A Review

The Low Brow And The High Brow

An In Depth Study Of Edgar Rice Burroughs’

The Mucker And Marcia Of The Doortstep

by

R.E. Prindle

Part II

Background Of The Second Decade- Personal

 

     Erwin Porges’ ground breaking biography Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Man Who Invented Tarzan is the basic source for the course of ERB’s life.  John Taliaferro’s Tarzan Forever is heavily indebted to Porges adding little new.  Robert Fenton’s excellent The Big Swinger is a brilliant extrapolation of Burroughs’ life taken from the evidence of the Tarzan series.

     Porges, the first to pore though the unorganized Tarzana archives, is limited by the inadequacies of his method and his deference for his subject.  His is an ideal Burroughs rather than a flesh and blood one.  Matt Cohen’s Brother Men: The Correspondene Of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Herbert T. Weston has provided much fresh material concerning ERB’s character.

     Bearing in mind always that Weston’s evaluation of Burroughs in his August 1934 letter in reply to Charles Rosenberg, whoever he was, about ERB’s divorce is one man’s opinion nevertheless his statements can be corroborated by ERB’s behavior over this decade as well as throughout his life.  My intent is not to diminish ERB in any way.  Nothing can take away the fact that Burroughs created Tarezan, but like anyone else he was subjected to glacial pressures that distorted and metamorphosed his character.

     During the Second Decade as he experienced a realization of who he was, or who he had always thought he should be, or in other words as he evolved back from a pauper to a prince, he was subjected to excruciatingly difficult changes.

     A key to his character in this period is his relationship to his marriage.  It seems clear that he probably would never have married, stringing Emma along until she entered spinsterhood while never marrying her.  He seemingly married her to keep her away from Frank Martin.  As he later said of Tarzan, the ape man should never have married.

     Rosenberg in his letter to Weston (p.234, Brother Men) said that ‘…Ed says he has always wanted to get rid of Emma….’  The evidence seems to indicate this.  After ERB lost Emma’s confidence in Idaho, gambling away the couple’s only financial resources, his marriage must have become extremely abhorrent to him.  I’m sure that after the humiliations of Salt Lake City this marriage had ended for him in his mind.  That it was his own fault changes nothing.  He may simply have transferred his self-loathing to Emma.

     That Emma loved and stood by Burroughs is evident.  that he was unable to regain her confidence is clear from his writing.  The final Tarzan novels of the decade in one of which, Tarzan The Untamed, Burroughs burns Jane into a charred mess identifiable only by her jewelry show a developing breach.  Probably the jewelry was that which ERB hocked as the first decade of the century turned.  Now, this is a fairly violent reaction.

     ERB states that he walked out on Emma several times over the years.  In Fenton’s extrapolation of Burroughs’ life from his Tarzan novels this period was undoubtedly one of those times.  There seems to have been a reconciliation attempt between Tarzan and Jane between Tarzan The Untamed and Tarzan The Terrible.  Then between Tarzan And The Golden Lion and Tarzan And The Ant Men ERB’s attempt to regain Emma’s confidence seems to have failed as Jane chooses the clown Tarzan- Esteban Miranda-, one of my favorite characters- over the heroic Tarzan -ERB – in Tarzan And The Ant Men.

     This undoubtedly began ERB’s search for a Flapper wife which took form in the person of Florence Gilbert beginning in 1927.

b.

     Weston says of ERB in his disappointment and rage over ERB’s divorce of Emma that ‘…the fact that Ed always has been unusual, erratic and perhaps queer, has been his great charm and attraction for me…’ (p.223, Brother Men)   There’s a remote possibility that ‘queer’ may mean homosexual but I suppose he means ‘odd’ or imcomprehensible in his actions.  The evidence for this aspect of ERB’s character is overwhelming while being well evidenced by his strange, spectacular and wonderful antics during the second decade.  When Weston says of him that ‘…there is no woman on earth that would have lived with him, and put up with him, except Emma…’ there is plenty of reason to accept Weston’s opinion.

     Part of ERB’s glacial overburden came from his father, George T. who died on February 13, 1913.  Burroughs always professed great love for his father, celebrating his birthday every year of his life, although one wonders why.

     Apparently George T. broadcast to the world that he thought ERB was ‘no good.’  His opinion could have been no secret to Burroughs.  Weston who says that he always maintained cordial relations with George T., still thought him a difficult man, always dropping  in to visit him on trips through Chicago said that George T. complained to him, ERB’s best friend, that his son was no good. While without disagreeing with George T. up to that point, Weston said that he thought there was plenty of good in ERB but that he just hadn’t shown it yet.  Kind of a back handed compliment, reminds me of Clarence Darrow’s defense of Big Bill Haywood:  Yeah, he did it, but who wouldn’t?’

     Such an opinion held by one’s father is sure to have a scarring effect on one’s character.  How exactly the effect of this scarring worked itself out during this decade isn’t clear to me.  Perhaps Burroughs’ mid year flight to California shortly after his father’s death was ERB’s attempt to escape his father’s influence.  Perhaps his 1916 flight was the same while his move to California in 1919 was the culmination of his distancing himself from his father.  That is mere conjecture at this point.

     Now, what appears erratic from outside follows an inner logic in the subject’s mind unifying his actions.  What’s important to the subject is not what obsevers think should be important.

c.

     The scholars of the Burroughs Bulletin, ERBzine and ERBList have also added much with additional niggardly releases of material by Danton Burroughs at the Tarzana archives.  One of the more valuable additions to our knowledge has been Bill Hillman’s monumental compilation of the books in ERB’s library.

     Let’s take a look at the library.  It was important to ERB; a key to his identity.  Books do furnish a mind, as has been said, so in that light in examining his library we examine the furnishing  of his mind.  The shelves formed an important backdrop to his office with his desk squarely in front of the shelves.  ERB is seated proudly at the desk with his books behind him.

     How much of the library survived and how much was lost isn’t known at this time.  Hillman lists over a thousand titles.  Not that many, really.  The library seems to be a working library.  There are no the long rows of matching sets by standard authors.  The evidence is that Burroughs actually read each and every one of these books.  They found their way into the pages of his books in one fictionalized form or another.  Oddly authors who we know influenced him greatly like London, Wells, Haggard and Doyle are not represented.

     Most of the works of these authors were released before 1911 when Burroughs was short of the ready.  Unless those books were lost he never filled in his favorites of those years.  That strikes me as a little odd.

     It is generally assumed that he picked up his Martian information from Lowell, yet in Skelton Men Of Jupiter he says:  ‘…I believed with Flammarion that Mars was habitable and inhabited; then a newer and more reputable school of scientists convinced me it was neither….’  The statement shows that Camille Flammarion’s nineteenth century book was the basis for Burroughs’ vision of Mars while Lowell was not.  Further having committed himself to Flammarion’s vision he was compelled to stick to it after he had been convinced otherwise.  When that understanding was obtained by him we don’t know but at sometime he realized that the early Martian stories were based on a false premiss.

     Thus, his Mars became a true fiction when his restless, searching mind was compelled by judicious reasoning of new material to alter his opinion.  That he could change his mind so late in life is an important fact.  It means that behind his fantasy was a knowledge of solid current fact.  The results of his pen came from a superior mind.  It was not the maundering of an illiterate but amusing boob.

     Organizing the books of his library into a coherent pattern is difficult.  I haven’t and I Imagine few if any have read all his list.  Based on my preliminary examination certain patterns can be found.  He appeared to follow the Chicago novel by whomever, Edna Ferber’s So Big is a case in point.  Seemingly unrelated titles can be grouped aorund certain Burroughs’ titles as infuences.

     In 1924 when Marcia Of The Doorstep was written ERB had already formed his intention of leaving, or getting rid, of Emma.  He began a fascination with Flappers that would result in his liaison with Florence.

     After the move to Hollywood in 1919 a number of sex and Flapper potboilers find their way into his library.  The tenor of literature changed greatly after the War showing a sexual explicitness that was not there prior to the Big Event.  To be sure the graphic descriptions of the sex act current in contemporary literature was not permissible but the yearning to do so was certainly there.  Language was retrained but ‘damn’ began to replace ‘d–n’ and a daring goddamn became less a rarity.

     Perhaps the vanguard of the change came in 1919 when an event of great literary and cultural import took place.  Bernarr Macfadden whose health and fitness regimes had very likely  influenced Burroughs during the first couple decades decided to publish a magazine called “True Story.”  The magazine was the forerunner of the Romance pulp genre while certainly being in the van of what would become the Romance genre of current literature.

     The advance was definitely low brow, not to say vulgar, indicating the direction of subsequent societal development including the lifting of pornographic censorship.  Pornography followed from “True Store” as night follows day.

     The magazine coincided with the emergence of the Flapper as the feminine ideal of the twenties.  In literature this was abetted by the emergence in literary fiction of F. Scott Fitzgerald.  His Beautiful And Damned is a key volume in Burroughs’ library forming an essential part of Marcia.  To my taste Fitzgerald is little more than a high quality pulp writer like Burroughs.  I can’t see the fuss about him.  He riminds me of Charles Jackson’s The Lost Weekend and vice versa.  In fact, I think Jackson mined the Beautiful And  Damned.  Plagiarize would be too strong a word.

     “True Story” caught on like a flash.  By 1923 the magazine was selling 300,000 copies an issue; by 1926, 2,000,000.  Low brow was on the way in.  Vulgarity wouldn’t be too strong a word.  Macfadden had added titles such as “True Romances” and “Dream World” to his stable.  His magazine sales pushed him far ahead of the previous leader, Hearst Publications, and other publishers.  Pulpdom had arrived in a big way.

     Where Macfadden rushed in others were sure to follow.  The sex thriller, the stories of willful and wayward women, which weren’t possible before, became a staple of the twenties in both books and movies.

     ERB’s own The Girl From Hollywood  published in magazine form in 1922, book form in 1923, might be considered his attempt at entering the genre.  Perhaps if he had thrown in a few Flapper references and changed the appearance and character of his female leads he mgiht have created a seamless transition from the nineteenth century to the twenties.  A few Flapper terms might have boomed his ales much as when Carl Perkins subsititued ‘Go, cat, go’ for go, man, go’ in his Blue Suede Shoes and made sonversts of all us fifties types.

     Certainly ERB’s library shows a decided interest in the genre from 1920 to 1930.  Whether the interest was purely professional, an attempt to keep up with times, or personal in the sense of his unhappiness in his marriage may be open to question.  I would have to reread his production of these years with the New Woman in mind to seek a balance.

     Still, during the period that led up to his affair with Forence ERB seems to have been an avid reader of Flapper and New Woman novels.

     He had a number of novels by Elinor Glyn who was the model of the early sex romance.  He had a copy of E.M. Hull’s The Sheik, that shortly became the movie starring Rudolph Valentine with its passionate sex scenes.  A ‘Sheik’ became the male synonym for Elinor Glyn’s ‘It’ girl.

     Of course, the influence of Warner Fabian’s Flaming youth of 1923, both book and movie, on ERB is quite obvious.

      Just prior to this relationship with Florence he read a number of novels by Beatrice Burton with such sexy titles as The Flapper wife-The Story Of A Jazz Bride, Footloose, Her Man, Love Bound  and Easy published from 1925 to 1930.

     I would like to concentrate on Burton’s novels for a couple reasons; not least because of the number of her novels in ERB’s library but that when Burroughs sought publication for his low brow Tarzan in 1913-14 he was coldly rebuffed even after the success of his newspaper serializations.  The disdain of the entire publishing industry was undoubtedly because Burroughs was the pioneer of a new form of literature.  In its way the publication of Tarzan was the prototype on which Macfadden could base “True Story.”  Not that he might not have done it anyway but the trail was already trampled down for him.  In 1914 Burroughs violated all the canons of ‘polite’ or high brow literature.

     A.L. Burt accepted Tarzan Of The Apes for mass market publication reluctantly and only after guarantees for indemnification against loss.  Now at the time of Beatrice Burton’s low brow Romance genre novels, which were previously serialized in newspapers, Grosset and Dunlap sought out Burton’s stories publishing them in cheap editions without having been first published as full priced books much like Gold Seal in the fifties would publish paperback ‘originals’ which had never been in hard cover.  Writers like Burton benefited from the pioneering efforts of Burroughs.  G& D wasn’t going to be left behind again.  Apparently by the mid-twenties profits were more important than cultural correctness.

     As ERB had several Burton volumes in his library it might not hurt to give a thumbnail of who she was.  needless to say I had never read or even heard of her before getting interested in Burroughs and his Flapper fixation.  One must also believe that Elinor Glyn volumes in ERB’s library dating as early as 1902 were purchased in the twenites as I can’t believe ERB was reading this soft sort of thing as a young man.  Turns out that our Man’s acumen was as usual sharp.  Not that Burton’s novels are literary masterpieces but she has a following amongst those interested in the Romance genre.  The novels have a crude literary vigor which are extremely focused and to the point.  This is no frills story telling.  The woman could pop them out at the rate or two or three a year too.

     Her books are apparently sought after; fine firsts with dust jackets go for a hundred dollars or more.  While that isn’t particularly high it is more than the casual reader wants to pay.  Might be a good investment though.  The copies I bought ran from fifteen to twenty dollars, which is high for what is usually filed in the nostalgia section.  Love Bound was forty dollars.  I bought the last but it was more than I wanted to pay just for research purposes.

     There is little biographical information about Burton available.  I have been able to piece together that she was born in 1894.  No death date has been recorded as of postings to the internet so she must have been alive at the last posting which woud have made her a hundred at least.

     She is also known as Beatrice Burton Morgan.  She was an actress who signed a contract with David Belasco in 1909 which would have made her fifteen or sixteen.  Her stage name may have been Beatrice Morgan.  The New York Public Library has several contracts c. 1919 in her papers.

     One conjectures that her stage and film career was going nowhere.  In The Flapper Wife she disparages Ziegfeld as Ginfeld the producer of the famous follies.

     Casting about for alternatives in the arts she very likely noticed the opening in sex novels created by Macfadden and the Roaring Twenties.  The Flapper Wife seems to have been her first novel in 1925.  The book may possibly have been in response to Warner Fabian/Samuel Hopkins Adams’ Flaming Youth.

     As the motto for his book he had “those who know, don’t tell, those who tell, don’t know.’  The motto refers to the true state of mind of women.  Burton seems to have taken up the challenge- knows all and tells all.  Flapper Wife was an immediate popular success when taken from the newspapers by G&D.  Critics don’t sign checks so while their opinion is noted it is irrelevant.

     Burton apparently hit it big as the movies came afer her, Flapper Wife was made into a movie in 1925 entitled His Jazz Bride.  Burton now had a place in Hollywood.  Burroughs undoubtedly also saw the movie.  What success Burton’s later life held awaits further research.  As there is no record of her death on the internet it is safe to assume that when her copyrights were renewed in the fifties it was by herself.

     There are a number of titles in the library having to do with the Flapper.  The library, then gives a sense of direction to ERB’s mental changes.  There are, of course, the Indian and Western volumes that prepared his way for novels in those genres.  As always his off the top of his head style is backed by sound scholarship.

     The uses of the various travel volumes, African and Southeast Asian titles are self-evident.  I have already reviewed certain titles as they applied to Burroughs’ work; this essay involves more titles and I hope to relate other titles in the future.  So the library can be a guide to Burroughs’ inner changes as he develops and matures over the years.

     The amont of material available to interpret ERB’s life has expanded greatly since Porges’ groundbreaking biography.  Much more work remains to be done.

     The second decade is especially important for ERB’s mental changes as his first couple dozen stories were written beginnng in 1911.  Moreso than most writers, and perhaps more obviously Burroughs work was autobiographical in method.  As he put it in 1931’s Tarzan, The Invincible, he ‘highly fictionalized’ his details.  For instance, the Great War exercised him greatly.  From 1914 to the end of the War five published novels incorporate war details into the narrative:  Mad King II, Beyond Thirty, Land That Time Forgot, Tarzan The Untamed, and Tarzan The Terrible as well as unpublished works like The Little Door.  Yet I don’t think the extent that the War troubled him is recognized.  The man was a serious political writer.

     Thus between the known facts and his stories a fairly coherent life of Burroughs can be written.  My essays here on the ERBzine can be arranged in chronological order to give a rough idea of what my finished biography will be like.

     Burroughs was a complex man with a couple fixed ideas.  One was his desire to be a successful businessman.  This fixed obsession almost ruined him.  He was essentially a self-obsessed artist and as such had no business skills although he squandered untold amounts of time and energy which might better have been applied to his art than in attempts to be a business success.

     In many ways he was trying to justify his failure to be a business success by the time he was thirty rather than making the change to his new status as an artist.

     As a successful artist he was presented with challenges that had nothing to do with his former life.  These were all new challenges for which he had no experience to guide him while he was too impetuous to nsit down and thnk them out properly.  Not all that many in his situation do.  Between magazine sales, book publishing and the movies he really should have had a business manager as an intermdiary.  Perhaps Emma might have been able to function in that capacity much as H.G. Well’s wife jane did for him.  At any rate book and movie negotiations diverted time and energy from his true purpose of writing.

     His attempt to single handedly  run a five hundred plus acre farm and ranch while writing after leaving Chicago ended in a dismal failure.  Even his later investments in an airplane engine and airport ended in a complete disaster.  Thank god he didn’t get caught up in stock speculations of the twenties.  As a businessman he was doomed to failure; he never became successful.  It if hadn’t been for the movie adaptations of Tarzan he would have died flat broke.

     Still his need was such that he apparently thought of his writing as a business even going so far as to rent office space and, at least in 1918, according to a letter to Weston, keeping hours from 9:00 to 5:30.  Strikes me as strange.  Damned if I would.

     At the end of the decade he informed Weston that he intended to move to Los Angeles, abandon writing and, if he was serious, go into the commercial raising of swine.  The incredulousness of Weston’s reply as he answered ERB’s questions on hog feed comes through the correspondence.

     Think about it.  Can one take such flakiness on ERB’s part seriously?  Did he really think his income as a novice pig raiser would equal his success as a writer with an intellectual property like Tarzan?  Weston certainly took him seriously and I think we must also.  There was the element of the airhead about him.

     A second major problem was his attitude toward his marriage and his relationship with Emma.

     He appears to have been dissatisfied with both at the beginning and decade and ready to leave both at the end.  According to the key letter of Weston ERB was an extremely difficult husbnad with whom Emma had to be patient.  As Weston put it, no other woman would have put up with his antics.  Unfortunately he doesn’t give details of those antics but the indications are that Emma was a long suffering wife.

     ERB’s resentment of her apparently became an abiding hatred.  Danton Burroughs released information about ERB’s third great romance with a woman named Dorothy Dahlberg during the war years of WWII through Robert Barrett the BB staff writer in issue #64.

     After having been estranged from her husband for about a decade Emma died on 11-05-44, probably of a broken heart.  ERB returned to Los Angeles from Hawaii to dispose of her effects.  Arriving on 11/19/44 after visiting his daughter he met with Ralph Rothmund in Tarzana where he proceeded to get soused, apparently in celebration of Emma’s death.

     To quote Barrett, p. 25, Burroughs Bulletin #64.

     After Ed met with Ralph Rothmund, he opened a case of Scotch and took out a bottle after which he drove to Emma’s home in Bel-Air- where he and Jack “sampled” the Scotch a couple times.”  From Bel-Air Jack drove Ed to the Oldknows, some friends also in Bel-Air, where they continued to sample the Scotch.  After this visit Ed and Jack returned to Emma’s home at 10452 Bellagio Road, where Jack brought out a nearly full bottle of bourbon.  Jack asked the maids to postpone dinner for 30 minutes, while they waited for Joan and Joan II.  This evidently irritated the two maids as they both quit  and walked out on them!  Ed reported in his diary that after the two maids walked out, ‘we had a lovely dinner and a grand time.”

     That sort of strikes me as dancing on the grave of Emma which indicates a deep hatred for her on the part of ERB.  We are all familiar with the storyof ERB’s pouring the liquor in the swimming pool humiliating Emma in front of guests which she stood so Weston must have known what he was talking about.

     There is a certain hypocrisy in Burroughs now getting blotto in celebration of Emma’s death.  Between the two of them in the space of a couple hours ERB and his son, John Coleman, finished a fifth of Scotch and went ripping through a bottle of bourbon.  I don’t know how rough and tough you are but that would put me under the pool table.

     In this inebriated and hostile state they apparently had words with what I assume to have been Emma’s long time maids.  Maids don’t walk out because you ask them to hold dinner for a few minutes.  Being a maid is a job; they don’t respond that way to reasonable requests.  So in his drunken state ERB must have been offensive about Emma or the maids causing their reaction.

     Thus sitting totally soused  in the ‘alcoholic’ Emma’s home they ‘had a lovely dinner and a grand time.’  The woman was both good to him and good for him but it isn’t incumbent on any man to see his best interests.  There was a crtain dignity lacking in ERB’s behavior at this good woman’s death, not to mention the hypocrisy of getting thoroughly jazzed.

d.

      The decade also witnesses the unfolding of ERB’s psyche from the repressed state of 1910 to an expanded and partially liberated state at the end of the decade when he fled Chicago.  Pyschologically ERB was always a dependent personality.  He let his editors both magazine and book bully him and take advantage of his good will.  He also needed a strong role model which is one reason his literary role models are so obvious.

     From 1911 to 1916 he seemed to lean on Jack London as his role model.  The problem with London is that we can’t be sure which of his books ERB read as he had none of his books in his library.  It seems certain that he read London’s early Gold Rush books.  ERB’s hobo information is probably based on London’s The Road and then he may possibly have read The Abyssmal Brute which is concerned with the results of the Jack Johnson-Jim Jeffries fight and a preliminary to The Valley Of The Moon. 

     It is difficult to understand how Burroughs could have read much during this decade what with his writing schedule and hectic  life style.  Yet we know for a fact that between 1913-15 he found time to read Edward Gibbon’s massive The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire.

     At the same time additions to his library from this decade are rather sparse, the bulk of the library seems to have been purchased from 1920 on.  Still, if one assumes that he read all the books of London including 1913’s Valley Of The Moon, then it is possible that his cross=country drive of 1916 may have been partially inspired by Billy and Saxon Roberts’ walking tour of Northern California and Southern Oregon in that book as well as on ERB’s hobo fixation.  Certainly London must have been his main influence along with H.H. Knibbs and Robert W. Service.  He may have wished to emulate London by owning a large ranch.

     I suspect he meant to call on London in Sonoma during his 1916 stay in California but London died in the fall of that year which prevented the possible meeting.  With the loss of London Burroughs had to find another role model which he did in Booth Tarkington.  He does have a large number of Tarkington’s novels in his library, most of which were purchased in this decade.  Tarkington was also closely associated with Harry Leon Wilson who also influenced ERB with a couple two or three novels in his library, not least of which is Wison’s Hollywood novel, Merton Of The Movies.  Just as a point of interest Harry Leon Wilson was also a friend of Jack London.

     ERB’s writing in the last years of the decade seems to be heavily influenced by Tarkington as in Bridge And The Oskaloosa Kid, The Efficiency Expert and The Girl From Hollywood.

     Burroughs was an avid reader and exceptionally well informed with a penetrating mind so that his ‘highly fictionalized’ writing which seems so casual and off hand is actually accurate beneath his fantastic use of his material.  While he used speculations of Camille Flammarion and possibly Lowell on the nature of Mars he was so mentally agile that when better information appeared which made his previous speculations untenable he had no difficulty in adjusting to the new reality.  Not everyone can do that.

     I have already mentioned his attention to the ongoing friction between the US and Japan that appeared in the Samurai of Byrne’s Pacific island.  In this connection Abner Perry of the Pellucidar series is probably named after Commodore Matthew Perry who opened Japan in 1853.  After all Abner Perry does build the fleet that opened the Lural Az.  Admiral Peary who reached the North Pole about this time is another possible influence.  The identical pronunciation of both names would have serendipitous for Burroughs.

     As no man writes in a vacuum, the political and social developments of his time had a profound influence on both himself and his writing.

     The effects of unlimited and unrestricted immigration which had been decried by a small but vocal minority for some time came to fruition in the Second Decade as the Great War showed how fragile the assumed Americanization and loyalty of the immigrants was.  The restriction of immigration from 1920 to 1924 must have been gratifying to Burroughs.

     I have already indicated the profound reaction that Burroughs, London and White America in general had to the success of the Black Jack Johnson in the pursuit of the heavyweight crown.  The clouded restoration of the crown through Jess Willard did little to alleviate the gloom.  Combined with the sinking of the Ttitanic and the course of the suicidal Great War White confidence was irrevocably shaken.

     Burroughs shared with London the apprehension that the old stock was losiing its place of preeminence to the immigrants.  This fear woud find its place in Burroughs writing where he could from time to time make a nasty comment.  His characterization of the Irish is consistently negative while his dislike of the Germans first conceived when he saw them as a young man marching through the streets of Chicago under the Red flag was intense.  Their participation in the Haymarket Riot combined with the horrendous reports of German atrocities during the War reinforced his dislike almost to the point of fanaticism.  While the post-war German reaction in his writing was too belated he had been given cause for misinterpretation.

     Always politically conservative he was a devoted admirer of Teddy Roosevelt while equally detesting Woodrow Wilson who was President eight of the ten years of the Second Decade.  When the Bolsheviks took over Russia in 1917 polarizing public opinion into the Right and Left ERB was definitely on the Right.

     By the end of the decade the world he had known from 1875 to 1920 had completely disappeared buried by a world of scientific and technological advances as well and social and political changes that would have been unimaginable in his earlier life.  The changes in sexual attitudes caused by among others Krafft-Ebbing, Havelock Ellis and Margaret Sanger would have been astounding.

     The horse had been displaced by the auto.  Planes were overhead.  The movies already ruled over the stage, vaudeville and burlesque.  Cities had displaced the country.  The Jazz Age which was the antithesis of the manners and customs of 1875-1920 realized the new sexual mores so that the Flapper and Red Hot Mama displaced the demure Gibson Girl as the model of the New Woman.

     When ERB moved from Chicago to LA in 1919 he, like Alice, virtually stepped through the looking glass into a world he never made and never imagined.  A Stranger In A Strange Land not different in many ways from the Mars of his imagination.

Go to Part III- Background Of The Second Decade Social And Political

 

 

 

A Review

In Pursuit Of Youth

Edgar Rice Burroughs And Samuel Hopkins Adams

A Review Of Warner Fabian’s Flaming Youth

As It Pertained To Edgar Rice Burroughs

by

R.E. Prindle

Texts And Web References:

Warner Fabian (Samuel Hopkins Adams) Flaming Youth, 1923

ERB Personal Library Shelf: A1, ERB Personal Library: Shelf F! @ ERBzine

F. Gwynplaine McIntyre’s Review of the movie Flaming youth, 2002

http://.www.imdb.com/title/tt0014045/usercomments

R.E. Prindle, Tales Of Space And Time #2&3

http://www.erbzine.com/mag13/1346.html

 

     As the 1920s dawned ERB was becoming increasingly restless in his marriage.  That he wished out and was looking around is evidenced by 1918’s Tarzan The Untamed in which he had Jane murdered and burnt beyond recognition, identifiable only by her jewelry.  Late in the novel he has Tarzan eyeing another woman.  Perhaps ERB’s  constant moving contained a notion of losing Emma.

     While societal changes had been stirring for a few decades it seemed that they all matured under cover of the Great War emerging like a phoenix in its aftermath.  Most importantly sexual attitudes had changed dramatically.  Representative of the changes was the appearance of the flapper.  Thought of as a devil-may-care anything goes girl they were enough to excite any man in his mid-life crisis.

     In 1920 ERB at forty-five would have been in the midst of his.  Life was passing while he was evidently in a marriage he was finding unsatisfactory.  Perhaps it had been unsatisfactory since 1902-04 when he had committed the faux pas which shattered his wife’s confidence in him.  He was never to regain it during their marriage.

     While in this state of mind a book was published followed by its movie which lustfully inflamed his imagination.  In 1923 Samuel Hopkins Adams, using the pseudonym Warner Fabian, published his very successful novel, Flaming Youth.  While the book doesn’t show up on the best seller lists of either 1923 or 24, from January to June it had gone through nine printings of which my copy is of the ninth, for the year perhaps fifteen or more.  Still couldn’t reach the top ten of the charts, must have been a great literary year.  Before the year was out the movie had been made and was in the theatres.

     ERB both had a copy of the the book in his library and had seen the movie at least once, possible, even probably, several times.  If his search for a hot number had been latent before it certainly flamed after.  In 1927 he found his flapper ideal in Florence Gilbert Dearholt.

     While Flaming Youth was a major success in 1923-24 reading it today makes understanding why difficult.  It is not a particularly good book nor really very well written.  Adams appears to have dashed it off taking no pains with it.  Thus rather than being a literary novel it is more of a pulp romance of the type Bernarr Macfadden was making famous in his pulp magazines like True Romance.

     Samuel Hopkins Adams had an interesting career.  Four years older than ERB he lived eight years longer.  He began his career as a journalist writing several articles in 1906 about the patent medicine business which were instrumental in the passage of the Pure Food And Drug Act of that year.  The articles were later issued in book form as The Great American Fraud.  Burroughs’ own life would be seriously affected by the Pure Food And Drug Act through his relationship with Dr. Stace.  It was perhaps then he learned about the police and Grand Juries of which he wrote so eloquently.

     Adams’ own career prospered as he was very proficient in writing for the movies.  In Flaming Youth he had a double-barreled hit.

     While his title Flaming Youth has entered the vocabulary even as modern youth attempt to ‘flame’ I found the title somewhat misleading and far better than the story.

     Perhaps Adams proves the adage of H.L. Mencken who flourished at this time when he said ‘No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.’  Actually the story reminded me a great deal of Grace Metolious’ 1954 novel, Peyton Place.  Adams’ book was definitely aimed at the erotic zone of America.  In a rather clever framing device worthy of ERB’s best efforts Adams palms Warner Fabian off as a family physician.  I’ll quote the frame in its entirety:

A WORD FROM THE WRITER TO THE READER

“Those who know will not tell; those who tell do not know.”

     The old saying applies to woman in today’s literature.  Women writers when they write of women, evade and conceal and palliate.  Ancestral references, sexual loyalties, dissuade the pen.

     Men writers when they write of women do so without comprehension.  Men understand women only as men choose to have them, with one exception, the family physician.  He knows.  He see through the body and soul.  But he may not tell what he sees.  Professional honour binds him.  Only through the unaccustomed medium of fiction and out of the vatic incense-cloud of pseudonymity may he speak the truth.  Being a physician, I must conceal my identity, and not less securely the identity of those whom I picture.

     There is no such suburb as Dorrisdale…and there are a score of Dorrisdales.  There is no such family as the Fenrisses…and there are a thousand Fenriss families.  For the delineation which I have striven to present, honestly and unreservedly, of the twentieth century woman of the luxury-class I beg only the indulgence permissible to the neophyte’s pen.  I have no other apologia to offer.

     To the woman of the period thus set forth, restless, seductive, greedy, discontented, craving sensation, unrestrained, a little morbid, more than a little selfish, slack of mind as she is trim of body, neurotic and vigorous, a worshipper of tinsel gods at perfumed altars, fit mate for the hurried, reckless and cynical man of the age, predestined mother of- what manner of being?  To her I dedicate this study of herself.

                                                                             W.F.

     Whether ERB got sucked in by such persiflage is open to question.  A writer using such flim-flam himself he certainly should have seen through it.  Having been a victim of Samuel Hopkins Adams once when the Pure Food and Drug Act drove he and Stace out of the patent medicine business it is kind of a joke that Adams got him a second time with such drivel under the pseudonym of Dr. Warner Fabian.  It is mind-boggling that Adams did it posing as a medical quack.

     Adams must have learned something along snake oil lines by investigating the patent medicine business.  His ‘Word To The Reader’ is certainly a lesson in promising much and delivering little.  It appears to be a conscious atempt too.  One must ask if the term Writer in his headline is meant to refer to himself or his alter ego Warner Fabian.  I rather think Fabian as a ‘neophyte’ would refer to himself as an author while Adams considered himself a professional writer so that Adams may be speaking in his own persona to the reader when he says ‘Those who know will not tell…’ so that if he does know he won’t tell which alerts the perceptive reader to the fact that what he is about to read is a fraud or a put on; ‘…those who tell do not know.’ or alternatively he doesn’t know so what you are about to read isn’t authentic.

     Further along he says that there is one exception to the rule, as why not? there’s always an exception to the rule.  That one exception is the family physician.  He knows.  The only problem with that is that Adams is lying- he is neither the Dr. Warner Fabian he purports to be, while he does admit that Warner Fabian is a pseudonym in any circumstance, nor is he a family physician.  This book is a total medical fraud no less than the patent medicine dealers Adams shut down.  Adams carries the fraud further using the purple prose he employs throughout the book- ‘…only through the unaccustomed medium of fiction and out of the vatic-incense cloud of pseudonymity may he (the doctor) speak the truth.’

     Anybody here know what vatic means?  Our old friend Mr. Webster says that it relates to the seer and prophecy.  So much for the concept of medical science.  I haven’t figure out what the phrase ‘vatic incense-cloud of pseudonymity’ means yet or maybe we weren’t supposed to.  If anyone knows let me know.  However, it sounds not only good but spectacular.  Fabian is only pseudonymous, whatever that means, still he must conceal his identity.  A careful reader understands the pseudonymous doctor is not really Warner Fabian so one wonders why he stresses the point so.

     Adams does tell you that he is not telling the truth as he frankly admits that there is no Dorrisdale but in the metaphoric sense there are twenty of them.  Only twenty in the whole US?  Or twenty in the immediate vicinity of wherever.  Anyway we are to imagine twenty is an infinitude, something like the stars in a clear cold night sky.

     Adams tells us these are very decadent times.  He doesn’t compare them to any former times like pre-war Dorrisdales but the times are definitely more decadent than they ever have been before.  There is no actual Fentriss family, closer to the truth, but there is an  allegorical thousand of Fentriss families in the twenty Dorrisdales.   Figure it out, do the math.  Twenty goes into a thousand fifty times.  There are fifty such families in each of these small Dorrisdales the population of which is what?  Two thousand.  Fifty families times six members is three hundred.  As lessers ape greaters we now have twenty totally decadent Dorrisdales.  The whole universe as it were.  Since all these families are apparently having nude parties by their swimming pools as in the story so where’s the news?  Who is there left to be shocked?

     The book went through nine printings in six months so somebody didnt get an invitation to these orgies.  I don’t know who.  Oh well, not everyone can be in the luxury-class.  Proto Jet set.  Andy Warhol’s Factory.  People need orgies for mental health, don’t they?  Or do they?

     Let’s just say the vatic incense-cloud must have been the devil weed itself burning which sent Adams off on this flight of fancy that captured the imagination of a nation.  Poor old prurient America.  Oh Dr. Freud, please turn off the sex spigot.

     I found the masterful title a misnomer.  The title purports to reveal the antics of modern youth but the only Flaming Youth in the story is Patricia Fentriss- she’s a fast one but not that fast, she doesn’t go all the way.  Adams is good at setting things up  then not delivering.  Robert Heinlein must have sat at his feet.  In perhaps the book’s most famous quote on page 13- 13?, Adams dips his pen into his purple ink well to write:

“That’s the measure they dance to, the new generation.  Doesn’t it get into your torpid blood, Bob?  Don’t you wish you were young again! To be a desperado of twenty?  They’re all desperadoes, these kids, all of them with any life in their veins; the girls as well as the boys; maybe even more than the boys.  Even Connie with her eyes of the vestal! Ah!”

     Ah! indeed!

     So who’s Adams writing this tripe for?

     The title may be Flaming Youth but the story is about Sputtering Age.  This is a May-September romance.  Burroughs was forty-eight in 1923 Adams was fifty-two.  What yearning for a younger woman occurs in those ages.  Anything to stave off the march of time.  Both men had been raised essentially in the nineteenth century; they must have been thouroughly aroused by the short-skirted flapper of the post-war era.  What lusts did these girls call forth?  Sam may as well have been standing next to ERB at the dance asking:  ‘Doesn’t it get into your torpid blood, Ed?  Don’t you wish you were young again?’

     Darn right Ed wished he was young again, but as that wasn’t about to happen the next best thing for an oldtimer to do to revive that torpid blood was to get next to one of those young red hot flappers.

     That is what Adams does for himself in Flaming Youth.  The book is not so much about Flaming Youth as to return to the flame of youth.  Adams acquaints Pat Fentriss with a forty-or-so-year-old ultra sophisticate hyper intelligent man of the world named Cary Scott.  Obviously a simulacrum of himself.  As Scott carefully explains to Pat, a good looking body may be good enough for ‘the First Dreaming’ but she will soon tire of that and her mind in ‘the Second Dreaming’, this is the family physician who knows the interior working of the female mind talking, will require something more stimulating -like himself.

     The story then actually concerns the trials and tribulations of this romance until it comes to a happy fruition in the end.

     ERB as he was entering the Second Dreaming reached out for a hot young firebrand which he found a short three years later in 1927.

     That was the book.  Hardly a great or even a very good novel but successful enough to cement Adams’ reputation.

     The movie which was rushed out by year’s end was apparently somewhat different from the book.  The movie made the career of Colleen Moore with whom ERB was to have contact a decade later when he wrote the minature book Tarzan, Jr. for her miniature library in her doll house.

     In researching the movie the consensus was that no copy of the movie had survived.  Then I read that one reel survived.  And then I came across a review of the whole movie on www.imdb.com/title/tt00145045/usercomments by F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre, a London based journalist, who seemed to have seen the movie.

     I contacted him and he advised me that a print did exist.  He advised me by email that: ‘I have viewed a partially deteriorted nitrate print of Flaming Youth in Europe, in the private collection of an individual who does not wish to be publicly identified.  The partly deteriorated film includes a few frames of a faded image that appears to be a British exhibition certificate.’

     As an example of what ERB saw Mr. MacIntyre describes the action:

     “Moore plays Pat Fentriss, the spoilt daughter of well-to-do (luxury class in the book) parents who are the 1920s equivalent of “swingers”.  Pat’s parents are always throwing wild parties, with jazz bands and (Illegal) Prohibition booze and orgies.  Pat wants to join in on the fun, even though she’s just barely at the age of sexual consent.  One young man at the parent’s pool party shows a sexual interest in Pat until he finds out her age, then he curtly tells her:  “Baby must go back to her cradle.”

     “The high point of the movie is a scene at the pool party which shows the male and female guests undressing together for the nude swimming.  The film makers probably wanted to show the guests in full nudity, but didn’t dare, so we get a lot of indirect lighting and camera angles, with everybody dressing  in half shadow.”

     That part more or less follows the book.  The movie apparently doesn’t concentrate on the May -September romance between Cary Scott and Pat.  The nudity would have been enough to get one’s torpid blood flowing like Niagara.

     According to Mr. MacIntyre in the movie Pat runs away with a fiddler, hopping a yacht for Europe.  When the violinist, to be culturally correct, makes his move young Pat leaps overboard to escape his advances.  Pretty flaming huh?  With rare good fortune a sailor passing by fishes her out of the briny deep.

     In the book Pat meets a violin player or ‘artiste’, Leo Stenay.  Adams shows his distaste for the Bohemian style by having Pat reject him because she feared he wore dirty socks.  As with most writers of the period Adams shows his respect for the Diversity by including and referring to many different typs of the Diversity.

     Thus the stimulating part of the movie for a revivifying ERB would have been the nude swimming party.  One would think they would have been much easier to find in Hollywood than in the score of Dorrisdales with their fifty families of the luxury-class, but not for Ed, even though he had just written The Girl From Hollwyood dealing with just such licentiousness.

     Combining the movie version with Cary Scott of the book ERB became a lonely hunter until he met Florence Gilbert Dearholt, a married woman, at which time he discovered the perils of the Second Dreaming.

     One wonders what course his life would have taken if there had been no Samuel Hopkins Adams, no Great American Fraud and no Flaming Youth.  It is strange indeed that a man we have no reason to believe he ever met could have had such a profound effect on his life.  First with his articles condemning the patent medicine manufacturers which may have introduced ERB to the police and Grand Juries and secondly with Flaming Youth that undoubtedly completed ERB’s dissatisfaction with his marriage.

     I wonder if ERB ever gave Samuel Hopkins Adams a second thought.