Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. Celebrates a Century in Publishing

John Tommasino, Cybernaut, Van Nuys Branch Library,
Edgar Rice Burroughs Incorporated logo celebrating 100 years. Author Edgar Rice Burroughs reading his book Tarzan and The Lion Man
Whether you’ve read Burroughs before or are new to the writer, here are some picks for exploring some of the Best of Burroughs

From the deepest jungles of Africa to the lost cities of Mars, from the Earth’s Core to the farthest stars in outer space, author Edgar Rice Burroughs weaved fantastic tales of heroism and adventure. In 1923, the creator of Tarzan and other characters incorporated himself, one of the first writers to do so, and founded Edgar Rice Burroughs Incorporated. A century later, the San Fernando Valley-based company is still going strong, publishing fantastic tales with larger-than-life heroes.

Burroughs (1875-1950) struggled to establish himself in his early life passing from one profession to another with no success. But the writer would break new literary ground in the pulp magazine, All-Story, where his epic, Under the Moons of Mars, was serialized and published in 1912. The story introduced readers to swordsman John Carter and the beautiful Martian Princess Dejah Thoris and their adventures among the warring tribes of Mars. The tale is the first of the "Sword and Planet" genre and the first space romance.

All Story magazine would also publish the most famous Burroughs novel, Tarzan of the Apes in 1912. The story of an orphaned English Lord raised by primitive apes had been rejected by virtually every major book publisher of the era before it was finally published by A.C. McClurg and Company. The book became a best seller in 1914 and was adapted to film in 1918 with Elmo Lincoln in the role of Tarzan. The film Tarzan of the Apes was one of the first movies in history to gross over one million dollars at the box office and Tarzan would become one of the most recognized fictional heroes in the world.

This blogger caught up with Jim Sullos, President of Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc, who talked about the company’s past and present.

For the casual observer, Edgar Rice Burroughs is known as the creator of Tarzan. But the writer was a ground-breaking visionary not just with Tarzan but with science fiction stories as well. Can you explain the impact Burroughs had on American Literature?

Edgar Rice Burroughs (ERB) is referred to as The Master Adventure, and it is an apt description. His imagination, when transferred to the written word, created new visions never before encountered. In his early years of writing, beginning in 1911, he introduced interplanetary travel, adventure, and romance. He created adventures on the moon and in the hollow interior of the Earth, which led to various Hollywood movies. He traveled to Venus and new planets beyond the farthest star unbeknownst before. He created changes in gravity from one planet to another, leading to the superpowers of humans. That is one reason why Superman had to come from another planet. ERB paved the way for Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster to create Superman with special powers in 1938. He populated lost islands with numerous tribes and strange beasts of an earlier era. His imagination and his ability to describe it all in exciting detail are why his books outsold all the other great writers of his era put together. He wrote to entertain, and the readers responded. He is known as the Grandfather of Science Fiction because he basically developed a whole new genre in American literature.

Tarzan was one of the first characters to become a household word in the United States and abroad from multiple media. Do you think the popularity of Tarzan paved the way for the current wave of superhero films that are so popular these days?

Tarzan of the Apes was the first superhero and the first star of comic books, comic strips, and even motion pictures. He became the model for merchandise sales and radio programs, and later, television. He set a clear path for future superheroes to follow.

The many worlds of Edgar Rice Burroughs—Mars, Venus, and Pellucidar—really transported the reader to a different place. The writer had a truly vivid imagination and the ability to create these worlds in his prose. How did Burroughs' world-building imagination work?

Edgar Rice Burroughs was one of the great pioneers of modern Science Fiction, being one of the first writers to consistently popularize extrapolations of the then-current science of the early Twentieth Century. He was also one of the first to explore essentially alien beings and their psychology and this was possibly his most lasting impact on science fiction. His soaring imagination was combined with the sure instinct of a master storyteller. As such, per a quote from George T. McWhorter, Curator of Burroughs Memorial Collection, “He predicted the invention of radar, sonar, television, teletype, the radio compass, the automatic pilot, homing devices on bombs and torpedoes, genetic cloning, living organ transplants, antigravity propulsion, and many other concepts deemed totally fantastic in his time.” Edgar Rice Burroughs used a clipping service to gather appropriate articles related to his interest list. He wrote in notebooks, often drawing maps, created new languages, and sketched characters that would come to life in his stories.

Burroughs was honored this year with a Star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars. Can you describe what this honor means?

The Palm Springs Walk of Stars consists of celebrities who, at some point in their careers, lived in the city or visited regularly. Edgar Rice Burroughs lived in Palm Springs in 1935-36, where he regularly visited the Racquet Club. It is an honor for him to be recognized as an author worthy of celebrity status. The corporation he established 100 years ago in 1923, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc., has for ten years straight applied for a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Only one posthumous Star is awarded annually, and so far, ERB has not been selected. Possibly, the star in Palm Springs will assist in his future selection in Hollywood.

The community of Tarzana initially sprung from the Burroughs Ranch and is named after Tarzan. What other impact did Burroughs have on the history of the San Fernando Valley?

After the resounding success of the first Tarzan of the Apes movie, Edgar Rice Burroughs moved his family in 1919 to San Fernando Valley and purchased a 540-acre ranch from the estate of Harrison Gray Otis, founder and longtime editor of the Los Angeles Times. He named his ranch the Tarzana Ranch. Within 4 years, Los Angeles had grown all around his ranch. He then subdivided 100 acres of his property which were called the Tarzana Tract which became the neighborhoods that still exist today. Soon after, a post office was established, and it was called Tarzana Post Office. By 1930 the residents of the area were polled on what to call the area. They chose Tarzana as their favored name, and it has been called that ever since. A large part of his former ranch is now part of the El Caballero Country Club, where ERB had Membership Card No. 1. He also hosted in his new office, built in 1927 on Ventura Blvd., the formative meeting that created the Tarzana Chamber of Commerce.

What new projects are in the works at ERB, Inc.?

In movies/TV, we have option agreements for a Tarzan live-action film with Columbia Pictures, a Tarzan TV animation series with a UK Production Company, a John Carter TV animation series with a TV cable company, and a Carson of Venus live-action film with an LA Production Company. In publishing, we are continuing to reproduce all 80 of his original books with new artwork and archival material never before seen in our ERB Authorized Library series, a canonical series in our ERB Universe books tying all his universes together, and our Wild Adventures of ERB books featuring alternate universes. We have entered multiple merchandising licenses; be sure to pay the Tarzan slots at your favorite casino. And we will have a booth at the Licensing Expo in June in Las Vegas, seeking more license agreements.

Whether you’ve read Burroughs before or are new to the writer, here are this blogger’s picks for exploring some of the Best of Burroughs.

Recommended Reading

Book cover for Tarzan of the Apes
Tarzan of the Apes
Burroughs, Edgar Rice

From lost, orphaned child to Lord of the Apes, read the Burroughs tale that started it all. This groundbreaking novel set in Africa inspired adaptations in virtually every media format and 23 sequels penned by the master of adventure, Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Book cover for A Princess of Mars
A Princess of Mars
Burroughs, Edgar Rice

A page turner from start to finish, follow Civil War veteran John Carter after he is miraculously transported to the world of Barsoom, or Mars. Meet the warlike green-skinned warrior Tharks and begin exploring Burroughs vast science fiction landscape.

Book cover for Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar
Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar
Burroughs, Edgar Rice

Tarzan loses his memory and must contend with the beautiful but evil Priestess La, servant of the Flaming God of Opar, a lost colony of Atlantis. One of most memorable of the Burroughs Tarzan sequels.

Book cover for The Legend of Tarzan
The Legend of Tarzan

This 2016 film features Alexander Skarsgard and Margot Robbie as Tarzan and Jane. This original story also tells the hero’s origin in flashback sequences. Filled with spectacular action sequences, the film captures the spirit of Burrough's early Tarzan stories. Also starring Samuel L. Jackson and Christoph Walz.

Book cover for I Am a Barbarian
I Am a Barbarian
Burroughs, Edgar Rice

This historical fiction novel follows Britannicus, who is the slave of the mad Roman Emperor Caligula. Although this novel was not published until after the author’s death, it is a compelling historical epic and a thrilling read.

Book cover for The Land That Time Forgot
The Land That Time Forgot
Burroughs, Edgar Rice

A naval crew travels to the lost world of Caprona, the hidden and impregnable island populated by dinosaurs and cavemen. This novel showcases the imagination of Burroughs at its best.