,” Jimber-Jaw asked. “They are no different from men. The men smoke; the women smoke. The men drink; the women drink.”

Hail Lady Barbara!
There is a postscript, however, to ERB’s smoking women. There is one more who broke away from the pattern Burroughs followed with his other female smoker characters. Lady Barbara Collis’ father cautioned his English aviatrix daughter not to attempt the solo, non-stop flight from Cairo to the Cape in 1930. When her fuel tank dried up, forcing her to bail out high over an Africa mountain range, she floated to earth with a gold cigarette case in her jacket. Its contents served her well later in the land of Midian. Unsure how to react among the children of Abraham, Lady Barbara took a cigarette from her case and lit it up. Of course, Abraham, the son of Abraham, was impressed. “What miracle is this?” he asked. “Out of his nostrils goeth smoke’ is said of the behemoth of holy writ. What can be the meaning of this?” For a time Lady Barbara’s cigarettes and Abraham’s ignorance combined to provide her some safety among those religious fanatics.

Lady Barbara is unique among ERB’s smoking women because not only is she respectable, but also she is a member of a small group of fiercely independent Burroughs heroines. Her sisters in the group include Diana Henders in The Bandit of Hell’s Bend, Victoria Custer in The Eternal Lover, Lady Greystoke in Tarzan’s Quest, and Patricia Canby (a.k.a. Bertha Kircher) in Tarzan the Untamed. ERB not doubt admired this kind of woman, the kind willing to go one-on-one with men on their own turf. In spite of that, of them all Burroughs allowed only one “respectable” woman to smoke. On that basis, then, it could be concluded that Lady Barbara Collis is the only true liberated woman in the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

— The End —



From Our ERB Online Bibliography
A Collector's Hypertexted and Annotated Storehouse of Encyclopedic Resources
The Efficiency Expert
Tarzan Triumphant
The Rider
The Girl From Hollywood
War Chief
Pirate Blood
Tarzan and the Lion Man
The Eternal Lover
Tarzan's Quest
The Bandit of Hell’s Bend
Tarzan the Untamed 

Guide to the Alan Hanson Appearances in ERBzine

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