06 March 2012

Baum and Burroughs

Publicity for the upcoming John Carter movie has brought a little new attention to Edgar Rice Burroughs’s friendship with L. Frank Baum. Yesterday the New York Times stated:
The Barsoom novels are a little like the Oz novels of Burroughs’s friend and eventual California neighbor L. Frank Baum, whose estate, Ozcot, was not far from Burroughs’s Tarzana. Both are partly reflections of how the authors saw the United States at the time. But even more, they’re escapes from it, written by relatively late bloomers who found in writing a fulfillment that had earlier been denied them.
Baum and Burroughs did have a lot in common, including an upper-class upbringing and education, a series of jobs and moves in early adulthood, and sudden and lucrative success in writing popular fiction. They probably even knew the same neighborhoods in Burroughs’s home town of Chicago; Baum’s publisher for Father Goose and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the Geo. M. Hill Company, was on the same block as one of Burroughs’s apartments.

At the same time, Baum was nearly twenty years older, so he probably saw himself as a mentor for this newcomer to the literary world and to California. They met late in 1916, sixteen years after Baum’s biggest hit had come out and four years after Burroughs’s appeared in magazine form. (Tarzan was first published as a novel in 1914.) Thus, the two authors probably had little literary influence on each other.

Baum introduced the young writer to a gentlemen’s lunch club he’d co-founded called the Uplifters, which Burroughs described as a “select group of millionaires, clerks, and other celebrities, all members of the Los Angeles Athletic Club.”

Baum became seriously ill in 1918, which curtailed his social activity, and he died in 1919. Thus, the two authors weren’t friends for long. Burroughs bought his Tarzana estate, much larger than Baum’s Ozcot house and garden, a few months later. By then he was earning large amounts from both press and the movies.

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