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  • The Secret of the Hardy Boys, Leslie McFarlane and the Stratemeyer Syndicate
  • William J. Vande Kopple (bio)
Marilyn S. Greenwald . The Secret of the Hardy Boys, Leslie McFarlane and the Stratemeyer Syndicate. Ohio UP, 2004.

Much of the material for my boyhood reading was supplied by a bookmobile, a bulky, top-heavy vehicle that stopped regularly in my neighborhood back in the 1950s. I don't remember many details about that bookmobile's interior. But I do remember a shelf that I regarded as special—the shelf displaying all the Hardy Boys books. Back when I was nine or ten, it never occurred to me as I sped through these mysteries that the name Franklin W. Dixon corresponded to no actual person in the real world. I had a mental image of Franklin W. Dixon, and to me it was both comforting and intriguing. I even had a notion of how his voice would sound, if he ever could find the time to leave his writing desk and visit my school. Perhaps, then, it was all for the best that it was not until I was in my forties that I first learned some of the details of how the Hardy Boys books were written and produced. These details left me with a swarm of questions, many of which I can now answer because of Marilyn S. Greenwald's recent work.

In this book, Greenwald uses extensive archival resources––including thousands of pages of diary entries and personal letters—to examine the [End Page 283] life, especially the literary life, of Charles Leslie McFarlane (known throughout his life as Les), the author of around twenty of the first twenty-four Hardy Boys books. As a part of her examination, Greenwald describes the relationship that McFarlane had with the Stratemeyer Syndicate, which produced several series of books so familiar to young readers throughout the twentieth century: books featuring the Hardy Boys, the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, Tom Swift, Dave Fearless, and others. Furthermore, she explores questions about the quality of the Hardy Boys books and the role they have played in the lives of young readers.

From Greenwald's book, it is clear that for Les McFarlane, to live, in large measure, was to write. As she puts it, "throughout his life, nothing compared to the exhilaration of a good day of writing" (214). And Les clearly had many such days, as evidenced by the quantity, quality, and variety of pieces he produced.

He began his formal writing career composing for newspapers, first in his beloved boyhood town of Haliebury, northern Ontario, and later in such cities as Sudbury and Cobalt, Ontario, and Springfield, Massachusetts. After he stopped working for newspapers, his writing ranged remarkably widely, from detective thrillers, mystery novellas, and sports stories, through speeches for officials of the Canadian Department of Munitions and Supply, to scripts for radio shows, for films produced by the Canadian Film Board, and for television dramas aired by the Canadian Broadcasting Company.

However, the writing that Greenwald is most interested in is that which McFarlane did after responding to an advertisement seeking someone who could write fiction following plot outlines supplied by others. This ad had been placed by Edward Stratemeyer, who gave McFarlane what amounted to a writer's try-out and then invited him to be one of several writers laboring for him in what is sometimes called a "fiction factory." McFarlane was to work in this factory on and off from 1927 to 1947, producing most of the early Hardy Boys books.

It is difficult to imagine anyone today agreeing to abide by the rules and procedures that Stratemeyer set for his writers. In beginning a new book, writers would receive from Stratemeyer (and, after his death, from one or the other of his two daughters) about two pages of single-spaced text detailing the important incidents in the plot. If writers followed the outlines correctly, they would produce books that were between 204 and 218 pages in length and that included many chapters which ended with some sort of cliffhanger. In most books, the second chapter was special since in it the narrator would pause in order to...


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pp. 283-286
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