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Frank Gelett Burgess (January 30, 1866 – September 18, 1951) was an artist, art critic, poet, author, and humorist. He was born in Bostonmarker, and graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technologymarker with a B.S. in 1887.


Burgess lost his job as a technical drawing instructor at the University of California, Berkeleymarker (1891–1894) because of unmentionable alterations to statues of Henry Cogswell, a famous Bay Areamarker dentist (he deliberately toppled several of them that he considered an eyesore), who had donated several statues of himself to the city of San Francisco, Californiamarker. Burgess is now held in high regard at the University of California, Berkeleymarker as a former professor, and literary talent. A selection of his original works are housed in the Bancroft Library, on the Berkeley campus.

Burgess married Estelle Loomis in 1914. A writer in her own right, Estelle Loomis worked on a number of literary projects throughout her marriage with Burgess; the two conferring together on each others' work. A beauty contest winner, according to the Scranton Times in September of 1920, "Scranton woman second place in NY World beauty contest, Mrs. Gelett Burgess, Riverside Drive, NY, formerly Miss Estelle Loomis, daughter of the late F. E. Loomis, attorney."

Burgess and Loomis were married until her death in 1946, however the years were wrought with continuous illness, fatigue, and complaints of various symptoms by Loomis.


He is famous for writing the poem "The Purple Cow: Reflections on a Mythic Beast Who's Quite Remarkable, at Least." The poem first appeared in volume 1, number 1 (May 1, 1895) of the 16-page monthly magazine The Lark, published in San Franciscomarker by William Doxey. It was edited and written primarily by Burgess, who took great delight in creating pseudonyms for himself. For example, in volume 1 four of the other "authors" are Burgess writing under different names. The final issue, number 25 entitled The Epi-Lark, was published May 1, 1897.

The original "Purple Cow," from 1895
I never saw a purple cow
I never hope to see one;
But I can tell you, anyhow,
I'd rather see than be one!

The 1895 issue of The Lark in which Burgess's "Purple Cow" first appeared
Having become associated with this verse, he wrote the following "Confession: and a Portrait Too, Upon a Background that I Rue" in The Lark, number 24 (April 1, 1897).

Ah, yes, I wrote the "Purple Cow"—
I'm Sorry, now, I wrote it;
But I can tell you Anyhow
I'll Kill you if you Quote it!

"Purple Cow" has since been used as a brand name.

Other writings and projects

Burgess wrote and illustrated several children's books about the habits of strange, baldheaded, idiosyncratic child-like creatures he called "The Goops". He created the syndicated comic strip Goops in 1924, and worked on it to its end in 1925.

Of Queen Anne architecture he wrote:
It should have a conical corner tower; it should be built of at least three incongruous materials or, better, imitations thereof; it should have its window openings absolutely haphazard; it should represent parts of every known and unknown order of architecture; it should be so plastered with ornament as to conceal the theory of its construction.
It should be a restless, uncertain, frightful collection of details giving the effect of a nightmare about to explode.

An influential article by Burgess, "The Wild Men of Paris", was the first introduction of cubist art in the United Statesmarker. The article was drawn from interviews with Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and Georges Braque.

His books The Maxims of Methuselah and The Maxims of Noah were illustrated by Louis D. Fancher.

Burgess founded the San Francisco Boys' Club Association, now the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco, in 1891. The Club was the first of its kind west of the Mississippi River.


The word "blurb", meaning a short description of a book, film, or other product written for promotional purposes, was coined by Burgess in 1907, in attributing the cover copy of his book, Are You a Bromide?, to a Miss Belinda Blurb. His definition of "blurb" is "a flamboyant advertisement; an inspired testimonial".

The Guinness Book of World Records lists his collection of synonyms for the word "drunken".

He also coined the phrase, "Love is only chatter; friends are all that matter."


  • Vivette (1897); novelette
  • The Lively City O'Ligg (1899); juvenile
  • Goops, and How to be Them (1900); juvenile
  • A Gage of Youth (1901); Poems, chiefly from The Lark
  • The Burgess Nonsense Book (1901); prose and verse
  • The Romance of the Commonplace (1901)
  • More Goops, and How Not to Be Them (1903); juvenile
  • The Reign of Queen Isyl (1903); short stories in collaboration with Will Irwin
  • The Picaroons (1904); short stories in collaboration with Will Irwin
  • The Rubaiyat of Omar Cayenne (1904); satire and parody
  • Goop Tales (1904); juvenile
  • A Little Sister of Destiny (1904); short stories
  • Are You a Bromide? (1906); short book
  • The White Cat (1907); novel
  • The Heart Line (1907); novel
  • The Maxims of Methuselah (1907); satire and parody
  • Blue Goops and Red (1909); juvenile
  • Lady Mechante (1909); novel
  • The Master of Mysteries (1912)
  • The Maxims of Noah (1913)
  • The Goop Encyclopedia: Containing Every Child's Every Fault (1916); juvenile
  • Have You an Educated Heart? (1923)
  • Why Men Hate Women (1927)
  • The Purple Cow
  • Ain't Angie Awful (1923)
  • Look Eleven Years Younger (1937)


  1. Wells, Carolyn: "What a Lark!" in The Colophon, pt. 8, ed. Elmer Adler, Burton Emmet, John T. Winterich. New York, 1931.
  2. Strickler, Dave. Syndicated Comic Strips and Artists, 1924-1995: The Complete Index. Cambria, CA: Comics Access, 1995. ISBN 0-9700077-0-1.
  3. "The Wild Men of Paris", Architectural Record, May 1910.
  4. Burgess Unabridged, a New Dictionary of Words You Have Always Needed (1914), (Archon Books, 1986), p. 7; see also the etymology at "Blurb", Merriam-Webster, retrieved June 4, 2008.
  5. Burgess Unabridged, a New Dictionary of Words You Have Always Needed (1914), (Archon Books, 1986), cover jacket.


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