Boroughs and Burroughs

Published 10:11 pm Tuesday, November 10, 2015

By Frank Roberts

As a native New Yorker, I am familiar with the five boroughs — Staten Island, Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan and, of course, my own Queens.

There’s another I remember from my youth — Edgar Rice Burroughs — a prolific writer best known for Tarzan.

Email newsletter signup

The vine-swinger was his main claim to fame, but he also entered the world of science fiction with the unforgettable “Land That Time Forgot.” Altogether, this prolific author penned 58 books.

Most of his works have been heard on radio or seen in comic strips and darkened theaters. They began as “silent,” the first one coming out in 1917 starring Elmo Lincoln. It was, obviously, “Tarzan Of the Apes.” The finale was in 1985, when the jungle guy became just another NYC swinger. That movie was “Tarzan In Manhattan,” starring Joe Lara.

Over the years, there were many Tarzans swinging from branch to branch. My personal favorite was former Olympics swim champ Johnny Weismuller.

Some sour-faced critics described Burroughs’ writing as repetitious and clumsy. What do they know?

The author was born in Chicago but raised out west on a cattle farm. While most of us write for the love of writing, he said he started writing at 35 because he was broke.

Like another writer — me — he was not so hot in the classroom. He dropped out of the Philips Academy, and flunked out of West Point.

Burroughs got married in 1900, while bringing home a weekly — weakley — salary of $15. At different times he worked for and with one of his brothers. The young man was ready to go west and entered Oregon with $40 and a collie.

He soon lost that money at poker. To make matters worse, when he went back to his room he found it had been ransacked.

However, things began to turn around when he sold his first story — at a time, he said, when he knew zilch about writing. After that, it was a pleasant climb uphill. To jazz up his bank account, he also began writing for newspapers. (Excuse me, but that doesn’t add up!)

During World War II, Burroughs was probably the oldest war correspondent. He witnessed the attack on Pearl Harbor.

He spent the last years of his life in the town in California named in his honor — Tarzana. Burroughs died in 1950. He just finished reading the Sunday comics in bed, and then a heart condition took his life.

Now, I get to the personal stuff. In the ’70s, his grandson, Mike Pierce, was a good friend of mine. At the time, I lived in Edenton, N.C., and he was stationed at the old Marine base, which was abandoned in the early ’80s.

He and his wife, Jan Watts of Whittier, Calif., one of the prettiest ladies I’ve ever known, visited the house often. I remember that her family was in the funeral business.

Mike went to Harvard Military Academy in California, and graduated with honors. He attended Arizona State University, Colorado College and a naval academy in Pensacola. He played on the football and baseball teams of those schools, and he was a champion swimmer and diver. The couple have two daughters.

He had often flown with his grandfather, and that led him to become a Marine pilot — decorated while in Vietnam.

A mutual friend sent me a pic of Mike, with Grandpa, when the young Mr. Pierce was about 12 years old. Mike’s dad played Tarzan in two of the silent movies; on the air he, and Wife 1, portrayed Tarzan and, of course, Jane.

Finally, an ‘it’s a small world’ item. My son, David, his son, Josh, and five dachsunds live in a log cabin on five acres of forest land in Edenton, much of which was part of the old Marine base.

During a 60-year career spanning newspapers, radio and television, Frank Roberts has been there and done that. Today, he’s doing it in retirement from North Carolina, but he continues to keep an eye set on Suffolk and an ear cocked on country music. Email him at