Edgar Rice Burroughs (September 1, 1875 – March 19, 1950) was an American writer best known for his creations of the jungle hero Tarzan and the heroic Mars adventurer John Carter, although he produced works in many genres.
Burroughs was born on September 1, 1875, in Chicago, Illinois (he later lived for many years in the suburb of Oak Park), the fourth son of businessman and Civil War veteran Major George Tyler Burroughs (1833–1913) and his wife Mary Evaline (Zieger) Burroughs (1840–1920). His middle name is from his paternal grandmother, Mary Rice Burroughs (1802–c.1870). Burroughs was of almost entirely English ancestry, all of which had been in North America since the early colonial era. Through his grandmother Mary Rice, he was descended from Edmund Rice, one of the English Puritans who moved to Massachusetts in the early colonial period. He once remarked "I can trace my ancestry back to Deacon Edmund Rice." The Burroughs side of the family was also of English origins and also emigrated to Massachusetts at around the same time. Many of his ancestors fought in the American Revolution. He had other ancestors who settled in Virginia during the colonial period and he often stressed that side of the family, seeing it as more romantic and war-like.
Burroughs was educated at a number of local schools, and during the Chicago influenza epidemic in 1891, he spent a half year at his brother's ranch on the Raft River in Idaho. He then attended the Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, and then the Michigan Military Academy. Graduating in 1895, and failing the entrance exam for the United States Military Academy (West Point), he ended up as an enlisted soldier with the 7th U.S. Cavalry in Fort Grant, Arizona Territory. After being diagnosed with a heart problem and thus ineligible to serve, he was discharged in 1897.
After his discharge, Burroughs worked a number of different jobs. He drifted and worked on a ranch in Idaho. Then, Burroughs found work at his father's firm in 1899. He married his childhood sweetheart Emma Hulbert (1876-1944) in January 1900. In 1904, he left his job and worked less regularly, first in Idaho, then in Chicago.
By 1911, after seven years of low wages, he was working as a pencil-sharpener wholesaler and began to write fiction. By this time, Burroughs and Emma had two children, Joan (1908–72), who would later marry Tarzan film actor James Pierce, and Hulbert (1909–91). During this period, he had copious spare time and he began reading many pulp fiction magazines. In 1929 he recalled thinking that
...if people were paid for writing rot such as I read in some of those magazines, that I could write stories just as rotten. As a matter of fact, although I had never written a story, I knew absolutely that I could write stories just as entertaining and probably a whole lot more so than any I chanced to read in those magazines.
In 1913, Burroughs and Emma had their third and last child, John Coleman Burroughs (1913–79).
In the 1920s Burroughs became a pilot, purchasing a Security Airster S-1, and encouraged his family to learn to fly.
Burroughs divorced Emma in 1934, and in 1935 he married former actress Florence Gilbert Dearholt, the former wife of his friend, Ashton Dearholt. Burroughs adopted the Dearholts' two children. He and Florence divorced in 1942.
Burroughs was in his late 60s and was in Honolulu at the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Despite his age, he applied for and received permission to become a war correspondent, becoming one of the oldest U.S. war correspondents during World War II. This period of his life is mentioned in William Brinkley's bestselling novel Don't Go Near the Water.
After the war ended, Burroughs moved back to Encino, California, where after many health problems, he died of a heart attack on March 19, 1950, having written almost 80 novels. His ashes are buried beneath the walnut tree in the front yard of the Edgar Rice Burroughs company office building on Ventura Blvd. in Tarzana, Los Angeles County in California, US.
American actor Reid Markel is Burroughs' great-great-grandson.
The Science Fiction Hall of Fame inducted Burroughs in 2003.
Aiming his work at the pulps, Burroughs had his first story, Under the Moons of Mars, serialized by Frank Munsey in the February to July 1912 issues of The All-Story – under the name "Norman Bean" to protect his reputation.[a] Under the Moons of Mars inaugurated the Barsoom series and earned Burroughs US$400 ($9,808 today). It was first published as a book by A. C. McClurg of Chicago in 1917, entitled A Princess of Mars, after three Barsoom sequels had appeared as serials, and McClurg had published the first four serial Tarzan novels as books.
Burroughs soon took up writing full-time and by the time the run of Under the Moons of Mars had finished he had completed two novels, including Tarzan of the Apes, published from October 1912 and one of his most successful series.
Burroughs also wrote popular science fiction and fantasy stories involving Earthly adventurers transported to various planets (notably Barsoom, Burroughs's fictional name for Mars, and Amtor, his fictional name for Venus), lost islands, and into the interior of the hollow earth in his Pellucidar stories, as well as westerns and historical romances. Along with All-Story, many of his stories were published in The Argosy magazine.
Tarzan was a cultural sensation when introduced. Burroughs was determined to capitalize on Tarzan's popularity in every way possible. He planned to exploit Tarzan through several different media including a syndicated Tarzan comic strip, movies and merchandise. Experts in the field advised against this course of action, stating that the different media would just end up competing against each other. Burroughs went ahead, however, and proved the experts wrong – the public wanted Tarzan in whatever fashion he was offered. Tarzan remains one of the most successful fictional characters to this day and is a cultural icon.
In either 1915 or 1919, Burroughs purchased a large ranch north of Los Angeles, California, which he named "Tarzana." The citizens of the community that sprang up around the ranch voted to adopt that name when their community, Tarzana, California was formed in 1927. Also, the unincorporated community of Tarzan, Texas, was formally named in 1927 when the US Postal Service accepted the name, reputedly coming from the popularity of the first (silent) Tarzan of the Apes film, starring Elmo Lincoln, and an early "Tarzan" comic strip.
In 1923 Burroughs set up his own company, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc., and began printing his own books through the 1930s.
Reception and criticism
In a Paris Review interview, Ray Bradbury said of Burroughs that "Edgar Rice Burroughs never would have looked upon himself as a social mover and shaker with social obligations. But as it turns out – and I love to say it because it upsets everyone terribly – Burroughs is probably the most influential writer in the entire history of the world." Bradbury continued that "By giving romance and adventure to a whole generation of boys, Burroughs caused them to go out and decide to become special."
Few critical books have arisen concerning Burroughs. From an academic standpoint, the most helpful are Erling Holtsmark's two books: Tarzan and Tradition and Edgar Rice Burroughs; Stan Galloway's The Teenage Tarzan: A Literary Analysis of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Jungle Tales of Tarzan; and Richard Lupoff's two books: Master of Adventure: Edgar Rice Burroughs and Barsoom: Edgar Rice Burroughs and the Martian Vision. Galloway was identified by James Gunn (author) as "one of the half-dozen finest Burroughs scholars in the world"; Galloway called Holtsmark his "most important predecessor."
a. One poem by Burroughs had been published October 15, 1910, in The Chicago Tribune as "by Normal Bean" and the Tribune published two more in 1914 and 1915. "Norman" was an All-Story typesetter's presumptive correction of "Normal". He used his own name otherwise.
1. Descendants of Edmund Rice: The First Nine Generations, Edmund Rice (1638) Association, 2010.
2. "Edmund Rice Six-Generation Database Online". Edmund Rice (1638) Association.
3. Schneider, Jerry L (2004), The Ancestry of Edgar Rice Burroughs (Google Books), ERBville, ISBN 978-1-4357-4972-6
4. Tarzan Forever: The Life of Edgar Rice Burroughs the Creator of Tarzan By John Taliaferro page 15, page 27
5. Slotkin, Richard (1998). Gunfighter Nation. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 196. ISBN 0-8061-3031-8.
6. Holtsmark 1986, pp. 3–4.
7. Holtsmark 1986, p. 5.
8. Burroughs, Edgar Rice (October 27, 1929). "How I Wrote the Tarzan Stories". The Washington Post, The New York World (Sunday supplement). ERBZine.com.
9. "A Plane-Crazy America". AOPA Pilot. May 2014.
10. "Joan Burroughs".
11. Holtsmark 1986, pp. 12–13.
12. Toland, John (1970). The Rising Sun (2003 Modern Library Paperback ed.). Random House. p. 220. ISBN 0-8129-6858-1.
13. Holtsmark 1986, pp. 13–15.
14. "Burroughs, Edgar Rice". The Locus Index to SF Awards: Index of Literary Nominees. Locus Publications.
15. Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame (official website of the hall of fame to 2004), Mid American Science Fiction and Fantasy Conventions
16. Edgar Rice Burroughs at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDB).
17. "A Virtual Visit to The Nell Dismukes McWhorter Memorial Edgar Rice Burroughs Collection", ERBzine 4 (19), with photographs.
18. Robinson, Frank M, "The Story Behind the Original All-Story", American Zoetrope 4 (1)
19. Tarzana Community Profile (PDF), US: NOAA
20. Holtsmark 1986, pp. 9–10.
21. Paris Review
22. Holtsmark, Erling B. Tarzan and Tradition: Classical Myth in Popular Literature. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1981.
23. Holtsmark, Erling B. Edgar Rice Burroughs. Twayne's United States Author Series. Boston: Twayne, 1986.
24. Galloway, Stan. The Teenage Tarzan: A Literary Analysis of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Jungle Tales of Tarzan. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2010.
25. Lupoff, Richard. Master of Adventure: Edgar Rice Burroughs. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005.
26. Lupoff, Richard. Barsoom: Edgar Rice Burroughs and the Martian Vision. Baltimore: Mirage Press, 1976.
27. Gunn, James. Foreword. The Teenage Tarzan by Stan Galloway. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2010. p. 3. 28. Preface. p. 5. 29. ERBzine
Holtsmark, Erling B (1986), Edgar Rice Burroughs, Boston: Twain, ISBN 0-8057-7459-9