Childhood Characters Whom I Like More NOW

Than I did when I was a kid

By Jeff Salter

Before I launch into my review of this particular title – The House on the Cliff… volume 2 of the venerable Hardy Boys ORIGINAL series – let me say a word about the Stratemeyer Syndicate and their stable of ghost writers.

You may recall my blog a few months ago about Mildred Wirt Benson — not only the first ghost writer of the Nancy Drew series, but the individual who truly breathed life into the outlines supplied by Edward Stratemeyer and (later) his daughters. Without Benson’s development of Nancy (plus her father, friends, and community) over 23 of those first 30 ND volumes, readers would have been exposed to a very different Nancy Drew (and, I believe, a far inferior incarnation).

https://fourfoxesonehound.wordpress.com/2020/06/11/guest-fox-the-late-mildred-wirt-benson/

While the Stratemeyer syndicate was entertaining young girls (primarily) with Nancy – among other series – there was another stable of ghost writers producing exciting detective tales featuring two teen-aged brothers… Frank and Joe Hardy.

Frank and Joe had both parents still living, unlike Nancy. And their father was an “internationally known” detective who’d formerly worked with the New York Police — whereas Nancy’s dad was a mere newspaper publisher.

So Frank and Joe were destined to become detectives in their own right — and that’s what they did (over the course of some 59 volumes produced during the years 1927-1979) thereby winning the praise and respect of their school-mates, community leaders, and citizenry.

Leslie McFarlane – a Canadian journalist who’d already worked with Stratemeyer on a different series – was selected to kick off the new series. In all, McFarlane wrote 19 of the first 25 volumes and most fans consider his titles to be the best of the entire original series. [Note: at least one persuasive fan-researcher claims McFarlane did NOT write volumes 12, 13, & 14 — which would lower his total to 16 of the first 25 volumes.]

In 1959 – about the time I was old enough to be interested in the Hardy Boys – the Syndicate began a 15-year project to overhaul the first 38 titles (the earliest of which were, by then, some 32 years old). As with the ND series, in some cases, the volumes were merely trimmed by a few chapters (typically some 30 pages or so). The other focus was to simplify the vocabulary, clean up those earlier, occasional racial / ethnic stereotypes, and also to update their books’ depiction of society and culture in general [not to mention automobiles, aircraft, and other technology]. But for many of the titles, the plots themselves were heavily altered — some to the point of “literary vandalism” in the words of one fan-researcher.

During my childhood, I was first exposed to the Hardy Boys because of my older brother, who owned at least one – Secret Panel, as I recall, which was not one of Mc Farlane’s – which I probably read when I was old enough. [He probably had at least two others, but we can’t recall which titles]. Additionally, I owned at least one HB title – The Mystery at Devil’s Paw – which was set (of all places) in Alaska, which became an American state in the same year that book was published.

Notice that I’m basically stating: of the 59 original HB volumes, it’s possible – as a kid – I read only three or perhaps four!

So why would the most popular boys-targeted fiction series of my generation not be higher on my interest scale? Because I was reading biographies! Starting in fourth grade and covering the prime period in which the Hardy Boys would normally have held my attention, I got hooked on Bobbs-Merrill’s 250-volume Childhood of Famous Americans series. I read every title I could find in my school library and our local public library. For more about that series, read the first third of this blog:

https://fourfoxesonehound.wordpress.com/2011/03/24/most-influential-books-which-shaped-me-as-a-writer/

And by the time (in junior high) that I outgrew that biography series, I had also outgrown interest in the Hardy Boys. By that age, I was reading other non-fiction, e.g., the collected articles by Frank Edwards (about aliens, UFOs, spooks, and other phenomena).

All that is leading up to the fact that about the time I first read any of the Nancy Drew books – when I (as an adult) first learned about Mildred Wirt Benson – I finally also became aware of Leslie McFarlane’s similar contributions to the Hardy Boys series. So I began hunting down copies of the original HB stories by that ground-breaking author. I no longer remember which ones I read – in my fifties, when I acquired about a half dozen – but I recently read (or re-read) one of those.

You might think that reading a Hardy Boys detective tale at nearly age 70 would be a let down… but it wasn’t! If anything, I possibly enjoyed it more now… than I would have as a kid.

As with the ND series, one of the big appeals of the HB stories is that Frank and Joe – both still high school students – have no homework, or exams, or bad report cards, or any other academic burdens. No household chores to speak of, but plenty of spending money, access to transportation, and freedom to roam all over creation, with hardly a whisper of parental “interference.” What’s not to like?

The novel I’m featuring today is the second of that series and is thought by many fans to be either the best or second best of all the McFarlane titles. This was written in 1927 from Edward Stratemeyer’s outline.

Blurb:

Frank and Joe Hardy are investigating a mysterious old house high on the cliffs above Barmet Bay when they are frightened off by a scream. The boys return to the apparently haunted house when they make a connection between the place and a smuggling case their father is working on. When their father goes missing, they have to investigate the caves beneath the house and confront the smugglers.

Review:

McFarlane is terrific at his descriptions of the settings and activity. Frank and Joe are likeable and modest — despite their developing fame as amateur detectives. They are considerate of their classmates and respectful of their elders (except the lazy police chief). I found the story interesting, fast-paced, and full of adventure — even though “adventure” of the sort faced by boys aged 16 and 15 was extremely dangerous. It truly strained belief that their mother would allow them this much freedom to place themselves in harm’s way with few details about their intentions and no appreciable back-up plan.

Criticism:

This volume had a huge plot hole. Their dad disappears without telling his wife or his sons what he’s up to. The reader only knows that the circumspect Mr. Hardy was interested in the possibility of some smuggling perhaps taking place in the vicinity of the house on the cliff. When Mr. Hardy has been gone for some THREE DAYS, the wife and sons are worried, but merely moping about instead of taking any real action. Their feeble contact with the local police strained belief… and the wife’s bland assumption that “Fenton can take care of himself” fell flat. Knowing they were venturing into almost certain danger – and that their father was quite likely a kidnap victim – the boys bring no weapons and alert no authorities. But at least they do ask their buddy, Tony, to notify the police when he gets back to town in his motorboat. I cannot list more complaints without spoiling too much of the ending, but suffice it to say, “don’t bring a flashlight to a gunfight.”

The edition I read was from about 1956, some 29 years and innumerable printings down the road. And yet I found 4 or 5 typographical errors. I was thinking: “you mean with all those millions sold, not one reader has reported those glitches?” And it wasn’t strictly a matter of cost-benefit, because it was clear that several pages had been printed from NEWER plates, which did not have all the burrs and blurs of those original plates from 1927. If they could replace those pages, they could’ve fixed the typos I found and replaced those pages as well. I mean, they had 29 years to deal with it.

Summary:

Despite my critique, I really did enjoy the story. And I realize I’m some 55-60 years past the target audience age. McFarlane does spin a good yarn, and Stratemeyer evidently provided a nice outline.

Something I noted when I discussed Ms. Benson and her ND stories also holds true here. Imagine the frustration of penning books that were sold by the millions and wildly popular, yet you were paid a flat fee [between $75-$125] for your efforts and required to sign a non-disclosure agreement that you’d never reveal that you were the actual author… rather than the fictional Franklin W. Dixon.

When revised in 1959, this title lost some 32 pages but most of the basic plot remained intact.

Question:

Did YOU read Hardy Boys books as a kid? How about Nancy Drew? Did you ever question whether Franklin W. Dixon and Carolyn Keene were real people? Could your wildest imagination have handled knowing that ND was written by some 28 different ghost-writers… and HB by nine or more ghosters?

For information about the ghost writers, the various editions, and other details, check out this cool site:  https://hardyboys.us/hbos.htm

[JLS # 506]

About Jeff Salter

Currently writing romantic comedy, screwball comedy, and romantic suspense. Fourteen completed novels and four completed novellas. Working with three royalty publishers: Clean Reads, Dingbat Publishing, & TouchPoint Press/Romance. "Cowboy Out of Time" -- Apr. 2019 /// "Double Down Trouble" -- June 2018 /// "Not Easy Being Android" -- Feb. 2018 /// "Size Matters" -- Oct. 2016 /// "The Duchess of Earl" -- Jul. 2016 /// "Stuck on Cloud Eight" -- Nov. 2015 /// "Pleased to Meet Me" (novella) -- Oct. 2015 /// "One Simple Favor" (novella) -- May 2015 /// "The Ghostess & MISTER Muir" -- Oct. 2014 /// "Scratching the Seven-Month Itch" -- Sept. 2014 /// "Hid Wounded Reb" -- Aug. 2014 /// "Don't Bet On It" (novella) -- April 2014 /// "Curing the Uncommon Man-Cold -- Dec. 2013 /// "Echo Taps" (novella) -- June 2013 /// "Called To Arms Again" -- (a tribute to the greatest generation) -- May 2013 /// "Rescued By That New Guy in Town" -- Oct. 2012 /// "The Overnighter's Secrets" -- May 2012 /// Co-authored two non-fiction books about librarianship (with a royalty publisher), a chapter in another book, and an article in a specialty encyclopedia. Plus several library-related articles and reviews. Also published some 120 poems, about 150 bylined newspaper articles, and some 100 bylined photos. Worked about 30 years in librarianship. Formerly newspaper editor and photo-journalist. Decorated veteran of U.S. Air Force (including a remote ‘tour’ of duty in the Arctic … at Thule AB in N.W. Greenland). Married; father of two; grandfather of six.
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19 Responses to Childhood Characters Whom I Like More NOW

  1. jbrayweber says:

    I never read the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew. I’m sure they are great books, but, as mentioned in some of your previous posts, I didn’t read much as a child/teen. I can imagine ghostwriters for both series, but it is difficult to wrap my head around the idea there were so many. Wow.
    Great post, Jeff!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      Thanks, Jenn.
      With series as popular as ND & HB — plus, of course, innumerable others (incl. Tom Swift, Penny Parker, etc.) — I think some kids likely gravitated to the stories partly because their parents had been fans in their own younger years.
      Also, of course, there’s the whole matter of reading trends becoming “popular” which brings readers who otherwise might not even be interested in that genre.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I never read the hardy boys and I think I read one of the Nacy Drews of her’s. There were a few others that I read one of,(like Cherry Ames books as I mentioned before.) I DID read a lot of Bobbsey Twins and those were mainly the updated-then books. The older, original were very politically incorrect and even hard to read especially with the way they had the housekeeper speaking in poor grammar and their idea of a fresh-from slavery black patois.
    It is amazing how books and movies in earlier times had people pretty devil-may-care about other people’s disappearances, and generally, at best, had them hiring seedy private eyes to find them. IF they went to the police, they usually got the brush-off. I wonder if that was at all true?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      Yes, some of the racial/ethnic dialect that appears in these older books are quite cringe-worthy in our time.
      I don’t recall if I read any Bobbsey Twins, but I do remember reading — as a kid — one of the “girl” books. Can’t recall which character it was, but I don’t think it was Cherry Ames. If I had a list in front of me — of the most popular girl series of that era — I’m sure it would jump out at me. I believe I did so out of curiosity… and partly for the reason I noted in today’s blog: that the HB books didn’t grab me nearly as much as I’d assumed they would.
      Of course, one of the issues there was that my brother and I — in real-life — had many of our own adventures… some of which could rival those of the Hardy Boys!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Perhaps you should collaborate with Charles again and tell those tales!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Jeff Salter says:

          Alas, I doubt those tales — of my brother’s and my childhoods — would be believable to today’s kids. But each of us has recorded our recollections of certain experiences… in a format that’s geared to our own family’s history.

          Liked by 1 person

        • As Jeff mentions here, I read THE SECRET PANEL when I was about 11 or 12 years old. I loved it! I sought out and read another couple of Hardy Boys books shortly thereafter and didn’t care for them at all. I obviously didn’t know the whole story about all the numerous ghost writers, but I could tell even then that these other two were very different in quality, style, and tone and gave up on the series.

          Jeff and I have written about some of our childhood adventures in our respective memoirs/family histories, but not for a wider audience. I have, however, written in recent years a children’s book series of my own–THE KARE KIDS ADVENTURES, and some of those stories are based at least in part on various real-life experiences from our younger days.

          The idea of having a secret panel in one’s house is fascinating in itself. When we lived in Needham, Massachusetts decades ago, our son’s best friend lived in an old historical house built around the time of the American Revolution, and it had a secret panel so that the family members could hide from the British, if need be, during that turbulent era.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Jeff Salter says:

            I’ve always been fascinated by secret panels, hidden staircases, disguised doorways, etc.
            If I ever moved into a genuine, 200-year-old mansion, I’d probably spend every waking hour searching for such concealed treasures.

            Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      Trixie Beldon was the character, whose series I read one title.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. That you read the books as an older adult, I don’t find strange at all. I enjoy reading a book geared for the younger readers myself. And yes, as I mentioned before in one of the blogs, I did read the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, although I wasn’t much of a reader back then. Although I can’t remember the name of it, I even recall reading a book in which they were together. Maybe you know which one I mean, Jeff.

    Regarding the plot holes and glitches, I believe writers are the worst critics an author can get. LOL The reason being, most don’t just sit back and enjoy a story like the majority of readers who are not writers also. As we writers read, we tend to critique and edit. After a few years as an author, I now try very hard to simply read a book for the enjoyment of the story. It’s not always possible, but I try. And I never critique or criticize as a writer when I leave a review. What I liked about the story and if it entertained me is what I mention. In some of my past reviews, I may have let the writer slip through with a comment, but not intentionally.

    Through the years I’ve been writing, publishing, and asking readers for their opinions on things in my newsletters and Facebook group forum, I’ve learned that readers just want a good story to entertain them. Most of the glitches are excused by them, and it doesn’t stop them from wanting to read another good story by the same author, as long as the writing didn’t bore them. When I published my first 3 books before I knew much of anything about the craft of writing (all of which have been rewritten as they should have been written in the first place), I was very grateful that I had readers who enjoyed the stories and didn’t criticize my lack of skill. I think they’ve all reread the original books now, and enjoyed the stories even more. Praise God. LOL If I read any of the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew now, I’d probably still enjoy those stories.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, glitches, yes and we may not catch them, but readers often will, and generally you will hear about them. I have never contacted a writer about any, but research and facts are rather important to many readers,(I get caught up on them). Not following up on a minor plothole or say, whether someone had entered from the left or from the right,(unless solving a mystery depends on it), is easily overlooked, even my Ms. O/C, (me).

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve caught them too, but I, like you, am a writer. When we’ve discussed this topic of errors in a story, the readers-only remark that errors don’t bother them for the most part. It’s always the reader/writers that have a problem with them. They don’t even bother me a lot when I’m reading a good story with a great plot.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. Elaine Cantrell says:

    I read both the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, but I thought the Hardly Boys were better. I bought an old copy of one of the Hardy Boys books and tried to get my grandson interested. No luck.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      My sympathies. I’ve tried to interest some of my grandkids in particular books, including novels from my childhood. No dice. When our own son was small, I tried to interest him in those Bobbs’ Merrill biographies I mention in today’s blog. Nope. No way.

      Like

  5. I remember my brothers having Hardy Boys books but I was too busy borrowing and reading my dad’s cowboy books to read my brothers’ books. I should pick up a few for Wyatt, I bet he would like them.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Patricia Kiyono says:

    Sorry I’m late checking in! I didn’t read either the ND or HB series, but I remember your previous posts about the ghost writers. I did read the Bobbsey Twins and the Boxcar Children series. Both of those had children doing things I’d never consider allowing my kids to do. As for fathers leaving for days at a time, I know full well that wouldn’t have gone over well in our house.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      Yeah, I know the author of this volume needed Mrs. Hardy to be out of the way, because it would have involved perhaps another full chapter to deal with what she SHOULD have been doing to help locate her hubby. And I think she was mentioned to have checked with a few friends. Also there was something about a note that was delivered and she acknowledged that the note did not contain the secret code that Mr. Hardy would have used if everything were okay. So she KNEW things were awry… but still did almost nothing about it.

      Like

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