Academic journal article Journalism History

The Secret of the Hardy Boys: Leslie McFarlane and the Stratemeyer Syndicate

Academic journal article Journalism History

The Secret of the Hardy Boys: Leslie McFarlane and the Stratemeyer Syndicate

Article excerpt

Greenwald, Marilyn. The secret of the Hardy Boys: Leslie McFarlane and the Stratemeyer Syndicate. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2004. 310 pp. $32.95.

Growing up, I eagerly read every Hardy Boys book and remember the anticipation of a new title, much like today's generation awaits the arrival of a new Harry Potter tome.

Marilyn Greenwald, a journalism professor at Ohio University, has vividly told the story of the ghostwriter who wrote twenty of the first twenty-four books in the Hardy Boys series. It is not a romantic tale of an author leisurely puffing on a pipe while concocting a new Baytown adventure for Joe and Frank Hardy and their always-hungry friend Chet Morton. Instead, Les McFarlane would dash out a new book in only a few weeks-purely for the $100 or so per book that the Stratemeyer publishing syndicate paid himwhile focusing on the more-serious work for which he longed to be remembered. His legacy, however, became the quick-read Hardy Boys books that he wrote under the fictitious name of Franklin W. Dixon.

Poring through letters and diaries and conducting family interviews, Greenwald pieced together a human tale of a rural Canadian who loved to write. McFarlane became a newspaper reporter and then a freelance writer who was often on the edge of financial catastrophe. Writing the Hardy Boys books became a financial addiction, and his contract with the Stratemeyer syndicate was for a flat fee with no royalties.

The Hardy Boys became one of the topselling juvenile series of the twentieth century, selling more than 50 million copies. Greenwald credits the success to McFarlane, who took the formulaic plot outlines provided by the syndicate and gave the characters a human dimension. For instance, Joe and Frank had an irreverent attitude toward authority figures, Chet supplied comic relief (in the Hidden Harbor Mystery, he buys three candy bars, six oranges, a bottle of soda, and a bag of peanuts "to fight off famine until lunch time"), and crusty Aunt Gertrude always predicted a violent and tragic ending to the boys' adventures. While Joe and Frank never bled, they were always getting tied up, tumbling down cliffs, or falling through trapdoors. McFarlane inserted allusions to the works of Shakespeare and Dickens, and he used a more challenging vocabulary (for example, prosaic, ostensibly, and ambling) than other adventure books of the day.

Entrepreneur Edward Stratemeyer (who also published the Tom Swift, Bobbsey Twins, and Nancy Drew series) invited McFarlane to write the first Hardy Boys book in 1926 after McFarlane produced six Dave Fearless adventure books for the syndicate at $100 apiece. …

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