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By Dave Creek, Web Producer
LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB) -- The grandson of Edgar Rice Burroughs was among those at the University of Louisville on Sunday celebrating the centennial of Burroughs' most popular character -- Tarzan.
The character first appeared in a special issue of "The All-Story" magazine in 1912. Tarzan fans marked that anniversary with a birthday party at the Chao Auditorium at U of L's Ekstrom Library on Sunday.
John Burroughs, the writer's grandson, says the enduring appeal of the character is, "Because people enjoy it when they read it, and it's because it takes us away from the life we live, into other worlds, where good triumphs."
Burroughs was also a pioneer of what is now called the entertainment "franchise," in which a character appears in several different media. From magazine and book appearances, Tarzan's adventures were also told on radio, in movies, and eventually on television. George McWhorter, curator of U of L's Edgar Rice Burroughs collection, explains, "Burroughs was always an entrepreneur, looking for some new worlds to conquer." U of L's collection contains some 200,000 items.
McWhorter also points out the large number of Tarzan collectors as evidence of the character's enduring popularity. Such collectors' interests range from books and magazines to artwork and merchandise, including Tarzan belt buckles and gum.
Sunday's event included an exhibit of vintage posters along with book signings and presentations. Burroughs expert Scott Tracy Griffin made one of those presentations, based upon his book "Tarzan: the Centennial Celebration."
Denny Miller, the actor who starred in 1959's "Tarzan the Ape Man," also appeared, signing autographs and having his picture taken with fans. Nowadays he more closely resembles a later role, the Gorton's fisherman from TV ads.
James Sullos, the president of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc., spoke of how the writer's works are still eagerly sought by filmmakers, TV producers, and comic book companies, among others. Besides Tarzan, Burroughs also created Martian adventurer and explorer John Carter, whose adventures were told in a Disney movie earlier this year.
At the end of the program, birthday cake was served -- it was illustrated with the cover of that issue of "The All-Story" featuring the first Tarzan tale.
McWhorter says his interest in the character began at an early age: "My mother -- she taught me how to read when I was five years old with the Tarzan books. And she would underline each word as she spoke so I could hear what it sounded like and see what it looked like at the same time. And I would beg her for one more chapter before bedtime and she would go, 'Oh, no, you learn how to read for yourself, then you can read as much as you want.'"
McWhorter also believes that in this media-saturated age, the original source of Tarzan's adventures shouldn't be forgotten: "I think Tarzan is enshrined in the books, and I hope that the people in coming generations will read the books."
"And he always triumphed," adds John Burroughs. "He did the things you and I would like to do, but we don't get to be able to do." Of his celebrated grandfather, he says, "We had no idea he was a famous person...we only knew him as someone who liked his grandkids and liked to play with us when we were little."