By Bon Summers
I hate to bring bad news to the readers and collectors of The Hardy Boys or The Nancy Drew juvenile series so loved by people all over the world but have you ever heard of “A House Name”?. . . Well meet some of them: Franklin W. Dixon, Carolyn Keene, Victor Appleton, and Laura Lee Hope (of the famed The Bobbsey Twins series).
I am almost afraid to relate this sad story when Hero’s of our lost childhood are marred by commercialism as far back as 1930, but it all happened. Edward Stratemeyer and his daughters Harriet and Edna became the center of a publishing house known as Stratemeyer’s Syndicate and were responsible for publishing over 700 books creating some of the most remembered and read juvenile books in American History. These various books were written by dozens of people too numerous to mention, however, if you would like a total list of the Nancy Drew books written by Carolyn Keene go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nancy_Drew do the same for The Hardy Boys.
Remember the date 1929 and what transpired in America? It was the year of the Great Depression and the Crash of the American Stock Market. During that time Harriet Stratemeyer (Adams) held together her father’s publishing house. Harriet was responsible for many of the first juvenile boys and girls adventure series and it is believed she wrote over 200 books. Edward Stratemeyer died in 1930, and Harriet and her sister Edna took over the control of the company and kept it alive for another half century.
A note here on collectibles: Harriet Stratemeyer Adams wrote #25 The Secret Panel in 1946 and later #46 The Mystery of the Aztec Warriors. These were her contributions to the Hardy Boys Series. If you find any books with her name on them or even any by Leslie McFarlane just grab them and run for the glass case because these can be very rare editions. The question now is who were the real writers of these series of hundreds of juvenile books? Leslie (Charles) McFarlane, a Canadian, 1902-1977 wrote the first 24 Hardy Boys Adventure Stories. He also wrote the first four of the Dana Girls Mystery Stories and non-fiction book Ghost of the Hardy Boys.
Happily we state he was a real person.
Mildred A. Wirt (Mildred Augustine Wirt Benson) 1905-2002 also was a ghostwriter for Stratemeyer but she turned out to be an exception to the rule of just a paid-for-writer and became quite a great lady of literature. Remember it was the Great Depression and she was probably one of the few writers being paid for her work. But she obviously was one smart cookie and this little lady did far more than just write for Edward Stratemeyer. She just ‘opened a vein’ as Bernard Shaw has said and became Frank Bell, Mildred Benson, Joan Clark, Julia K. Duncan, Alice B. Emerson, Frances K. Judd, Don Palmer, Helen Louise Thorndye, Dorothy West, Ann Wirt, herself, Mildred A. Wirt plus Carolyn Keene….YES! She was the author of the first 24 Carolyn Keene’s Girl’s adventure and mystery books. And yes, Mildred A. Wirt was a real person. Mildred contracted with Stratemeyer for $125.00 per book, and was asked to sign two pieces of company policy: 1) she was asked to give up all rights to her written work and 2) she was to retain her confidentially. Hey, who knew about contracts in those days . . . Stratemeyer sure did.
Check with FANTASTICFICTION.COM for a full account of numbers of titles, date of publications, and author of each of the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books. Go to their web site and print them out. Titles run into the hundreds. It is remarkable how many authors FantasticFiction has been able to locate and record accurately and they do such a great job. FantasticFicion boast of some 15,000 authors and 250,000 titles. Always keep them in mind. Wikipedia.org web site on Nancy Drew can enlighten you as to the original Nancy Drew, 1930-1940; then the type and color of her open car was blue then yellow then blue again suggesting it was a Mustang, but in 2007 she drives a blue Nash Metropolitan convertible in a movie.
From 1940 – 1950 she became the new teen-age Nancy. From 1950 to the 1970s, she became the revisionist Nancy and guess what folks in 1979 2 million Nancy Drew books were sold and a whole new generation of girls and boys read and read. These are the colorful red, blue and yellow numbered spines, self-covered hardbacks with most attractive illustrations. From 1953-1979 artist Ruddy Nappi entered the scene of illustrating and we met Nancy’s new friends, and introduced to Nancy’s new character. Our girl was portrayed as a more average teenager (whatever that is or was) with a new hair-do, new clothes, and more colorful eye makeup.
Authorship, as stated earlier, can be a strange and very difficult secret and ghostwriters were surely the bread and butter of this new breed of publisher. Never the less, it has been somehow figured out as the writers signed away all rights of future royalties, all correspondence was handled by the two daughters of the Stratemeyer Family, and that was that. The Stratemeyer organization outlined a detailed plot for a book, writers had to follow that format then editing or drafting of the work was again handled by the office of Harriet S. Adams. Books were then revised or rewritten, and the finally edited by herself. . . Harriet Adams. But do not forget one thing. This opportunity gave dozens of writers the chance to write. There must be a great deal of satisfaction for them, even if they received no byline on what they were working, and that remains the most beneficial part of this whole mysterious plot. They were blessed with work.
Only one ghostwriter, Walter Karig writing as a Hardy Boys ghostwriter, tried, in 1980, to claim his royalty rights. The result of all that legal mumbo jumbo was that Grosset & Dunlap, who had previously been the main publisher of all the books from Stratemeyers lost their contract and the printing contract was given to Simon & Schuster. Yet Grosset & Dunlap still printed 90% of the older books you seek in the self-cover hardback editions.
The detailed results of a trial (fought over the rights of the original authors and ownership of said collections) made it possible for Grosset & Dunlap to reprint at least the first 56 Nancy Drew titles. The legal end of this tale is a whole other article, but in essence Mrs. Adams, the first daughter and heir of the estate, lost face because it was learned that Mildred Benson Wirt had indeed written the first 24 books claimed by Harriet. Later Wirt was given recognition on the history pages of many titles she contributed to. Harriet tried to falsify the writings and copyright dates. At the death of Harriet Adams the syndicate was split and sold off to Simon & Schuster.
One excellent handbook “The Hardy Boys Detective Handbook” written by Franklin W. Dixon and assisted by Special Agent of the F.B.I. William F. Flynn retired, consulted with the publisher. Revised edition is 1972 with ISBN # 0- 448-1990-6 and L.C. # 70-158752. B/W illus.
However in my personal opinion the readers came out the winners from the adventures of mischief’s and mishandling of morals of these publishers so unlike the stories of the books they published. They had wanted to control every plot, every scene, even outside the pages of their books. Readers won because people still will buy and read Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys for generations to come. The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew still bring out the very best of young people that promotes the right thing to do.
Bon Summers. Ancient City Booksellers, St. Augustine, Florida USA
The article was published in Sheppard’s Confidential (Insights), and is presented here, with our thanks, by the author and Sheppard's Confidential.