You know you’ve really made it as a writer when a town is named after a well-known character you created … or better yet, when an entire crater on Mars bears your name.
American author Edgar Rice Burroughs, whose birthday we celebrate on September 1, can lay claim to such honors.
Burroughs, best known for his Tarzan stories, once served in General Custer’s Seventh U.S. Cavalry. He later worked as a ranch hand, salesman, and advertising copywriter before attempting fiction in 1911 at age 36.
His imagination, fired by astronomer Percival Lowell’s theories of the canals of Mars, prompted Burroughs to write his first novel, Under the Moons of Mars, for a pulp fiction magazine. The title changed to A Princess of Mars in book form.
Of the 11 books in the Mars series, all featured the principal character John Carter. This series is considered the most widely influential sci-fi series ever created, influencing everything from Star Wars to Avatar.
In fact, author Michael Crichton, creator of the TV show ER, so loved the John Carter books as a boy, he named one of the characters on the show John Carter.
Burroughs published Tarzan of the Apes, his second story, in 1912. Sales of this fascinating story about the son of an English nobleman abandoned in Africa and raised by apes made him a best-selling author.
The Tarzan stories, 26 in all, have been translated into nearly 60 languages, with worldwide sales topping 25 million copies. As the money poured in, Burroughs was able to open his own publishing house.
The character of Tarzan remains one of the most famous of all fictional heroes. Comic strips, radio serials, three television series, and at least 40 movies, including a Disney animated film and a 1998 spoof, George of the Jungle, cashed in on Tarzan’s popularity.
In 1919, Burroughs bought a ranch near Hollywood in order to be near the filming of his Tarzan movies. He named it Tarzana.
The citizens living in the community surrounding Tarzana voted to adopt the name Tarzana when their town was incorporated in 1928.
Burroughs saw his Tarzan stories as wholesome family entertainment. In order to protect this image of Tarzan, his descendants in 1996 sued the makers of “Jungle Heat,” an interactive CD-ROM, for demeaning “the good, wholesome, and attractive images of Tarzan.”
A shrewd businessman, Burroughs not only copyrighted the books, he protected the character of Tarzan with a trademark which does not expire. This enables his descendants to forever control products or media that use the name or likeness of Tarzan.
Burroughs also wrote four western adventure stories based on his experience as a young ranch hand in Idaho and as a cavalry soldier in Arizona. Some critics claim it’s his best writing, especially the portrayal of Geronimo and his renegade Apaches.
At age 66, too old for active service in World War II, he served as the oldest war correspondent covering the South Pacific Theater. Before he died in 1950, Burroughs wrote 68 novels and sold more than 100 million copies.