September 1 – Happy Birthday, Edgar Rice Burroughs

Posted on September 1, 2015

 He didn't particularly yearn to be a writer.

It seems to me that he wasn't totally driven to be anything in particular!

Born on this date way back in 1875, Edgar Rice Burroughs failed the entrance exam for the prestigious West Point Military Academy, so he became an enlisted soldier with the U.S. Cavalry. However, just two years later he was discharged because he had a health problem.

Burroughs worked a bunch of different jobs. According to Wikipedia, he drifted. He worked on a ranch. He got a job at his father's company. He got a low paying job as a pencil-sharpener wholesaler. Apparently, he worked less than regularly – even though, at that point, he had a wife and two kids! 

Because he wasn't working tons of hours, he had a lot of time to read what many people considered “junk”: pulp fiction magazines.

And he thought to himself, “...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.

So he began to write for pulp magazines – science fiction, mostly. Some of his writings were popular enough to be published as books. His most popular and timeless character was “Tarzan of the Apes.”

Even though Burroughs didn't seem to me to be very ambitious before Tarzan, he jumped on the chance to make money once he realized how popular his character was. He laid some plans to do more than just Tarzan books – he wanted to do a Tarzan comic strip, movies, and even merchandise.

The experts gave the advice they gave back then to every author of popular series: No, don't do that. If you put too much on one character out there, the public will soon tire of that character. The different products will compete with one another. You won't be able to sell more Tarzan books once there's a Tarzan movie.

Does that advice seem strange to you?

Well, we have Edgar Rice Burroughs to thank for the fact that we all feel strongly that the advice is foolish – because it was he who ignored all the experts, wheeled and “dealed” until Tarzan was in every sort of medium, and proved the experts wrong.

It turned out that the public wanted Tarzan in every way they could get Tarzan!

Now, of course, experts advise exploiting a popular character or series by pushing into multiple products and media. And creators of cultural sensations have a lot more ways to push products, these days, including webpages, video games, and TV shows!

By the way, Burroughs was able to sell 24 different books starring Tarzan!

Burroughs wrote a lot of books and stories besides for his Tarzan books!

Did you know...?

  • There are more than 200 movies with “Tarzan” in the title!
  • I counted 10 different TV shows about Tarzan.

  • Tarzan has even hit Broadway and musical theatre!
  • Tarzan has also starred in comic strips and comic books, in video and computer games; also, there have been Tarzan action figures, View-Master reels, coloring books, and other toys.
Tarzan's name is used
for non-Tarzan related
products, too - like glue!
  • Burroughs bought a ranch north of Los Angeles; he named his ranch Tarzana. The people who settled and built a community around his ranch adopted the name Tarzana for the whole community, and it is now one of the posher neighborhoods of L.A.!
Notice that this poster says that
Edgar Rice Burroughs is the
"first citizen of Tarzana."

Also on this date:

Protests over Taiji's dolphin hunt

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