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    Hamburger Habit Owner Fries by Day, Writes Novels by Night

    IV Cook Friend of Hemingway, Politicians, Stars

    By Melinda Finn, Daily Nexus, January 29, 1973

    Hamburger Habit” owner Russ Burton has talents far beyond the accommodation of Isla Vistan appetites. Hamburger-making feeds and supports Burton’s dream of “full-time writing.”

    While that dream is only beginning to be realized, writing has been a big part of Burton’s life ever since he submitted a piece for publishing at the age of 11. Since then, he has headed in several directions, including journalism, public relations and film scripts. Several short stories and articles of his have been published, as well as a play recently produced in Los Angeles. His writing has also brought him into close contact with various well-known people ranging from Marilyn Monroe to ex-Governor Edmund G. Brown.

    In his college years at USC, Burton was greatly influenced by Ray Bradbury, who picked Burton along with two others to be in a writer’s group. Each member wrote one short story per week which Bradbury would edit. “Bradbury encouraged my writing a great deal,” said Burton, “and helped sell my first works.”

    Other Endeavors

    Even with his early literary successes, however, Burton could not live on fiction alone. After majoring in journalism at USC, where he roomed with Art Buchwald, Burton landed a job with a Los Angeles paper as drama and movie critic. From journalism, Burton switched to acting and screenwriting, working for a year with Republic Studios and then with Encyclopedia Britannica helping to make educational films. After a year in films Burton “dropped out” to spend a year in Mexico writing short stories.

    After Mexico, he went to New York as a full-time publicist. In that capacity, he became “P.R. man” for such personalities as Marilyn Monroe, Yul Brenner and Gregory Peck.

    Burton’s next job brought him back to Los Angeles where he worked as promoter for educational television. Disenchanted, Burton says educational T.V. “never reached its potential” because of still competition from network T.V.

    After giving up television Burton turned to politics and worked as a speech writer for Governor Pat Brown. This continued until Brown was defeated for re-election by Ronald Reagan, for whom Burton also did P.R. work when Reagan was still on television.


    From here, Burton became a Buddhist, which he describes as a “true, very realistic philosophy, the only philosophy-religion that stresses no cop-outs.” For a time he was very much involved, taking trips to Japan, and taking part in Buddhist pilgrimages. On one of these, he met the woman who is now his wife.

    Back in the United States, he spent much time speaking about Buddhism at different colleges. While his public activity in the area has since died down, Buddhism is still an important part of his life, helping him to appreciate the present.

    Recently, Burton has found time to write and reflect more on his own thoughts.

    The novel he is working on is called “A-Day” and is concerned with the “success myth” in American society. The protagonist in the novel arranges to murder world leaders in order to cure society’s ills. “His theory,” said the author, “is that education, government and logic have failed to do right for people economically.”

    Burton, although believing society needs a healthy economy, believes that the success myth is driving people to “kill each other off in the great competition of business.” Although his assassination theme relates to society only figuratively, Burton feels that the actual competition process would be more human if it were killing in the literal sense.

    Burton considers himself a “drop-out” from the success game he denounces. At one time he was caught up in it, enjoying an expansive home and swimming pool. After living lavishly for awhile, he realized that “success becomes the thing you serve, rather than it serving you.” Thus he “dropped out before the word was even invented.”

    Apathetic Receivers

    Burton finds television largely responsible for inadequacy in people. “With everything coming to you, you don’t have to use your brain,” he complains. “People become apathetic receivers. On television problems are always solved synthetically, giving people false ides of reality.”

    Burton sees America as suffering from intellectual atrophy. “I don’t think we as a collective body have a soul,” he said. “We’ve never turned out great artists except in fiction in the last 50 years.” He speaks of the greats of the 20’s and 30’s who stand out in his mind: Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, Sandburg. These names represent uniqueness for him.

    “The American myth was not packaged and canned for them as it is now,” he said, adding that young artists nowadays have a harder time existing outside the success myth.

    Elaborating on his belief that “people must work at their own awareness,” Burton recalled his association with Ernest Hemingway, “a great believer in doing your own thing.”

    Hemingway began a correspondence with Burton after reading a literary magazine, “Copy,” which Burton used to edit. While the two never met (even though Burton was invited to visit), their correspondence built in Burton a great respect for Hemingway, whom he feels “cleaned up the English language.” Hemingway’s letters will be a legacy to Burton’s children.

    Ernest Hemingway is one of those artists to whom Burton pays homage by attaching their names to the backs of the chairs at his restaurant. When asked about the chair which carries his own name, Russ Burton modestly says he does not deserve it… yet.

    Leaning on his chair at Hamburger Habit, Russ Burton tells of dream of becoming a full-time writer. (Melinda Finn/Daily Nexus photo)
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