A Review: Pt. 6, Tarzan Triumphant by Edgar Rice Burroughs

August 5, 2011

Themes And Variations

The Tarzan Novels Of Edgar Rice Burroughs

#15  Tarzan Triumphant

by

R.E. Prindle

Part 6

Threads And Strands Of The Web

For I must speak what wisdom would conceal,

And truth, invidious to the great, reveal.

–Homer

     More than likely it is a coincidence that  Burroughs wrote a fictional account of time and space weaving a web at this time, for Fate was bringing together threads and strands of the web of his own life in a picture of unparalleled opportunity and deadly peril.  The decisions Burroughs would make would determine the outcome.  His life could have gone another way.  Or, perhaps, Burroughs sensed the impending crises and fictioned them in an attempt to deal with them.

     We are already aware of the conflicts with the Judaeo-Communists.  It seems clear that they were the original aggressors and that Burroughs was in reaction to them, in other words, on the defensive.  Thus these first two Tarzan novels of the thirties are direct attacks on both aggressors.  If Burroughs expected counter attacks there seems to be no evidence that he prepared for them.  He never seems to have sat down to coolly analyze the problem in order to have a plan.

     In fact, there seems to be little evidence that he ever actually realized the consequences of his success or how to handle it.  While he had incorporated himself he made no effort to corporately structure his writing enterprise.  In point of fact as a creative artist he was fundamentally incapable of running a structured business.  Doing so would have interfered with his creative function.  In fact, I am convinced that he dissipated his creative energies by becoming involved in business decisions to the extent he did.

     Developing an organization is very difficult.  While he should have done this, without a very fortuitous combination of circumstances it is very doubtful he could have.  Hollywood was full of sharpers ready to take advantage of creative talent and in this case and nearly all others they did.

     On the positive side, from 1911 to, say, 1928 ERB had created an unparalleled intellectual property in Tarzan.  One in a zillion chance.  As the twenties developed unparalleled opportunities to exploit the property evolved.

     Apart from publishing, the three key profit centers were comics, movies and radio.  All three strands came to fruition as the thirties began.  Each required a slightly different approach.  Each required thinking out with an intellectual departure from the past.

     At this crucial moment ERB’s past arose to drag him down from behind.  He was unable to make the emotional transition from what was essentially an emotionally battered youth to a successful, affluent man in control of his destiny.  He remained psychologically attached to his personal relationship to Tarzan as an aspect of his personality rather than objectifying the character as a psychological projection for the world.  He had prepared the way to make Tarzan a savior man-god but then couldn’t separate him from his own personality.  If Fate had thrown the right people in his way they could have done this for him.

     Thus rather than maximize his financial returns he essentially shot his feet off.  He carped at the various media companies to the point where he was viewed as troublesome, an undesirable actually.  Thus while he expected great financial returns including the means to buy a yacht, he sabotaged his own efforts to obtain them.

     He belittled the returns of the comic strip for instance, bemoaning that it only returned thirty dollars a day.  Well, that was eleven thousand dollars a year, every year.  He could count on it.  His MGM contract for Tarzan, The Ape Man provided him the exact same return.  Twenty-two thousand divided by two years is eleven thousand a year.

     At the time ERB signed the MGM contract he had a very valuable intellectual property already fully developed but he had developed a reputation among the Studios.  The Studios had already had extensive dealings with him from the silent era.  ERB, without a plan to market Tarzan had accepted whatever money came his way.  Two of his titles had been sold in 1921 although production of them had been shelved.  In 1927 FBO Studios decided to film Tarzan And The Golden Lion.  While this film was lost for decades a print of the film was discovered which was issued on DVD in 2006 so that it can now be viewed.

     In my opinion FBO did handsomely by ERB.  A good clear scenario was written by William Wing that remained true to the spirit of Burroughs’ work; perhaps more than it ought to have in a movie sense.  The filming, the photography is terrific; it has never been done better, not by MGM, not by RKO.  It is true that Wing invented a sister for Tarzan but this is a minor point.

     I find it difficult to undertand what ERB was disgruntled about except that another writer was handling his alter ego.  The difference between a movie scenario and a book is very distinct.  There would have been no way to get the entire convoluted story of Golden Lion on the screen so Wing wisely chose to develop a variation on the story of the Valley of Diamonds.  Even so he threw in an earthquake scene a la Jewels Of Opar and Tarzan’s jumping the gap in the tunnel.

     If anything his attempt to write as closely to Burroughs as he did lessened the impact of the film with some needless clutter.  If, in 1935’s New Adventures Of Tarzan for which Burroughs provided the story idea, Dearholt attempted to tell the story more or less as Burroughs wrote, then the result was a hopeless mish mash.  The movie was no truer to Burroughs’ Tarzan than FBO’s film, while lacking the clarity and force of the latter.  Burroughs should have been grateful to FBO for an excellent movie.  My idea of the best of the lot even though silent.

     Had I been associated with FBO I would have found ERB’s criticisms nitpicking and offensive.  After all FBO broke the boycott ERB had been under since 1922.  The FBO movie triggered a response from Universal which held the rights to Jungle Tales and Jewels Of Opar.  These titles were released as Tarzan The Mighty and Tarzan The Tiger starring Frank Merrill.  At present there is no print of Tarzan The Mighty while as of December 5, 2006 I am still awaiting the release of Tarzan The Tiger.  ERB once again was unhappy with these films, voicing loud complaints.  All this carping could have done little for his reputation among the Studios.  Before the long hiatus of Tarzan movies from 1921 to 1927 he had been run off the lot during the filming.

     According to the ERBzine Timeline for the ’30s ERB approached MGM in 1930 asking $75,000 for a movie and was rebuffed.  If this is true, $22,000 in 1931 was quite a comedown.  MGM solved ERB’s querulousness by obtaining the rights to do with the character as they wished.  They promptly disdained Burrughs’ storylines for their own while changing the character of Tarzan from that of an international sophisticate to that of a feral boy.

     As the first full sound Tarzan, MGM hit the jackpot with the victory cry of the bull ape.  The Tarzan yell would be the trademark of the charcter, although hardly a blood chilling fearsome holler.  Burroughs himself couldn’t do better as Herman Brix in New Adventures merely growls out a long drawn Tar-man-gan-eee with the last sylable in falsetto.  More laughable than fearsome.

     In between these two films Sol Lesser released a monstrosity starring Buster Crabbe.  Lesser never got the handle on Tarzan on his own, instead borrowing the MGM Characterization when he acquired the rights from them.

     Lesser and his brother Irving were independent producers of some substance.  Sol was born in 1890 in Spokane, Washington, dying at 90 in 1980.  There is even a biography of his life.  Not easy to find and not available on any site when I looked.  If anybody knows where one is or having one could make a copy for me it would be much appreciated.

     Lesser’s father who was in the nickelodeon business died in 1907 in San Francisco leaving the business to Sol and brother Irving.  Sol got involved in distribution in 1910 eventually forming the Golden Gate Film Exchange in 1915.

     In that year San Francisco’s infamous Barbary Coast was shuttered.  Before the closure Lesser filmed the area, selling the movie.  It would be interesting if the film was still around.

     He made the right moves.  After distribution he became a producer for First National and then formed a chain of movie theatres.  After an aborted retirement he reentered production forming his own independent studio called either Principle or Principal Pictures.  David Fury spells the name Principal in his Kings Of The Jungle and that sounds right.  This was apparently Sol’s status when he acquired the rights to Tarzan from a third party in 1928 and when he made the Crabbe abortion in 1933.

     Lesser was influential in Hollywood.  He made it a point to know and be known.  In the early thirties it was he who was responsible for introducing Disney to Joseph Schench (pronounced Skenk) and facilitating Disney’s move from Columbia to United Artists.

     One can’t be sure of his politics from the sources cited but according to the New York Times:

     …Lesser forsook production for distribution again, returning to the creative end of moviemaking in 1931 when, through is friendshlip with writer Upton Sinclair, he became involved with the Sergei Eisenstein project, Thunder Over Mexico.

     Thunder Over Mexico was undoubtedly a Communist diatribe.  Sol Lesser while involved with consevatives like Disney and Burroughs, also played the other side of the street with the likes of Upton Sinclair and the Jewish film maker, Sergei Eisenstein of Battleship Potemkin fame.

     It would seem probable that he at least knew such luminaries as Louis B. Mayer and possibly Irving Thalberg.  Even though he could have foiled both Burroughs and MGM with his prior rights to Tarzan, he characteristically stepped aside, for remuneration of course, to let their films play through.  It would be interesting to know how and why he obtained his rights from a third party and how they had obtained theirs.

     One doesn’t know what his relationship to Mayer and MGM was at this time but it is noteworthy that he acquired exclusive rights to Tarzan when MGM abandoned the profitable series.  Under Lesser the movies continued to gross two to three million a picture.

     Sound movies should have been a gold mine for Burroughs if he had handled himself properly.  Instead through his impulsiveness and vanity there were at least four competing Tarzans on the screens from 1930 to 1935.  This must have created confusion in the public’s mind, while injuring Burroughs’ financial returns.

     At the time sound brought the potential of immense movie profits to Burroughs the thread of radio also came to maturity about 1930.  While the evangelists were quick to capitalize on the potential of radio, Burroughs wasn’t far behind.  Perhaps the success of Aimee Semple Mcpherson showed him the way.

     As the decade dawned, his eye turned in radio’s direction.  By 1932 he was successful in launching a show.   Once again ERB failed to analyze the difference between books and a new medium.  Radio was for him the most lucrative of all his ventures.  His revenues from radio equaled his income from all other sources combined.  This income stream could have continued unabated through the thirties but, once again, ERB interfered with the show rather than contributed.  Undoubtedly because of his constant carping the first series was not renewed.  A second series was launched which was also discontinued.  From 1935 until his death he was unable to get on radio again.  After his death in 1950 a new series was launched.

     Thus, between publishing, comics, movies and radio ERB was provided opportunities to exploit his great labor in creating the ultimate intellectual property of the twentieth century and blew it.  The personality forming psychology of his youth popped up to prevent his realizing his most cherished dreams in this sphere of his life as it did in his relationship to women.

b.

     If ERB had read his Homer at some earlier time, or possibly, earlier times in his life, it seems evident that he reread the Odyssey, for sure, at this time.  The evidence is prominent in these five novels, especially Triumphant and City Of Gold.  A text in all five novels is the struggle between the La aspect of his Anima and that of Jane.  Subconsciously he had steered his love life to this critical juncture where he would have to choose one and reject the other.

     There may have been a fortuitousness in his choosing to concentrate on his own Odyssey at this time.  He was able to capitalize on a number of good story ideas, while on the other hand a major story line of the Odyssey is the examination of a man’s control of his sexual desires.  A key story of this aspect is the story of the seductress Circe.  By inducing all men to abandon themselves to unbridled sexual desire she turns them all into pigs.  A lesson for contemporary times.  Odysseus avoids this by having a pocketful of Moly.  Moly is some sort of charm that allows him to resist Circe’s seductions.

      Thus Odysseus retains his manly integrity while securing the release of his crew.  The Sirens, Calypso and the other women are all temptations for Odysseus to abandon his manhood for the luxuries of sex or in other word, the Matriarchy.  He resists them all to return home to Penelope in Ithaca where she sits lonely endlessly weaving her web.

      One can’t know directly how Burroughs read the story or even if the above details registered with him; nevertheless these five novels are about a man’s relationships with women and more specifically they concern the details of ERB’s relationships with women.  The story as told by him is a troubled one.

     It would appear that his cherished Anima image of the previous forty years or so, La of Opar, no longer answered his needs, so at the end of Invincible Tarzan abandons La of Opar.  She and Opar disappear from the oeuvre never to be mentioned again.

     In real life perhaps La has been replaced by Florence who now figures as the Golden Girl.  With the appearance of Jezebel in Triumphant the Golden Girl makes her first appearance to dominate the stage until Lion Man and the end of this five novel series.

     In Triumphant the Jane aspect which has been missing for the last couple novels parachutes back into ERB’s life.  He marries her off  to the stable aspect of his Animus while pairing the Golden Girl with the low life aspect of his Animus.

     Emma had always said ERB was a low brow so perhaps he found it too unpleasant aping high brow manners giving up the fight to indulge that aspect of his Animus more comfortable to him.

     In this struggle Florence had been removed from the scene.  Back during the writing of this novel Burroughs quickly opted to join his low life aspect with his sexual desire for the Golden Girl.  His Moly gave out on him.  Thus Danny ‘Gunner’ Patrick is transformed into Old Timer of Leopard Man while Jezebel becomes the platinum blonde, Kali Bwana.

     Having made the decision to take the Golden Girl he has to eliminate the Jane aspect which he does in City Of Gold.  Perhaps wavering a trifle in Lion Man he seems to have created a type of middle Tarzan Anima figure in Rhonda Terry.  While he rejects Naomi/Jane he seems to have misgivings about Balza/Florence as the Golden Girl.

     But, by this time the die had been cast so that in real life he does leave Emma to begin his life with Florence as a born again sex hound.  As Old Timer in Leopard Men he says he was entitled to some pleasure in life and by God he was going to take it.

     So, in both his business life and his personal life his past rose up and bit him in the behind destroying any chance he had to realize his true desires.  I’m afraid I have to look at the remainder of his life as a failure as he was unable to eliminate the psychological impediments placed in his way by his early life.  Not that he didn’t try.  He appears to have studied psychology trying to find a way through to the other side of the maze of consciousness.  Thus we have the subterranean passages too dark for anyone to find their way, yet his characters do.  As he searches for a way out, the past rises up in the shape of deformed monsters like the Oparians beneath the Sacred City.

     Or the round about way Tarzan and La found their way out of the lion cage in Invincible to be betrayed by the Old Man who professed to be true to La.  Who was the Old Man?  The shade of the past?  David Adams has brought emphasis to this scene in his review of “The Ancient Dead of the City of Horz,” itself a dead city on the shores of a dead sea in Burroughs Bulletin #68.

     By the writing of The Ancient Dead, ERB no longer had any hope to escape his past, while at the same time it was too late.

     So, as the matter turned out, this period from 1930 to 1934 was the final crucial period in ERB’s life where he could have taken control of his destiny.  He apparently sensed that the threads and strands of the web of his life were being brought together by Fate.

     I neither condemn nor advise, unlike the literary fashion of today.  I assume no superior airs, nor do I have a right to do so, but the fact is that had he been able to control his sexuality while restraining his impulsiveness, Fate might have been kinder to him at this juncture.  As he was unable to order his psychology Fate, as it were, laid him low.

     The critical junctures were the impetuous signing with MGM, his abandonment of Emma and his mismanagement of his radio affairs.

     I have now covered four of the five Tarzan novels of this period.  The last, The City City Of Gold deals with his ferocious sexual needs that destroyed his chances for success.

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