Tales Of Space And Time: Love, Lust And Edgar Rice Burroughs

May 21, 2010

 

Tales Of Space And Time:

Love, Lust And Edgar Rice Burroughs

A Short Story

by

R.E. Prindle

The Image Of Flaming Youth- Colleen Moore

     As they say in Hollywood, this is based on a true story.  Only the facts have been changed to make a better story.  Just as in Hollywood the tale is wholly fiction.  Well, not wholly, there is one true fact included.  I’ll highlight it at the appropriate time.  I have used real names and places so as to cast an aura of truthfulness about a  story that never happened.  No matter,  just as in the movies you won’t be able to tell the difference.  Fact and fiction blend.  It’s just like your memory.

     Perhaps the time is March of 1934 when a now has been actress who had once, in the days when acting really counted in silent movies, been at the top of her craft earning 12,500 smackaroonies a week.  Not small change in those pre inflationary days.

     Sound and the depression had changed all that, plus advancing maturity.  She was no longer in demand.  After her last, The Scarlet Letter the studio head had nearly thrown her torn up contract in her face.  As unpleasnt as that may be life contains such humiliating moments.  Still as Hank Williams song says:

My hair is still curly,

My eyes are still blue,

Why don’t you love me

Like you used to do?

     Love is like that, fleeting.  Box office.  Demand.  Transient things like that.

     Angry at the treatment and now having no future in the film capitol and the hearts of the multitude, with a stamp of her pretty little foot she turned her back on Tinseltown, if not her fans, returning to home town Chicago.

     There she was fondly remembered and even lionized.  She had been the original flapper girl, Colleen Moore, who had created the type for her starring role in 1923’s Flaming Youth.  Twenty-one at the time her success had been exhilarating but she was a tough minded practical young woman; she hadn’t let it go to her head unduly.  She she thought, she had gotten to the top at an age when others were still gazing at the distant snowy crests; she was on top and she would do what she had to do to stay there.

     In creating the role of the Flapper in Flaming Youth she had created a new woman displacing the former ideal of the Gibson Girl.  She had bobbed her hair, raised the hemlines of her skirts, given voice to a careless, carefree, thrill seeking easy party girl who liked to go skinny dipping.  True she was following the script but she had been the archetype of a newer sleazier morality.

     Quickly typecast in the new role her whole career had evolved into the naughty but nice type of girl.  She was the image of the girl who would go all the way.  It had been a burden to bear.  She had quickly retreated into unreality.  Using her new found wealth she had begun building a very expensive doll house which she called the Fairy Castle.  Five hundred thousand dollars worth of Fairy Castle.

Colleen was not as carefree and careless as the image she had projected.  She was a hardnosed investor who turned her own money green.  The five hundred thousand dollar doll house hadn’t actually been made with her own hands  but for her.  She employed experts to design and construct it.  Even as she was paying for it she was providing against an uncertain future.  The house was modular with each room having its own separate container for easy transport.  The Fairy Castle could be broken down and reassembled with ease.

     And now as 1936 approached, just imagine the ’34 and ’35 flipping off the calendar and floating away across the screen, the reason became evident.  No longer a star but still craving the limelight Miss Moore announced that she would take the Fairy Castle on the road to raise money for needy children.  This was the Depression.  There was a sure fire attention getter; she knew how to appear concerned for the young after having been responsible for corrupting flaming youth.

     Over the next couple years she was very successful.  The Castle would eventually raise over six hundred thousand dollars which in today’s equivalents would be several tens of millions.  How much of it actually got to underprivileged kids wasn’t carefully recorded.

     If she wasn’t quite as in the spotlight as in Hollywood, which place she still preferred to drab Chicago which  for personal reasons she couldn’t leave, she didn’t go unnoticed.

     On this occasion in mid-1936 she was gathered with the lights of Chicago for the reception of a rare book collection donated to the Newberry Library by one Mr. Frank Martin.  In truth Mr. Martin would have given much more than a few old books to meet the Flaming Girl but this was unnecessary.  As a reward for the books at his request he had been seated beside Colleen.  He’d been a handsome rogue, you can accentuate the rogue, in his youth and now although almost seventy he still retained refreshing youthful features, full bodied but not stout, a head of glistening silver hair and no paunch, altogether a prepossessing figure of a man.  Much better preserved than Edgar Rice Burroughs as he would comment to his mirror.

     A dissipated life hadn’t hurt him any.  It was true that Miss Moore was half his age but I think I mentioned earlier that Miss Moore was a practical woman; Frank Martin was rich, while at seventy he couldn’t live forever.  After him there was room for one more.

     On the other hand Colleen liked older men.  She herself was Irish, knowing a great many Irish proverbs, which are the most amusing kind, she had selected as her favorite:  ‘It is better to be an old man’s darling than a young man’s slave.’  Alas, in her first two marriages she had erred in this dictum much to her regret.  Life, being a little forgiving in this instance, was giving her another chance.

     She waited for Mr. Martin to be seated and then made her grand entrance.  Never truly beautiful, what nature had denied art had supplied.  She passed for beautiful in any man’s eye although the camera would have been less forgiving.  As she approached Mr. Martin an electric spark worthy of a Tesla experiment flew between each as each realized their desires were to be met unless things went terribly wrong which I assure you they didn’t.

     Frank raised his imposing 6’3″ frame from his chair with a grace that was warmly received by Colleen.  They were nearly fast friends before their derrieres touched bottom.

     ‘I can’t tell you how much I admire your efforts for those poor children, Colleen.  May I call you Colleen?’  This was a few years back when manners were different.

    ‘You may call me Darling if I can call you Frank, dear.’  She replied sweetly in her most flaming manner.

     ‘By all means Darling.’  Frank smiled back realizing he was in like Flynn before even Flynn discovered the way in.  ‘Colleen, that’s a grand old Irish name.’

     ‘I am an Irish girl, but Frank, I’ve heard so much about you.’  Colleen ventured, who had, indeed, wasted no time in catching up on the gossip of the last thirty years or so.  As an old roue Frank had left more than a paper trail in the memories of many.  But, that’s gossip, on with the story.

     ‘Thank you Colleen.’  Already Martin who was also Irish had discovered a new love for the grand old name of Colleen.  He put that emphasis on the pronunciation that Miss Moore blushed with pleasure.  ‘We’ve certainly heard here of your wonderful success in the cinema.’  He used the word cinema to raise the cultural value of Miss Moore’s contribution to the developing world capitol of porn.  then he compulusively blurted out:  ‘Did you know my old friend Eddie Burroughs out there?’

     ‘Do you mean Edgar Rice Burroughs?  No, I’ve never met him but I’ve heard his antics discussed a few times.’

     Antics struck the right note with Martin.

     ‘What antics are you talking about?’  Martin followed up, eager for dirt.

     ‘Well, you know he bought the Otis estate?  Apparently he bit off more than he could chew because no sooner had he bought it than he tried to turn it into a movie location for the studios.  Said he wanted to be a businessman.  He was raising pigs, cows, sheep, whatever, in what we thought was a madcap attempt to salvage the place.  Then, of all things, he developed a golf course and something called the Caballero Country Club.  I guess he thought we would all rush to join, and that after he defamed us all with that horrid book he wrote called ‘The Girl From Hollywood.’  What a time we had to get the publisher from continuing to print that.  I was sure he was talking about me.

      Next, this was really incomprehensible, he decided to start some Bohemian Free Love community.  He sold lots and advertised for people who were like minded to him who minded their own business and lived and let live.  You know what that’s a code for and this after writing his horrible Hollywood story condemning the rest of us for practically the same thing.’

     ‘Yes, Ed always was eccentric although he had charm for some people.  Fell a little flat with me.  You never could tell what he was going to do next.  First he was here and then he was there and then he was back again.  Wouldn’t stay home and wouldn’t stay away although we all wished he would.’

     Martin’s eyes set on a scene of the distant past as his brow lowered and lower lip quivered in bitter remembrance.

     Colleen had heard many of the rumors and stories concerning Burroughs.  Martin and Emma Hulbert from 1896 to 1910 and beyond and especially the famous murder attempt in Toronto.  It appeared the gates were open in Martin’s mind.  Without trying to disturb his thought processes Colleen gently insinuated:  ‘Yes, I understand you and he were rivals for the same woman.’

      Martin wasn’t that far gone.  He looked at her sharply but then as he had already conceived in his mind the notion that he was going to marry this woman he thought it perhaps best to get the story of Emma out in the open.  Thus, wheareas he had been before truly speaking from the soul he now feigned the same expression crafting his evidence for his object.

     ‘The man, it hurts me to call him a man, had no use for Emma but as an adornment to his ego.  He had no intention of marrying her he just wanted the comfort of knowing that she was there waiting for him, she was true blue all wool and a yard wide  too.  I was already thirty, hadn’t been married yet, and she, at my age then,’  he wanted to leave a path open to Colleen, ‘seemed an ideal choice.  She was the perfection of the Gibson image, not like…’  Here Frank was about to make a derogatory reference to the Flapper but caught himself in time. ‘…the pale bloodless Elaine of Tennyson.  Quite a wonderful girl really.  You must have heard that Ed divorced Emma for a tramp half his age.  Disgusting.’

     Colleen was half Frank’s age but both seemed oblivious to the incongruity.

     ‘Yes.  There was a lot of merriment over that one in Hollywood.  Dearholt brought home his mistress to live with he and Flo.  Of course Flo would have nothing to do with it.  She already had her net around Burroughs so I don’t see why she ca…’    Here Colleen had to catch herself from seeming too liberal in sexual matters.  Chicago was no LA and while the same sexual misdoings might have gone on there they were spoken of in a different way.  ‘…red whether he had a mistress or not.  Naturally she wouldn’t have wanted a menage a trois.  But wasn’t there something about Burroughs being almost killed in a barroom fight?’

     ‘Oh, you mean Toronto.  What a trip that was.  The Colonel had business in New York so he was taking the car out of the yards for the trip anyway so I asked Burroughs if he wanted to tag along.’

     ‘I hadn’t heard you were that close friends at the time.  I mean, Emma…did he go along with a rival?’  Of course Colleen knew the whole story but led Martin on to hear him  tell it.

     ‘Did he?  He jumped at it.  ‘That’s what I mean, what was Emma to him?  He didn’t even consider her feelings.  And then he was disgustingly drunk from the moment he stepped in the car.  Drank nonstop from the first thing in the morning to the last thing at night.  We almost threw him off in Cleveland.’

      Characterization is the thing.  It should be clear that Martin is exaggerating for effect while the truth was Burroughs himself drank

Edgar Rice Burroughs- Author Of Tarzan

only because everyone else was as was the order of the day.  The booze was provided courtesy of the Martins and pushed on Burroughs.  A careful selection of facts produces the desired effect.

     ‘Then by the time we got to Toronto all the sot wanted to do was to go to their version of the Levee looking for whores.  Far a guy who seemed pretty well acquainted with the sleazy side of life he hadn’t learned to keep his mouth shut.  He antagonized a couple degenerate brutes and before Patchin and I could make a move one of them flashed a sap that would have crushed Ed’s skull if I hadn’t grabbed the slugger’s arm deflecting the blow.  Had to run him down to the hospital to get him sewed up.  Bloody mess he was; served him right too.’

     ‘Who was Patchin?’

     ‘Dick Patchin.  He came along too.’

     ‘Patchin.  Patchin.  The name doesn’t ring a bell.’

     ‘He wasn’t anybody.  Just a guy I knew so I let him come along.’

     Martin considerably expurgated the story.  In fact Patchin was a go between who knew a number of unsavory characters, being a borderline thug himself.  At Martin’s request he had hired a couple Chicago thugs to travel up to Toronto to meet the party in the Yellow Dog Saloon.  There while Martin and Patchin stood one on either side of Burroughs to identify him words were exchanged followed by the assault with the spring loaded blackjack.

     Martin’s intent had clearly been to murder Burroughs which the blow would have done if Burroughs himself hadn’t been able to get his arm up in time.

     ‘Ed wasn’t anybody then.  Just a bum not much better than the guy who hit him.  You should have seen the excuse for a suit he wore.  No one could have figured he’d become so famous.’  Martin added in self-defense.  ‘Then we came back and before I knew it he and Emma were married.  Cut me out, just like that.’

     ‘And that was that.’  Colleen smiled.   The comment made Martin realize she knew more than he was letting out as why shouldn’t she, the story had been all over Chicago for decades now. 

     ‘I’m not saying I’m not a sore loser.’  Martin sulked.  ‘I gave him hell until he fled Chicago to the wilds of Idaho where he belonged although he took her with him.’

     A passion seemed to seize Martin at this time carrying him along on a flood of reminiscences.

     ‘And then he came back with her again.  the son-of-a-bitch wouldn’t stay away.  Like a bad penny he had to keep turning up.  A kind of madness got me in its grip then.  I couldn’t leave her alone.  Damn, she was true to him.  I couldn’t control myself.  They never had kids you know, so I thought I still had a chance, like maybe she was waiting for me.  They never had kids until after that night.  She was visiting some friends and I just happened by as she was on the way to the streetcar.  I offered her a ride home and she accepted.’  Here what Martin means is he got out of the car forcing her in which as Emma knew him well she allowed rather than embarrassing him by screaming for help.  ‘Then, I don’t know, something took possession of me.  Happens to everyone.   Rather than driving her home as I intended I drove out into the country.  I just wanted to talk to her.  She told me to turn around but I hadn’t said what I had to say yet.  Then she tarted yelling at me and she hit me.  I lost control of the car.  It took the ditch but fortunately we were thrown clear landing in some new plowed furrows.  Neither of us was hurt. Somebody came along and I got us a ride.  I got her home all right.

     I guess she must have convinced Ed but right after that after eight years of marriage they had two kids in a row, I mean right after each other.  That took care of her figure.  After that I didn’t bother her anymore.  I knew he wouldn’t do right by her though.  I’m just surprised it took so long.  Patchin went to see him after the divorce.  The self-centered son-0f-a-bitch was blithe about the whole thing.  After thirty-five years of marriage and three kids he was glad he’d done it, like she had it coming.  He asked Patchin with a sneer and laugh how I was doing.  He was doing OK.  Hah!’

     Colleen put her hand on his meaning to comfort him but coming across cynically:  ‘Hollywood is full of hundreds of the same kind of story.  Life is like that a whole lot, isn’t it?

     With the suspicion of a tear in his eye and a deep wavering sigh Martin actually more than a little embarrassed by his outburst smiled bravely and said:  ‘Well, enough about me.  How about you?  Where did you go to school in Chicago?

     ‘Oh Frank, I wasn’t born in Chicago.  I was born in Port Huron, Michigan, a grim little town I was glad to get out of.  Dad and Mom moved to Florida which I liked a whole lot better.’

     ‘But I thought you were from Chicago?’

     ‘My uncle Walt Howley was the editor of the Examiner who used his influence to get me a screen test with D.W. Griffith when I was fifteen.  The rest is history.  Over the years I’ve come to consider Chicago my second home so when I left Hollywood I came here.’

     And so the evening wore on very agreeably.

     Frank, who was a real candy and flowers man, proved a most charming and romantic suitor.  Just right for the woman whose ideas of romance were reflected by her Fairy Castle.  In the back of his mind Martin obsessed on his old rival Edgar Rice Burroughs.  He had written finished on that particular book but slowly an idea formed in his mind to finish the job he had begun in Toronto.

     To succeed he would have to lure Colleen into using her charms to lure Burroughs back to Chicago.  Prostitute herself after the fashion of a temple priestess.  People always put different names and constructions on their heart’s desires so one evening in September over a candlelit dinner Frank Martin put it to Colleen Moore like this:  Honey…remember when we were kids and we used to set up a chump by having a message sent to him to meet some girl for a hot date then stood and laughed while he waited in vain?’

     Uh huh, Colleen had heard of such things.

     ‘Ed has married this young woman who isn’t half what you are.  When Patchin was in LA to talk to him he said that Ed just raved about the Colleen Moore of Flaming Youth and Naughty But Nice.  I’d like to play a trick on him but I’ll need your help.’

     ‘What kind of help, Frankie?’

     ‘Well, if  you were to send him a letter asking for him to make a miniature book for the miniature library of your miniature castle and make it sound like you were really interested, you know,  hot for him, he might come back to Chicago to see you and then we could stand him up and have a real laugh at his expense.’

      A little of the romance went flat as Colleen interpreted the request to mean that as Burroughs had once taken Martin’s girl now Martin would take Burroughs’s girl.  Certainly this was part of Martin’s plan but the years had passed since those golden years at the turn of the century.  With the coming of prohibition the Capone Mob ahd virtually seized the streets of Chicago staging murder and mayhem on a daily basis.  The recent Century Of Progress Expo of 1933 had been practically controlled for the benefit of the Outfit.  The thugs of 1893 were real amateurs compared to the professional assassins of the incipient Outfit.  It mgiht cost a little bit but Martin thought a drive by shooting with typewriters might be a fitting end to his nemesis.  He didn’t mention that part to Colleen though.

     Unwittingly Frank had thrown a chill on their relationship.  Romance had flown.  In truth Colleen had had enough of Chicago.  Those mobsters were not pleasant to fend off and they were attracted to the Flaming Girl like moths…naw, that’s too corny.  She now longed to get back to Hollywood but wished to return as a conqueror rather than as a dog with its tail between its legs.  It would never have occured to her otherwise but now as she thought about it, yes, she believed she could take Burroughs away from Florence.  Martin waiting with hope and expectancy didn’t notice the change in Colleen’s voice as she said:  ‘I think I see what you’re after.  I think I could do that, Frank Martin, yes.’

     As Martin left Colleen’s apartment he smiled to himself.  ‘Nearly forty years to get that bastard back but it will be worth it.’

     Colleen composed a very nice letter asking Burroughs for a little Tarzan Jr. book for her miniature library.  The letter breathed romance terms like ‘long term relationship’ which were mixed in such a way to imply more than just an enduring friendship.  You didn’t have to be born at the bottom of a wishing well to get your hopes up.

     When Burroughs received the letter in the future Porn Capitol Of The World he was somewhat puzzled to receive a letter from Colleen Moore.  ‘That’s the Flaming Girl herself.’  He thought.  A faint whiff of pleasing scent was emitted as he slit the envelope open which made him raise his eyebrows.  When he read what he read his eyebrows went way up.  To say that he was steamed would be an understatement.  The man had had a smoldering crush on the image of Flaming Youth Colleen had projected in 1923.  He had seen most if not all her pictures.  Separating a movie image from the real person is not always as easy as it seems espcecially as Colleen had reinforced the image in picture after picture.  Naughty But Nice had all but sealed the image for Burroughs.  He failed to note the romantic allusions in the letter as his sexual fantasies ran away with themselves.

     He imagined himself as the legendary sixty minute man rolling and tumbling all night, night after night with the Flaming Girl.  Who can blame him but that wasn’t how it was.

      He should have studied the Fairy Castle a little more closely.  Instead he put together a fairly salacious little volume dedicated wholly to sexual fantasies without a hint of romance.  I told you this piece of fiction was based on a true story; this is the true part.  If you want to see a copy of the little book, Tarzan Jr., go to www.erbzine.com/mag0/0042.html .  It’s right there.

     So Our Man wrote this up, he and his son John Coleman drew some fairly rasty pictures, and posted it back to Colleen.

     Colleen received the little book which she perused thoughtfully.  ‘Why the old buzzard is just a dirty old man.’  She thought, deeply offended.  She put a mental cross through the name of Edgar Rice Burroughs and tossed the little book in the fireplace.   She stood looking after the little book for a few moments then went over to retrieve it.  Romance was romance but the practical Colleen overrode the romantic Colleen.

     When Martin got the news that Burroughs had taken the bait he was overjoyed.  ‘Verily, I shall smite my enemy hip and thigh.’  He said to himself.

     He left Colleen stepping blithely.  Then he bethought himself to have some nice pasta at this little Italian restaurant not too far away.  He didn’t pay much attention to the gentleman who entered a the same time to also enjoy a nice pasta dinner.  This gentleman was Jackie Inglese who had shown too much independence in intra-mob matters.  Jackie was a marked man and this night was his night to be rubbed out.

      Frank emerged from the restaurant just ahead of  Jackie Inglese.  He was standing there contentedly digesting his dinner with roseate thoughts about those typewriters.  ‘Rat-a-tat-tat.’  He said lifting a finger in imitation of a Tommy gun.

     He was so absorbed in his reveries that he didn’t hear the screech of the tires of a big touring car careening around the corner with a young Sam Giancana behind the wheel.  Jackie Inglese did.  Seizing Frank he pulled him in front of himself as a shield beginning the drop to the ground as a battery of Chicago typewriters poked through the open windows of the speeding auto opened up.  It wasn’t the St. Valentine’s Day massacre to anyone but Frank as two slugs found their to his heart and one went through his brain.  Rather amazing that three Tommy guns unleashing about a hundred rounds of ammunition could only get three into Frank but that’s the way it was.  The earthly career of Frank Martin was ended.  Edgar Rice Burroughs would have to go unavenged in this world.  Tough luck.

      Inglese with a deep sigh pushed himself up from the ground.  Without even a look or a thank you to his savior, Frank Martin, he casually dusted himself off, sought a train for the Coast and stayed there until he cooled off.

      Colleen read the news in the papers with a misture of disgust and relief.  She made no further effort to contact Edgar Rice Burroughs who had disgusted her.  Within a month she had married a local businessman named Homer Hargrave.  She lived happily for a while until the old geezer topped off, she really did like mature men, then with the combined fortunes made her successful entry back into Hollywood taking up a residence on Sunset Boulevard.

      As for Ed Burroughs?  He didn’t go on to bigger and better things.  Like Colleen’s his day was past.  It’s possible he might have done something but the big WWII intervened which was probably more rewarding for him than any woman.  He realized his desire to be a war correspondent.  And then after the war was over disease and old age carried him away.

     His dying thought though was of the fabulous Flaming Girl and what could have been.  It is the kind of thought to hold on to when the lights go out.

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