by Susan L. Fox   Hollywood, Jasoom1
A Princess Of Mars, book cover, Frank Frazetta

John Carter.   A gentleman of Virginia, back when that meant the world to a man’s identity and pride.  A former Army Captain on the Confederate side of the American Civil War in a postwar career mining gold in Arizona, and a lonely death, injured by Apaches, looking up at the Red Planet gleaming in the cave mouth as he bleeds his life away.

He wakes up in an unknown land where he is captured by green warrior giants, whom he impresses with his feats of strength, born of physique molded in Earth’s greater gravity.  And therein begins the saga, stretching across 11 novels and certain literary history.

Edgar Rice Burroughs found himself in a situation in 1911 which might seem familiar to readers in 2011 and beyond.  Flat broke, with a young family to feed, he worked a tedious office job that left him many hours of waiting, so he spend time at his desk reading pulp magazines [being as Facebook had yet to be invented].  At some point, the light went on in his head and the feeling that he could write this stuff.

A Princess of Mars, pulp illustration, 1921

UNDER THE MOONS OF MARS was serialized in ALL-STORY MAGAZINE in 1912.  That was his first fiction sale.  His third fiction sale was TARZAN OF THE APES, creating a character and scenario that have lasted nearly a century now.  Burroughs probably invented the now-common “franchise” where a character’s story and image is commercialized through various media.  Tarzan books numbered 26 in all, including TARZAN: THE LOST ADVENTURE, written by John Lansdale from an unfinished draft of Burroughs’ and published by Dark Horse Comics in 1995.  The movies began in 1918 with muscular and bewigged Elmo Lincoln as the king of a silent jungle filmed in the swamps of Louisiana, of all places, standing in for Darkest Africa.  Dozens of versions followed, with varying degrees of faithfulness to the original texts.

The journey leading to the 2012 feature film release JOHN CARTER is as complex as any adventure story.  The stops along the way include ace animator Bob Clampett, father of Daffy Duck and more beloved characters and wacky situations than we can count, contacting the Burroughs estate in 1936 with a serious proposition for the Barsoom series and some test images and footage2

Traci Lords as Deja Thoris in the unwatchable ‘Princess of Mars’.

There was a feature film in 2009 starring the athletic Antonio Sabato Jr., the lush and lovely Traci Lords, the familiar landscape of Vasquez Rocks and a script so bad that the staff lasted maybe fifteen minutes just to say we tried to watch it.

Announcements of the current production were met with a certain skepticism on the part of us longtime ERB fans, considering the spotted history – but fans have been won over slowly and surely with casting notices featuring actors who can really act, snippets of footage of the Tharks and other inhuman characters, Space Ships and Ray Guns and some really noteworthy characterization by Taylor Kitch who really sells the man from the 1870’s, lost and finding himself again.

So John Carter, why is his name up in lights?  Tarzan gets his name on the movie marquis and nobody says, “Who’s that?”  Maybe by the time the sequels appear, John Carter will do the same.


1 That’s “Planet Earth” to you and me.
2 See it here on YouTube or also as an extra on the Bob Clampett DVD box set.


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