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Volume 7355

The Role of Jews 
in ERB's Fiction
Part II
by Alan Hanson

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The Role of Jews in ERB's Fiction
Part II
by Alan Hanson

Part one of this two-part overview profiled Edgar Rice Burroughs’ two most prominent Jewish characters, Adolph Bluber in Tarzan and the Golden Lion and Moses Samuels in The Moon Maid. This concluding part will discuss Jewish characters in two other Burroughs novels and will bring in what little his biographers have revealed about his personal and professional relationships with Jews.

For some reason Jews most often found their way into ERB’s stories during the early 1920s. Both Golden Lion and Moon Maid were written in 1922. Two years later a Jewish character figured prominently in Marcia of the Doorstep, the only story that Burroughs wrote during the year 1924. Although the novel was first published in 1999, its contents, specifically its use of Jewish characters, are considered here against the backdrop of the early twenties when it was written.

Marcia of the Doorstep
Despite spending months writing the 125,000-word novel, Burroughs himself had a very low opinion of Marcia. According to Porges, ERB later explained that he had written the story at a time when he was preoccupied with financial and business dealings, and his mental attitude during that period contributed to the “rottenness” (ERB’s word) of the story. The degree to which his mental attitude at the time may have affected his characterization of Jews in the story will be addressed later.

In 1966 noted Burroughs bibliographer Henry Hardy Heins read the Marcia manuscript at the request of Hulbert Burroughs, who wanted an assessment of the unpublished novel. An abridged account of Heins’ review of Marcia appeared in ERB-dom in 1967, and the complete version appeared in The Burroughs Bulletin New Series #1 in 1990. Heins mentioned that the original manuscript contained some “uncomplimentary terms” in reference to the main Jewish character but that these had been crossed out and replaced with “softer phrases” that were racially neutral.

When it first became known a half dozen years later that Donald Grant would publish the novel, it was rumored that ERB’s original unkind references to Jews might be removed before publication. In his introduction to the book, however, Danton Burroughs explained that in the interest of authenticity these racial references had been left in the text. In 1999 Burroughs fans were finally able to read Marcia of the Doorstep and judge for themselves how ERB handled the Jewish character in the story.

Certainly the Max Heimer character, an unscrupulous Jewish lawyer who commits fraud and embezzlement for financial gain, could be viewed today as an unfair Jewish stereotype. In the dialogue, Heimer is referred to as a “nice little Jewboy” and a “dirty little kite.” In addition, the narration contains the following generalization: “Jews of Heimer’s type are always prone to surround themselves with well favored employees of the opposite sex, and each of the other four attorneys who shared the common outer office with Heimer were of his kind.” So, for those who care to find them, there are slurs and disparaging statements about Jews in Marcia of the Doorstep. However, considering Heimer is a main character, there are relatively few such expressions in the story. There is no disputing, though, that his actions make him a thoroughly dislikeable fellow.

Toward the end of the story Burroughs added another Jewish character, this one honorable, to soften the Heimer stereotype. Judge Isaac Berlanger, a high-principled lawyer of the Chase family, tells Heimer, “Yes, I’m a Jew, and I’m proud of it; but I’d put you behind the bars, where you belong, quicker than I would a Gentile, for what he might do would bring no disgrace upon my race as you and such as you have.” While the scheming Heimer is a much more prominent character in the story than Berlanger, at least Burroughs acknowledged in the closing pages that not all Jews are like Heimer, and that honorable Jews like Berlanger had a right to be proud of their heritage.

The Kosch Issue
The controversy over Burroughs’ treatment of Jews in Marcia of the Doorstep does not end there, however. In 1999, the same year Marcia was first published, John Taliaferro’s controversial Burroughs biography, Tarzan Forever, appeared. In it Taliaferro contended that Burroughs had a “personal ax” to grind when he created the Heimer character in Marcia. “While tinkering with the manuscript, he briefly considered changing Max Heimer’s name to Louis Kosch,” stated Taliaferro. “Kosch was the real-life attorney for Numa Pictures, and someone Burroughs had come to loathe. In April 1924, as he was beginning Marcia, he was also contemplating suing Numa for delinquent royalty payments on The Revenge of Tarzan and The Adventures of Tarzan.

The lawyer to whom Taliaferro referred was actually Harry G. Kosch, and Burroughs’ relations with him began six years before he started writing Marcia. In 1918 Kosch, a New York lawyer, represented Pliny P. Craft in his $100,000 lawsuit against ERB over the film rights to The Return of Tarzan. In 1919 Craft assigned his Tarzan film rights to Numa Pictures Corporation, of which Harry Kosch was secretary. Numa changed its film title to The Revenge of Tarzan over Burroughs’ repeated objections. In the fall of 1920 Burroughs again argued with Numa over its choice of Elmo Lincoln to play Tarzan.

After six years of clashing over film rights with the attorney Kosch and the people he represented, it appears Burroughs had developed a personal dislike for the man. And as ERB took pen in hand to write Marcia of the Doorstep in 1924, he clearly had Kosch’s name in mind. Porges printed a planning page on Marcia from ERB’s notebook. At the top of the Burroughs’ list of characters is written, “Louis Kosch – attorney.” Later that name was crossed out and “Max Heimer” was written above it. Porges reports that Burroughs originally wrote the entire Marcia manuscript in longhand, but the manuscript Heins saw in 1966 was typed. In his review Heins stated that in a large segment of the manuscript the lawyer’s name had been typed as “Louis Kosch” but everywhere “Kosch” appeared it had been crossed out and “Heimer” written above in ERB’s own handwriting. Heins, apparently, had no idea who Harry Kosch was or why Burroughs made the name change.

So, did ERB create the shady Jewish lawyer Max Heimer in Marcia of the Doorstep as a way of venting his rage against real-life lawyer Harry Kosch, as Taliaferro accused? It’s impossible to know exactly what was in Burroughs’ mind at the time. It’s hard to believe he actually would have let the story be printed with Kosch’s name attached to the despicable lawyer character. The connection would have been too obvious, and Burroughs surely knew that it would invite another lawsuit from Harry Kosch if the story were published. My guess is that “Louis Kosch” was simply ERB’s working name for the lawyer in Marcia. It probably gave Burroughs a pleasant feeling of revenge each time he wrote the name “Kosch” in reference to the evil Jewish lawyer in his manuscript. I suspect ERB always knew he would have to change the villain’s name before submitting the story for publication, and so “Louis Kosch” became “Max Heimer.” In the end, it was a case of Burroughs’ disgust for the actions of one particular person, and not his dislike for an entire race of people.

Putting aside this tenuous and obscure tie-in with Burroughs real life, the creation of the dastardly Jewish villain in Marcia brought the author severe criticism from his chief biographer, Irwin Porges. “In the creation of the loathsome villain Max Heimer, the basest caricature of a Jew,” Porges wrote, “Burroughs reveals his susceptibility to the racial prejudice of the times and the stereotype that resulted.

In Defense of DeMond
In his Burroughs biography, Porges also tells a little story about ERB and the “prejudice of the times” against Jews. It happened in the early twenties, the same period during which ERB was using prominent Jewish characters in his fiction. In October 1925 Burroughs received a letter from William V. Thompson of the Hollywood Athletic Club. It seems a man named Maurice DeMond had applied for membership, and Thompson wanted to know if Burroughs could shed any light on an allegation that DeMond was a Jew. The Hollywood Athletic Club did not allow Jews to become members at that time. In his letter of response, Burroughs praised DeMond highly and pointed out that he had sponsored DeMond for membership in another club, The Writers, to which DeMond was admitted after a thorough investigation into his alleged Jewishness. In his letter, Burroughs continued his defense of DeMond.

To the best of my knowledge he is not a Jew, but an American of French descent and he is an Episcopalian. Whether or not he is a Jew is immaterial to me, but even if he were, the main objection which I understand to be held against Jews in the Hollywood Athletic Club could not apply in his case as his friends, the people he might bring to the club house, are among the nicest people in Los Angeles and at such times as I have been entertained in his home I have never seen a Jew among his guests.”

The key point here is that in his personal relationship with the man it made no difference to Burroughs whether or not DeMond was a Jew. This certainly seems a progressive attitude in an era when many private clubs and organizations openly refused to let Jews become members. It underscores the supposition that Burroughs’ animosity toward the lawyer Harry Kosch was based on the man’s professional and business conduct and not his religious beliefs.

After using prominent Jewish characters in three of his novels in the early 1920s, Burroughs stopped using them in his fiction for the next seventeen years. The next, and last, story in which Burroughs used a Jewish character was I Am a Barbarian, written in 1941.

I Am a Barbarian
In his novel about the rise to power of the crazed Roman emperor Caligula, Burroughs portrayed Jews as part of the panoply of peoples who inhabited ancient Rome. “The streets were filled with that heterogeneous mass of humanity that wages its bitter, eternal struggle for existence in poverty, in squalor, in vice, in crime, in riches, or in luxury within the walls of the capital city of the world … sleek, brown, shifty-eyed Egyptians; bearded Jews; black Ethiopians …

Britannicus, a slave of Caligula’s family and narrator of the story, tells of a Jew who wielded great influence over the future emperor. “At Capri was a Jewish chief, one Herod Agrippa, a man twice the age of Caligula, into whose companionship the young prince was constantly thrown,” Britannicus explained. “I believe that many of Caligula’s excesses after he became emperor were the result of the teachings of this man who schooled him in the diabolic machinery of Asiatic despotism.” According to Britannicus, Herod’s teachings led to Caligula’s insistence on marrying his own sister and to his giving “increasing attention to young boys.” 

Unlike Bluber, Old Samuels and Heimer, Burroughs did not create the character of Herod Agrippa, who was a real figure of the first century, as were many others Burroughs included in his well researched I Am a Barbarian. Herod was a half-Jew who was raised and educated in Rome. He was a favorite of the Roman court, and as an agent of the emperor he ruled Palestine off and on from 37-44 A.D. He fell out of favor and was imprisoned by the emperor Tiberius, but when Caligula came to power he was freed from prison and in 41 A.D. was named King of Palestine. He was a persecutor of early Christians and is believed to have imprisoned Peter. Burroughs probably took some artistic license in describing the nature of his influence over Caligula, but historically it is certain Herod was a favorite of Caligula. The bottom line is that in this novel Burroughs provided a fair historical characterization of Herod Agrippa, and that effectively shields ERB from any accusations that he misrepresented this very minor Jewish character in I Am a Barbarian.

Before leaving I Am a Barbarian, an isolated comment about Jews that Britannicus voiced in the story is worth a quick look. “I am a barbarian and I am proud of it,” noted Britannicus, “but I don’t relish being called barbarian in a certain tone of voice. The Jews are that way, too. They run around bragging about being Jews; but if anyone calls them Jew, in that tone, they get mad.” There is a temptation here to suspect that this might have been a real-life irritation that Burroughs felt toward some Jews, but there is no support for that conclusion in any of ERB’s extensive letters and non-fiction articles. That being the case, it must be accepted as one of those statements about human nature that Burroughs was fond of inserting in his fiction.

What to Do With Germany
With I Am a Barbarian, which, like Marcia of the Doorstep, was not published until years after the author’s death, ERB’s use of Jewish characters in his fiction came to an end. However, four years later, as the war in Europe was winding down, Burroughs wrote an article on reorganizing post-war Germany. His plan included a prominent role for Jews, who were known to have suffered under the Nazis. As Porges explained, under the title, “What to Do With Germany,” Burroughs offered what he called a “subtle” proposal. “I would make Germany a Jewish republic,” he explained. “Under this plan Jews who thought they were getting the worst of it could move to Germany.

He admitted that not all Jews would want to do so, however, since “all Jews are not fond of Jews.” He based the conclusion on the comments of a Jewish friend, who, before the war had refused to contribute to a fund to get Jews out of Germany. Burroughs said his Jewish friend said, “… he would subscribe twice as much … just to keep the Jews in Germany … three times as much to send American Jews to Germany, and … double that if they would send his relatives to Germany.”

Burroughs admitted there was danger in his plan to give Germany to the Jews. “The Jews are a clever race,” he wrote. “That is one reason why they are disliked by less clever people. They would build up a rich and powerful nation that would need ‘living room.’ Then up pops a modern Joshua, and — bingo!” 

Of course, Burroughs never meant that such a preposterous plan be taken seriously. Again, he was playing with his belief that the foibles human nature applied equally to all groups of people. He suspected that Jews, like all ethnic and religious groups, once in power, would act in their own best interest to the detriment of other groups within their borders. 

Naturally, looking back at the horrors of the Holocaust, Burroughs’ comments in this article sound terribly insensitive. However, it must be stressed again, that ERB wrote in the context of his time. At the time he wrote the article, the extent to which the Jews had suffered under the Nazis had not been revealed to the American public. In fact, Burroughs’ article was dated April 15, 1945, just four days after American troops liberated the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany. It’s hard to imagine that Burroughs would have written so light-heartedly about the Jews in Germany had he even the slightest notion of the true extent of their suffering.

It’s time, then, for a final assessment of the subject at hand — the role of Jews in the writings of Edgar Rice Burroughs. First of all, it must be noted that in ERB’s fiction Jews play a very limited role, essentially confined to three novels during a three-year period in the early 1920s. It’s a very small footprint in a writing career that spanned 35 years and produced over 90 novels and short stories. Next, the basic numbers reveal that Burroughs at least attempted to be fair in his characterization of Jews. The cowardly, penny-pinching Adolph Bluber of Golden Lion is balanced by the gentle, self-sacrificing Moses Samuels of The Moon Maid. The cold, scheming Max Heimer is roundly condemned by the honest lawyer Isaac Berlanger in Marcia of the Doorstep

The potential problem for Burroughs’ legacy is that his caricatures of Bluber and Heimer are so extreme, so stereotypical, that they provide easy targets for those critics inclined to point the finger of bigotry. However, what the Edgar Rice Burroughs faithful should always be ready to explain when such accusations arise is that Burroughs always painted his characters in extremes of good and evil. In his stories there are very good white characters and very evil white characters. The same goes for blacks, Arabs, Americans, Europeans, men, women, Christians, and yes, Jews. In Edgar Rice Burroughs’ fictional worlds, human nature applied to all people, regardless of their nationality, skin color and religious beliefs, and he wanted to make it clear that the capacity for good and evil existed in all groups of people. In his treatment of Jews, he well may be guilty of a lack of subtlety, but an objective and balanced view of his fiction acquits him of any more serious charge.

—the end—


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From Our ERB Online Bibliography
A Collector's Hypertexted and Annotated Storehouse of Encyclopedic Resources
Tarzan and the Golden Lion
The Moon Maid
Marcia of the Doorstep
The Return of Tarzan
I Am a Barbarian

The Burroughs Bulletin New Series #1

Guide to the Alan Hanson Appearances in ERBzine

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