Edgar Rice Burroughs
The fact that Tarzan nearly never made it out of the jungle (read: off the page) makes his wide-sweeping success astoundingly impressive. Several films, TV shows, books, comics and products have Tarzan to thank for their profits. But the story that remains largely shaded by a canopy of trees is that of the man who created the now-coveted character.
Edgar Rice Burroughs' past is as winding and wriggly as Tarzan's many treks through the brush, but we've cleared the path and are ready to navigate you through it, using press kits from 1984's Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes as our guiding light. So throw on your loin cloth, grab onto a vine and swing along with us.
Born September 1, 1875 in Chicago, Edgar graduated in 1895 from Michigan Military Academy. Upon his graduation, failure seemed to be Edgar's fate until Tarzan came roaring in.
Edgar failed the entrance exam to the U.S. Military Academy and instead decided to enlist as a private in the Seventh U.S. Cavalry. He was assigned to one of the most difficult and isolated posts in the States: Arizona's Fort Grant. He didn't last long and was soon discharged.
In 1900, Edgar married Emma Centennia Hulbert. Early on in their marriage, Edgar worked as a cowboy in Idaho, a railroad policeman, a gold miner, and a shopkeeper to make ends meet. Money was rare, though, and he was often depressed while Emma wallowed in feelings of discouragement. To alleviate his sorrow, he sketched cartoons and wrote fairy tales.
By 1911, Edgar, Emma and their two children were struggling. But amidst their difficulties, Edgar found time to write, and crafted the first half of Under the Moons of Mars, which he credited as his true first story.
He submitted what he had completed of the tale to Thomas Newell Metcalf, the editor of All Story Magazine. Thomas was intrigued by what he read and told Edgar that if the second half of the story was as compelling as the first, he'd run it.
When speaking about his elation upon hearing Thomas' feedback, Edgar said, "Had he not given me [that] encouragement, I would never have finished the story and my writing career would have been at an end..."
He added, "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."
Under the Moons of Mars was praised by scholars as marking a turning point in 20th century science fiction.
Although Edgar's follow up effort was a flop, his third official story would solidify his future (and his family's) for years to come. Tarzan and the Apes first appeared in All Story Magazine in 1912 and garnered Edgar $700. The story was rejected by several major book publishers, but was finally picked up by A.C. McClurg and Co. in 1914. Upon printing as a novel, it became a bestseller.
By 1918, Tarzan and the Apes had been adapted into a feature film of the same name. It was directed by Scott Sidney and starred Elmo Lincoln in the title role. The movie became the first film to earn more than $1 million at the box office.
In the following year, Edgar had made enough money to purchase a large ranch north of Los Angeles that he named Tarzana. The community of Tarzana formed around it, that is still currently recognized as a neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley.
Tarzan's popularity had spread like wildfire and by 1923, millions of people had read of his exploits in a dozen different languages and several millions more had watched his adventures unfold on screen. In fact, a publishing company called Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. launched in 1923 and still stands today.
In 1929, artist Hal Foster sketched Tarzan in what would be the first action-adventure comic strip in history. By 1931, the strip was accompanied by a full color Sunday comic page.
By the mid-1930s, Tarzan's alluring jungle call had enticed people all over the world. In addition to his presence in the comic sections of newspapers, there were books published oabout him and even a radio show regularly aired in the U.S. featuring Edgar's daughter Joan in the role of Jane and her husband James H. Pierce as Tarzan.
But when Edgar passed away in Encino on March 19, 1950, the burning interest in Tarzan seemed to fade away with him. Books about Tarzan gradually went out of print and the films out about him drastically differed from Edgar's original imagining.
However, in 1962, Tarzan made a grand return to pop culture consciousness. As a small town California teacher decried the merit of the story, based on her assumption that Tarzan and Jane had never married and therefore were living in sin, books about him were banned from schools and libraries all over the U.S. The film company that held rights to Tarzan even sold out at distress prices. But Tarzan had already left his mark on people, and those who were impacted by his stories as children came to his defense.
It's interesting to note that Tarzan and Jane were in fact married, as page 365 of the 1915 A.C. McClurg edition of The Return of Tarzan details.
Regardless of the motion to remove him from the dialogue of the time, people argued that Tarzan had inspired their childhood dreams and had entertained the masses through both World Wars and the Great Depression. In 1966, Tarzan was brought to the small screen in a one-hour weekly drama series on the NBC network. The show starred Ron Ely as an educated Tarzan, now known as Lord Greystoke. Fed up with civilization, he returns to the jungle. Jane didn't appear in the series — instead, Tarzan's sidekick was an orphan boy named Jai and a chimpanzee named Cheetah. The show enjoyed a run of 59 episodes.
Throughout the 1960s, six Tarzan films were released, including one that was made using episodes of the TV series starring Ron Ely — Tarzan's Jungle Rebellion (1967). Tarzan's Deadly Silence, also from episodes of the Tarzan TV series starring Ron Ely, was released in 1970.
By 1970, publishers all over the globe were capitalizing on the reintroduction of Tarzan. Books about the Lord of the Apes were selling out in over 40 languages and a new wave of Tarzan films was in the works.
When 1975 hit, the year that marked the 100 year anniversary of Edgar's birth, it was clear that Tarzan had reinserted himself into the minds of people. Towns and cities all across the U.S. proclaimed an Edgar Rice Burroughs day, week or even year. Brigham Young University Press went so far as to publish a thousand-page biography of Edgar.
In the late 1970s, Warner Brothers set aside vast sums of money to produce a film about Tarzan that they asserted Edgar would have blessed. Their aim was to correct the many mediocre films and offer audiences an authentic, loyal-to-the-original look at the character. It's been said on a number of occasions that Edgar was repeatedly disappointed by the films featuring his jungle creation. To him, Tarzan was intelligent, sensitive, heroic, handsome and free. As he saw it, the movies grossly manipulated this image.
Since the 1980s, Tarzan's fire has been glowing. The character who was the basis of advertising campaigns for products including soft drinks in Italy, breakfast foods in Latin America and biscuits in France, has been an enduring figure in our culture and returned to theaters on July 1, 2016 in David Yates' The Legend of Tarzan. The film stars Alexander Skarsgård in the title role and Margot Robbie as Jane. ~Matthew Pariselli