Tarzan Meets The Custer's

The Mad King was first published in book form by McClurg in 1926, but this was not its first appearance.  Shortly after Adventure magazine turned down The Mucker in 1913, Burroughs began work on The Mad King Of Lutha.  Beginning on October 26, the magazine version was completed within a month.  Burroughs received his check on December 8.

This story introduces us to Barney Custer of Beatrice, Nebraska who is visiting the kingdom of Lutha, his mother's native land.  Because of a lost election bet Barney is not permitted to shave for a year.  Thus, his full red beard gives him a close resemblance to Lutha's escaped mad king. Often mistaken for the king, Barney is dragged into much danger and intrigue.

In an excellent example of Burroughs mixing fiction with reality the heroine Princess Emma von der Tan, is named after his first wife, Emma Centennia Hulbert.  The selection of Beatrice, Nebraska, as Barney's home town was because of Herbert (Bert) T. Weston.  Bert had been Burroughs' classmate at Michigan Military Academy, and from Beatrice had maintained a lifelong correspondence with him.

Continuing his rapid writing pace Burroughs launched at once into Nu Of The Neocene, a twenty-five thousand word story which was finished in twenty days.  This is a very debated Tarzan related story, which researchers view with different perspectives.

  • Some say it is a story involving a double passage in time, first to the future and then to the past.  
  • Others say that Barney's sister merely dreamed under severe stress.
  • Some say the small boy mentioned, "Dackie", is Jack Clayton, Tarzan's son.
  • Others say it is Jackie Clayton, Tarzan's grandson.
  • Some place Victoria's occurrence after The Beast Of Tarzan.
  • Others say the events occurred after Tarzan And The Jewels Of Opar.
Anyway, Barney has now left Lutha, and he and his sister, Victoria, are visiting the Greystoke's at their African estate.  In this adventure, which Burroughs dated early spring, Victoria is the leading character.  An earthquake transports Nu of the Neocene, mighty-muscled hunter of Oo, the saber-toothed tiger into 1913.

In this non-Tarzan series story there is a lot of interesting Greystoke lore.  For instance this is the first reference to Tarzan's African estate, and the fact that the Greystoke's are now living there on a permanent basis.  Also, ERB, the narrator, (Tarzine #34) is visiting the Greystoke's at the same time as the the Custer's.

Sweetheart Primeval, the sequel to Nu Of The Neocene, was completed in less than a month, on September 14, 1914.  Again there is an earthquake, but this time Victoria was transported into the past.  The entire story takes place in the prehistoric past and at its end, another earthquake occurs and Victoria is transported back to modern times and at the Greystoke bungalow.

Robert H. Davis, who had replaced Metcalf as the editor of the slumping All-Story Cavalier wrote Burroughs on June 12, 1914 and mentioned a squeal to The Mad King,  Barney Custer Of Beatrice, which was wrote between September 26 and November 1, 1914, was first sent to Davis on November 2, 1914.  Changes had to be made and the quick writing author had the manuscript back in the mail by November 16, 1914.  Burroughs was paid one thousand three hundred twenty-five dollars for his efforts.  A check for five hundred dollars on November 14, 1914, and one for eight hundred twenty-five dollars on November 24, 1914.

The squeal to The Mad King opens in Nebraska.  Victoria is present, but she does not play a major role.  Again mixing fiction into reality.  Burroughs wrote Bert's wife, Margaret, into the script. Victoria, at the beginning of the story, wants to go motoring with Lieutenant Butzow and regrets her promise to Margaret to play bridge.  Mysterious bombings occur in Beatrice, and they are revealed to be the work of Captain Ernest Maenck,  In pursuit of the captain, Barney travels to Austria and then to Lutha for a second round of adventures. 

Although The Mad King had run both in the pulps and as a hardback, the quick witted Burroughs had not given up  on its money making prospects.  During this time in his career the Tarzan movies were being quite good to him.  Why not use their fame as a stepping stone to introduce his other works?

On January 11, 1915 Burroughs sent a synopsis of The Mad King to the Selig Poloyscope Company hoping to land a motion picture deal.  On August 31, 1915 J.A. Berst, Vice-President of the Selig Company wrote and explained that the book would make a five-real movie but the synopsis was not suitable for motion picture production.

With that rejection Burroughs sent The Mad King synopsis to the Universal Film Manufacturing Company in Universal City, California.  Slow on answering, Burroughs again tried to sale the synopsis to Selig for one hundred dollars a reel.  Berst again rejected, saying the price was to high. Burroughs was also unable to persuade Universal by the brief summary, so the movie production of The Mad King came to a temporary stall.

Well known for resistance to wasting any of his material, Burroughs simply turned in a different direction.  He acted on a comment by Berst - that a scenario, the final version, would be worth more money.  More than a month later Burroughs again sent The Mad King to Selig.  On November 30, 1915, Selig replied.  "I have read your scenario The Mad King and regret to state that we will not be able to use it for the reason that we already own three or four plays of that kind..."  So ended the movie career of The Mad King.

Still refusing to give up, Burroughs submitted The Mad King for serialization in the Kansas City Star in December 1926.  After a reading Louis Mecker, the serial editor, rejected the script because it was to much like a motion picture scenario.  Although Burroughs objected, and defended his efforts, it was to no avail.  Finally reaching the end of the rope, the persistent businessman let The Mad King rest.

James Michael Moody