If you ever happen to “move west down Ventura Boulevard,” like the vampires in Tom Petty’s song Free Fallin’, there’s a good chance that you’ll pass a tree in Tarzana that’s more than just a tree.
“Which came first, Tarzan or Tarzana?” is a question that’s a lot easier to answer than the chicken-egg conundrum.
“Tarzana” was taken from the name of the ranch owned by Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs.
Burroughs, one of the most successful fantasy novelists of the 20th century, was born in 1875 in Chicago. As a young man, his parents sent him to Idaho to live with his brothers on a ranch, to protect him from a flu epidemic that was sweeping through the Midwest at the time. In Idaho he learned to ride and shoot, which later earned him a spot in the US 7th Cavalry in Arizona Territory.
He left the army after it was discovered that he had a heart murmur which prevented him from becoming an officer. For the next several years he drifted between Idaho and Chicago, settling for long enough to marry his first wife Emma on New Year’s Day, 1900.
Burroughs spent several years employed in menial jobs and eventually found himself working as a pencil sharpener wholesaler. His job required him to monitor the effectiveness of the advertisements that his company placed in “pulp” magazines. After studying the ads he began reading the stories and became convinced that he could write as good as the authors featured inside.
Despite having never written, Burroughs submitted a story to one of the pulps entitled Dejah Thoris, Martian Princess. He feared that the public would think it insane for a pencil sharpener salesman to write science fiction, so he published the story under the joke pseudonym Normal Bean – his way of saying he wasn’t crazy.
The story, re-titled Under the Moons of Mars, proved very successful, and Burroughs was paid more money for it than he ever earned before. Success out of the gate prompted his decision to quit selling pencil sharpeners and to become a full-time writer.
In 1912, Burroughs created one of the world’s most enduring characters in fiction when he published Tarzan of the Apes.
Tarzan, the man raised in the jungles of Africa by apes, was such a popular character that soon he could be found in 26 more Burroughs novels, as well as in theaters and comics. Burroughs created several other series, but none were as popular as Tarzan.
In 1919, Burroughs used some of his newfound wealth to purchase a large ranch in the desolate western end of the San Fernando Valley, which he named “Tarzana.” In 1928 the residents around the ranch chose the same name for their new town. That same year, Burroughs’ daughter Joan married actor Jim Pierce who had earlier starred as Tarzan in a Hollywood movie.
By 1934, Burroughs had created his own company to oversee his numerous publications, and had divorced his wife. A year later he remarried an actress and resettled in Hawaii. He was playing tennis there with his son on the morning of December 7, 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Although he was 66 at the time with a weak heart, he became America’s oldest war correspondent.
By the end of the war he had again divorced, and returned to Tarzana to live out the remainder of his life, suffering a fatal heart attack during this week in 1950 while reading Tarzan in the comics.
In accordance with his wishes, the creator of Tarzan and dozens of other fictional characters, was buried under a tree in front of his office at 18354 Ventura Boulevard in (where else?) … Tarzana.