So, here's one final surprising takeaway from Richard A. Lupoff's book on Edgar Rice Burroughs's contribution to popular fiction: the discovery that Tolkien in 1965 was not the first time Ace Books and Ballantine had tussled over publication of works whose copyright status was uncertain. In fact, the Great Copyright Controversy, as it's sometimes called, over the two rival paperback editions of Tolkien's LORD OF THE RINGS was, if anything, a re-match between Donald Wollheim at Ace and Ian Ballantine at Ballantine. The following passage is fairly lengthy, but I found it fascinating for the light it shed on paperback fantasy/science fiction publishing in New York in the early to mid 1960s, and the context against which the slightly later LotR battle wd play out.
In following Lupoff's account, it's important to note that later in his career Burroughs became his own publisher. Accordingly, "Burroughs, Inc." is both the family publishing business (which fell quiescent after Burroughs' death) and the Burroughs Estate (which remained selectively active). Lupoff was an editor for Canaveral Books, so he had a ringside seat for the events he recalls forty years later.
[Following Burroughs' death in 1950, official Burroughs Inc.] editions began disappearing from bookstores. Book dealers active in the field both then and now recount their experiences of being unable to obtain books ordered from Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. Reprint editors tell of comparable experiences. Donald A. Wollheim, soon to be with Ace Books but then with Avon, tells of attempting to secure paperback rights to Burroughs' work and receiving for reply only rebuffs—or total silence.
It seemed almost as if Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc., was attempting to bury the writings of Burroughs, and attend to more lucrative matters such as the licensing of the Tarzan character for motion pictures, comic strips and magazines, and other commercial exploitations.
For 12 years this was the situation, while Burroughs, except for the Tarzan adaptations, became virtually a forgotten man. A coterie of loyal fans kept the lamp of memory flickering, and a semi-professional publisher would now and then risk lawsuit with an underground edition of a few hundred copies of some "lost" Burroughs work.
In 1962 everything changed. Jack Biblo and Jack Tannen, operators of a used books store in New York, learned through a copyright search that approximately half of the Burroughs canon was in the public domain. That is, the copyright had lapsed 27 years after first publication, and had not been renewed as legally required. Anyone who wanted to reprint Burroughs could, permission or no, provided only that they stayed within the out-of-copyright list.
Biblo and Tannen set up a publishing house called Canaveral Press and announced an ambitious program of reprinting Burroughs in hard-bound, illustrated editions. In short order Wollheim of Ace Books announced a similar and even more ambitious program of paperback reprints. Ballantine Books produced a trump card with the claim that they had obtained Burroughs' Inc.'s permission, and thus would reprint copyright as well as public domain material. Dover Books announced its own, somewhat smaller, Burroughs program.
For a time there was utter chaos. From a drought of Burroughs there was now, suddenly, a flood. Where a given title had been out-of-print for decades, there were now two, three, four competing editions on sale at once. Eventually, fortunately, a measure of order was restored when a new administration at Burroughs, Inc. negotiated settlements with the various publishers involved.
Canaveral obtained exclusive hardcover publishing rights for a time. They eventually produced two dozen Burroughs titles including several first editions.* Dover limited its program to a few omnibus volumes of Burroughs, then retired from the field.
Ace and Ballantine split the paperback rights more or less down the middle—Ace got [the] Pellucidar and Venus series, Ballantine got Tarzan and Mars. Other titles were parcelled out one by one. For hardcover first editions of remaining Burroughs manuscripts, Burroughs Inc. published a single title, and in recent years has allowed various small presses to produce others.
In this fashion, this immensely popular author came back into his own after a hiatus of 12 years.
—MASTER OF ADVENTURE: THE WORLDS OF EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS, rev. ed. 2005, pages xxxviii-xxxix (emphasis mine).**
The key elements here that parallel the slightly later events over Tolkien's book wd be (1) the refusal of the authorized publisher to grant permissions for paperback reprints, despite approaches by several publishers; (2) this leading to the discovery by Wollheim that the official publishers probably didn't have undisputed rights to material (and hence cd not legally sub-let rights they might not actually have); (3) which led to the official publisher normalizing the situation by striking a deal that led to the recognition of an officially authorized edition (which in Tolkien's case led to the unauthorized rival being driven from the field).
The biggest difference in Tolkien's case is that while Burroughs was long dead, and the most prized of the books in question had been published a half-century before. Did this inspire the telling line by Tolkien himself about "courtesy (at least) to living authors" that appeared proudly on every copy of the Ballantine text?
In any case, it seems to me a case cd be made for the Burroughs brouhaha of 1962 being an interesting preliminary skirmish, as it were, in the Tolkienian battle of 1965. I'd previously known Lupoff only as the author of the novel LOVECRAFT'S BOOK, which I've had for years but never read. I'm thinking now I shd dig it out and give it a try.
current reading: R. L. Green's INTO OTHER WORLDS (still)
current viewing: BACCANO! (brilliant nonlinear storytelling) and HIS AND HER CIRCUMSTANCE (the single best anime series ever)
*i.e., the first publication, or first book publication, of previously unpublished or uncollected material
** I have silently corrected two obvious typos in the original.