From the ERBapa Archives
John "Bridge" Martin has revised an earlier version of his The Girl From Hollywood article written for his Edgardemain submission to the Edgar Rice Burroughs Amateur Press Association (ERBapa, No. 38, Summer 1993). When Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc. announced pre-orders for a new edition of The Girl From Hollywood in 2021, Martin updated his original for this special feature at his on-line Edgardemain column at ERBmania! (erblist.com.)
Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc. has prepared a fully restored edition of The Girl From Hollywood. In trade paperback. The hardback version comes with goodies!
For more info see: What's New? at ERB Inc's website.
The Girl from Hollywood
by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Novel Ties In With ERB'S Family, Tarzana Ranch
By John 'Bridge' Martin
Copyright © 2021
The Girl from Hollywood by Edgar Rice Burroughs is a novel about an aspiring actress, Shannon Burke, struggling with drug addiction, who finds refuge and rejuvenation with the Pennington family at their Rancho del Ganado home.
The first time I read The Girl From Hollywood, I knew little about the life of Edgar Rice Burroughs himself. But when I read it again, several years later, I had learned a lot more of the background of the man who wrote it, and I wasn't far into the story before I started coming across passages that I was recognizing as being things that were true in the life of the author.
Most of my growing knowledge of ERB's life had come from biographies *, but I also had the privilege, by the time of my re-read, of visiting a former home of the author—the very home which served as the model for "Rancho del Ganado," the setting for The Girl From Hollywood.
* Irwin Porges, frequently mentioned in this article, is the author of the first official biography of Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950). Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Man Who Created Tarzan, Brigham Young Press, 1975
Modern day Tarzana, showing size of the original ranch.
This was the Tarzana Ranch, overlooking the Southern California community of Tarzana, a tour of which was one of the activities of the 1989 Edgar Rice Burroughs Chain of Friendship (ECOF) gathering. Fans toured the grounds and home which, though much changed from ERB's days, still featured some intact reminders, including the house's old ballroom, ERB's writing quarters, the swimming pool, fish ponds and one of the author's old pickup trucks.
Having seen all that, the more I read of The Girl From Hollywood, the more I felt "at home."
The foremost ERB biography, "Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Man Who Created Tarzan," by Irwin Porges, confirmed my conclusions and enhanced them with even more details about life on the Tarzana ranch which paralleled descriptions of happenings in GH.
The Moorish Castle ... and More
Edgar Rice Burroughs and his family were comfortably settled at the Tarzana Ranch in 1922 when he used it as the setting for The Girl From Hollywood.
So as he wrote the story, all he had to do was look around him. He described the Pennington ranch house as standing "upon the summit of a low hill, the declining sun transforming its plastered walls, its cupolas, the sturdy arches of its arcades, into the ambiance of a Moorish castle ... ." (GH, Chapter II).
Those fans who had the opportunity to visit the ranch during the 1989 ECOF saw no "Moorish castle," for it had been leveled years before as part of a radical renovation. But the picture on page 306 of Irwin Porges' ERB biography (hardback edition) along with other photos in the book, clearly shows the multiple archways along the outer walls of the house which did, indeed, give it the appearance of Moorish architecture.
"...A MOORISH CASTLE..." the ranch house in The Girl From Hollywood matches the description of the Tarzana ranch house of 1922. Art: Dan Martin, based on photo page 306, Porges.
Porges comments on the use of the Tarzana ranch for the model of the spread described in the book:
In contrast to the unhealthful atmosphere of Hollywood, a city painted as a glamor capital that lures naive, movie-struck girls to their downfall, Burroughs uses his Tarzana ranch for another setting—the ranch demonstrating the virtues of a simple outdoor life and the invigorating effects of horseback ridings. (Porges, p. 352)
With the inclusion of certain elements — the description of life at Tarzana, the realistic details about the ranch house, and the horseback rides into the hills and canyons—the story does arouse some strong interest, Porges continued.
Joseph Bray of A.C. McClurg & Co., which published Burroughs' early books with the exception of this one, nonetheless commented to Burroughs, "You pay a deserved tribute to the healthy country life as you have lived it ... " (Porges, p. 352)
Though Burroughs and his family were not the same ages as the various members of the Pennington clan, he nonetheless used family experiences as models for things the fictional Penningtons did. In inscribing a copy of the finished book, he wrote:
To my dear son Jack who knows Rancho del Ganado like a book and loves it like a Pennington. (Reported in Edgar Rice Burroughs Memorial Collection: A Catalog, by George T. McWhorter)
Porges writes, "In Eva, the daughter and darling of the Pennington household, whose doting parents indulged her capricious behavior, Burroughs's real-life model was probably his own daughter Joan." (p. 352)
Ralph Herman, who owned the Tarzana property at the time of the 1989 ECOF, conducted a tour for attendees and provided each participant with a typewritten history of the Tarzana ranch.
He noted the first recorded owner of the land was General Harrison Gray Otis, the publisher of the Los Angeles Times, who acquired the property in 1909-10 and supervised construction of the "Moorish castle," calling his estate Casa Milflores.
Burroughs acquired the land in 1919.
Between 1927 and 1931, Herman said that ERB "for some still unknown reason ... decided to demolish the main General Otis residence." So Burroughs himself did away with the Moorish castle effect that he had immortalized in The Girl From Hollywood. But in his renovation he preserved the ballroom (mentioned in GH) and his old writing quarters, which in 1989 were being used as a child's bedroom.
Paperback covers. Top: British. Bottom: USA. Both editions were heavily abridged to fit the format and page count. The new ERB Inc. edition restores the original's full text.
The Watery Worlds of Tarzana Ranch and del Ganado
Anyone who has seen the swimming pool at ERB's old Tarzana Ranch will recognize it as the one described in his novel, The Girl From Hollywood, which first appeared as a magazine serial in 1922.
Among fans who had the opportunity to see that pool were those in attendance at the 1989 ECOF in Tarzana.
ERB supervised construction of the pool in 1919, not too long after acquiring the property. The large, deep pool (empty at the time of the ECOF) was cut by hand from solid rock, reported Ralph Herman, owner of the property at the time.
The pool was also designed as the irrigation reservoir for the extensive concrete pipe water system which extended northerly toward Ventura Boulevard.
As I looked at that pool in 1989, it was easy to recognize it as the one described in GH. It made me wonder how many of the scenes described were typical of things which took place in the Burroughs family:
A few minutes later he entered the inclosure west of the house, where the swimming pool lay. Mrs. Pennington and her guests were already in the pool, swimming vigorously to keep warm, and a moment later the colonel and Custer ran from the house and dived in simultaneously. Though there were twenty-six years difference in their ages, it was not evident by any lesser vitality or agility on the part of the older man. (GH, Chapter III)
ERB was around 47 at the time this was written and his oldest child, Joan, was 14, so I wonder if he imagined himself in the role of the older Pennington or the younger when describing a scene like that. Perhaps a little of both.
Chapter IV of GH begins with another mention of the pool in a discussion about the benefits of life on the ranch in general. And one might well regard this to be just as much a description of life at Tarzana as at Ganado:
Work and play were inextricably entangled upon Ganado, the play being of a nature that fitted them better for their work, while the work, always in the open and usually from the saddle, they enjoyed fully as much as the play. While the tired business man of the city was expending a day's vitality and nervous energy in an effort to escape from the turmoil of the mad rush-hour and find a strap from which to dangle homeward amid the toxic effluvia of the melting pot, Colonel Pennington plunged and swam in the cold, invigorating waters of his pool, after a day of labor fully as constructive and profitable as theirs.
In the same chapter, we find a scene of play in the pool that surely typified the kind of water fun ERB enjoyed with his children:
They were off. The colonel, who had preceded them leisurely into the deep water, swam close to his son as the latter was passing, a yard in the lead. Simultaneously the young man's progress ceased. With a Comanche-like yell he turned upon his father, and the two men grappled and went down. When they came up, spluttering and laughing, the girl was climbing out of the pool.
The large swimming pool was not the only watery attraction on the old Tarzana ranch. Herman, in his history, also noted that, "Additionally, Burroughs constructed a series of interconnecting fish ponds that extend from the upper part of the knoll, southerly. He mined a high grade Paloverdes type of stone and granite boulders found on the property, which he used to line the edges of the ponds and waterways."
During the '89 ranch tour, I recall seeing only one of the fish ponds. But Burroughs describes the series of ponds in GH Chapter VI, as Guy and Eva take a romantic stroll:
They walked on in silence along the winding pathways among the flower-bordered pools, to stop at last beside the lower one. This had originally been a shallow wading pool for the children when they were small, but it was now given over to water hyacinth and brilliant fantails.
"There!" said the girl, presently. "I have seen fish in each pool."
"And you can go to bed with a clear conscience tonight," he laughed.
If teen-age Joan Burroughs was really the model for a more mature Eva, then one can imagine that this game of seeing a fish in each pool was one she played herself.
The Ballroom of Tarzana
In ERB's The Girl From Hollywood, he described the use of a ballroom by the Pennington family. No doubt ERB was drawing on personal experience, and describing it the same way his own family had used it when they resided at Tarzana Ranch, the setting for the story's Rancho del Ganado.
Porges describes early days of home entertainment at the Burroughs ranch house. Burroughs enjoyed music and movies. Phonograph, radio and a 16mm film projector (later with sound) was at hand when desired. ERB, ever on the cutting edge, was into "home entertainment" long before the rest of the country caught the "bug".
The old Burroughs ballroom was a popular place when ERB fans had the opportunity to step into it during a 1989 ECOF tour. Not only did they have the opportunity to imagine ERB himself and his family in that room, but Ralph Herman, owner of the ranch at the time of the tour, had especially enhanced the decor for the visit by placing old Tarzan movie posters along the walls.
During that 1989 ECOF, an additional attraction was Joe Musso, who was showing off his collection of authentic movie-prop knives used by Johnny Weissmuller. Fans took turns holding a knife in a threatening manner while having their photos taken with a movie poster in the background.
The actual use of the ballroom in ERB's day may well have been like that attributed to the Penningtons. This was the era before TV, so instead of sitting in front of the tube all evening, families had to devise other forms of amusement.
In GH, Chapter V, we read of Colonel Pennington and his daughter Eva:
... they started for the ballroom—really a big play room—which adjoined the garage. Behind them, laughing and talking, came the two older women, the two sons, and Grace Evans. They would dance for an hour and then go to bed, for they rose early and were in the saddle before sunrise, living their happy, care-free lives far from the strife and squalor of the big cities, and yet with more of the comforts and luxuries than most city dwellers ever achieve.
ERB mounted, Tarzana Ranch, circa 1923.
Horses, of Course, on Tarzana Ranch
Horses were a primary mode of transportation on ERB's Tarzana Ranch as well as on Rancho del Ganado. In ERB's novel, the Pennington family members were early risers:
At a quarter before six she [Shannon Burke] was awakened by a knock on her door ... . (GH, Chapter XIV)
The colonel and Mrs. Pennington were already mounted. Custer and a stableman held two horses, while the fifth was tied to a ring in the stable wall. It was a pretty picture—the pawing horses, with arched necks, eager to be away; the happy, laughing people in their picturesque and unconventional riding clothes; the new day upon the nearer hills; the haze upon the farther mountains.
Does this, too, describe a typical real-life scene at the Tarzana ranch?
The ranch also provided the opportunity for Ed to return to horseback riding—an activity he had loved ever since his school days in Chicago and at Michigan Military Academy. Ed's love of horses and enthusiasm for riding had been passed on to his family. By the following year, riding had become an important part of the family life. The children had their own saddle ponies, and even Emma had taken up the sport. (Porges, 309-310)
John Coleman Burroughs, ERB's son, location unknown.
ERB's love for and familiarity with horses, gained not only from the military academy but also from his days as an Idaho cowboy and from his service with the 7th Cavalry in Arizona, is evident throughout the book.
ERB doesn't merely use horses as props for the characters in his story, but he tells of little things which one unfamiliar with horses would not even know.
For instance, in Chapter I, we read:
"The big bay stallion in the lead sidled mincingly, tossing his head nervously, and flecking the flannel shirt of his rider with foam."
As a non-horseman, I didn't know horses decorated their riders with foam! Neither did I know of another little habit of horses that Burroughs reports in GH, Chapter XXV:
Just then he reached the summit of the trail leading out of Jackknife Canon toward the east pasture. As was his wont, the Apache stopped to breathe after the hard climb and, as seems to be the habit of all horses in like circumstances, he turned around and faced in the opposite direction from that in which his rider had been going.
ERB's memories of the life of a cavalry man are also recalled in a bit of a whimsical way in a description of Slick Allen:
He was a lean, sinewy man, of medium height. He might have been a cavalryman once. He sat his horse, even at a walk, like one who has sweated and bled under a drill sergeant in the days of his youth. (GH, Chapter I)
Angora Goats and Pristine Pigs
Cattle and pigs were the animals nurtured on the fictional Rancho del Ganado, but on the real-life Tarzana Ranch which served as the inspiration for del Ganado, the livestock were Angora goats and Berkshire hogs.
With the estate, Ed acquired a small herd of registered Angora goats, living in the hills and deeper canyons. Ed's plans were to continue raising goats in these upper areas, increasing the size of the herds, while using the lower ground for his Berkshire hogs. (Porges, p. 303)
Edgar Rice Burroughs' Cash Crop
Later, Porges quoted Burroughs as saying:
"If pigs are anywhere near as hardy as these goats we ought to make a fortune in Berkshires ... . just with the natural increase we could start with one sow and at the end of five years have a million pigs but inasmuch as we are going at it slowly, we intend to start with only five sows and at the end of five years God only knows how many we will have." (p. 308)
In Chapter XV of GH, Eva offers to show Shannon the Berkshires. Shannon at first can think only of Berkshire Hills, but soon realizes Eva speaks of the pigs. We then find this passage, which no doubt incorporates a lot of ERB's knowledge about pigs:
They soon reached the pens and houses where sleek, black Berkshires dozed in every shaded spot. Then they wandered farther up the canon, into the pasture where the great brood sows sprawled beneath the sycamores or wallowed in a concrete pool shaded by overhanging boughs. Eva stooped now and then to stroke a long, deep side.
"How clean they are!" exclaimed Shannon. "I thought pigs were dirty."
"They are when they are kept in dirty places—the same as people."
"They don't smell badly; even the pens didn't smell of pig. All I noticed was a heavy, sweet odor. What was it—something they feed them?"
"It was the pigs themselves. The more you know pigs, the better you love 'em. They're radiant creatures!"
Hunting for Movie Revenue
We are grateful that Hollywood never made a film version of The Girl From Hollywood! No version of Tarzan on the screen has ever followed the original storyline. One can only imagine, in a horrified way, what might have happened to ERB's contemporary take on Hollywood!
ERB once thought about doing a little hunting, but he was open to having his views changed to where he no longer thought much of the sport. When he wrote The Girl From Hollywood, in 1922, he also depicted one of his characters, Colonel Pennington, as a man who did not care much for hunting ... or hunters.
When ERB and his family first moved onto the Tarzana ranch in 1919, he bought .22 caliber rifles for himself and son Hulbert as well as various other firearms. The plan was to do some hunting, although just what he was going to hunt, ERB didn't say in a letter of 1919, though he did mention problems with predators decimating his livestock. (Porges, p. 307)
Later, ERB changed at least somewhat his stance on hunting, and ended the practice of allowing hunters on the Tarzana ranch. In fact, he even took an oath as a deputy sheriff so he could more easily enforce his no-hunting rules, Porges said.
What brought this on? In 1923, says Porges, ERB read...
...a book entitled 'Mother Nature' by William J. Long (who) expressed views about animals that were some fifty years ahead of the current ecological movements. He stressed love of all wild things which he felt have an inherent right to life and should be protected by man rather than slaughtered for sport. From that time on, Burroughs would not permit hunters on his ranch. (p. 307)
This change of view probably has a lot to do with a passage in GH, written that same year, which referred somewhat sarcastically to deer hunters. The liquor smugglers were worried about moving all of their illegal spirits out of the hideaway in the hills by hunting season because,
During the deer season, if they did not have it all removed by that time, they would be almost certain of discovery, since every courageous ribbon-counter clerk in Los Angeles hied valiantly to the mountains with a high-powered rifle, to track the ferocious deer to its lair. (GH, 9)
Part of the plot of GH features the arrival of a movie company for shooting of scenes on Rancho del Ganado. This, too, was taken from ERB's real-life experiences. He actively encouraged movie companies to use the Tarzana ranch for filming, charging them $15 per day or $75 per week, as a way of making extra revenue.
ERB wrote young fan Irene Etrick of England in 1922 that
My children are having a great deal of excitement now because the Universal people are making a picture of the days of Buffalo Bill in the canyon on the back of the ranch ... . (Porges, p. 340)
Burroughs promoted the use of the ranch for Goldwyn Studios' Ben Hur. Various studios, such as Vitagraph and Metro, used the Tarzana landscape for scenes in their movies of 1923 and later.
It was a beautiful place for filming movies, and a beautiful place for living. Porges says.
The Spell of 'Tarzana del Ganado'
Life for Edgar Rice Burroughs was not without its pesky problems, but while living on Tarzana Ranch, ERB was beginning to relish the things he valued most and had dreamed of for years,
...the invigorating outdoor life, the pioneer or western environment, and the sense of ownership as he gazed from the knoll of his home to see the valley, the groves and canyons, and the mountain peaks in the distance. (Porges, p. 307)
Burroughs himself observed:
... as I sit in my office I am looking out across green fields and a tree-dotted valley to the mountains ten miles away on the opposite side. The roses are in bloom in a long winding border on either side of my driveway down the hill to the county road, and in my orchard the fruit trees are in full blossom. 250 Angora kids are kicking their heels in the corral up the canyon while their mothers are out on the grassy slopes in the mountains at the farthest end of the ranch. (Porges, p. 308)
Such sentiments by the master of adventures seem to echo the thoughts of the fictional Colonel Pennington in The Girl From Hollywood. In Chapter III of the story, Colonel Pennington told his son Custer Jr.:
"I have been looking at it for twenty-two years, my son ... and each year it has become more wonderful to me. It never changes and yet it is never twice alike. See the purple sage away off there, and the lighter spaces of wild buckwheat and here and there among the scrub oak the beautiful pale green of the manzanita—scintillant jewels in the diadem of the hills. And the faint haze of the mountains that seems to throw them just a little out of focus, to make them a perfect background for the beautiful hills which the Supreme Artist is placing on his canvas today. An hour from now He will paint another masterpiece, and to-night another, and forever others, with never two alike, nor ever one that mortal man can duplicate; and all for us, boy, all for us, if we have the hearts and souls to see!"
The Girl From Hollywood stands as a glimpse at some of the realities in the life of Edgar Rice Burroughs, as well as perhaps some of the things he wishes were so.
The book is a good read simply for entertainment value, but far more meaningful when one has the background from reading Irwin Porges's biography.
From the new edition!
Paperback Chop Shop
The Girl From Hollywood was originally published in 1922, being serialized in six installments of Munsey's Magazine, and appeared in a hardback book published by The Macauley Company in 1923.
But when it was republished in 1966 by Ace paperbacks, the edition was significantly abridged, with lengthy passages excised throughout. The original hardback is sometimes hard to find, and expensive, so many fans have read only the paperback version, not realizing they were missing parts of the story!
Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc., is now republishing The Girl From Hollywood in both a trade paperback and hardback edition, and has restored that missing text.