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‘The cactus-ridden corpse’ and other stories: New book on Burbank highlights tales from the past

Authors Wes Clark and Mike McDaniel took readers on unique historical tours of Burbank in their first two books, and they’re looking to do the same in their latest installment.

“Lost Burbank” was a light history of the 107-year-old city and its lore, while “Growing Up in Burbank: Boomer Memories from the Akron to Zodys” chronicled what it was like growing up in the Media City during the 1950s and 1960s.

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In their latest book, “True Tales from Burbank,” Burbank natives Clark and McDaniel set out to highlight some of the unique and quirky stories involving those who have lived or worked in Burbank.

“You think you understand what Burbank is like, but put your head back into the ’20s, the ’30s and you have a very different place,” Clark said.

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He said he and McDaniel continue to learn tidbits about their hometown, such as the apparently fictional group called the Burbank Night Riders.

Clark said there was one incident in which a young woman was allegedly abducted by the group and the letters N and R were carved into her arm.

Authorities would later find out that she had planned the incident because she was trying to convince her father to allow her to marry her lover, who had carved the letters himself.

“We don’t understand the logic behind it,” Clark said with a laugh. “There’s a lot of puzzling behavior in this book.”

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Another disturbing story from Burbank’s early years involved a man discovered burying his clothes outside a farmer’s house. The man, who ended up naked, ran through a cactus patch near the area and fled.

News reports from that time said the man’s body was found near the Los Angeles River riddled with cactus thorns and his skull mutilated, Clark said.

“He had beaten his head to jelly, which was a detail our publisher asked us to withhold,” he said. “It was pretty grisly. The autopsy showed that he was in the terminal stages of pneumonia and that he was mad off his head. Nobody was able to identify him, so he was just called ‘the cactus-ridden corpse.’”

A lighter part of the book, Clark said, mentions how the father and uncle of filmmaker Tim Burton, who grew up in Burbank, were notable athletic directors in the city.

Additionally, “True Tales from Burbank” retells the time when Johnny Carson inadvertently had to give candidates in a Burbank City Council race time on “The Tonight Show” after he had then-Mayor Dr. Jarvey Gilbert, who was an incumbent, on the show in a gag appearance where he wore a paper hat and praised “Beautiful Downtown Burbank.”

“You couldn’t script this sort of thing. NBC ran one episode of ‘The Tonight Show’ with an extended sequence where they allowed everybody who was running for City Council,” Clark said. There were 10 other candidates. “The network was ready to write it off, but they found out they beat out Merv Griffin in the ratings that night.”

“True Tales from Burbank” is available on Amazon.

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