Edgar Rice Burroughs
Biographical Sketches

Edgar Rice Burroughs was an adventurer in life before he opened up new worlds of adventure with his books. A cavalryman in Arizona, a policeman in Salt Lake City, a cowboy in Idaho, and a gold miner in Oregon, he did not start to write until he was thirty-five. Then he found himself famous as the author of Tarzan of the Apes. During the first World War, Burroughs served as a Major with the Illinois Militia. The film version of Tarzan of the Apes, in 1918, was one of the first films to make more than a million dollars for its producers, and Burroughs owned stock in the film. He was one of the first authors to successfully publish his own books. At age 58, he became interested in aviation and obtained his pilot's license. After witnessing the bombing of Pearl Harbor, he became perhaps the oldest war correspondent covering the bombing of the South Pacific and was an actual participant  on at least one bombing mission. He died in 1950 in his 74th year, but his "deathless prose" lives on and has made him one of the most popular and widely read authors in the world.

Tarzan was born in the jungles of Africa, but his creator -- Edgar Rice Burroughs -- first saw the light of day in a well-to-do neighborhood of Chicago in 1875. Ed Burroughs, before writing the wildly successful Tarzan of the Apes in 1912, had lived an amazingly colorful life -- but had reaped few financial rewards. He received his education in military academies and spent time in the wild west as a cowboy, gold miner, railway policeman, stationery store owner and U.S. Cavalry trooper. He returned to Chicago to marry his childhood sweetheart Emma Centennia Hulbert in 1900 and to try his hand at a long string of largely unsuccessful business enterprises. Following the success of Tarzan, however, he turned out a torrent of imaginative novels in fantastic settings on other worlds and led his ape-man character to many more adventures across the African continent and even to the Earth's core.

In 1919, ERB bought a 550-acre estate in California's San Fernando Valley that he named Tarzana Ranch. The event that prompted this move was the block-buster success of the 1918 film, Tarzan of the Apes. Tarzana was close to Hollywood, but it also fulfilled his dream of becoming a gentleman farmer and allowed him to share his love of the outdoors with Emma and their three children.

Burroughs continued to write two novels a year, but still found the time and energy to evolve into a dynamic businessman, even subdividing some of Tarzana into city lots and a golf & country club. He became one of the first writers to form his own corporation, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc., through which he published his own books and supervised his rapidly expanding entertainment empire. The iconic Tarzan went on to set many firsts:  a long series of successful feature films and serials, newspaper adventure strips, Broadway and English stage plays, syndicated radio serials, Tarzan Clan youth clubs, advertising promotions, comic books, and a barrage of merchandising licenses. While doing all this Burroughs bought and flew his own aircraft and supported his children in careers of acting, writing, photography and painting.

In 1940, ERB and his second wife, actress Florence Gilbert, moved to Hawaii, where he witnessed the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He immediately drew upon his previous military experience and volunteered to command home guard units on the island. Major Burroughs later flew and sailed for thousands of miles to Pacific islands in his duties as a war correspondent. Following the war he spent his remaining years in poor health and died near his beloved Tarzana in 1950.

~ Bill Hillman

EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS (September 1, 1875 - March 19, 1950), was born in Chicago, fifth of six sons of businessman George Tyler Burroughs and Mary Evaline (Zieger) Burroughs. He was the youngest of four surviving brothers and attended Chicago's Brown elementary. By 1886 he rode horseback to the Harvard School at 18th and Indiana Avenue. He was taught Greek and Latin before learning English composition.

An influenza epidemic in 1891 Chicago caused ERB's parents to send him to Idaho where older brothers Harry and George, with partner Lew Sweetser, owned the Bar Y Ranch in Cassia County. The city boy loved horses and became an expert bronco buster.

That Fall he was sent to Phillips Academy at Andover, Massachusetts. Popular, ERB was elected class president but disliked the formal curriculum and ran away. ERB's father, a Union cavalry officer during the American Civil War, believed a military school might benefit his son. At Michigan Military Academy, Orchard Lake (Fall 1892), ERB's commandant was Captain Charles King, a name he later used in his novels. ERB was on the football and cavalry teams and was editor-in-chief and artist for the student newspaper The Adjutant. He remained at Michigan Military Academy after graduating in 1896 as Assistant Commandant; a Professor of Geology, Cavalry and Gatling Gun.

ERB desired entry to West Point but failed the entrance exam (14 of 118 applicants were accepted). He enlisted in the army and was assigned duty at Fort Grant, Arizona, "B" Troop, 7th Cavalry, under the command of Colonel "Bull" Sumner. ERB's duties were "digging boulevards in the desert where no boulevards were needed" and chasing Indian outlaws without strategy or success. A bout of dysentery uncovered a heart murmur which disqualified him for an army commission. ERB obtained an honorable discharge and returned to his brothers' cattle ranch in Idaho.

Ever desirous to start his own business, he bought a stationery store in Pocatello (1898). He sold it back to the original owner at year's end. Back at his brothers' ranch he decided the cattle business was not for him. In 1898 ERB returned to Chicago to work at his father's American Battery Company.

A regular salary ($15/week) encouraged ERB to marry childhood sweetheart Emma Centennia Hulbert on January 31, 1900. Her father, Alvin Hulbert, was proprietor of the Sherman and Great Northern hotels. In 1903, ERB and Emma joined brother George in Idaho to operate a gold dredge in the Stanley Basin.

ERB later joined brother Harry's gold dredging operations near Parma, Idaho (1904) in which town he was popular enough to be elected alderman; but the gold business soon failed. ERB and Emma moved to Salt Lake City, Utah where he worked as a railroad policeman rousting hoboes and drunks from freight cars. Dissatisfied, the couple sold their belongings at auction and returned to Chicago.

From 1904 to 1908 temporary jobs included time-keeper, light bulb and candy sales, peddling Stoddard's lectures, E. S. Winslow Company accountant and, at emotional nadir, volunteering to officer in the Chinese army (never happened). Early in 1908 he landed an excellent job managing the clerical department at Sears, Roebuck & Company but felt his destiny lay elsewhere. He resigned August 1908, determined to go into business for himself.

A bleak period followed. Emma's jewelry was pawned to buy food. They lived in Oak Park when Joan was born January 1908. Hulbert, their first son, arrived August 1909, by which time ERB was office manager for Physicians Co-Operative Association. The company sold "Alcola," an alleged cure for alcoholism but the Food and Drug Administration shut them down within a year.

Alcola's president, Dr. Stace, and ERB formed the Stace-Burroughs Company which sold booklets (written by ERB) on expert salesmanship. The Stace-Burroughs Company sank without a trace.

ERB formed a new agency which sold pencil sharpeners. While agents peddled product door to door he sat in a borrowed office. Killing time, ERB checked his ads running in various pulp magazines. He read some of the fiction and decided "if people are paid for writing such rot, I can write something just as rotten."

He began his first story early in 1911. It was influenced by the popular theories of astronomer Percival Lowell. The story was so improbable he signed it "Normal Bean" to signify he was not insane. ERB sent it to Thomas Newell Metcalf, editor of All-Story, where it was accepted immediately. Metcalf changed the title to "Under the Moons of Mars" and ran it in six installments February to July 1912. A copy editor, assuming an error, changed ERB's nom de plume to Norman Bean. The pun spoiled, ERB dropped the alias permanently. He received $400 for his story, a staggering sum at the time.

Metcalf sensed untapped potential and suggested ERB write a story along the lines of Arthurian legend. ERB obliged with a Gothic romance entitled "The Outlaw of Torn." All-Story rejected it (eventually sold  to Street & Smith's New Story Magazine in 1914). He had begun a third story "Tarzan of the Apes" in December 1911 and finished May 1912. Metcalf published it complete in one issue of All-Story, October 1912. ERB received $700, resulting in a decision to take up writing full time. This decision was further strengthened by the birth of a third child, John Coleman Burroughs (February 28, 1913), who would eventually illustrate twelve of his father's first editions.

During the next twelve months ERB wrote and sold eight novels.

After many rejection slips from several major publishing houses, ERB received an offer from A.C. McClurg & Company, Chicago. The company had previously rejected "Tarzan of the Apes" but the story's popularity resulted in a signed contract. ERB's first book "Tarzan of the Apes" was published June 17, 1914. It became a national best seller. McClurg published a total of 29 ERB books between 1914-1929. Most of these first editions were illustrated by J. Allen St. John, a Chicago artist now identified with the Burroughs legend.

In 1919, ERB purchased a 540-acre ranch in California's San Fernando Valley. Idyllic, ERB played at gentleman farming while solidifying a multi-million dollar industry. The ranch was named "Tarzana" and the city which sprang up around him officially took the name on December 11, 1930.

ERB routinely sold first serial rights to the pulps while retaining reprint and book rights. He was 36 when his first story was published in 1912. Eleven years later ERB incorporated himself and by 1931 decided to publish his own books to maximize earnings. ERB succeeded admirably and ERB, Inc. published 24 first editions.

In 1934, their children grown, ERB and Emma's divorce became final December 6, 1934. Four months later on April 4, 1935 he married Florence (Gilbert) Dearholt, a former actress and divorcee with two small children. They had a prenuptial agreement to part as friends if the marriage failed. They divorced after seven years on May 4, 1942. ERB remained devoted to her children the rest of his life.

ERB and son Hulbert witnessed the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941). A one-time major in the Illinois State Militia at Oak Park in 1919, ERB was finally in the right place at the right time to be of service. He became the oldest WWII war correspondent. His "Laugh It Off" column was published regularly in the Honolulu Advertiser. He visited Australia and several Pacific atolls and went on combat bombing missions with the 7th Air Force out of Kwajalein.

After the war, ERB retired to a modest home in Encino, California. He died on March 19, 1950 of a heart attack induced by a form of Parkinson's disease. His ashes were buried beneath a black walnut tree in the front yard of his corporate headquarters on Ventura Boulevard.

In the last year of his life ERB reread all of his books "to see what I had said and how I'd said it."

George T. McWhorter
ERB Memorial Collection ~ University of Louisville

A Biography from Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.
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From the day he was born, in Chicago, on September 1, 1875, until he submitted one-half a novel to All-Story Magazine in 1911, Edgar Rice Burroughs failed in nearly every enterprise he tried.

He attended half a dozen public and private schools before he finally graduated in 1895 from Michigan Military Academy, an institution Burroughs himself described as "a polite reform school."

Having failed the entrance examination to the U. S. Military Academy at West Point, he enlisted as a private in the Seventh U. S. Cavalry, for he had the notion that he might still obtain a commission as an officer if he distinguished himself in a difficult assignment. Thus, he asked to be sent to the worst post in America -- a request the authorities speedily granted.

The post was Fort Grant in the Arizona desert, and his mission, as he put it, was to "chase the Apaches." "I chased a good many Apaches," he tells us, "But fortunately for me, I never caught up with any of them."

Private Burroughs soon had his fill of Fort Grant, and after appealing to his father for help, his discharge was arranged through political friends. In 1900, he married Emma Centennia Hulbert, who dutifully followed him back and forth across America during the next eleven years.

He became a cowboy in Idaho, then a shopkeeper, a railroad policeman, a gold miner, and even an "expert accountant," although he knew nothing of the profession. Throughout this period he somehow raised money for a number of his own businesses, all of which sank without a trace.

Life was dismal for the newly-married couple. Burroughs became depressed, his wife discouraged. Perhaps to escape from the grim reality of his own life, or perhaps to amuse Emma, he would often sketch darkly humorous cartoons or write fantastic fairy tales of other worlds.

Much later, he was to confirm the fact that he wrote all his stories, particularly those of other worlds, as much for his own entertainment as for that of his readers.

"In all these years I have not learned one single rule for writing fiction. I still write as I did 30 years ago; stories which I feel would entertain me and give me mental relaxation, knowing that there are millions of people just like me who will like the same things I like. Anyway, I have great fun with my imaginings and I can appreciate  -- in a small way -- the well time God had in creating the Universe."

By 1911, Burroughs' position had become so desperate that not even his cartoons and stories could block out the frustrating fact of his successive failures. He hardly knew where to turn next, and even went so far as to apply for a commission in the Chinese Army. (The application was summarily rejected.)

Finally he reached rock bottom. He was 35 years old, without a job, without money. There was a wife and two children to support, and a third child was expected soon. He could buy food and coal only by pawning his watch and Emma's jewelry.

"Then," he tells us, "somehow I got hold of a few dollars and took an agency for the sale of a lead-pencil sharpener. I would not try to sell the sharpeners myself, but I advertised for agents and send them out. They did not sell any pencil sharpeners, but in the leisure moments, while I was waiting for them to come back to tell me that they had not sold any, I started writing UNDER THE MOONS OF MARS, my first story."

"I had no idea how to submit a story or what I could expect in payment. Had I  known anything about it at all, I would never have thought of submitting half a novel, but that is what I did. Thomas Newell Metcalf, then editor of All-Story Magazine published by The Frank A. Munsey Co. wrote me that he liked the first half of the story and if the second was as good he thought he might use it. Had he not given me this encouragement, I would never have finished the story and my writing career would have been at an end, since I was not writing because of any urge to write nor for any particular love of writing. I was writing because I had a wife and two babies, a combination which does not work well without money.

"I finished the second half of the story and got $400 for first magazine serial rights. The check was the first big event in my life. No amount of money today could possibly give me the thrill that this first $400 check gave me."

Today, that story is acclaimed by scholars as the turning point of 20th century science fiction, and new editions of it continue to be published each year throughout the world.

But, Burroughs was still a long way from becoming an established writer. His next literary effort, an historical novel set in the England of the Planagenet kings, was rejected. He nearly gave up, but his publisher would not hear of it. "Try again," he urged. "Stick with the 'damphool' stuff."

He did, and with his next novel his future was decided forever. The novel was TARZAN OF THE APES. An astounding success on its appearance in All-Story Magazine in 1912, TARZAN OF THE APES brought Edgar Rice Burroughs a mere $700, but after being rejected by practically every major book publisher in the country, it finally was printed in book form by A.C. McClurg and Co., and became a 1914 best-seller.

A torrent of novels followed; stories about Mars, Venus, Apaches, westerns, social commentaries, detective stories, tales of the Moon and of the middle of the Earth -- and more and more TARZAN books. By the time his pen was stilled, nearly 100 stories bore Edgar Rice Burroughs' name.

In 1918, TARZAN came to the screen with TARZAN OF THE APES, starring Elmo Lincoln, the first film in history to gross over one million dollars. Since then, 41 TARZAN films and 57 one-hour television episodes have been produced, each a great financial success.

Although he would joke about them, Burroughs was bitterly disappointed with the TARZAN motion pictures. Often he would not go to see them. His TARZAN was a supremely intelligent, sensitive man. His TARZAN sat in the House of Lords when not otherwise occupied in the upper terraces of the African jungle. His TARZAN was the truly civilized man -- heroic, handsome, and above all, free.

In 1919, with financial security assured, Burroughs moved to California, where he purchased the 550-acre estate of General Harrison Gray Otis, renaming it "Tarzana Ranch."

By 1923, the city of Los Angeles had completely surrounded Tarzana Ranch, and Burroughs sold a large portion of it for homesites. In 1930, a post office was established in the community, and the 300 residents held a contest to find a name for the new community. The winning entry was "Tarzana." Today, Tarzana has its own park, library, a freeway, banking facilities, bowling centers, medical buildings, country clubs and a bright future for its 35,000 residents in a relatively tranquil atmosphere.

In 1923, Edgar Rice Burroughs became one of the first authors in the world to incorporate himself. By the mid-thirties, he was "big business." Daily and Sunday comic strips appeared in over 250 newspapers all over the world; and a TARZAN radio serial thrilled its listeners across the country, with Burroughs' daughter, Joan, in the role of JANE, and her husband, James H. Pierce, as TARZAN.

Today, TARZAN television programs are syndicated to more than 200 TV stations in the U.S. and abroad. A TARZAN movie plays somewhere in almost every country of the world every day. With the contemporary emphasis on outer space, Burroughs' science fiction writings are being printed in even greater numbers.

Most importantly, he is gradually receiving the critical acclaim he was denied in his lifetime. No longer is TARZAN OF THE APES considered mere entertainment -- for TARZAN is the "Naked Ape," the tribal ancestor of Marshall McLuhan. And Burroughs' wild imaginings among the stars are no longer beneath the notice of serious men; they have become subjects for scholars and an inspiration to a new generation of writers of imaginative fiction.

He is remembered as a modest man who never took himself or anything else too seriously. His friends recall his ready sense of humor, his great love of the outdoors and his unbounded pride in his country.

In 1942 he became America's oldest war correspondent, covering stories with the Pacific Fleet for United Press. He returned home from the South Pacific only after suffering a series of heart attacks. Ironically, he was unable to find a suitable home in Tarzana, and he spent his remaining years in a modest house in nearby Encino.

It was there, on March 19th, 1950, that Edgar Rice Burroughs set down his pen for the last time.

One scholar suggests that the very last line of the very last novel may be taken as Burroughs' own unintentional valedictory to a very meaningful life:

"Thank God for everything."
~ Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.

Edgar Rice Burroughs ~ First Citizen of Tarzana
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Edgar Rice Burroughs   1875 - 1950

From the day he was born, in Chicago, on September 1, 1975, until he submitted half a novel to All-Story Magazine in 1911, Edgar Rice Burroughs failed in almost everything he tried. He attended half a dozen public and private schools before he finally graduated from Michigan Military Academy. Unable to secure a commission in any military unit including the Chinese Army, he enlisted in the Seventh U.S. Cavalry but at the time of his discharge he was still a private. A succession of eighteen different jobs and business ventures followed his marriage in 1900 to Emma Centennia Hulbert, but by 1911 he was pawning his watch to buy food for his family.

Having doodled and sketched and written poetry for amusement most of his life, ERB decided to see if the public would be as receptive to his imagination as were his friends and family. His first story, written on the backs of old letterheads from bankrupt businesses, brought him $400. Today, that story, A PRINCESS OF MARS, is acclaimed as the great turning point of twentieth century science fiction.

A historical novel followed, but was rejected. Broke again, he nearly quit. But a one-line letter from his publishers kept him going. ("For Mike's sake, don't give up!"). The next story would decide his future. It was TARZAN OF THE APES.

An astonishing success upon its appearance in All-Story Magazine in 1912, TARZAN OF THE APES brought ERB a mere $700, but after being rejected by practically every major book publisher in the country it was finally printed in book form by A. C. McClurg & Company and became 1914's best seller.

A torrent of novels followed: There were stories about Venus, about Apaches, Westerns, social commentaries, detective stories, tales of the Moon and the middle of the Earth -- and more and more TARZAN books. By the time his pen was stilled, nearly 100 books bore ERB's name.

In 1918, TARZAN came to the screen. TARZAN OF THE APES, starring Elmo Lincoln, was the first film in history to gross over a million dollars. Since then, 39 TARZAN films have been produced, each of them a great financial success. Although he liked to joke about it, ERB was bitterly disappointed with the TARZAN pictures. Often, he would not even go to see them. His TARZAN was a supremely intelligent, sensitive man. His TARZAN sat in the House of lords when not other wise ranging through the upper terraces of the African jungle. His TARZAN was the truly civilized man, heroic, beautiful -- and above all, free. The world knows well the semi-literate caricature that is Hollywood's TARZAN.

By 1919, with financial security assured, ERB moved to California, where he purchased the 550 acre estate of General Harrison Gray Otis, renaming it "Tarzana Ranch." Here, he wrote prodigiously, managed the world-wide enterprise that is now Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. and devoted his leisure time to his family and to his beloved ranch.

ERB is remembered as a modest man who never took himself or anything else too seriously. His friends recall his ready sense of humor, his great love of the outdoors and his unbounded pride in his country, which he served at every opportunity.

In 1941 he volunteered to become America's oldest war correspondent, and returned home from the South Pacific only after suffering a series of heart attacks. Ironically, he was unable to find a home in TARZANA. Instead, he spent his remaining years as a semi-invalid in a modest house on Zelzah Avenue in Encino. It was there, on March 19, 1950 that Edgar Rice Burroughs set down his pen for the last time. His ashes were carried home to TARZANA, where, according to his own wish, they repose in an unmarked grave.

It may be that ERB made his final commentary on a long and meaningful life when he wrote the very last TARZAN story: The last line was . . .

"Thank God for everything."

~ Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.

From the ERB Photo Gallery

An alternate longer bio starting at:
The ERB Bio Timeline:
The Worlds of Edgar Rice Burroughs
Tarzine: Official Monthly Webzine of ERB, Inc.
John Coleman Burroughs Tribute Site
ERBzine Weekly Webzine

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