Stratemeyer Syndicate pseudonyms

Bobbsey Twins, Tom Swift, Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew

by James D. Keeline

The Stratemeyer Syndicate was a "book packager" which was responsible for the large percentage of juvenile series books in this century, including the Bobbsey Twins (1904-79+), Tom Swift (1910-41), the Hardy Boys (1927-79+), and Nancy Drew (1930-79+). The Stratemeyer Syndicate was responsible for more than 1,600 series book volumes (mostly juvenile) published between 1904 and 1984. In addition, the founder of the Syndicate, Edward Stratemeyer (1862-1930) is known to have used many pseudonyms (either by his choice or the publishers of his stories in story papers, dime novels, or in book form).

In general each Syndicate series was published under a pseudonym. In all, the Syndicate used approximately 100 pseudonyms. Some names were used for one story or series and others were used for several. In many ways, the Syndicate tried to create the impression that these pseudonyms were actual people. Children would often write to the author of their favorite stories and send them to the publisher, who would forward them to the Syndicate. The Syndicate often replied to these letters using still other pseudonyms to reflect the "secretary" or "assistant" to these "famous authors."

The Syndicate's modus operandi was to create outlines for entire series and specific volumes which would be turned over to ghostwriters. These hired writers would expand as little as a title and a few sentences of plot description into a 200+ page juvenile novel, complete with "snappy dialogue" and cliffhanger chapter endings. For this service, the ghostwriter would be paid a flat-fee compensation which was equivalent to the salary received by a newspaper reporter for two month's worth of work. In fact, many of the Syndicate ghostwriters were newspaper reporters. Some others were former dime novel authors.

It was expected that the ghostwriters would not reveal their identity if future writing assignments were desired. In later years, this was put in writing but early on, the agreement was implied.

The most successful Syndicate series were the ones where one ghostwriter for most of the early volumes. Examples of this are the ones mentioned above. For example most (if not all) of the first 36 volumes in the Tom Swift series were written by Howard R. Garis (1873-1962), a newspaper reporter for the Newark Evening News and creator of the very popular Uncle Wiggily stories about a rheumatic gentleman rabbit. Garis was a close personal friend to Edward Stratemeyer and wrote many series for the Syndicate. Several members of Howard Garis' family also wrote for the Syndicate, including his wife Lilian C. Garis, son Roger C. Garis, and daughter Cleo M. Garis. Howard continued to write for the Syndicate after Edward Stratemeyer's death in May 1930. At that point, Stratemeyer's two daughters, Harriet Stratemeyer Adams (1892-1982) and Edna C. Squier (1895-1974), continued to direct the Syndicate. Garis stopped writing for the Syndicate around 1933 after a series of disagreements about how much he would contribute to the direction of the Syndicate in 1932. Curiously, Howard is said to have introduced Andrew E. Svenson (1910-1975) to the Syndicate in 1948. Garis and Svenson were acquainted via the Newark Evening News. Garis even wrote a Bobbsey Twins volume in 1948 and Lilian wrote a story which apparently was not published in that same year. Howard Garis wrote many of the early Bobbsey Twins books as well as books in the Great Marvel series (as Roy Rockwood), Baseball Joe series (as Lester Chadwick), and seemingly countless others.

Several other authors wrote volumes in the Bobbsey Twins series after Howard Garis stopped. Today, the Bobbsey Twins are widely remembered but seldom collected. Several reasons may account for this. One of them was that the interest level of the stories were geared for a younger audience than the reading level of the books. This meant that Bobbsey Twins books were typically read to the child by a parent or older sibling. We have found that the books people collect are the ones they read them- selves. Additionally, the Bobbsey Twins series became a testing ground for new Syndicate ghostwriters. The Bobbsey Twins had much lower sales than the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew so a badly-written volume would not be as tragic in this series. Some of these test cases involved rewriting an earlier volume to modernize the story and remove undesirable stereotypes. Many volumes in the Bobbsey Twins, Hardy Boys, and Nancy Drew series were revised.

The early volumes in the Hardy Boys series were written by Leslie McFarlane (1902-1977), a Canadian journalist who discovered Edward Stratemeyer through an ad in Editor and Publisher in 1925-1926. Similarly, the early volumes in the Nancy Drew series were written by Mildred Wirt Benson (1905-), one of the first women to graduate from the University of Iowa school for journalism with a Masters Degree. These two series were very successful, largely because each ghostwriter put more energy and creativity into the stories than one would normally expect for works for hire type writing.

As the Great Depression placed restrictions on the sales of 50 cent books, the Syndicate cut the flat-fee compensation (i.e. no royalties) from $125 to about $75. Mildred Wirt stopped writing Nancy Drew (but continued to write for several other Syndicate series) for a period of about a year and a half. During that time, Walter Karig (1898-1956) wrote three Nancy Drew books. There is good reason to believe that Leslie McFarlane reacted in a similar way. The Hardy Boys volumes written during the same time period as the Karig Nancy Drew books show a markedly different style and much more direct racism in the stories than earlier or later volumes. It is unlikely that McFarlane wrote these though his name is attached to them in some Syndicate documents compiled forty years later.

With implied or direct instructions of secrecy, learning about Syndicate pseudonyms has not been easy and the picture is still not complete. Today, we have a much better idea of which series the Syndicate produced and we have a good idea of who was writing for them at various times and for the main series. I wrote a series of three articles for The Yellowback Library (PO Box 36172, Des Moines, IA 50315; $30/year, monthly), a magazine which specializes in series books, which detailed the authorship of every volume and revision of the Bobbsey Twins (YL 123), Hardy Boys (YL 125), and Nancy Drew (YL 127). Unfortunately (or fortunately), the interest in these articles has been so great that the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew issues are no longer available (unless Gil O'Gara has made some sort of reprint of them).

In a similar fashion, I am researching the entire genre of juvenile series books to compile a reference book which is tentatively entitled, The Series Book Companion. This book is a biographical dictionary and bibliography of series books. When information is known about a pseudonym or series book author, appropriate details are given along with references to other resources. I intend the book to be "one-stop shopping" for information on series books which I hope will alleviate the vast amounts of misinformation and downright lies which permeate the field. Even respected publications like American Heritage and Smithsonian have published completely erroneous articles on the Stratemeyer Syndicate which reflect the image the Syndicate leaders wanted to portray and not reality.

For example, the Dec. 1976 issue of American Heritage has a well-illustrated article about the Tom Swift series written by Arthur Prager. In it, he claims that Edward Stratemeyer personally wrote all of the Tom Swift books and that Howard R. Garis was just a research assistant. We know for certain that this is not true. We have copies of the first two writers' agreements for the first two Tom Swift volumes signed by Howard R. Garis and detailing his contribution to writing the stories based upon Stratemeyer's outlines. Of course, Stratemeyer owned the stories but Garis wrote them. I also have uncovered a letter and a copy of a check from the Syndicate paying Prager for the article. The Syndicate provided him with the information and he wrote the article exactly the way they wanted it.

In a similar situation, Bruce Watson wrote a fallacious article for the Oct. 1991 issue of Smithsonian. This article seems to take the same viewpoint of "official" Stratemeyer Syndicate legends which indicate that the owners of the Syndicate were the main authors and ignoring the ghostwriters who made the volumes a reality. I readily admit that Stratemeyer took the risks and deserved to reap any rewards for the success that his series made but it is wrong to ignore the dozens of ghostwriters.

My Series Book Companion (some have suggested Series Book Encyclopedia) has been in progress since 1993. I hope to have something ready for a publisher in 24 months. I have consulted with Oxford University Press and Gale Research Publishing who have both declined. My next company is Greenwood Publishing who has published some important reference books on series books in the past. I am choosing these kinds of publishers because I know they hold the respect of libraries and the book has a much greater chance to get into the hands of causal researchers this way. I know that the booksellers and collectors will buy the book from which ever publisher handles the book.

Because this work is in progress, I am somewhat reluctant to scoop myself by revealing all of the fruits of my research for this article. I will give it some consideration and decide which information I can share at this time. I have a list of Syndicate pseudonyms and names of people who are attached to them. The real problem is the sheer volume of material:

1,600+series book volumes

Drawing the connections between all of the lines would be a worthy task for a good relational database. In addition, there are many pseudonyms in the context of series books but not produced by the Stratemeyer Syndicate.


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