Killing Jane and Brother Men

John "Bridge" Martin

E.R.B. and his life-long penpal

Someone said something to this effect: "Never write a letter…and never throw one away."

If Edgar Rice Burroughs and his friend, Herbert T. Weston, ever heard that advice, neither one followed the first part, but we can be thankful that both were archival packrats who followed the second admonition.

In particular, we have Weston to thank for most of the contents of "Brother Men – The Correspondence of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Herbert T. Weston," edited and with an introduction by Matt Cohen, Duke University Press, 2005.

The author points out that the title of the book comes from Chapter 23 of "Tarzan of the Apes," where Tarzan and his new friend, Lt. Paul D’Arnot, are making their way to civilization. Along the way, D’Arnot is giving the ape-man a crash course on language and life in the rest of the world.

Normally, someone who saves a pile of letters has, essentially, the written record of a one-sided conversation. But when Cohen, Weston’s grandson, became interested in "the Burroughs letters," he was delighted to find that Weston not only saved E.R.B.’s letters to him, but also made carbon copies of the letters he sent to ERB!

Burroughs and Weston both attended the Michigan Military Academy and may have met there as early as 1893. They hit it off—perhaps because of their mutual love for football and likely because of many other personality meshing traits as well. What we do know is these two men remained lifelong friends and correspondents.

There is much in these letters! Delving into, and the study of this 311-page volume, could keep one busy for years. There is insight to be gained, not only into the character of Edgar Rice Burroughs, but into the backgrounds of his books, too.

One thing that caught my eye was some references to the character of Jane Porter, later Jane Clayton, Tarzan’s wife. In a letter to E.R.B. on Dec. 7, 1918, Weston wrote of the fact that his son, Collins, was in bed with the flu "…and I read to him endlessly of the Tarzan books. As a matter of fact the more I read those book (sic) the more I think of them. Collins detests Jane Porter. He thinks Tarzan was mightily stung when he married her. I do not know but what he was right. I should say that Tarzan was rather the choicer vessel."

By the time that letter was written, E.R.B. had already sent the first of his "Tarzan and the Hun" stories to Red Book Magazine, and these stories eventually became the first part of "Tarzan the Untamed" (1920), which opened with Jane’s supposed death at the hands of renegade German soldiers. So apparently ERB didn’t need any prompting from the Westons to take a whack at his blond heroine.

On May 10, 1920, just over a week after the magazine serial finally appeared between hard covers, he wrote to Weston and said: "…I left Jane dead up to the last gasp and then my publisher and the magazine editor rose up on their hind legs and roared. They said the public would not stand for it as I was having Tarzan fall in love with Bertha, so I had to resurrect the dear lady. After seeing Enid Markey take the part of Jane in the first Tarzan picture I was very glad to kill her."

Interestingly, the above quotation is from a letter that is NOT reprinted in "Brother Men." It comes from Irwin Porges’s biography of ERB (see on-line appendix). So, obviously, "Brother Men" does not reprint every letter that E.R.B. and Weston ever exchanged, but rather what Cohen deemed an appropriate sampling.

Poor little Collins was delighted when he began reading the magazine version of the adventures that eventually made up the book "Tarzan the Untamed." Weston wrote ERB on April 29, 1919, that "Collins said: "Gee Whiz—I’m glad that Jane Clayton is dead!!" Jane never was a favorite of his."

Pity poor Collins when he got to the end of the saga and found out she was alive, after all!

As an aside, when I first read through the Tarzan books I never had any objection to the character of Jane, so it’s hard for me to understand what others find so awful about her. It’s proof that we’re not all alike!

One disappointment for me in this book was that there is scant mention of "The Mad King," other than when Cohen himself reports that "The Corn Mills and Bert and Maggie Weston even show up in Burroughs’s fiction, most substantially in The Mad King…."

Burroughs regularly sent his books to Weston and obviously would have sent him a copy of this book. It seems logical that Burroughs would have made some reference to it in one of his letters, and it would also seem that Weston would have had some comment on the "Bert" and "Margaret" who owned a corn mill in Beatrice, Nebraska. But if there were any such comments, they do not appear in the letters in this volume.

What does appear in this volume, though, is plenty of ERB style humor, and Weston is no slouch in the humor department himself. Obviously, a shared sense of like-minded humor was one of the elements which form the bond between these two men.

On Sept. 4, 1918, E.R.B. told Weston: "I notice in the new draft law that bald headed men with three children are to be put into A-1 class so I suppose you and I will soon be in the front line trenches."

The letters are also evidence that—the more times change, the more they don’t!

In 1918, E.R.B. wrote: "Emma is going to take lessons also and pretty soon we will junk the automobiles and all ride horse back which would be a darned sight better for our health and much less wasteful of gasoline."

I wonder what ERB would think of today’s gasoline prices?

How many of us write letters like these today? We don’t! We send shorter messages through email and often they are deleted shortly after being read. Or, we make a quick telephone call.

In the older days, letters were the common method of communication and, when one went awhile without receiving one, there could be frustration.

One time, E.R.B. chided Weston: "Why don’t you write?"

Another time he put it this way: "What has become of you?....I wish you would write and let me know how you all are and if you really have gone to California as you spoke of last year."

However, E.R.B. could dally in the response department, too. In one letter he began by stating: "As you may have suspected I received your letter of December 13th some time ago but what with Christmas, the holidays, birthdays, business and getting ready to move to California, etcetera, and so forth, I have not replied." That was in a letter written 30 days after the letter he had received from Weston.

Another time, E.R.B. explained: "It has been a long time since I have heard from you or written you and much has happened in my young life in the interim—I don’t know what that means but it seems to sound all right."

But once ERB went for five years without writing to his friend. The divorce of Ed and Emma had placed a great strain upon their relationship.

Friends can become like family, and it was not only Bert and Ed, but it was Bert and Margaret and Ed and Emma. In the early days, E.R.B. would often end his letters with some statement about Emma sending her love.

When the Westons found out that one-fourth of this friendship was to be set aside, they were naturally upset and, of course, did not really know why it was happening. They knew of Ed’s interest in Florence Dearholt, a woman much younger than Emma, and drew the same conclusions most other people would.

Contained in this collection is a letter Weston wrote in 1934, the year that ERB divorced Emma, to Charles Rosenberger, a mutual friend of both Weston and E.R.B. In the letter, Weston spoke of his frustration with E.R.B. divorcing Emma, his predictions that a marriage to Florence would not last, and his general frustration with some other things that had bothered him over the years.

He wrote: "Ed has never asked my ideas on any subject, even on matters about which I was much more experienced than he could be. Also, there have been times I, sort of off my guard, have offered him suggestions, and these received no consideration whatever from him. So we feel, that of recent years anyway, I have been just a sort of habit with Ed and not a very welcome one."

Apparently, Rosenberger had written Weston, asking him to try to talk some sense into Ed about Emma, and Weston was explaining why he didn’t think it would do any good.

This letter comes from a hand-written copy of the original, made by E.R.B. himself. Weston didn’t intend for E.R.B. to see this letter, but E.R.B. somehow got hold of it anyway—either with or without Rosenberger’s knowledge or permission. In a day when photocopy machines were non-existent, E.R.B. made his own copy by hand so he could leave the original in the place he had obtained it.

A letter such as this could end a friendship.

It was a factor in the long delay in their correspondence, although there could have been plenty of other reasons, too, such as Ed being kept busy trying to keep a new wife happy!!

But finally, on May 13, 1939, after four years with Florence and five years after the divorce with Emma, E.R.B. resumed the correspondence with:

"I can’t tell you how much I have missed hearing from you. I think of you very often, and am always running across things that remind me of you….

"If you feel like it and have the time, I’d like awfully well to hear from you. I have hundreds of acquaintances and some friends, but none who mean as much to me as you…."

Just seven days later, Weston wrote back: "Of course I am glad to have your recent letter. I am quite sure that men of our age cannot change enough so a fine relationship that has continued for forty years can be just forgotten!

"I do not know why you have not written to me for five years. I thought the letter I wrote after you told me that you and Emma had separated was friendly and understanding, and I have wondered why you did not reply to it.

"There must have been something sort of fundamental that kept us interested in each other for forty years. It was not propinquity, for gawd knows we have never lived anywhere near each other.

"I don’t know what it was and don’t care. It may still exist. What do you think?

"Much love and good luck."

Burroughs wrote back with a little bit of a defense of his decision to divorce Emma, although he refrained from going into details about exactly why he felt he was justified in taking the action he did.

Weston wrote back saying that he felt things between married people were none of his business, "so we will just forget that part."

And the letters went on for another 10 years, until Edgar Rice Burroughs died in 1950.

Bert Weston died one year later.