Remembering Edgar Rice Burroughs on his birthday; Video, Slideshow, and his hilarious autobiographical sketch

Edgar Rice Burroughs

Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950)

Portrait by Don Marquez

Oil portrait of Edgar Rice Burroughs by Don Marquez. Visit

Edgar Rice Burroughs was born 137 years ago today on September 1, 1875.   JCF was very happy to be able to contribute the following short video clip which was shown as part of the Tarzan-John Carter Centennial Celebration banquet on August 18, 2012.   It begins with some material we have shown before (it comes from “The Life and Mind of Edgar Rice Burroughs”, our documentary-in-progress), but includes three minutes of new material focusing on ERB the man (as opposed to author) including something pretty cool at the end.

And here is a slideshow in honor of ERB’s Birthday……..this is brand new — done just this morning so let’s call it a draft at this point, as I’m sure some things will need tweaking but the birthday is slipping away and I want to get this up.


Official Biography

From the day he was born, in Chicago, on September 1, 1875, until he submitted one-half a novel to All-Story Magazine in 1911, Edgar Rice Burroughs failed in nearly every enterprise he tried

He attended half a dozen public and private schools before he finally graduated in 1895 from Michigan Military Academy, an institution Burroughs himself described as “a polite reform school.”

Having failed the entrance examination to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, he enlisted as a private in the Seventh U.S. Cavalry, for he had the notion that he might still obtain a commission as an officer if he distinguished himself in a difficult assignment. Thus, he asked to be sent to the worst post in America–a request the authorities speedily granted.

The post was Fort Grant in the Arizona desert, and his mission, as he put it, was to “chase the Apaches”. “I chased a good many Apaches”, he tells us, “But fortunately for me, I never caught up with any of them.”

Private Burroughs soon had his fill of Fort Grant, and after appealing to his father for help, his discharge was arranged through political friends. In 1900, he married Emma Centennia Hulbert, who dutifully followed him back and forth across America during the next eleven years.

He became a cowboy in Idaho, then a shopkeeper, a railroad policeman, a gold miner, and even an “expert accountant”, although he knew nothing of the profession. Throughout this period he somehow raised money for a number of his own businesses, all of which sank without a trace.

Life was dismal for the newly-married couple. Burroughs became depressed, his wife discouraged. Perhaps to escape from the grim reality of his own life, or perhaps to amuse Emma, he would often sketch darkly humorous cartoons or write fantastic fairy tales of other worlds.

Much later, he was to confirm the fact that he wrote all his stories, particularly those of other worlds, as much for his own entertainment as for that of his readers.

“In all these years I have not learned one single rule for writing fiction. I still write as I did 30 years ago; stories which I feel would entertain me and give me mental relaxation, knowing that there are millions of people just like me who will like the same things I like. Anyway, I have great fun with my imaginings, and I can appreciate–in a small way–the swell time God had in creating the Universe.”

By 1911, Burroughs’ position had become so desperate that not even his cartoons and stories could block out the frustrating fact of his successive failures. He hardly knew where to turn next, and even went so far as to apply for a commission in the Chinese Army. (The application was summarily rejected.)

Finally he reached rock bottom. He was 35 years old, without a job, without money. There was a wife and two children to support, and a third child was expected soon. He could buy food and coal only by pawning his watch and Emma’s jewelry.

“Then,” he tells us, “somehow I got hold of a few dollars and took an agency for the sale of a lead-pencil sharpener. I would not try to sell the sharpeners myself, but I advertised for agents and sent them out. They did not sell any pencil sharpeners, but in the leisure moments, while I was waiting for them to come back to tell me that they had not sold any, I started writing UNDER THE MOONS OF MARS, my first story.”

“I had no idea how to submit a story or what I could expect in payment. Had I known anything about it at all, I would never have thought of submitting half a novel, but that is what I did. Thomas Newell Metcalf, then editor of All-Story Magazine, published by The Prank A. Munsey Co., wrote me that he liked the first half of the story and if the second was as good he thought he might use it. Had he not given me this encouragement, I would never have finished the story and my writing career would have been at an end, since I was not writing because of any urge to write nor for any particular love of writing. I was writing because I had a wife and two babies, a combination which does not work well without money.

“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.”

Today, that story is acclaimed by scholars as the turning point of 20th century science fiction, and new editions of it continue to be published each year throughout the world.

Now that you’ve read the official version of his life, next up is his hilarious “Autobiographical Sketch” written in 1932 with tongue firmly locked in cheek (although I’ve actually seen this presented as if it were real — it’s real in the sense that Burroughs wrote it in 1932, but the tale it tells is as fanciful as any other fiction Burroughs ever wrote).

An Autobiographical Sketch by Edgar Rice Burroughs

I am sorry that I have not led a more exciting existence, so that I might offer a more interesting biographical sketch; but I am one of those fellows who has few adventures and always gets to the fire after it is out.

I was born in Peking at the time that my father was military advisor to the Empress of China, and lived there, in the Forbidden City, until I was ten years old. An intimate knowledge of the Chinese language acquired during those years has often stood me in good stead since, especially in prosecuting two of my favorite studies, Chinese philosophy and Chinese ceramics.

Shortly after the family returned to the United States I was kidnapped by gypsies and held by them for almost three years. They were not unkind to me. and in many respects the life appealed to me, but eventually I escaped and returned to my parents.

EVEN TODAY, after the lapse of many years, I distinctly recall the storm-torn night of my escape. Pedro, the king of the gypsies, always kept me in his tent at night where he and his wife could guard me. He was a very light sleeper, which had always presented a most effective obstacle to my eluding the clutches of my captors.
This night the rain and wind and thunder aided me. Waiting until Pedro and his wife were asleep, I started to crawl toward the tent flap. As I passed close beside the king one of my hands fell upon a hard metal object lying beside him; it was Pedro’s dagger. At the same instant Pedro awoke. A vivid lightning flash illuminated the interior of the tent, and I saw Pedro’s eyes fixed upon me.

Perhaps fright motivated me, or perhaps it was just anger against my abductors. My fingers closed upon the hilt of his dagger, and in the darkness that followed the lightning I plunged the slim steel blade deep into his heart. He was the first man I had ever killed; he died without a sound.

My parents were rejoiced by my return, as they had long since abandoned all hope of ever seeing me again. For a year we travelled in Europe, where under a tutor, I pursued my interrupted education to such good effect that I was able to enter Yale upon our return.
WHILE AT YALE I won a few athletic honors, annexing both the heavyweight boxing and wrestling championships; and in my senior year I captained the football team and the crew. Graduating summa cum laude, I spent two years at Oxford and then returned to the United States and enlisted in the army for a commission from the ranks.

At the end of two years I received my appointment as a second lieutenant and was attached to the 7th Cavalry. My first active service was with Custer at the battle of the Little Big Horn, of which I was the sole survivor.

My escape from death during the massacre was almost miraculous. My horse had been shot from under me, and I was fighting on foot with the remnant of my troop. I can only guess at what actually occurred; but I believe that the bullet that struck me in the head must have passed through the head of the man in front of me and, with its force spent, merely have stunned me.

I fell with my body between two small boulders; and later a horse was shot above me, his body falling on top of mine and concealing it from the eyes of the enemy, the two boulders preventing it’s weight from crushing me. Gaining consciousness after dark, I crawled from beneath the horse and made my escape.
AFTER WANDERING for six weeks in an effort to elude the Indians and rejoin my people, I reached an army outpost, but when I attempted to rejoin my regiment I was told that I was dead. Insistence upon my rights resulted in my being arrested for impersonating an officer. Every member of the court knew me and deeply deplored the action they were compelled to take; but I was officially dead, and army regulations are army regulations. I took the matter to Congress, but had no better success there; and finally I was compelled to change my name, adopting that which I now use, and start life all over again. . .

For several years I fought Apaches in Arizona. but the monotony of it palled upon me, and I was overjoyed when I received a telegram from the late Henry M. Stanley inviting me to join his expedition to Africa in search of Dr. Livingstone.

I accepted immediately and also put five hundred thousand dollars at his disposal, but with the understanding that my name or my connection with the expedition was not to be divulged, as I have always shrunk from publicity.

SHORTLY AFTER ENTERING AFRICA I became separated from the relief party and was captured by Tippoo Tib’s Arabs. The night that they were going to put me to death I escaped, but a week later I fell into the hands of a tribe of cannibals. My long, golden hair and my flowing mustache and beard of the same hue filled them with such awe that they accorded me the fearful deference that they reserved for their primitive gods and demons.

They offered me no harm, but kept me a prisoner among them for three years. They also kept in captivity several large anthropoid apes of a species which I believe is entirely unknown to science. The animals were of huge size and of great intelligence; and during my captivity I learned their language, which was to stand me in such good stead when I decided, many years later, to record some of my experiences in the form of fiction.

I finally escaped from the cannibal village and made my way to the coast, where, penniless and friendless, I shipped before the mast on a windjammer bound for China.

Wrecked off the coast of Asia, I eventually made my way overland to Russia, where I enlisted in the imperial cavalry. A year later it happened to be my good fortune to kill an anarchist as he was attempting the assassination of the Czar; for this service I was made a captain and attached to the imperial bodyguard.

It was while in his Majesty’s Service that I met my wife, a lady-in-waiting to the Czarina; and when, shortly after we were married, my grandfather died and left me eight million dollars we decided to come to America to live.

With my wife’s fortune and mine, it was unnecessary for me to work; but I could not be idle; so I took up writing, more as a pastime than as a vocation.

We lived in Chicago for some years and then came to Southern California, where we have lived for more than thirteen years at that now famous watering place, Tarzana.

We have eleven children, seventeen grandchildren, and three great grandchildren.

I have tasted fame… it is nothing.
I find my greatest happiness in being alone with my violin.


  • I love everything he has ever written but to me it seems like his At THE EARTHS CORE series doesn’t get much attention. Everybody has their own opinion and mine is At The Earths Core and all of the series after are my favorite reads. I’m currently rereading the series again for about the 5th time scince I was first introduced to his writing by a co-worker in 1976 at the age of 18. I’d give anything to have been able to talk with him . What an imagination. I also love what he says about why he wrote his story’s. ERB IS THE MAN!

  • The video and slideshow are very good. Thank you for the tributes on Edgar Rice Buroughs’ birthday.

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