Tarzan’s Dad at the Hickman Trial

In an era where a celebrity journalist like Dominick Dunne (1925-2009 R.I.P.) covered the sordid murder trials of O.J. Simpson, Robert Blake and Phil Spector it should be noted that this is not a new phenomenon. 

Hickman Court Hearing: William Edward Hickman sans necktie at his court hearing. Immediately to Hickman’s right is longtime Sheriff Eugene W. Biscailuz and to his immediate left is his lead defense attorney for the trial Jerome Walsh.


Case in point- was the 1928 trial of William Edward Hickman for kidnapping, murder and dismemberment of Marion Parker.   For two tension packed weeks the trial created such a sensation of tabloid headlines that even Charlie Chaplin came to the Hall of Justice to get an up close and personal look at Hickman.  Famed journalist and screenwriter Adela Rogers St. Johns attended and reported on the trial just as she had done during the prosecution of Loeb and Leopold and later Bruno Hauptmann for the Lindberg kidnapping. 


Edgar Rice Burroughs famed fantasy author best known as the creator of Tarzan of the Apes covered the duration of the trial in 13 columns for the Los Angeles Examiner.  The articles can be found at https://www.erbzine.com/mag17/1768.html

It is particularly interesting to see how Burroughs in this series of OP-ED pieces  thinly disguised as columns gave it his best effort to seal Hickman’s fate.   Hickman’s guilt was never in doubt but his counsel presented one of the earliest attempts at the insanity defense.  Not only did Burroughs not buy into Hickman’s defense attorney’s contention that their client was insane, Burroughs protested that he didn’t see any need for a trial at all.  And Burroughs sarcasm was evident when he mocked the defense’s dermatography demonstration by trying it at home with his own son. In the test actually performed at the trial, Hickman removed his shirt and his skin was scratched with a metal object.  According to the defense in explaining the significance of dermatography, a bright colored long lasting mark was supposed to prove mental instability.  

Edgar Rice Burroughs in 1934

On the other hand Burroughs nicely encapsulated a couple of the trial’s most dramatic and emotionally wrenching moments.  When the autopsy photos of Marion Parker’s nude dismembered body were passed to the jury, the woman in the third seat was so overwhelmed by the first of these black and white 8X10s that she fainted on the spot.  And the most dramatic moment in the trial was the appearance and testimony of the prosecution’s last witness, Marion’s father Perry Parker.  In the winter darkness of December 19, 1928 Parker delivered the ransom to Hickman on South Manhattan Place. When Hickman opened the car door, Marion tumbled out just as Hickman sped off.  Parker ran up to find an unspeakable horror.  Lying in the gutter was the lifeless body of his daughter still wearing her little gingham dress.  Rouge had ghoulishly been painted on her cheeks.  Her limbs were missing and her eyelids had been sewn open.   It was a crime that continues to shock for its brutality over eighty years later.  Hickman’s insanity defense was rejected by the jury and he was executed by hanging at San Quentin on October 19, 1928.  Hickman got weak in the knees as he began to climb the steps of the platform and had to be carried the rest of the way to the top.  But that was just a prelude for the real drama. Hickman’s head hit the opening of the chute when he dropped, breaking his fall rather than his neck.  It took William Edward Hickman over 15 minutes to die that day by suffocation.  Observers reported that the drawn out death scene was so disturbing to watch there were shrieks from the audience and numerous people fainted, including Dick Lucas one of the key detectives who had been involved in the investigation.

Personal Sidebar about Burroughs.

Bob Clampett and John Coleman Burroughs: Clampett and Burroughs reminisce while holding original John Carter of Mars material. This photo is from the early 1970’s.

My dad was only a couple of years older than Marion Parker.  About the time of the murder he 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, visited the Burroughs home frequently and soon got to know the elder Burroughs.   Several years later when my dad was an animator at Warner Bros. studio he partnered with  Edgar Rice Burroughs and son John Coleman 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.  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.   Here’s a youtube link to the reel with an audio track of my dad narrating.  

This piece 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, their first film that will include live action characters blended with CG animation.

Other notable Otis alumni from the 1920s included the two very talented brothers Bob McKimson (creator of Foghorn Leghorn) and designer and layout artist Tom McKimson.  Both brothers later worked with my dad at Warner Bros. Cartoon studio. There was also 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.) 

My dad stayed in close contact with the Burroughs family throughout his life.  Danton Burroughs, John Coleman’s son and keeper of the Burroughs legacy, passed away last year. 

Thanks to Bill Hillman of Erbzine.

Thanks to Sarah Russin, Director of Alumni Relations at Otis College of Art and Design.

Thanks also to The Watson Family Archive and to Delmar Watson (1926-2008 ) who was like a second father to me.

Neck Gazing at the Count Dracula Society Awards

Awards shows come and go. One awards show that has endured to this day was originally staged by The Count Dracula Society, a non profit group devoted to the serious study of horror films and Gothic literature. Vampires do outlive the rest of us. In fact they just held their 2009 awards on June 24th at the Castaways in Burbank although the emphasis shifted back in the mid 1970’s when it became known as “The Saturn Awards” for The Academy of Science Fiction Fantasy and Horror Films. In its early formative years from 1972-1974 when Count Dracula was still the society’s namesake, what were then known as the “Ann B. Radcliffe Awards” were held at the Alexandria Hotel. 15 Paparazzi in front of certificates A Paparazzi in front of giant bat and the awards certificates. I attended the ceremonies on April 20, 1972 and April 7, 1973 when my dad received special awards including a bat pin and a certificate. As you might imagine the event had more than its share of eccentricity. The lady receiving guests at the entrance to the ballroom, sported fangs. Rich Correll son of Charles Correll of the famed blackface team of Amos and Andy performed a spot on high pitched nasally impersonation of the Count Dracula Society’s founder Dr. Donald A. Reed (profiled below), Larry Vincent, a.k.a. “Seymour: of Fright Night TV fame on KHJ served as Master of Ceremonies one year and referred to the Alexandria’s ornate glass ceiling by saying, “Welcome to the Poseidon.” The movie “The Poseidon Adventure” had just been released. The crowd got a double dose of my dad’s antics first with a screening of his cartoon, “Beany and Cecil Meet the Invisible Man” and its horror-ific puns. Later he put on his Cecil the Sea Sick Sea Serpent hand puppet when he accepted his award. As a movie buff I have to say that forgiving all that wackiness, the event was one classy tip of the hat to the era of bygone glamour. 16 Fantasy Film legend, George Pal Fantasy Film Legend, George Pal accepting his award. The two years have blended together in my mind but I do remember that every which way I looked were iconic figures from fantasy and horror films. Blood sucker Christopher Lee (knighted by the Queen in 2009), King Kong’s soul-mate Fay Wray, the grand daddy of Fantasy films George Pal, famed character actor John Carradine, golden era movie stars Miriam Hopkins and Francis Lederer, Academy award winning director Robert Wise of the original “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, director Rouben Mamoulian of “Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde”, William Marshall a.k.a. “Blacula”, monster aficionado Forrie Ackerman, famed writers Ray Bradbury and A.E. Van Vogt, English born star of so many iconic films Roddy McDowell, king of the low budget film Roger Corman, and 1960’s Gothic Horror star Barbara Steele. 14 Forrie Ackerman and Barbara Steele Forrie Ackerman and Barbara Steele I also recall sitting directly across from the bride of Frankenstein, Elsa Lanchester, and I sat next to Boris Karloff’s daughter Sara whose striking resemblance to her legendary dad really was a chip off the old blockhead. A still youthful looking Rock Hudson even marched into the ballroom in a tux and picked up his award and marched right back out the door. These two gatherings were unbelievably satisfying orgies of pop culture. The mastermind behind all of this good natured ghoulishness was an odd fellow named Dr. Donald A. Reed. 21 Dr. Donald Reed Dr. Donald Reed Reed was a well educated New Orleans transplant, but his life was full of contradictions. He was a middle aged man who lived with his parents in the West Adams district. He had a doctorate in law and yet served as a law clerk. He also worked as a substitute librarian around town. He later taught at Woodbury College. His true love was Hollywood history and all its glitz and glamour. Reed somehow managed to turn an organization named “The Count Dracula Society” and its yearly banquet into a must attend event for screen legends. This was in spite of the fact that Reed had perhaps one of the weirdest habits ever seen outside of Transylvania. When Dr. Reed met you and spoke with you (always wearing a dark suit by the way), he would move in very close. All the while he never looked you in the eye. Rather, he stared at your neck. It must have been charming to his society’s members. To the rest of us it was shall I say distracting? 20 Dr. Reed going batty Dr. Reed going batty. Over the years Dr. Reed consistently grew his society and presented awards to some of the most famous filmmakers of all time including James Cameron, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. His awards were even televised for a few years when Science Fiction films like Star Wars hit box office warp speed and beyond. In going Hollywood, Dr. Reed became a full fledged publicity hound. A young filmmaker even followed Dr. Reed around with a camera for several months to record Dr. Reed’s last days, failing health and all in the 2003 released documentary, “My Life with Count Dracula.” That young filmmaker was this year’s Academy award winning writer of “Milk,” Dustin Lance Black. Dr. Reed died in Los Angeles in 2002. The official Donald Reed website which paid tribute to him got much of his story right, but not all of it. It points out that Dr. Reed got to know Walt Disney when he worked as a librarian at Cal Arts the Disney funded Arts University. If he got to know Walt Disney it would be from the beyond because the Disney family broke ground on Cal Arts two years after Walt Disney’s death. Still, I wouldn’t put it past him. Photos Courtesy of Linda Cervon

When Legends Collide: Lili St. Cyr and Tempest Storm

Lili St. Cyr was a marquee burlesque striptease star known for her bubble bath routine. Tempest Storm who went onstage just before St. Cyr referred to herself as a performer so green that she didn’t know her right foot from her left. But Ms. Storm’s assets and the threat she posed to the headliner didn’t go unnoticed by St.Cyr. While Ms. Storm performed onstage, St. Cyr would watch her like a hawk and point out any similarities in their acts to impresario Lillian Hunt. One night another dancer who performed earlier in the show dropped a pin onstage. Whereas most dancers used hooks or zippers for their costumes, this dancer used pins. The barefoot St. Cyr stepped on the pin and when she finished her number she was livid and accused Ms. Storm of leaving the pin behind. Ms. Storm a fiery redhead with a no nonsense attitude quit on the spot. As she was packing her bags, the quick thinking Lillian Hunt came up with a solution. She offered to send Ms. Storm to the El Rey Theater in Oakland to perform as the headliner. From that point on, Tempest Storm never looked back and her star shone brighter and brighter. She called it one of the luckiest things that ever happened to her. Fast forward nearly twenty years. The two women hadn’t crossed paths since that incident at the Follies Theater. Ms. Storm had just finished headlining the Minsky’s Revue at the Aladdin in Las Vegas. Lili St. Cyr came in to headline the next night. Storm’s daughter Trish wanted to meet Lili St. Cyr. Ms. Storm wasn’t sure at all what to expect but when they went backstage, St. Cyr welcomed them inside and graciously said, “I knew you were going be a star.” Storm’s response, “Is that why you bitched about me?” That was all it took. The two legends of burlesque shared a laugh and became fast friends. After St. Cyr retired from performing, Ms. Storm sent her money from time to time and they remained in contact up to St. Cyr’s death in 1999. At the reopening of Cole’s just down the block from where the original Follies Theater once stood a faded burlesque billboard hangs in the corner near the bar. The two burlesque divas Tempest Storm and Lili St. Cyr almost look as if they were destined to face off at that moment in time.

Follies Billboard

Tempest Storm, 2008 Tempest Storm, 2008 Photos by the author.