Review by Choice Review
Taliaferro's readable, modestly scaled biography of Burroughs should work well for general readers and undergraduates who have nonscholarly interest in Tarzan's creator. Equipped with notes and 14 pages of black-and-white photographs, the book follows Burroughs from his Chicago boyhood to his death in Los Angeles and provides a fair balance between Burroughs's life and letters. As Taliaferro notes, Burroughs turned to writing in his 30s, after limited success in a variety of other enterprises. Once his initial success with Tarzan in 1912 brought him financial security, he developed into a pioneering entrepreneur of popular fiction, churning out two dozen Tarzan titles plus 50 other books over the next 35 years. The most remarkable turn in Burroughs's career was his transformation into ERB incorporated, as he took control of the publishing of his books and promoted the transformation of Tarzan and his other creations into films, radio shows, and newspaper comics. When Burroughs died in 1950, he was the best-selling author of the 20th century; but more people knew Tarzan through movies, the medium that provided the greater share of Burroughs's income. Although Taliaferro provides an honest assessment of Burroughs's limits as a writer, he respects the implications of his career for US popular culture. General and undergraduate collections. J. J. Marchesani; Pennsylvania State University, McKeesport Campus
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review
From out of the literary jungle, a fast-paced, ripsnorting biography of the bestselling American writer of the first half of the 20th century. Though Tarzan may be Burroughs' most lasting claim to fame, nearly all of his dozens and dozens of books are still profitably in print. With an oeuvre that spans the pulp universe from sci-fi adventures to costume dramas to westerns, Burroughs was as successful as he was prolific. Though he didn't turn his hand to writing till the relatively advanced age of 37, he quickly made up for lost time, regularly churning out 100,000-word serialized novels in just a couple of months. Before he found his muse, as he'd cheerfully admit later, he'd failed at almost every occupation he'd tried his hand at, from soldier to policeman to salesman. Writing was a quick, almost desperate attempt to eke out his slender income. But in only a few years, he was able to turn to writing full-time. It was the golden age of American popular fiction, with dozens of magazines paying top dollar for everything from stories to full-blown novels. While few admired Burroughs's vigorous but workaday prose, his storytelling gifts, even if they got hackneyed from time to time, were what attracted increasingly large audiences. But Burroughs's true gift was in pioneering cross-promotion: ``As he saw it, the act of writing was only part of his job description; marketing, he grasped, could and should be its own fine art.'' Burroughs was one of the first writers to incorporate, one of the first to build a multimedia empire, one of the first to license his creations to everyone from ice-cream makers to toy manufacturers. Taliaferro, a former editor at Newsweek and Texas Monthly, has put together a fast-paced, highly readable account that walks a perfect line between appreciation and critical awareness. (16 pages b&w photos, not seen)
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