Since the last days of the twentieth century, nothing has been heard from...
"Well how do you like Texas?" asked John.
"I like it," came my reply. "It's kind of flat, but I like it a lot," I added with a smile.The convention was over and everyone had gone home and I too would be heading that way in a few hours. Originally I had planned to spend my last couple of days visiting New Orleans doing research for a future article on the novel Pirate Blood and find out more about Jean Lafitte, the pirate who for many years ruled the vicinity with a thousand cut-throats under his charge. But that idea changed when James Bozarth (brother of Bruce who runs the ERBlist server) told me that because of construction and heavy traffic along I-10, it would take at least 9 hours to drive each way to and from Houston. Although I would have been on the road by 6:00am, the time constraint for my return journey would have been too tight and place catching my flight home in jeopardy. So I decided not to go in the end. Instead I found other things to occupy my time which I will come to shortly.
The last time I saw and spoke to former ERB-APA member John McGuigan was at the 1996 Los Angeles Dum-Dum. It's strange how we can lose touch with friends whether they live near or far away. We each have our own lives to lead and these things happen. But what was odd about losing contact with John was that it seemed that just about everyone in the ERB fan community had lost contact with him at around the same time. Whether it was his decision to cut off ties, I do not know. Unfortunately I never got around to asking him during our 30-minute phone call.
During this summer's convention, Roy and Dela White gave me a telephone number for John's parents' address in Midland, Texas but since no one knew if they still lived there it could be of no use, but I decided to take a chance anyway. Fortune smiled on me that day and I spoke to John's father. After introducing myself (even though I had met him some thirteen years earlier), his father gave me John's number adding that John is back in Midland where he now lives with his wife Mary.
Moments later I was speaking with John for the first time in about six years. Catching up on brief moments in our lives during that intervening period, intermingled with talk of the convention that had just finished and of the new Star Wars movie it was if no time at all had lapsed.
John is hoping to attend this summer's ECOF event in Los Angeles.
It was payback time. All those flights and all that money spent travelling to and from the States had finally paid off. Not only did I now have enough air miles to make one free trip to the U.S. for the Dum-Dum held in Texas, but also enough for a second trip which I will be using to fly to Los Angeles later this year for the ECOF event. Happy days…
The last time I visited Texas was in 1989 during a 5-week tour across the States. Someone once said to me then that Houston would be a nice place when they stop building it. Any hope of that having happened quickly disappeared when our approach into the new Bush International Airport revealed it to be a huge building site as it is still in the early stages of development.
After picking up my hire car, a Mitsubishi Gallant, and with directions at my side, I headed to the south west of the city to meet Bruce Bozarth at his bookshop, The Brown Bag in Bellaire. Bruce was out on an errand at the time I arrived, but his wife Doris was looking after the store and she proved a gracious hostess while we waited for her other half. A short time later, Bruce returned to the shop and we warmly greeted one another. It was the first time I had met him face to face although we have sparred with one another via email on several occasions either on ERBlist or off. During our short time together, I found it a pleasure discussing ERB and other shared interests with a very knowledgeable person.
Prior to my visit to the States, I was contacted by Steve Wadding who was planning on visiting his parents who live in the south east corner of Houston prior to the convention. Even though I know Steve currently works for NASA, I asked him if he would like to join me in a visit to the Houston Space Centre. Despite the fact that the centre is less than a mile from his parent's house, it has been several years since he last visited the centre and welcomed the excuse to go again.
The visitor centre is just one of many buildings that make up the Mission Control Centre but is filled with exhibits and film shows that can take all day to see. While we were there, we managed to see the X-39 actually being built and will eventually become the lifeboat shuttle for the International Space Station that is still in its early stages of construction. It was intended for several of these lifeboats to be built, but cutbacks have forced the program to be cancelled although this one vehicle will see completion.
After dropping Steve off back at his parent's home, I headed back to Bellaire where I was to have dinner with Bruce and his wife, and his brother James at a Mexican restaurant. James would not be able to make it to the convention because of other commitments but I was glad to be given the chance to meet him and we had an enjoyable evening together.
Bruce is a late owl, far too late for my liking such that I had to break up this happy event for the creature comforts of a bed. Late the following morning, before Bruce had decided to rise, I headed north to College Station for the convention.
Over the years, I have stayed at most of the big chains of hotels across the United States for the various ERB conventions, but this was my first time at a Hilton. The spacious foyer, the interior fountains, the rough stone cladding and decor make an impressionable impact. The rooms however were a little more disappointing and hardly any different from any other hotel.
Almost immediately I bumped into Wayne and Edie James who I had not seen since the Los Angeles Dum-Dum in 1999. It turned out that Wayne had been making repairs to his roof when he slipped and fell breaking both arms in various places. This was his first convention since the accident and was looking forward to making up for lost time.
Following lunch at a nearby Chili's, we headed downtown and checked out the shopping mall and local book stores. We didn't expect to find any Burroughs books especially in Brad's hometown and sure enough, there wasn't.
Back at the hotel, others had begun to arrive. Jim Thompson had come down with Bob O'Malley. Jerry Spannraft had driven all the way from Chicago after picking up Mike Conran and his daughter Sara (taking time out of school for an early vacation). Arch enemies (they tell us it's all in good fun) Bob Woodley and Dennis Wilcutt arrived after apparently settling their differences on the way from Houston (you can read their own accounts of this latest in a long line of titanic struggles on Bill Hillman's ERBzine website issue 707). Bill Morse and DJ Howell had also driven all the way down to Texas (with the added costs of overnight stays on route, it would probably have been cheaper to fly). Bill Ross, John Tyner and Huck arrived with George McWhorter after joining him on the short flight from Houston. George told me that former APA member Bobbie Rucker is currently recuperating after undergoing a shoulder replacement operation. Pete Ogden was becoming increasingly concerned about Bob Hyde who was due to drive in from Houston and was long overdue. However, it turned out that Bob had not even left home after suffering a bout of bronchitis.
Our hosts Brad Vinson and his wife Patricia showed up a short time later and suggested that we all eat at the Golden Corral restaurant just across the road from our hotel. Fortunately they knew of our coming and several tables were set aside for the group of about 30 people that had descended upon them.
Bill Ross wanted to visit the nearby Half Price Books and Borders bookstores and after several others also declaring their wishes to go, we set off in two cars to downtown Bryan. Mike Conran had received an email from Elaine Casella telling him about a new book on the market called Edward of the Jungle. It is a young child's early reading book approved by ERB Inc. about a boy's dreams of being Tarzan. It is very well drawn and painted, but priced at around $17 makes it a fairly expensive addition for its only partial connection to ERB.
Upon our return to the hotel, we joined another small group of fans sat in the lobby where we began to talk about Burroughs and our book collecting. Every one of us it seems had a story to tell of how we found that little something special. By the time I decided to call it a night and headed off to my room, I discovered that my room-mates, Mike and Sara were already fast asleep as they were planning to get up early the next morning for the drive over to San Antonio to visit the Alamo. They had asked if I wanted to join them but as I had already been there back in 1989, I opted to stay at the convention with the main group.
The next morning I found Roy and Dela White setting up the registration table in the Mocking Bird rooms that would act as the huckster room for the next two days. Each attendee was given a packet containing all kinds of wonderful goodies that included amongst other things: two convention pins; a Dum-Dum bookmark; a programme of events. (As Brad is a professor of entomology, a study of insects, he chose to adorn the front and back covers of the programme with drawings from the Martian covers of Synthetic Men and Warlord as drawn by Michael Whelan. Our auction bidding card also contained an illustration of John Carter fighting a sith in Warlord of Mars taken from one of the Japanese editions); a Tarzan chocolate bar; and a fabric carrying bag for our books.
Within a short while the Huckster room tables began to sag under the weight of books, fanzines, comics and games for sale. I was able to pick the two remaining Gregg editions that I wanted to complete my set. I also found several rare fanzines that included: The ERB Digest (a one-off Australian issue); The Amtorian; The Oparian; and something fellow APA members Tom McGeehan and Mary Wild will no doubt remember, six out of their first seven issues of Normal Bean News. Originally published in the APA, it appears they made additional copies for friends. These six issues were originally sent to Joseph Rasnick in 1986 and have probably been changing hands ever since.
I had a very enjoyable time talking to Roy and Dela about their collection. Roy told me of the time when he was still a very young boy propositioning a book dealer into holding onto a stack of Burroughs books until he could pay them off at a dime or a quarter a week or whenever he had pennies in his pocket just to get them. Every now and then he would ask the dealer if he could just have a look at them until the day finally came when he had paid him in full and was able to take his prized possessions home.
At around 2:30, we were introduced to Scott Beachler who has been assigned to illustrate the opening trilogy of Mars books which will be published by Bison Books at the University of Nebraska. Scott told us how by luck and friends of friends enabled him to get noticed by Bison, which they followed up by asking him to illustrate the books. Some of the artwork and sketches we were shown are still in the early stages but it showed us how he has tried to view scenes from a different vantage point.
Early that evening, Brad and Pat led a convoy of cars to their beautiful home about a mile or so from the hotel. Inside we found one of the most outstanding collections brought together of Burroughs related artwork anywhere to be found. Where else but a museum or art gallery can you find together collections of St John and Schoonover? Yet here they were in Brad and Pat's lounge for all to see and gaze at these breath-taking pieces of artwork. Elsewhere in the house, in the hall, in the study and in Brad's collection room, we found yet more artwork adorning the walls from the wonderfully drawn Matania, to Whelan, to Frazetta. It was incredible! There was even a self-portrait of J.Allen St. John that Brad's father had commissioned many years ago. Cupboards and shelves were filled with Disney items from around the world, 16mm reels of film including the very rare complete Son of Tarzan! Books, comics, buttons, fanzines and a wide variety of other Burroughs related material on show. One can easily run out of superlatives to how best describe Brad's collection. It is to be admired and envied and Brad has every right to feel very proud with what he has achieved.
After food was served, many of us adjourned to the warm summer evening in the garden and enjoy each other's company. Two latecomers who are involved with the new 3-hour documentary titled Burroughs: Master of Fantasy arrived at the house. For more information and a 3-minute preview trailer, visit their web site: http://www.griffenfilms.com/burroughs.html
(Ed. Note: use your Internet Explorer browser for viewing)
As the evening panned out, someone suggested catching the late showing of the newly released Spiderman movie. Bidding Brad and Pat our gracious thanks for inviting us into their home, a group of eight in two cars headed over to the nearby movie complex. Personally, I enjoyed the film as it was taken almost straight from the comics (with a slight variation on the introduction of Mary Jane) and the special effects and CGI graphics blended in well. By the time we returned to the hotel it was midnight and with no night owl Burroughs fans in sight, we turned in ourselves.
One of the early birds to the Huckster room the following morning was our guest of honour and co-author of Tarzan, The Lost Adventure, Joe Lansdale. Armed with my limited hardback edition that contains the autograph of Danton Burroughs and the stamped signature of ERB, I asked Joe if he was given any additional information besides the 80+ pages of the unfinished Burroughs manuscript, notes perhaps or guidelines by ERB Inc. He replied that no restrictions were put on him or that he must leave the original intact. Joe said that the manuscript was quite obviously a first draft but that he took its contents and spread them throughout the novel. He also told me that Dark Horse had had great plans and expectations for further Tarzan novels to be written. With this in mind, Joe deliberately led the reader to believe that further adventures would take place in Pellucidar.
At one point I found George McWhorter taking in the sun beside the hotel pool. I took the opportunity to mention to him that as two board members of the Burroughs Bibliophiles had submitted their resignation, I had been approached to consider putting my own name forward. George thought it was a great idea especially as I attend all the conventions and have in the past take a keen interest in the proceedings of the board.
The schedule of events had listed an afternoon talk on the Mars series to be chaired by Huck. This was a very impromptu event and Huck had to quickly seek the help of Jim Thompson and DJ Howell to give the discussion a broader depth. Huck began by talking about the cartography of Mars. Jim Thompson followed discussing the physiology of life on Barsoom. Last but not least, DJ who just happened to be half way through reading the series decided to give her current thoughts on the books whilst fresh in her memory. All three talks provoked some very interesting discussions with the audience.
Shortly afterwards the auction was held which raised nearly $800 for the benefit of the Burroughs Bibliophiles and help George McWhorter offset some of the costs involved in producing 4 journals per year and 12 monthly newsletters.
The evening banquet was then held just down the hallway from the huckster room in the nearby Blue Bonnet Ballroom. After our dinner of chicken, roasted peppers and a mornay sauce was served, Brad took the stand and thanked everyone who had helped him and to the attendees for making the event so successful. Jerry Spannraft then spoke to give us news that the location of the permanent Burroughs display was to be relocated to a more accessible area. He also told us that a decision had finally been taken on the St. John studios and they were to be demolished.
Our guest of honour Joe Lansdale was then introduced and talked of his involvement with the Lost Adventure book. Joe made a lot of friends that evening when he told us that he grew up on reading Burroughs and it gave him a great sense of achievement of having written a novel alongside ERB, albeit 50 years apart.
George then presented Joe with the Golden Lion award, Scott Beachler received an honorary lifetime membership to the Burroughs Bibliophiles, and finally Brad Vinson received the Lifetime Achievement award.
After the customary photos were taken, most people adjourned to the main hotel lobby. Those that did not, stayed for the BB board meeting. It was during these proceedings that Jim Thompson and myself were invited to join the main board. Tracy Griffin and Bob Zeuschner were invited in their absence to join the advisory board. I feel it is a great honour to serve on the board and shall endeavour to do all that I can for the BB to continue and thrive for many years yet to come.
The farewell breakfast was held in the hotel restaurant before our final goodbyes all round. Pete Ogden and I were amongst the last to leave and as we still had some spare time, Brad and Pat Vinson took us on a tour of the University and the laboratories in particular to see his studies of insects. Finally we visited the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum where a permanent display is open to the public for the father and son Presidents.
It had been a happy return to Texas for me. For the second time in my life I was even able to spend my birthday in the United States spending it at the Houston Space Centre. Happy birthday Laurence!
WEBJED: BILL HILLMAN
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