Saturday, April 12, 2014


Writer/fan Joe Gibson spoke for many, likely most, fans in 1955 when he accused former Amazing Stories editor Raymond A. Palmer of operating a "medicine show." Palmer, who had published several Edgar Rice Burroughs's novels in Amazing, had known the late author's son Hulbert for years. Starting with a large headline on the cover of his current magazine, Other Worlds, that proclaimed "Tarzan Never Dies!" Palmer, who had successfully authored several tarzanesque novels in his Toka, King of the Dinosaurs, series,  claimed there could never be enough Tarzan stories to satisfy the author's current fans or new ones that would develop over the years and that it would be a crime for the character to die with the passing of his author. Palmer asked fandom, or at leas his readers, to join him in a crusade to persuade Hulbert and the Burroughs estate to license Palmer to appoint a new writer to carry on the famous apeman's adventures. The book was sure to garner world wide publicity and windfall sales. Palmer urged fans who agreed to send him enthusiastic letters to show the Burroughs interests, stating they supported his endeavor and would buy such a book if it were published. Plus a ten cent contribution to help defray his mailing expenses. The buying power of a dime in 1955 was about that of a dollar today, and a stamp was 2 cents. So the cash strapped Palmer, whose magazine was not flourishing, could potentially net several hundred dollars in today's terms. And there was definitely a P. T. Barnum side of Palmer that had helped build Amazing Stories to number one in sales among science fiction magazines during his tenure. Just consider the Shaver Mystery. Or hi later playing up of the flying saucer fad. And not every story he had ballyhooed had necessarily lived up to its billing. So some, perhaps many, fans felt they justifiably viewed his antics with a jaundiced eye. His efforts to have new Tarzan novels written, therefore were met with skepticism by them.
 A letter by Joe Gibson headlined "Ray Palmer's Medicine Show" kicked off the letter column in the November 1955 issue of Other Worlds: 
    "There's a legend kicking around," Gibson had written, "out somewhere in my country, which is the wild and woolly West, about the character who rambled around in an old wagon with "Meddicin Show" burnt on the tailboard by a hot running iron. He had a little she-jackass that could dance to a [harmonica] (when she was a mind to) and he peddled a cure-all remedy that was guaranteed to take the warts off a toad or foal a dry mare, among other things. The thing was, this feller actually believed his remedy did some good because it sold well—and it did, too, but not for that reason. Thing was, this feller was from back East someplace and was kind of ignorant. So some feed merchant sold him some stuff to mix in his remedy because it "pepped up" animals. So this feller's remedy had a pinch or two of Spanish Fly mixed in with the thin molasses, red pepper and beet juice. It "pepped up" humans pretty well, too. And everybody knew it but this medicine-show feller. Was a regular side-splitter every time he got up to start selling the stuff. The womenfolk finally got wind of what was gain' on, tho, and some of the boys had to hustle the "doc" out of the country on a fast bronc one night to save him from a female lynching party.

"Ray Palmer hasn't been lynched yet, but I've been, laughing at him for years. Certainly, his Amazing sold. It topped the circulation of all the other s. f. prozines for several years before Ray ever met Dick Shaver. But the reason for Amazing's popularity during that period was never what. Palmer thought it was—or anyway, what he says it was. Ray Palmer's instinct sold Amazing; his personality or ingenuity had nothing to do with it."

 In a follow up letter, Gibson took on the notion of having a new series Tarzan directly, suggesting it was both folly and unnecessary:

"Consider," he wrote, "it's not Sam Spade, Private Eye—instead it's Joe Friday, Robbery
Detail. And it's not Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle, King of, Apes. Don't call him Tarzan.

"I would figure a postulate like this: an infant survivor of an air crash in the African bush is weaned by a childless mama gorilla. But as yet a crawling brat, it is captured by a tribe of bush natives who adopt it in their village. The ape-child is considered a magical. being, made a pet by the village witch-doctor, and a theory is concocted that his mother was a native girl kidnapped and raped by a giant white gorilla, and that's why he's white, and that's how the white race began—though, of course, he's a First mutant, still more animal than human, still not fully perverted into -a white man. And he grows up in the midst of that legend. The bush natives won't touch him. He learns to live in the African bush by its laws and the dictates of that legend about him—that he's more than half-animal. As a `teen-age boy, he gets a bevy of native girls, ape-style. He's a magical being.

"A 'Jane' type white girl makes the scene, gets tossed in with his bevy of wenches and treated quite adulterously. She escapes, runs back to civilization. He chases after her, gets captured, studied, psycho-analyzed, modernized, educated and completely fouled up. All his education conflicts with his childhood training and he runs back to the African bush. And the girl follows him.

"There you have a guy that knows the African bush as no bush native does, who lives there quite comfortably. You have a strange man, a violent character. Known to white men, slightly feared by them, still a magical being to the bush natives. A hard-headed, common-sense character finding himself to be nothing society or superstition claims he 'is, finding instead that nobility of the human individual in himself.

"But don't call him Tarzan!

"If you kept Burroughs' Tarzan, you'd have to prove his King-of-the-Apes title by having him (naughty word) a bevy of furry babes like any self-respecting king bull would properly do.

"Sure, you can sell wildly improbable romantic adventures to the small segment of the reading public who want 'escape from realism' to mentally unhealthy lengths. You can sell 'magic cures and potions' to the same lunatic fringe, the group who's afraid to grab the real world by its very real set of horns. This bunch is a very faithful group of subscribers, too — and they number in the tens of thousands in a national population of 70 million. But you're not a professional magazine editor, then, and it's stretching a point to even call you a semi-pro editor. And it reeks of perversion for a man who's proved he can be a darned good professional editor. He's catering to a small bunch when he could play the multitudes."

Palmer responded some what heatedly:
Well, after we read Joe's letter, it took us four hours to realize the world hadn't turned red, but it was just blood popping our eyeballs to three-times size. Then we went outside (it was 8° above zero), chopped a shallow trench in the frozen soil of Wisconsin, wrote Joe Gibson on a sheet of Northern Tissue, and buried it. At the head of this impromptu grave, we erected an inverted cross. Then we stood on our head and muttered a fiendish incantation, and tore back into the house to get at our own typewriter.
So that's realism, eh, Joe? All we can say is Thank God Joe Gibson Didn't Write Tarzan!
Joe, we hate to do this to Roberta Collins' husband, but you've got it coming. She should know what she married. A little late to discover the truth, but somebody shoulda told her. You've just identified yourself with the cursed tribe I've sworn to gain revenge upon for what they did to science fiction! You, sir, are the enemy.
We'll get right to the king-size punch in our own argument, and let you have it plumb in the kisser. You say we're a semi-pro editor, and we should write Tarzan like you just laid him out, and aim at the 70 million multitude. Joe, where have you been? Isn't that exactly what has been done in science fiction in the past few years? Haven't they given it the "Joe Friday" treatment? And hasn't it FLOPPED as miserably as anything could!
No, for Pete's sake, don't call him Tarzan. Not the guy you dreamed up! Not that "hard-headed, common-sense" real character. He's a soulless animal who never will be human! He'd be too realistic to weep a tear, or be a gentleman, or kiss a lady's hand — much less die defending her honor. Nobody'd get goose-pimples of romance over him. Nobody'd love him. Nobody'd want to be him! Nobody'd like to name him as one of their friends. Nobody'd care if he lived or died. And nobody'd want him to propagate his kind and become the future ruler of Earth's history.
Escapism? We can just see you mouthing the word. You'll howl that what we've just said is escapism. No indeed, Joe. This is the thing inside us that makes us cry at a movie we know darn well isn't real. This is the thing that makes our heart pump faster when a band goes marching by. This is the thing that makes us go cold with compassion when we see a kid get hurt. This is all the things that don't cotton .to the rules of realism. This is all the things that cause our emotions to prove that they are more powerful than our brain cells. This is the thing that makes us lay our cape in the mud-puddle so our queen can walk across (when realism and common-sense dictate that she walk around the. puddle, and save both her dainty shoes and our coat).
This is the way in which real progress is made, by our emotions driving our brain cells to accomplish what otherwise would be meaningless. Whatever man does, Joe, he does emotionally. It is some emotion that drives him, not his hard head. Not his common-sense. Not realism. A dream, Joe, a fantasy, something unreal. Idealism. And when you take that out of science fiction, you've got your stinking mutant — and you can have him! We certainly don't want him.
And you can have your 70 millions too — which you just don't have. Stand on the record; Joe. Be
realistic. Your method has proved only to be madness. Psycho-analyze Tarzan? What ever for! So that he becomes a machine, all explained in his parts, stripped of the last vestige of mystery? So we don't "kid" ourselves that he is King-of-the-Apes?
It is a mentally unhealthy segment of our civilization which has grasped upon this handy "escape" from responsibility, this psychiatric bombast, this hellish attempt at destruction of human emotion, this blueprinting of the carcass at the expense of the spirit. The man who makes a regular trip to his psychiatrist is mentally unhealthy, nobody would deny that. Even .if he only goes to "be a showoff," or to get "attention", or just to be "with the crowd." He's sick, mentally. We wouldn't brag about our psychiatrist, Joe. We'd hide him like a plague. We'd sure not lie down on a couch and shamefacedly admit that we like to think that Tarzan actually was King-of-the-Apes! Not with the tacit admission that it is a symptom of mental sickness to entertain the idea, even as a fantasy! To you, Joe, indulgence in fantasy, or imagination, or the weakness of emotions, is good cause to visit your psychiatrist — or so you seem to say. Our diagnosis is simple, Joe; you should see your psychiatrist! But confidentially, we don't think it will help! You see, we don't believe in psychiatrists. Except that they are undoubtedly King-of-the-Bull!
-Raymond A. Palmer
Click here to read Raymond  A Palmer's own Tarzan homage, Toka, King of the Dinosaurs for only $2.99 for Kindle and iTunes. 

Click here to read Palmer's legendary pulp novel of a female space pirate, Black World.

With some fans extolling him and others denouncing him, how did Palmer's attempt to get someone appointed to continue the fictional exploits of Tarzan ultimately play out? Visit us again for the next installment of this literary saga, when the ERB Estate finally hears and responds to Palmer's proposition.


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