Tarzan Forever: The Life of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Creator of Tarzan

John Taliaferro, Author Scribner Book Company $30 (400p) ISBN 978-0-684-83359-0
Burroughs (1875-1950), the prolific pulp novelist whose Tarzan saga unfolded in adventure tales and movies, sold 60 million books during his lifetime, making him the bestselling American author of the first half of this century. While Taliaferro, former L.A. bureau chief at Newsweek, acknowledges the mediocrity of Burroughs's fiction, and fully exposes the pulp writer's racism and outlandish political beliefs, this low-key bio is also a compelling case study of the mushrooming of popular culture. In 1923, the one-time pencil-sharpener salesman became one of the first writers to incorporate, overseeing an empire encompassing story syndication, ranching and real estate. He struck lucrative deals to turn his lord-of-the-apes yarns into motion pictures, plays, a radio show and a daily comic strip. He also licensed Tarzan statuettes, Tarzan ice cream and Tarzan board games. Burroughs emerges as a predecessor of Walt Disney, whose life often seems as improbable as his fantastical plots. A frequent school dropout, rejected by the Rough Riders in 1898, he took a string of dreary jobs and failed in two marriages, finally turning to writing in his mid-30s. A rabid eugenicist, he advocated sterilization of ""instinctive criminals"" as well as ""defectives and incompetents."" He ""never set foot in Africa,"" according to Taliaferro, but at age 66, he traversed the Pacific as the oldest American correspondent to cover WWII. Taliaferro convincingly portrays the adventure novelist as a vain workaholic who lived beyond his means and kept churning out material to finance his tastes for cars, thoroughbreds and even an airplane of his own. Despite the myriad poor films and imitators Burroughs inspired, Tarzan lives on, and his fans will find this entertaining, warts-and-all bio irresistible. Photos. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 03/29/1999
Release date: 04/01/1999
Paperback - 400 pages - 978-0-7432-3650-8
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