Cover image for The secret of the Hardy Boys : Leslie McFarlane and the Stratemeyer Syndicate
The secret of the Hardy Boys : Leslie McFarlane and the Stratemeyer Syndicate
Greenwald, Marilyn S.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Athens : Ohio University Press, [2004]

Physical Description:
xiv, 310 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Corporate Subject:
Format :


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PR9199.3.M4245 Z65 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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The author of the Hardy Boys Mysteries was, as millions of readers know, Franklin W. Dixon. Except there never was a Franklin W. Dixon. He was the creation of Edward Stratemeyer, the savvy founder of a children's book empire that also published the Tom Swift, Bobbsey Twins, and Nancy Drew series.

The Secret of the Hardy Boys: Leslie McFarlane and the Stratemeyer Syndicate recounts how a newspaper reporter with dreams of becoming a serious novelist first brought to life Joe and Frank Hardy, who became two of the most famous characters in children's literature.

Embarrassed by his secret identity as the author of the Hardy Boys books, Leslie McFarlane admitted it to no one-his son pried the truth out of him years later. Having signed away all rights to the books, McFarlane never shared in the wild financial success of the series. Far from being bitter, however, late in life McFarlane took satisfaction in having helped introduce millions of children to the joys of reading.

Commenting on the longevity of the Hardy Boys series, the New York Times noted, "Mr. McFarlane breathed originality into the Stratemeyer plots, loading on playful detail." Author Marilyn Greenwald gives us the story of McFarlane's life and career, including for the first time a compelling account of his writing life after the Hardy Boys. A talented and versatile writer, McFarlane adapted to sweeping changes in North American markets for writers, as pulp and glossy magazines made way for films, radio, and television. It is a fascinating and inspiring story of the force of talent and personality transcending narrow limits.

Author Notes

Marilyn S. Greenwald is a professor of journalism at Ohio University.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

For this reviewer--and for thousands of other young readers--the discovery that Franklin W. Dixon, author of the Hardy Boys novels, didn't really exist was a blow and a bad one, almost on a par with the unwelcome news that Santa Claus, too, was a fictional character. Now comes the satisfying albeit tardy revelation that, yes, Virginia, there is a Franklin W. Dixon (sort of). In telling the story of Canadian journalist Leslie McFarlane, who wrote the first 16 Hardy Boys novels from outlines supplied by Edward Stratemeyer, Greenwald shows that the success of the series was in large part due to the characters McFarlane created. Critics of contemporary children's literature would never describe Frank and Joe Hardy as quirky characters, but compared with their peers in the series fiction of the time, they were exactly that. Greenwald effectively intercuts McFarlane's biography--the melancholy story of a writer who dreamed of writing the great Canadian novel but created the Hardy Boys instead, for which he was paid a flat fee of about $100 per book--with the more intriguing saga of Edward Stratemeyer, the godfather of series publishing, whose syndicate published the Hardys as well as Nancy Drew, the Bobbsey Twins, and numerous others. A fascinating slice of publishing history and a lease on life for Franklin W. Dixon fans. --Bill Ott Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

This thorough if lackluster biography charts the career of Leslie McFarlane, who penned the first 16 books of the famous Hardy Boys series under the pseudonym Franklin W. Dixon. In 1926, the enterprising New Jersey book packager Edward Stratemeyer created the series: formulaic fiction strategically marketed to newly leisured adolescent boys. McFarlane, a young journalist in northern Ontario, regarded his ghostwriting as hackwork. He neither sought nor received credit or financial gain proportionate to the series' popularity. A proud Canadian, McFarlane harbored unrealized ambitions to write a Canadian epic novel and found gratification only in publishing his stories in literary magazines. Striving to support a growing family, McFarlane eventually found success in Canadian broadcast writing and directing. A professor of journalism at Ohio University and biographer of Charlotte Curtis (A Woman of the Times), Greenwald writes straightforwardly about the ethnically stereotypical, sex-free world of the Hardy Boys. Although she records debates over the literary value of popular children's fiction, Greenwald concentrates on the business details of the Stratemeyer Syndicate, on McFarlane's professional and family life, and on the lasting influence of his smalltown Canadian childhood. While her study reflects meticulous factual research and will inevitably appeal to Hardy Boys fans, others may be frustrated by the lack here of a thesis about the books' cultural legacy. 33 illus. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Introductionp. xi
Chapter 1. Two Lives Intersectp. 1
Chapter 2. A Writer Is Bornp. 17
Chapter 3. The Ghost of the Hardy Boysp. 31
Chapter 4. Birth of a Seriesp. 48
Chapter 5. A Well-Oiled Machinep. 63
Chapter 6. The Golden Handcuffsp. 76
Chapter 7. Tough Timesp. 90
Chapter 8. The Circle Growsp. 107
Chapter 9. Good or Bad Books?p. 124
Chapter 10. The Best and Worst of Timesp. 141
Chapter 11. New Opportunitiesp. 159
Chapter 12. Directing the Picturep. 171
Chapter 13. On the Airp. 188
Chapter 14. A Tragic Timep. 202
Chapter 15. A Ghost Emergesp. 220
Chapter 16. Ghosts of Their Former Selvesp. 234
Chapter 17. At Home at the Typewriterp. 254
Chapter 18. The Final Chapterp. 273
Referencesp. 283
Published Works by Leslie McFarlanep. 303
Indexp. 305