ERB and John Carter of Mars

In the late 1920’s Bob Clampett attended the original Otis Art Institute downtown which he would travel to by streetcar. Another student driven by chauffeur in a limosene became one of my dad’s lifelong friends. It was John Coleman Burroughs, second son to Edgar Rice Burroughs. My dad already a big fan of Burroughs books was frequently invited to visit the Burroughs home and soon got to know the elder Burroughs. Dad put  the solid art training from Otis to good use. He learned to work with the human figure, the principles of color and various media to apply all of this training in the making of cartoons. John Coleman Burroughs became a serious fine artist. His deep heart felt connection to his father was that he illustrated many of his father’s books with lush oil paintings.

Edgar Rice Burroughs in 1935 dictating one of his books.

Other notable Otis alumni from the 1920’s included the two very talented brothers Bob McKimson (creator of Foghorn Leghorn) and Tom McKimson who later worked with Bob Clampett at Warner Bros. Cartoon studio as a layout artist and character design, George Maitland Stanley (designer of the Oscar statue, the Astronomer’s monument at the Griffith Observatory, and the fountain at the Hollywood Bowl) John Hench (Key Disney artist for over 65 years and Tyrus Wong (another Disney artist who worked on Bambi) and is now 99 years old. (Otis later became Otis College of Art and Design.)

Several years later when my dad was an animator at Warner Bros. Studio and even though their paths had diverged after leaving Otis, dad and John Coleman partnered with Edgar Rice Burroughs to bring Burroughs vision of his Mars series to the silver screen via animation. They worked nights and weekends for over a year and completed quite a bit of development artwork, script treatment pages and a one minute sales reel showing what a John Carter of Mars animated feature might look like.

Artwork from the Clampett/Burroughs collaboration including the eight legged thoat in color and scenics of Mars in black and white.

At that time MGM couldn’t see past the success of the live action Tarzan films they were producing. To finance an animated feature was not a proposition that appealed to them at all.

The John Carter of Mars sales reel originally appeared on the DVD, Beany and Cecil The Special Edition Volume One released in 2000. There have been many other unsuccessful efforts over the years to bring Burroughs Mars stories to the screen. However Pixar/Disney is now at work on John Carter of Mars directed by Andrew Stanton. This is one of the most ambitious live action characters blending with CG animation that the studio has ever undertaken.

Outside of the 16mm film reel and some of the original art including pencil animation that can be seen on the DVD, dad had one other key memento from his association with the Burroughs family. Edgar Rice Burroughs gifted dad with first edition copies of the entire Mars series. They sat up on the shelf in our living room when I was growing up. To draw a cringe from all you collectors out there, as a little boy just after I learned to write my name I went through the collection and wrote a dyslexic BOB (the first B was backwards) inside the front page of each book. I still have that complete defaced edition today.

It should be noted that although Bob Clampett will forever be associated with funny comic characters in animation and puppetry, he loved a good adventure story. As a boy he loved all of the Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. films. He loved the original Professor Challenger stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the 1925 film “The Lost World” starring Wallace Beery. He loved Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. He also loved the stories of Robert Louis Stevenson and Jules Verne. Later, he loved the movies Gunga Din with Cary Grant, Victor McLaglen and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr and “Robin Hood” with Errol Flynn and Olivia DeHaviland. And of course he loved the Tarzan and John Carter of Mars stories by Burroughs and the Tarzan films starring Johnny Weismuller.

Left to right- Bob Clampett, John Coleman Burroughs, Hulbert Burroughs and Jack’s son Danton Burroughs.

Bob Clampett stayed in close contact with the Burroughs family throughout his life. He appeared at many events with Danton Burroughs, John Coleman’s son. Danton was the keeper of the Burroughs legacy for many years but passed away in mid 2008.  Many years earlier the family suffered a terrible loss because of fire to the family archive. Many precious mementos had been lost in that fire. So for fire to return to Tarzana and to personally lose many more of his dad’s and grandfather’s mementos in a second go around was an acutely traumatic experience. As a result Danton Burroughs suffered a heart attack and died.


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