Malibu Surfside News

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Wednesday, March 07, 2012

‘Tarzan’ and ‘John Carter’ Creator Was First Malibu Mayor


The newly remodeled Malibu Library is scheduled to open its doors on April 22. In anticipation of the event, the Malibu Surfside News will be taking a look at some of the amazingly diverse writers who have made Malibu their home and shaped its literary landscape.
In 1991, the City of Malibu incorporated and Walt Keller became the newly created municipality’s first official Mayor of Malibu, but he wasn’t the first person to receive the title. That honor goes to Tarzan and John Carter of Mars creator Edgar Rice Burroughs, who was named unofficial Mayor of Malibu in 1932.
Burroughs was a household name in the early 20th century. He wrote dozens of bestselling pulp fiction stories set in exotic locales and filled with noble savages, aristocratic heroes, damsels in distress and despicable villains.
His output included 25 Tarzan novels, 10 novels set on Mars, in addition to stories about a hidden prehistoric world at the center of the earth, travels to Venus, which the science of the era envisioned as a jungle planet, westerns, historical romances and a series of contemporary pulp adventures involving an alcoholic prizefighter.
Tarzan and John Carter, Burroughs’ best known fictional creations, are both celebrating their 100 anniversary this year. The Internet Movie Database lists 89 film versions of Tarzan’s adventures.
John Carter, the Civil War captain who finds himself mysteriously transported to the red planet, is debuting on the big screen for the first time this week, in director Andrew Stanton’s film “John Carter,” which reportedly cost Walt Disney Pictures $250 million to make.
Burroughs was born on Sept. 1, 1875, in Chicago, Illinois. He and his young family lived in Oak Park, Illinois during the period when his career as a writer began.
By 1919 Burroughs, his wife Emma Hulbert, and their three children were established on a ranch in a part of the San Fernando Valley that would come to be known as Tarzana.
According to the Los Angeles Evening Herald, Burroughs purchased a seven-room Mediterranean-style Malibu house with 40 feet of ocean frontage in August of 1931 for $25,000.
“Edgar Rice Burroughs, author of the Tarzan stories and daily contributor of the Tarzan picture in The Times, has bought a beach home at Malibu,” an L.A. Times “exclusive” ran on Aug. 9, 1931.
“The Burroughs’ home at Tarzana will be maintained only for the winter and early spring months. In the beach home is a specially fitted study where the author will continue to turn out his popular stories.”
May Rindge, the last owner of the Malibu Rancho, sold La Costa Beach in 1926 for $6 million to real estate developer Harold Ferguson to help defray the cost of litigation over government plans to open the rancho to public access. Ferguson created the La Costa Beach Club and began selling lots.
When Burroughs moved to La Costa, there were only a few houses and a nearly 360-degree vista of unspoiled beach and mountains.
Only “Lost on Venus,” serialized in the publication Argosy in 1933, is documented to have been written entirely at the Malibu residence, although it was a prolific period for Burroughs, who completed eight novels in the early 1930s.
In 1932 MGM released the first Tarzan “talkie,” “Tarzan the Ape Man,” starring Johnny Weissmuller.
By September of 1932 the Tarzana house was for sale, and Burroughs, who was undergoing a divorce from his first wife, stated that he planned to move permanently to Malibu.
In a letter dated Dec. 31, 1932 Burroughs describes the construction of a second house adjacent to the first. The new structure, larger than the original residence “completely hides the old house.”
Burroughs reportedly threw himself into seaside living with enthusiasm. A subsequent owner of the house, who lived there in the 1960s and 70s, said that neighbors remembered the author as an energetic man who walked and swam in all weathers, often accompanied by an enormous old English sheepdog, who was allegedly the bane of the Burroughs’ family housekeeper, owing to a coat of hair that could transport “half the beach’s sand” into the house.
Associated Press, on Sept. 14, 1933, reported: “Mr. Edgar Rice Burroughs, novelist, is the new mayor of Malibu, fashionable movie beach resort. Mr. Burroughs was elected at a town meeting, while he was aboard the S.S. Antigua, bound for Panama on a short trip.”
The title was purely honorary.
Burroughs’ time in Malibu was one of personal turmoil and transition but largely uneventful in terms of local historical events. However, the author provides the only known written account from Malibu of the devastating Long Beach Earthquake, March 10, 1933.
The official Burroughs website,, summarizes the incident: “Ed and dinner guests are sitting in the Malibu residence study waiting for dinner when a major earthquake strikes just before 6 p.m. Severe shaking and a ceiling that appears to move in circles send them out to Roosevelt Highway.
“The cook/server is most upset at the meal being ruined, having his table setting messed up and having to turn off the gas. Despite continual aftershocks they manage to have dinner at 10 p.m. [Burroughs] counts at least 35 aftershocks over the next few days.
“Ed found the first shock to be rather thrilling but he finds the long string of aftershocks to be very hard to adjust to.”
Burroughs’ divorce was completed in 1934. He married actress Florence Gilbert Dearholt in 1935 and moved to Hawaii in 1940.
Malibu became a ghost town during the war. Blackout restrictions and gasoline and tire rationing made travel to the still-remote area almost impossible. Hysteria over the potential for a Japanese invasion added to the uncertainty.
Burroughs was in Honolulu during the Pearl Harbor attack. He received permission to become a war correspondent, despite being in his late 60s, and spent the war years in the Pacific.
It’s unclear when Burroughs sold the La Costa property, but he returned to the San Fernando Valley after the war.
ERB Inc., incorporated by Burroughs in 1926, still maintains an office on a small corner of what was once Burroughs’ ranch.
Burroughs died in 1950. He is regarded today as one of the early 20th century’s most popular authors, and his most popular works have remained almost constantly in print.

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