Volume 1679
Journeys to Mars:

Exploring the Many Worlds of
Ray Bradbury and Edgar Rice Burroughs
A Panel Discussion in Oak Park, Illinois ~ May 3, 2006
A Report by Ken Manson
Edgar Rice Burroughs is the greatest American writer, in any genre, who ever lived, according to author Ray Bradbury, who also certainly would be in contention.

Bradbury's feelings about Burroughs were discussed by Jerry Spannraft of the Burroughs Bibliophiles literary society and others during a May 3 panel titled "Journeys to Mars: Exploring the Many Worlds of Ray Bradbury and Edgar Rice Burroughs" in Oak Park, Illinois.

The panel included George T. McWhorter, curator of the Nell Dismukes McWhorter Memorial Edgar Rice Burroughs Collection at the University of Louisville in Kentucky; artist Greg Phillips and graphic designer Joan Bledig, Bibliophiles members; and Randy Kryn, who was active in the Ray Bradbury Society and the Oak Park Center for Creativity, which publicized Oak Park residents, including Burroughs. Burroughs lived in Oak Park from most of 1910 to 1919.

Greg Phillips and his Logo Painting
George McWhorter ~ Greg Phillips ~ Joan Bledig ~ Randy Kryn ~ Ken Manson
When Bradbury was born in 1920, Burroughs had recently left Oak Park, Phillips noted.

The Pleasant Home, site of a wine and cheese reception during the 2005 Dum-Dum and home of a second-floor room devoted to Burroughs, was the site of the panel hosted by the Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest. The talk is the penultimate part of the "One Book, Two Villages" celebration of Bradburyís Fahrenheit 451 that ended May 7.

Frank Lipo, executive director of the historical society, introduced panel members in the first-floor room of the former mansion. He called Spannraft, "the driving force behind the exhibit upstairs."

Pleasant Home Wine and Cheese Party
Pleasant Home ~ Greg Phillips ~ Jerry Spannraft ~ Sue-On Hillman

Spannraft, who hosted the Oak Park Dum-Dum, said he had two personal contacts with  Bradbury. Spannraft was listed as being on the May 3 panel but sat in the audience.

In the early 1980s, Spannraft was in San Francisco when he saw Bradbury in a coffeehouse. 

"We talked about a number of things. He asked questions about the Burroughs Bibliophiles."

"He said 'Edgar Rice Burroughs is the greatest American writer that ever lived.' That says a lot. I said, 'Donít you mean the greatest science fiction writer?' He glared at me and said, 'No.'"

Kryn said Bradbury and Burroughs "are huge in literature of the 20th century."

Bradbury "loved Burroughs and Waukegan," the Illinois town where he grew up, he added.

Bradbury is "one of the greatest writers of the 20th century," Kryn said, adding Bradbury does not like being called a science fiction writer because it pigeonholes him.

Lipo read to the audience from Bradbury's introduction to Irwin Porges' biography of Burroughs.

Bradbury said he read and memorized Burroughs' books and "fell in love with them."

The 85-year-old author said actor Lon Chaney, author Edgar Allan Poe, and character King Kong changed his life in many ways but, "Mr. Burroughs, convinced me I could talk to the animals even if they didn't talk back."

Lipo said what he read was "part of the spark" for that night's program. 

The panelists talked of libraries and other institutions having previously ignored chronicling writers or those associated with them.

McWhorter, editor and publisher of the Burroughs Bulletin magazine, said his mother, Nell, is the reason for his whole collection. He donated the Burroughs books when she died in 1976. "No library had all his books."

He started with 6,000 books and magazines that grew to 100,000 by the turn of the century. "It keeps growing." The inventory of the collection is at 100 pages and only one-third done.

McWhorter taught Burroughs classes at University of Louisville. "I said 90 percent of what I do is Burroughs," so he became the Burroughs curator.

"The University of Louisville said it was looking for a rare book librarian. I felt so much at home at this university, that I stayed," he said in answering a woman's question about how he got his job.

Spannraft said John Taliaferro did nine-tenths of his research at the University of Louisville for his biography of Burroughs, which is Tarzan Forever.

ERB Bios by Irwin Porges and John Taliaferro

Kryn called McWhorter, "THE Edgar Rice Burroughs researcher." He added, "I just hope Bradbury has a McWhorter in 70 years."

As part of his platform when he was running for the Oak Park Library Board in the 1980s, Spannraft stated, "I said I want to make sure Edgar Rice Burroughs gets his due that's owed him and the Oak Park Library has one copy of every book Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote." Spannraft said Oak Park was promoting former residents author Ernest Hemingway and architect Frank Lloyd Wright, but Burroughs, "really didnít have much going for him."

A letter to the editor appeared in the local newspaper calling it a terrible idea and claiming Burroughs was racist, he said.

Spannraft said he wrote to Bradbury asking for his thoughts on a response.

"He wrote me back, 'This person is an idiot.' and it would waste my time and his to respond. (Burroughs) was a fiction writer who wrote according to the time in which he lived."

Since then, the Oak Park Library has every Burroughs book, Spannraft said.

J. Allen St. John self portraitJoan Bledig said that Burroughs illustrator J. Allen St. John had worked as a teacher at the Art Institute in Chicago for many years. She once called the Art Institute to find out what St. John items they had in their collection and was told they had only two posters -- and they werenít available to be viewed ("due to renovations").

Kryn said Waukegan was his Bradbury's world as a youngster. "He took us to Mars, to adventures."

"I decided I had to make a pilgrimage (to Waukegan)." He went to the library looking for its information about on Bradbury and said the librarian came out only with a file folder.

Kryn went to the City Hall, got copies of his Bradbury's parents' house deed and birth certificates of his parents and talked to the mayor. "He said I was right. I said I would organize the Ray Bradbury Society."

Phillips said Burroughs and Bradbury, "both are Illinois boys, both wrote classic stories of Mars."

Burroughs was imitated; Bradbury came up with his own planet, he said.

Burroughs first wrote about Mars in 1911, Phillips said. "He imagined a world that was a dangerous place to live, but fun to read about."

A Princess of Mars was the first in Burroughs' Mars series.  Mars is called Barsoom  Burrough introduces green and red Martians and later, black, yellow and white, Phillips said.

Red Martians lay eggs and live a thousand years; green Martians are 12 to 15 feet tall and have four arms and huge tusks. The weapon of choice is a sword, he said.

Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles combined his stories. There were similarities between the two authors, such as ancient cities and dried-up lakes, he said. 

McWhorter called Fahrenheit 451 one of the great dystopian novels of the modern age and said he saw similarities to Burroughs' The Moon Maid.

Bledig compared censorship issues, with book-burning in Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 and changing of text in Burroughs books being printed in paperback.

Reading the paperbacks after the hardcovers, she said something bothered her with paperbacks and "didnít seem right."

"I was horrified to discover someone tampered with the paperback (text)." She cites particularly the speech of Esmeralda, Jane's family's maid.  "I vowed that I would never purchase another Ballantine paperback if the money was going directly into Ballantine's coffers."

She resisted her vow when Ballantine published paperbacks with new cover art, but said she bought them only from used book dealers -- never new. 

Bradbury says censorship is unacceptable; "changing an author's words is just as unacceptable," she said.

Kryn noted that at the Oak Park Center for Creativity, "we get the Burroughs history everywhere."  Over the years, many bus trips have been arranged to the various Burroughs Oak Park sites in conjunction with the numerous ERB conventions that have been held in the area.

McWhorter said author Harlan Ellison started a campaign for a Burroughs memorial park in California. He couldn't get through to the politicians, so he took "Star Trek" actor Leonard Nimoy with him. 

"They said yes to everything. We got a memorial park."

McWhorter also noted Bradbury told him he had missed the Tarzan comic strips. 

"I sent him copies, he was delighted." Bradbury sent a check and autographed photo, he said.

Both "had imaginations that never stopped," he added.

Lipo noted McWhorter had a career as an opera singer until he had problems with vocal chords.

On Lipo's prompting, McWhorter said his war cry of a bull ape, better known as a Tarzan yell

Frank Lipo ~ Jeff Long ~ Jim Hadac ~ George McWhorter

Also in the audience of about 20 that night were Jeff Long, who videotaped the panel with Joan Bledig's camera, and Jim Hadac, known as "Red Hawk" on erblist.

Afterwards, people visited the "Tarzan, Mars and the Fertile Mind of Edgar Rice Burroughs" exhibit at Pleasant Home.

Photos by Bill Hillman
Dum-Dum 2005

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