Family Archive Series
ERB: The War Years
. . . AND NOW. . . IN THE VERY WORDS
OF MR. BURROUGHS. . .
Excerpts from the Wartime Letters of
the Dean of Correspondents in the WWII Pacific
Edgar Rice Burroughs
1298 Kapiolani Boulevard ~ Honolulu
Collated by Bill Hillman
The letters are to daughter Joan Burroughs
unless otherwise stated
June 12 1940 ~ Lanikai, Oahu
I was tickled to death to learn how quickly the children learned to
swim and dive. It is wonderful that they have this opportunity.
I'll bet Hulbert gets a big kick out of instructing such apt pupils.
I have been sixty-four years trying to learn, and up to now have arrived
nowhere. I go in the ocean with the children and jump up and
down as the rollers come in. I'm too damned scared to swim out.
I don't know why. Caryl Lee has been poisoned by Portugese Men-o-War
only twice so far, and a next door neighbor of ours caught only five sharks
in his net day before yesterday practically in front of our house.
I keep a diary - just a notation of happenings
without comments or philosophizing. It helps me remember the names
of people I meet. The trouble is that I usually can't remember them
over night, and so don't get them all in my diary.
Am glad that you have had some of the work you like and that Jim is
doing so well. Shall look forward to seeing Spring Parade
and Boys From Syracuse.
I have always regretted that I could not
play the piano. My fingers are too damn big - one of them would slop
over three keys. Otherwise, I am quite musical.
I can't get used to "Joanne". but I think
it was a sensible change (from Joan II); and it is a very pretty name.
They (the Hallidays) are lovely people,
and they seem to like us. They are always dropping in or calling
us up to come over there. Jack is out now with our children and his
little Laddie to take them swimming down at Lanikai Beach with some other
children he wanted our to meet. I first saw him in Tovarish
while Florence and I were in New York several years ago;
Speaking of gossip, there was plenty of
it after the parties on which we met Louella Parsons and Harry Martin.
I have known Martin since the early days of the old Breakfast Club and
Louella for two or three years. I must say that when she has mentioned
me in her column she has always been very kind. I can be no less.
June 17 1940 ~ Lanikai, Oahu
[Your Father's Day radiogram was telephoned to me yesterday] after
I returned from a week-end fishing trip at Waianae, which I have marked
with a red circle on one of the enclosed maps. . . We were out in
Dudley Lewis' 33' sampan hoping for a marlin or a broadbill. There
are terrific ground swells on that side of the island, and with a choppy
sea the boat lunged and rolled constantly; so Jack Halliday got seasick
and about two hours before we came in I followed his example. I was wet
and filthy and hot and sick, and I ain't never goin' fishin' no more.
That side (leeward) of the Waianae Range
is as barren as Arizona mountains. . . The rains, brought by the
northeast trades, are stopped by the Koolau and Waianae Ranges.
October 27 1940 ~ 1298 Kaplolani Boulevard, Honolulu
The people here are dog crazy. . . The other day one of [Jane
Shattuck's] Danes started to eat Caryl Lee; later on, I inadvertently failed
to latch the front gate and they all got out and ran down a boulevard almost
comparable to Sunset - and it was on a Sunday afternoon, too; so three
of us had to go out and look for them. Unfortunately, we found them.
It's funny how I always miss conscription
in peace time. Jack says the last one was 80 years ago, so I just missed
that; and I'm just a little too old for this one.
I went to lunch the other day with Al Karasic,
the fight promoter here - his other guests were three sports writers and
Prince Ilaki Ibn Ali Hassan, the Persian Whirlwind, who wrestles for Al,
Jarasic was a wrestler for seventeen years - and looks it, with cauliflower
ears and all the other trimmings; but he is a very bright fellow and extremely
witty. He is a cousin of Rubinoff, the violinist. Prince Ilaki is a highly
intelligent man. and very goodlooking. He is a lifelong Burroughs
fan, and used to write me from San Francisco eight or nine years ago.
He told me his father owned 6000 goats in Persia and that made him
a prince. He writes for the pulps, and has not had a rejection slip
Caryl Lee and I went to the circus the
other day. I paid $1.50 for two "reserved" seats, and we had to sit
in the shavings down in front of the boxes, with the elephants nearly treading
on us; but we had a swell time. It was really a very good little
Thanks to Mickey Owen. I have had transportation
- Ford. Did I tell you about the big centipede that crawled out of its
upholstery while Florence was driving Caryl Lee home from the doctor's?
Florence says that Caryl Lee went right straight up to the ceiling and
she nearly climbed a telephone pole with the Ford. The centipede
crawled back into the upholstery, and Florence drove all the way home;
then they "Flitted" it out and killed it. I saw the thing; it was
about six inches long.
January 13 1941
Yes, it is too bad I cannot know the children better; but maybe it
is just as well, for I am an irritable and grouchy old so-and-so.
More so than formerly.
God and Ralph only know when I will be
home; and, speaking of Ralph, he never told me about his election to the
presidency of the Chambers of Commerce. That's Ralph all over.
How nice that you get picture work occasionally.
I know how much you enjoy it, end also that the money comes in handy.
I think I shall take up singing; I may need a job pretty soon. In fact
I do now. I hope Jim got his appointment as flying instructor. That
would be fine, especially because that is something he would like so much.
January 24 1941
We were supposed to have had [mail] this morning, but the morning paper
now says it will arrive tomorrow; so I am sure your letter wasn't on it.
Quick, Watson, the needle!
Am glad that you liked THE DEPUTY SHERIFF.
I wrote it in the summer of 1930, and we peddled it around to every magazine
in the United States, with no buyers. I think Ralph did finally get
rid of it to some magazine; I've forgotten which one now. I always
liked it, and couldn't understand why it didn't sell readily. I guess
the trouble was that all they wish from me is highly imaginative stuff.
If anyone says a kind word about my work
nowadays, as you did, I nearly break down and cry. I have had so
many refusals lately and had my classics so gratuitously insulted over
here that I have lost confidence in myself. I am getting damned sick
of hearing people apologize to me for reading my stories, or pretend to
grouse because they have had to read them to their children, or say that
they used to read them while they were in kindergarden but have not read
any for years and years. It used to amuse me, but I guess I must
be losing my sense of humor. I think I shall come right back at the
next one with a retort courteous, such as: "Well, you homely looking
abortion, if you had the brains of a cross-eyed titmouse you'd keep your
fool mouth shut instead of knocking inspired literature that has entertained
a hundred million people for over a quarter of a century !!!"
Do you think that would stop 'em? or is it too courteous?
Am just starting another goofy Venus story,
THE WIZARD OF VENUS. This guy is something of a hypnotist, and he has every
one in his valley buffaloed into believing that he has turned all their
friends and relatives into zandars (Amtorian pigs). One family keeps
their daughter in a pen back of the castle. All with apologies
to Merlin, the Arthurian legend, and Mark Twain.
Wish Hulbert would do something with his
singing. The first thing he knows he'll have a long, white beard
and have to be pushed onto the stage in a wheel chair; and I understand
that there have been very few successes under such circumstances.
There would always be the danger that, when he took a high note, his upper
plate would fall out and get lost in his beard.
January 27, 1941
Please let me know how [Hully's] appearance turned out. I hope he got
an ovation and that the audience was full of grand opera scouts - Hully
loves grand opera so! Just like his father.
Please excuse my Cheko-Slovakian, but how
in hell did Tom Scully get the money to build a beautiful ten room house
on Mulholland Drive? I presume that he has entirely forgotten
that he owes me $10,000 and that I need it damn badly.
March 6, 1941
If we can get bank or FHA financing it might not be a bad idea for
the corporation to build a couple of inexpensive homes on its vacant property,
provided it didn't require any cash outlay.
Florence and the children are sailing for
the mainland on the 14th. I found it possible to get them back at this
time, and as it is almost impossible to get such reservations as we can
afford, we seized this opportunity. The possibility of war with Japan made
it doubly advisable. I shall trail along home as soon as I
can make the grade; and when I do get home I shall never leave Tarzana
again without a round trip ticket.
Glad you liked the John Carter story: there
is one audience of which I am always certain.
March 27 1941
The house sounds swell: I envy you. There is nothing like
plenty of closet space in which utterly useless junk can accumulate over
a period of years: I know from experience. I think that once a year
one should shut one's eyes and go into all closets and burn everything
up and start over again.
The other day I saw a movie called The
Lone Star Raiders with The 3 Mesquiteers. Rex Lease was
in the cast, but I could not identify him. Maybe he was one of the
horses, there were a couple of hundred of them, and all running like hell
all the time. They wasted enough gun powder in that picture to save
the world for democracy.
Were you in Deanna Durbin's SPRING PARADE?
It is here this week, but I didn't see it because it is in an 80 cent house:
I shall wait until it comes to my 39 cent hangout, where I, the gobs, and
the orientals merge our various odors in a sweet attar of B.O.
Pictures get over here after everyone on
the mainland has forgotten them. The other day I saw W.C. Fields
and Mae West in My Little Chickadee, a very high class and elevating
production filled with gents' room subtleties: right up my alley, I am
afraid. The goat sequence was not all that I had been led to expect: evidently
the Hayes Office deodorized it. I wish I could see a good comedy
April 17, 1941
Please congratulate Jim for me. You can't become a transport commercial
pilot on peanuts. I think it cost me about 2G to fly some thirty
hours. Of one thing I am particularly glad: that he is too old for
combat service, at least I hope he is.
I am anxious to see the chez Pierce,
and hope that it hasn't crumbled into ruin before I am able to return to
waterlogged southern Cal. Do you approach your domicile by
boat or causeway? . . . I am reminded of a scene of ruin painted on the
curtain of the old Hooley's Theater in Chicago, beneath which appeared:
"So fleet the works of men, back to their earth again ancient and holy
things fade like a dream".
Every morning I hear, faintly, the sound
of reveille from nearby Fort Buger at 6:15, whereupon I thumb my nose and
turn over for two more hours of sleep. Later in the morning, I hear
big guns and little guns booming in the distance and the roar of the motors
of fighters and bombers overhead; then I turn over on the other side and
contemplate the horrors of war, but not fearfully, as I realize that some
two hundred thousand armed men, the United States fleet, and a swell air
corps are gathered all about to protect me. I think it was nice of
Roosevelt to do this for me.
May 30, 1941
[To John Coleman Burroughs]: Don't you realize the Valley is in the
blood of all the Burroughs? Of all the places on earth where your life
long dream of becoming an absolute monarch is most likely to be realized
Tarzana is the most probable ! Just picture it - E.R.B. seated on a throne
piled of the choicest Adohr cow dung ruling his subjects with an iron hand!
And imagine - in that happy little community of Burroughses not a single
salesman need be allowed to live.
June 3, 1941
Now that the Navy has started taking over some of our passenger ships,
there is no telling when I shall be home. Every boat for the mainland
is crowded, and reservations are almost impossible to get. Soon there will
be no one left here but the Army, the Navy, and me (or I; take your choice).
I did have a little excitement the first
Sunday that I went to a ball game: the grandstand got on fire almost directly
under me. . . I enjoyed the whole thing immensely, and then the following
Sunday I set fire to it myself! The only thing I could find with which
to extinguish it were a number of peanut shells, which almost immediately
caught fire themselves;
July 21, 1941
Well here I am back at my office again; I've been away since
June 25th and most of the time since I first went to the hospital June
5th. In re-reading your letters that came while I was in the hospital,
I discovered that they were just like new material. Between my fever
and the dope, I had almost completely forgotten them;
How many hours has Jim?
If this was any place for a white man to live, I might suggest that he
try to get a job here flying for the inter-island Navigation Company.
They run several planes a day to the various islands - Kauai, Maui, Molokai,
Lanai, and Hawaii. They are beautiful runs, scenic beyond description.
I don't know, but I have an idea that they may lose some of their pilots
to the army or navy. However, I'd hate to have you live here,
and would never advise it. They use amphibians, as a forced
landing might be in the ocean. They have a wonderful record
of not a single fatality in all the years that they have been operating
July 31, 1941
[From JCB] Dear Papa,Both Jane and I were very sorry to learn of the
necessity of a divorce between you and Florence. Above all things, believe
me, we have wished for your happiness.I think your idea of building and
living in a house of your own is a good one, although I still cannot agree
with the choice of your location, believing it to be too darn close to
your place of business.Since I need another model badly for JOHN CARTER
in the newspaper feature, I put an ad in last Sunday's paper for one. You
ought to see what turned up. I stated that I wanted an athlete 6' 3" or
over and the first guy who showed up was a little filipino about Mike's
size. The next bloke was tall enough but he had a beard and adenoids and
his arms looked like a couple of jointed arrows dangling out of some bony
ribs. One fellow I talked to on the phone, I thought his voice sounded
queer; but he said he'd just had an operation on his sinus. He sent me
his pictures and I think he must have been upside down when they operated
on him. He was the one who said when I asked him if he was well-muscled:
"My muthels aren't the knotty kind, if thath what you mean - they're more
the flowing type !" They were so flowing that they'd all flowed off his
body.Have received and read your masterpiece entitled "Uncle Miner
and Other Relatives". I have not yet received your letter explaining why
and how it was written, although I presume you were under the influence
of either narcotics or heredity at the time. STOP. GO. It is very amusing
and full of good laughs.
August 26, 1941
Don't worry about me. I just pop in and out of hospitals the
way some people go to six day bicycle races, and I have about as much fun.
I don't think the doctor has been graduated yet who can kill me.
. . My trouble is the same old thing, and I do take care of myself.
I stopped [drinking] for months until my doctor told me to start again,
and now I don't drink excessively; so I don't think that is hurting me
any. I seem to have quite a capacity, and I'm frank to admit that
with not much to live for I rather enjoy it. Fortunately for me, I can
quit whenever I please, and do. . . My principal aim in life is to live
long enough to get back where I can see you children often.
September 2, 1941
Some day! A letter from you. Hulbert. Jack, Ralph. Rochelle
Hudson, Caryl Lee and a birthday card from Esther and Paul Speyer. That's
an idiotic science for a literatus to evolve, but you will gather at what
I was driving - I got six letters and a greeting card.
Hulbert will be here Sunday!
Golly! but I'll be glad to see him. I hope I don't cry but I've been so
starved for a sight of one of you that I might. . . . Do you realize that
it has been over seven years since I have really seen anything of any of
you? Once I get back, I hope that it will never be like that again. . .
. His boat docks at 9 A.M. . . . It is the same boat that I sailed
on, the Mariposa. I have been wondering if you were all sending Hulbert
over here to see if I were mentally O.K. I shouldn't blame you, for
I know my letters must often raise doubts in your minds.
How about Mike? Has he been drafted yet?
He would have been had he been a German in Germany.
September 24, 1941
Hulbert and I have been working on some of the world's greatest literature.
He started to read mine last night and tells me it is lousy! I haven't
had a chance at his yet. He says that I am trying to write literature.
I can't even spell it, having spelled the first one in the paragraph "literateur".
Thank God for the Phoenicians, or whoever it was that invented erasers.
Hulbert has been fishing a couple of times
with a chap named Roy Pullen who lives at the Niumalu. They go way out
beyond the reef on the windward side of the island, where it is always
very rough. . . . Counting gas and oil for the car and the boat, the fisherman's
time, and general wear and tear, I estimate that their fish cost them about
$25 each. Roy sold one the other day for 45 cents. This type of high finance
is right up my alley.
We are quite busy. We work mornings until
12 o'clock. At ten, we started watching the clock. The same thing happens
again between two and four in the afternoon. At 6:45 or 7, we fall into
I hope Hulbert is enjoying it here, but
he is always so terrified that I am going to do something to embarrass
him that maybe his is not. It reminds me of my own father and me;
he was always embarrassing me. If the Lake Street "L" car was crowded,
he would hit people on the legs with his cane to make them move over.
I tried to pretend that I was not with him. I know just how Hulbert
Am sorry Mike was embarrassed because his
gang wouldn't believe that his grandfather had spent a wasted life writing
Tarzan stories. Under separate cover I am sending him proof that
will lay 'em low. In fact, he can hit them over the head with it
and mow 'em down.
October 11, 1941
Don't tell anybody that I asked for it.... It was not to be
used as evidence, but to relieve my mind, as I genuinely hoped that there
was someone else.
Yesterday after lunch we drove out to Hanauma
Bay... At the foot of a hundred foot cliff there is a beautiful bay protected
by an outer reef. In among the coral beds is a large natural swimming
hole, and the inner end of the bay is bordered by a half moon of sandy
beach. We swam some and wandered along the edge of the bay, which is surrounded
by lava cliffs. The bay runs in about a quarter of a mile, and on
either side of its entrance the waves are dashing and throwing spray fully
fifty feet into the air. It is really a beautiful spot. On
holidays it is impossible as it is crowded by Japs and a motley crowd of
various shades of brown and black; but in the middle of the week it is
almost deserted. The long walk down and up a winding trail did not
appear inviting, but I was surprised to discover that I survived it - so
Yes, we listened to the fight; and it was
Nova hadn't much more business in the ring with a champion (Max Baer) than
I would have had. I am fed up with prize fights. I wouldn't pay two
bucks to see the best of them.
October 30, 1941
Don't worry about my health. I am too damned mean to die. Hully
says I have not "mellowed" at all, but am much worse than I used to be.
Such insulting remarks always follow our discussions of the Roosevelt family,
and last night we took up Grand Opera. Hulbert said that I
was a "musical moron". It is the first time I was ever accused of
You should hear the horrid grunts and groans
as we go through our morning exercises - also the grating of vertebrae,
the snapping of tendons, and the dislocation of joints. If we could
can the sound effects they would go great for a Gestapo torture chamber
Jack wrote me a resume of Jimmie Fidler's
broadcast. I was much interested. Our radio has great difficulty
in getting even the local stations, let alone the mainland. It is
just old and tired like Hully and me.
December 1, 1941
Tomorrow I shall mail three packages addressed to the children. You
can hide them until Christmas, if you wish. I am giving nothing to anyone
else in the family this year. I may get the Christmas spirit sometime in
January. This is a hell of a place to shop. I can't find anything, and
if I could there would be no clerk to wait on me. Merry Christmas!
By steamer I am sending you another Sgt
Shonfeld letter. Pls let it end up with Ralph, who will mark it filed.
If you don't know anything about getting these Shonfeld letters,
please say so. You won't hurt my feelings. I am sick of them. Happy New
Hulbert is down around 178 lbs. I stick
now at 183. I'm darned if I can quit eating. I've quit drinking and quit
smoking. In order to help me quit the latter, or to make it easier, I started
chewing gum. Now I'll have to try and quit that. I have been smoking for
over 50 years, and I commenced to get over worries or fear it might
stunt my growth or something. I can't say that all this goddam virtue has
improved my disposition any -- neither will Hulbert.
December 5, 1941
Hulbert and I just got to laughing about the Christmas presents I selected
for Mike: A boat that he will have no place to sail and a shirt several
sizes too small for him, I hope Mike has a sense of humor.
We are both much interested in your aviation
business and hope that it prospers. I have a feeling that it may
run into something very big after the wars are all over - so many thousands
of men will have been trained to fly and many of them will want to keep
it up. Then, an agency for a good ship should be valuable. I may
take it up again myself - if I get rich.
Hulbert and I are still playing paddle
tennis every day, and now he is beating me every day. I can't totter
around the court fast enough on these old dogs. I am really doddering.
Every day, I expect some one to say, "Lie down! You're dead!"
But I'm growing old gracefully - like hell!
There still ain't no news.
Hulbert joins me in love to you all, and a VERY MERRY
PAPA (Honolulu, Hawaii ~ December 5, 1941)
Next. . .Read Ed's Eye Witness Account of the Pearl
Pearl Harbor: December 7, 1941
The Explosion of the USS Shaw
Courtesy The US Naval Historical Center
Sailors at NAS Ford Island watch as USS Shaw Explodes,
7 December 1941
Courtesy The US Naval Historical Center
Burning ships in Pearl Harbor Drydocks, 7 Dec. 1941
Courtesy The US Naval Historical Center
USS Shaw's magazine explodes during the Pearl Harbor
Read the ERB/Shaw Connection in ERBzin-e 508
Source: The Danton Burroughs and ERB, Inc. Collection
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