Wednesday, December 31, 2008


All things Happy Hollisters

Anyone who has visited my website is aware of my fondness for The Happy Hollisters book series. I wish to devote this entry to that series with a few new visual items of interest and a few comments.

Elsewhere on this blog, I have shown letters I received from Andrew (Jerry West) Svenson and in all these items, I have only had his Jerry West signature. And those autographs are only on letters and one picture he sent me. In the last few years I finally found on eBay a Happy Hollister book with his signature of Jerry West inscribed in it, and in one case, I found a book that he also inscribed with his real name, Andrew Svenson. In all my correspondence with Svenson and Harriet (Carolyn Keene) Adams, I never had a book autographed by them. So I count these new additions to my collection with special fondness. (see scans)

Happy Hollisters' Storyline Mistake

For the past few years, I have been reading the Happy Hollisters from volume #1 forward. I recently finished reading the Sea Turtle Mystery. While reading the Happy Hollisters and the Cowboy Mystery, I found a mistake. In that story, Ricky and Pam are riding Domingo, their burro, near a highway, when it wanders onto the road and causes a car to run off the road and have a flat tire. The occupants of the car become friends of the Hollister family and invite them to Nevada for another mystery. But in these first few pages, Andrew Svenson wrote that "while the rancher, Pete, and Bunky started to jack up the car" to fix the flat, he failed to remember that Pete was not in this scene. In fact, Pete is introduced a few pages later. I think Svenson must have thought that because of Pete's age, he would be more likely to help fix the car than younger Ricky. Although, in the previous paragraph, Ricky is mentioned offering to help the new friends fix the tire.

Volume book order error

I am embarrassed to admit that there is a Happy Hollisters publishing error that escaped my attention. I was brought up to date on this through another website hosted by Rachel Sanfordlyn Shreckengast at
In her guest book section, it is written that the Happy Hollisters dust jacket spine for Pony Hill Farm is listed at #10, while the Merry-Go-Round Mystery is listed as #11, even though Pony Hill Farm has a copyright of 1956, and the other has a copyright of 1955. Copyright would seem to be the correct means of assuring what order the books were issued. And in fact, my copy of Merry-Go-Round has a list of titles across from the title page and on the back flap that shows it is #10 in the correct order, despite what it’s own dust jacket. I also have other volumes that support the correct order on titles listed inside. Several of these run through the Haunted House. So an error was made and the publishers failed to fix the error. One question I have is was the error ever corrected on the dust jacket? Any reader who has a copy with a dust jacket that is correct should contact me or Rachel. It would have to be an early edition for the numbering to be right.
NEW NOTE: Recently I was contacted by a man named John who pointed out that in Pony Hill Farm, page 6, there is a quote from Sue Hollister: "we haven't had a 'venture since the Merry-Go-Round Mystery." She referred to a riddle the children had cleared up a month before at their school fair.
Thanks John for pointing that out! I cannot recall too many times one of the Hollister children directly referred to a previous book. This example surely points out that Merry-Go-Round came before Pony Hill Farm.
Finally, on later PC versions, the error is repeated on many volumes that printed the Happy Hollisters list rather than the usual introduction of characters on the back cover. So it appears that whoever was responsible for putting together the Happy Hollisters titles on the back cover of the PC editions, went by the dust jacket version rather than other methods of listing the titles.
In my copy of the last volume, a PC edition, Pony Hill Farm is listed before Merry-Go-Round. There is also another error in the volumes list. It does not include #28, Whistle-Pig Mystery. My Monster Mystery PC also does not list #28. These facts are fun to discover and discuss. If anyone knows of other errors or mistakes, please contact me about them.

Speaking of Picture Cover Editions and Mistakes

I have always been fascinated with the picture cover editions of The Happy Hollisters, wondering why Doubleday went to that format and why only select volumes. Most of the later editions were done that way, so it must have been a publishing decision in the 1960s. This is probably backed up with the fact that the Doubleday Linda Craig series was published in a similar format as the Hollisters, with no dust jacketed editions that I know about. The first Linda Craig is in 1962, and it bears a "Copyright Stratemeyer Syndicate" on its copyright page after the title page.

I have 15 Happy Hollisters in PC version including #1, On a River Trip, Pony Hill Farm, Secret of the Lucky Coins, Cowboy Mystery, Haunted House, Castle Rock, Cuckoo Clock, Swiss Echo, Sea Turtle, Whistle-Pig, Ghost Horse Mystery, Golden Witch, Monster Mystery and Midnight Trolls. The latter two are the original copies I have of that book, mine came from the book club and were offered instead of the dust jacket versions. It is interesting that every Happy Hollisters book from Cowboy Mystery onward was published as a picture cover (pc) edition, EXCEPT Mystery of the Mexican Idol! I would love to know why that book was an exception.

As best as I can tell, these are the only Happy Hollisters editions done in picture cover format by Doubleday. If anyone has other Doubleday Hollisters in PC versions, please let me know at

One odd note: my volume #1 pc has nothing printed on the back cover. It is just blank. Also, I am sure many Happy Hollisters readers have found volumes with blank endpapers. I even have one book that has a blank front endpapers and illustrated back endpapers.

In another scan you will see an apparent publishing mistake that I have never seen before until about November of 2008. In an eBay auction, someone was selling a set of about 7 Happy Hollisters books that included a first edition of The Mystery of the Little Mermaid. The mistake is that on the dust jacket spine, there is no scene of the Hollister children playing around a fence on their yard. This scene is a part of every book of the series. I considered buying the whole set to get this one volume, but passed on it. Within a week, another auction had the same book for sale and I inquired of the seller if they had gotten this book from the previous sale. They said they had not. I bought the book. Yet, within another week or two, another first edition of Mermaid appeared and I bought it, too, which you see pictured in the scans. This book I bought in a series of auctions by the same seller who was selling near mint first editions of the Missile Town, Skyscraper City and Lucky Coins. Doubleday made a point of printing first edition in their books, which was not the case in Grosset & Dunlap editions of their many Stratemeyer Series books such as the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew.

In one of the accompanying scans, you see an autograph by Andrew (Jerry West) Svenson. It was in a copy of The Happy Hollisters and the Cowboy Mystery. I bought it on eBay. It is a treasure worthy of the type the Hollister children might find in a story. It contains Svenson's own signature as well as his Hollisters' pseudonym of Jerry West. And it is dated and refers to a trip he took. I note this was dated the year after the last Happy Hollisters was published. Since Svenson wrote many other books, I am not sure if the Panama trip resulted in another book, perhaps in the Hardy Boys or elsewhere.

Note in the photo of my Happy Hollisters picture cover editions, standing in the metal book holder members of The Happy Hollisters Book Club would received upon purchase of 6 books. A few years ago I saw an eBay auction that was offering some of the Hollisters and they were pictured in the metal book holder. The seller obviously had belonged to the book club. Recently, I saw another eBay auction where the seller was selling an entire collection and they had 3 book holders!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008



From September 1965 through May 1969, I corresponded with the author of The Happy Hollisters series, Jerry West, pseudonym for Andrew Svenson, a former newspaper writer and then partner in the Stratemeyer Syndicate of East Orange, NJ. Part of my correspondence with Mr. Svenson involved problems with obtaining books from the Happy Hollisters Book Club of Garden City, New York. These were problems he actually had little ability to solve. But for this 10 to 13-year-old, he seemed the proper person to clear up any problems. Actually, I was probably a pest to him, but whether he was able to solve a particular problem or not, I enjoyed receiving letters from him.

In the correspondence came details of his life and a few pieces of information about his writing methods. My favorite part of his letters were the times he mentioned a particular Hollister book just completed or about to be released.

In a Nov. 1967 letter he wrote:

Thank you very much for your letter. I thought you'd enjoy THE MYSTERY OF THE MEXICAN IDOL.
Yes, Tim, I always spend some time at a place when I plan to write about it, and I flew down to Yucatan before I started this story.

The following January he mentioned his latest Happy Hollisters edition:

I am working on a new story now, called THE HAPPY HOLLISTERS AND THE MONSTER MYSTERY. And I am planning to write more Hollisters. It takes me about 6 weeks, once my outline is finished. The characters are usually modeled after someone I know.

The interesting part of that last note was that he only created one more Happy Hollisters book after the MONSTER MYSTERY(see scans). In a March 1968 letter, Mr. Svenson wrote of his educational background.

Since Spring is right on our doorstep, I couldn't be better. Springtime always makes me feel great.
You asked what college I went to--the University of Pittsburgh. Then I attended Montclair State College in New Jersey for pedagogy courses, because I really wanted to become a teacher. As it turned out, I was sidetracked and worked as a journalist and editor for some fifteen years, before I started writing children's books.
Education is very important, Tim, and I do hope you will work hard in school.

In a June 1968 letter, he noted that the "Monstery Mystery is finished in manuscript, but not published yet." It is interesting to note that in my last letter from him, received in May 1969, he notes:

Thank you very much for your nice note. I am planning to write more books; as a matter of fact I just started a new one called THE MYSTERY OF THE MIDNIGHT TROLLS.
THE MONSTER MYSTERY is now available at book stores.

As most Happy Hollisters fans know, Mystery of the Midnight Trolls was the last Happy Hollisters book, at volume 33. The end of the 1960s saw the slow demise of series books with only such series as the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, the Bobbsey Twins and Tom Swift Jr., and a few others, continuing to be published. Most that remained were published as paperback books. Till this day you can still buy the original Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books in most bookstores. These include the revised text and exact duplicates of the 1930 editions.

(Below in a separate part of my blog are material from a Happy Hollisters Book Club mail promotion including the envelope it came in. The scene on the envelope is from The Happy Hollisters and the Haunted House Mystery, probably one of the best selling volumes of the series).

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Mystery of the Stolen Pseudonym

I am prompted to offer my thoughts about the dispute between series book collectors on who is most entitled to claim the name of Carolyn Keene, author of the Nancy Drew series, because of another article quoting research I conducted that supports the theory that Harriet S. Adams is the true Carolyn Keene, not Mildred A. Wirt.

This article was written by Cynthia Adams Lum, a granddaughter of Harriet Adams. Titled: “Just Who IS Carolyn Keene?”, the article appears in a website maintained by THE HISTORY NET (follow link).

In essence, Ms. Lum claims that her grandmother had every right to claim to be Carolyn Keene because she nurtured the Nancy Drew series over the entire course of Nancy’s publishing history; providing outlines and editing numerous ND volumes as well as outright writing many of them.

I find myself having to agree with her, but I take her to task on the main argument she offers. In her article, Ms. Lum suggests that providing outlines and editing is more important than writing from the outlines. She suggests that Mildred Wirt, in writing most of the first 30 volumes of the series, didn’t have a difficult chore and perhaps had little to do but fill in the blanks. Ms. Lum uses a piece of information I found in the Stratemeyer Archives (follow link) to bolster her contention. In my modest perusal of some files of the syndicate, I found a letter from Mildred Wirt where she wrote that she enjoyed writing Nancy Drew books because the plots were “ready made.”

As a journalism graduate, former professional journalist and one-time college instructor, I have the highest respect and envy of anyone who can write a novel that entertains readers and sells books. And there is no doubt that Mildred A. Wirt can do that. And she did it without having a father to give her access to a literary syndicate. Mildred also achieved success above the ghostwriting career she claimed. She was a professional journalist and author of many books with her own name on them. More importantly, she was hired by Edward Stratemeyer to bring to life his idea of Nancy Drew and her work was good enough to win the hearts of the publishers, if not Stratemeyer himself.

I think Mildred Wirt was a far better writer of fiction than Harriet Adams, but I believe Harriet Adams has superior rights to claim the title of Carolyn Keene.

As her granddaughter points out, Harriet had legal rights to claim the Keene name. But the question of moral rights is equal because when Harriet and the Syndicate came out of the closet, Harriet had her fingers on almost every single Nancy Drew volume, from outlining and editing the originals to rewriting or writing the later volumes.

When most of the publicity surrounding Harriet was published, 1960-1980, Harriet had been in total control of Nancy Drew books, writing every single volume being published through those years. Now, if Harriet ever claimed she wrote the original stories, she was lying. But I have never seen evidence of this.

The facts are, that by the 1960s, Mildred Wirt’s Nancy Drews stories were pretty much out of print. Her Nancy did not exist anymore, relegated to old book stores. In fact, as a child of those years, I suspect most of Nancy Drew stories I read were the revised. I truly can’t remember which ones I read. I know I collected the yellow spine books, long before I saw a dust jacketed one from the 30s or 40s. So, I believe a lot of today’s collectors in my generation, probably grew up on the revised stories.

While I am in the majority opinion that the original stories were best, I doubt children growing up after me would have enjoyed the early Nancys.

It is my opinion that Harriet Adams not only kept Nancy Drew going through the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, but she in fact kept her going through today. The revised stories appealed to a new generation that still collects Nancy Drew today.

What I think is ironic about the whole issue is that Harriet Adams enjoyed great publicity and fame from the early revelations about the Stratemeyer Syndicate, but Mildred Wirt has claimed that fame after Harriet’s death. Miss Lum is correct in stating that public opinion has been swayed by the huge publicity about Wirt’s early writings. If Mildred Wirt took advantage of this swell of information, whether deserved or not, I think any injustice performed on her part can be excused by her advance years of age.

I think the facts prove that Mildred Wirt didn’t think much of her work on Nancy Drew and really had no great desire to be showcased as “Carolyn Keene.” Except for protesting lower pay for her work in the 1930s, Mildred Wirt didn’t have much concern about being known as one of many people who can claim they wrote Nancy Drew.

Harriet Adams could have been more forthright in revealing the names of the various Nancy Drew writers. She thought that it was important not to disappoint young readers with the revelation that there was more than one person who wrote the Nancy Drew stories. Frankly, the only people who care about this revelation are people of my generation, adults who are still buying children’s books and reading them.

I imagine a young girl of 9 years walking into a Borders bookstore and seeing the Nancy Drew volumes for sale in the children’s section. I wonder which volumes she would buy: the paperback ones; the yellow spine (revised texts); or the Apple reprints of Nancy Drew written primarily by Mildred Wirt. I don’t think there is a doubt today’s young girls would be buying the newer versions. That same girl, 20 years later, who really was affected by Nancy Drew, might read internet stories about the early Nancys and Mildred Wirt. She might be led to eBay to buy some of those stories. She might even toast Mildred Wirt for her work. But in fact, it was Harriet Adams that was most responsible for bringing Nancy Drew into the 21st Century.
Finally, one more ironic footnote. The 2003 Nancy Drew Calendar published by Andrews McMeel Publishing, features 12 Nancy Drew cover art work mostly of the Harriet Adams’ revised or original stories. Yet, the calendar notes on the back that “Acknowledgement is made to Mildred Wirt Benson who, writing under the name Carolyn Keene, wrote the original Nancy Drew books.”

Miss Lum has right to be upset about the downplaying of her grandmother’s role in the creation and sustenance of Nancy Drew. Hopefully, more time and research will continue to reveal the true role Harriet Adams played in maintaining the Stratemeyer Syndicate over a half century.
I think there is plenty of time to give appropriate credit to her and Mildred Wirt. With both ladies now deceased, fans and scholars alike should stop debating the issue and be thankful for what we have: a wealth of children’s popular fiction that still entertains today!

Editor's Note: Sometime after I first posted this opinion piece, I was contacted by Cynthia Adams Lum, granddaughter of Harriet (Carolyn Keene) Adams, with some comments about my article. I responded to her and she replied again. I hope you will enjoy reading this interesting written exchange:

Dear Tim,
I hope you will allow the familiar address. I have, at last, found a spare moment in which to respond to your "aol members" article in response to mine. My excuse for not responding sooner is time-consuming book research, which final result will hopefully be the definitive personal story of the literary Stratemeyer's. This family history is long overdue and its need, precipitated by the ongoing welter of partially inaccurate or wholly fabricated published accounts of Stratemeyer Syndicate history and personal depictions of its family members, mandatory.
I thank you for your intelligently analyzed opinions and rather refreshing perspective; and not just because you agree with me, for the most part. Unfortunately, you are in the minority, not only in your careful consideration of available fact, but also in the conclusions at which you have arrived. Our family stoically endured this media onslaught with minimal protest until three years ago when I could no longer ignore the spreading volume of misinformation, derogatory statements, and personal attacks concerning my family. The exclamatory comment, engendered by this collection, that Harriet Adams deserved the title of "history's worst charlatan" was the proverbial, last straw. My defense of the Stratemeyer's, requiring my analysis of Mildred Benson's role in the production of Syndicate books and whose documented facts resulted in appropriate credit (although perceived as a diminution of the importance of her contributions compared to her own and the media's portrayal), has been wholly crusaded in response to this collection of articles. This was not an unprovoked defense.
Allow me to address our points of disagreement as these are unusually (compared to my other responses to articles) few, although necessary as you "take [me] to task on the main argument [I] offer(s)." Your academic and career credentials in assessing the importance of Syndicate outlined stories compared to manuscript "texting" are certainly noteworthy: however, as a former Syndicate Nancy Drew ghost writer and possessing copies of said Syndicate outlines, I believe I may have the more informed perspective in this particular case.
Speaking generally, although this applies to Benson as well as to the other ghost writers, we were all hired by the Syndicate because of our assessed ability not only to write, but also to imitate and replicate the Syndicate's writing formula and style. This uniformity in Syndicate books, as well as in the various series, was mandatory in ensuring the longevity under "brand named" pseudonyms, as ghost writers came and went. This applied to experienced writers; published authors; or novice, unpublished, aspiring writers such as 22 year old Mildred at the time of her hiring in 1926. With each outline from the Syndicate came instructions for characterizations and syntax, and any previously written books in an existing series, or with an established understanding of Syndicate requirements for new ones. All writing was meticulously edited by Syndicate members and rewritten by them, or the ghost writers depending on the extent, where necessary.
If you are not acquainted with what constituted a Syndicate outline, I will give a short example from the first ND outline supplied to Benson by Edward (Stratemeyer). I do not have the documented complete "cast of characters" supplied, but these are referenced in the NYPL archives as having always been sent with any outline.
Note: Nancy Drew, a girl of sixteen, is the daughter of a lawyer who has served as a District Attorney. Mr. Drew is a widower and often talks over his affairs with Nancy and the girl has been present during many interviews her father has had with noted detectives. An up-to-date American girl at her best, bright, clever, resourceful, and full of energy.
"It would be a shame if all that money went to the Tophams,"said Nancy Drew to her father. "They will fly higher than ever. Cannot some of the other really worthy relatives of Josiah Crowley get something?" Carson Drew, who has given up being the District Attorney and is now involved in many criminal and mystery cases, has been discussing the Josiah Crowley fortune. The old man has been a very eccentric individual. At one time, he had made a will leaving the bulk of his fortune to Richard Topham, a speculator, and his wife, Cora, and their two society daughters, Isabel and Ada. Nancy Drew has gone to school with the girls and found them arrogant to the last degree, and few people liked any of the Tophams in this small city of River Heights in the Middle West where the Drews lived. It comes out that there had been much talk of a later will drawn by a lawyer known to Mr. Drew. But this will had not come to light and many wonder if Josiah Crowley had destroyed it. But there were other relatives, and they claim that the will ought to be in existence, Mr. Drew told Nancy. "There were two girls who live down somewhere on the River Road who were great pets of Crowley's when they were young. Seems to me that they ought to have got something." The estate is valued at $300,000. "And the Tophams won't let anybody else get their hands on it if they can possibly help it," says Mr. Drew. (Crowley had lived with Tophams three years.)
Nancy goes out shopping and while doing so meets Isabel and Ada Topham and they treat her in their usual arrogant manner. A salesgirl confides to Nancy that Ada has said, "Oh, I guess we'll get all of Josiah Crowley's fortune as soon as the lawyers stop squabbling." and the salesgirl adds, "But I guess the Tophams are mightily worried for fear somebody will show up with the later will that may do them out of most of it."
Nancy is out one day in her little blue roadster to deliver some legal papers in another town on the Shore Road. These are delivered and the girl goes still further to make a circle in getting back to River Heights. A heavy storm comes up and Nancy, finding an old barn wide open, drives in. "Well, you got in just in time," said a pleasant voice, and a girl of her own age confronts Nancy. As the storm grows wilder and colder, the girl invites Nancy into the house nearby. The girls, there, are Grace Horner, aged twenty, and her sister, Allie, aged 16...........
Mildred Benson had been writing under Edward for three years by the time she was sent this outline in 1929. He had rejected her first attempt at a Ruth Fielding because it was so poorly written. She begged him, several months later, to give her another chance as she had been striving to improve and had taken account of his suggestions. Despite this, half of her texting for a second chance at a Fielding had to be rewritten and she was admonished for the messy state of her manuscript, as was the case with this first Nancy, and was advised that her characterizations were underdeveloped, she had a poor use of adjectives, and had not followed the plot lines adequately or consistently. However, he could see her potential and allowed her to continue, but with myriad suggestions for her writing. Benson wrote journalistic articles beginning in 1926, but she did not become a published author of her own books until the Ruth Darrow Flying Stories in 1930, the year that Nancy made its debut and four years after she had been writing under Edward Stratemeyer.
In appropriating sole credit for the success of Nancy Drew texting to Benson over Edward Stratemeyer's input and influence, these factors have to be considered. Namely: Benson's inexperience at the time she was hired by the Syndicate, her three year apprenticeship under the Syndicate in satisfying Edward Stratemeyer's criteria for book writing, the directions she received in imitating Syndicate book style and syntax, the extent of rewriting of her early texting and instructions for improvement, the fact of the established formula for Syndicate books, and one's proportional opinion of credit due to the author of Syndicate outlined plots.
This was not Shakespeare. With a roughly drafted mystery plot and subplot with character profiles, a set of instructions for dialogue and vocabulary, a few books as examples for imitation, texting for Nancy Drew is not difficult for a good writer. If anything, it would be more difficult for an established writer to perform this imitation and subjugate their own style. Even Benson, herself, admits in interviews that she found the writing of an outline for her own books, the most difficult part of mystery story writing. Benson was ideal for this task and became an excellent writer. The development of her own style over the years was the major reason for her growing battles with Harriet Adams over texting and Nancy's depiction. Her 1939 Penny Parker was Nancy, cloned and unleashed.
I fail to see why Mildred's having achieved her success "without having a father to give her access to a literary syndicate," is relevant. You are entitled to your opinion that Mildred was a "far better writer of fiction than Harriet;" however, book sales of Harriet's books compared to Mildred's before it was revealed that Mildred contributed to Syndicate books tend to contradict this opinion. Harriet was an accomplished writer long before 1930: wrote her first short story at age 8 (which her father praised; and he was not known for giving unearned praise); received top grades at school for her English essays, creative writing, and religious treatise; was a paid reporter and journalist for the Boston Globe while in college; wrote innumerable articles for charitable organizations; was founder, editor and journalist for several publications; was a prolific poetry writer, compiled the teaching syllabus for school classes; and with only a year's training under her father and four month's of study after his death, took over writing for the Syndicate and running the business. Harriet received three years less training than Mildred under Edward and wrote anonymously and exclusively (unlike Mildred) without name recognition under various Syndicate pseudonyms for some 30 years. Her success as a writer is judged by the 50 year longevity and popularity of Nancy under her writing. "Access" to the Syndicate in the early years was shared by both women, but both had to prove themselves as writers in an open market.
Having dispensed with these differences of opinion, I thank you for your article, and will direct the rest of my family to your web site as an example that there are some sensible literary folk out there who do not share the opinions of others that Benson should be solely credited (even on Harriet's book cover calendars) with the creation and success of Nancy Drew.
Best wishes,
Cynthia Adams Lum


Hi Cynthia,
I appreciate your comments on my article and especially enjoyed reading the partial outline you provided for Secret of the Old Clock. I had no idea the outline would be so long and specific, including providing actual quotes. I note the dialogue provided by Edward was used in the first line of the actual book.
It would be very informative for you to provide the full outline of Secret of the Old Clock in any book you write, so that the full impact of the importance and difficulty of writing outlines could be demonstrated.
I have long dreamed of writing a novel, but while the ideas for one swirl in my imagination, the actual creation of characters, names, backgrounds, etc., is overwhelming. In our debate about Mildred and Harriet, I imagine what would be the result if the world were to learn that Mark Twain only wrote Huckleberry Finn, but didn't actually create the characters or the plot? I still would profess my admiration for him and consider Twain a "great writer." But there is much to be said for the mind that can conceive the idea of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, not just put the idea into writing.
Perhaps the idea that one person conceives the idea and another fleshes it out in writing is basically against what should be the natural order of literature. But in your great-grandfather, Edward Stratemeyer, we had a man who just had too many ideas to handle all the writing for. His story should be the first order of any family history you write, and I assume it will be.
I envy your relationship to Edward and Harriet. Both are responsible for much pleasure I received as a youth. I count them among my heroes in popular literature, which includes Erle Stanley Gardner (Perry Mason), Agatha Christie, Earl Derr Biggers (Charlie Chan). I also include in my list Howard Garis, Capwell Wyckoff and Leslie McFarlane. Of course I cannot forget Andrew Svenson. His Happy Hollisters books were the key to the joy I found later in the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew.
Thanks to the revelation about Mildred Wirt being the original Carolyn Keene, I have also found much enjoyment in reading her book, especially Penny Parker. I have found them as pleasurable as any Nancy Drew. Although, it has been years since I read most of the Nancy's. In my article, I point out that my original introduction to Nancy and the Hardy Boys, may have been through the rewritten books, not the original stories. I wish I could provide the answer to that quiz for my own knowledge. Today, though, I prefer to read the originals. And the fact that Harriet was most responsible for rewriting the original stories is probably the chief reason she is vilified by so many collectors. But in my article, I point out that the rewriting had to be done, and like it or not, probably saved Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys for several more generations.
Much of our disagreement on the Harriet-Mildred debate is about personal opinion on style. While Nancy Drew is heads above other series books in popularity, I am sure there are readers who preferred the Dana Girls, or Kay Tracy, or as we all know, Judy Bolton.
Writing style is also always subjected to the reader's personal preferences. I know I grew up on the revised Bobbsey Twins books, which I plan on revisiting in the near future. I started collecting the original Twins books and tried to sit down and read the first volume. But I have repeatedly quit at the end of the first chapter, because the writing style is so old fashioned. I believe a lot of Edward's books are in that style, too. I have yet to read a Tom Swift, and I intend to do so, and hope to fall in love with them. But, I am expecting I might not like them.
As a kid, I discovered in my grandmother's closet a box of Tom Swift Jrs. For the life of me, I could not imagine why she bought them. I suspect she intended to give them to her grandchildren, but illness might have stopped that. When I inherited the books, I gave the complete set to our local library in her memory. I never read one of them, because I prefer "mystery" stories to "science fiction" stories. Again, this was a matter of personal preferences.
Now, let me say right up front: I am a big fan of your grandmother. As an aspiring writer when I was in my youth, she replied to my fan letters (see my website) with much grace and encouragement. And at that time, that would be like a fan of Elvis Presley receiving a personal letter from him. I treasure the correspondence I received from her and I wish we could have met!
I fear I am considered a Harriet Adams apologist and therefore looked down on by other collectors. Fine, I don't care! I am also a fan of Mildred's writing and it is easy for me to see both women as great treasures for children's series book! My article states clearly my views and I think they just make common sense.
I regret the flippant remark about Mildred's having achieved her success "without having a father to give her access to a literary syndicate." The point was that Mildred was a true "rags-to-riches," success story. Yes, she struggled with writing, as you point out, but we all do that. I recall Edward didn't have immediate success either. And I am sure you have struggled to learn the writing style of the Syndicate.
I welcome further correspondence with you, as I did with your grandmother. I would like to know more about what you conceive your book will be about. I assume you will be writing a history of the Syndicate, not just concentrating on supporting Harriet's point of view. I personally don't think you need to attack Mildred at all, to point out Harriet's successes. As an assumed defender of the Stratemeyer family, I would think it would behoove you to defend the family, but point out their mistakes when it is apparent. Again, the idea of mistakes, can be in the eye of the beholder. I understand the need to rewrite the books, but I still look down on the bland formats that followed the originals. The originals were not without fault, as I point out with my Bobbsey Twins references.
I would ask you to consider some of the following facts when writing your story:
Edward did hire Mildred and nurtured her. He did not hire Harriet. Perhaps this is partially because of a male chauvinist attitude on his part, which is understandable and regrettable, but perhaps his actions may have also been partially due to Harriet's writing abilities or lack thereof.
Edward kept Mildred on as a writer as did Harriet!!!! That speaks volumes on Mildred's abilities as a writer. As you point out, Mildred had her own success with Ruth Darrow, only a few years after being hired by Edward. Also, Mildred not only created many more series of her own, but she branched out to Kay Tracey, Ruth Fielding, Doris Force, Honey Bunch and Dana Girls for the syndicate. She was busy and she was creative. In addition to writing, she had to sell the ideas of Penny Parker, Brownie Scouts, Penny Nichols, Boy Scout Explorers, Dan Carter and numerous non-series books. I wonder if she had any help from the syndicate in selling her own creations?
Part of the legend of Mildred is her flying ability and spunk as a young woman trying to do "a man's job" at a time when women were not allowed into very many areas of business and literature. But, Harriet has her own legend of honor in taking a business after the sudden death of her father and turning it into a continued financial success for decades to come.
My opinion as to the greatness of her literary abilities is somewhat proved by the fact that Harriet did little writing until much later in her career. Prove me wrong if you can, but just what book can be attributed solely to Harriet and what year would that have been? Best as I can tell, her sole writing credentials did not occur until the 1950s.
Yes, she was busy editing and managing a syndicate, but there were fewer series to contend with after she took over and discontinued some series. It occurs to me that Harriet could have taken the Nancy Drew series over immediately after Edward died and been the sole author, had she wanted to. Instead, she chose to let others do that.
So, there is much your book could reveal on these subjects, but if you focus only on defending and explaining your family, and do not open your mind to being a more objective observer, your efforts will be nullified by those you try to persuade.
I have written too long, I fear. And perhaps I have not covered every aspect of your letter. I may continue later. I welcome further correspondence with you. And I so look forward to reading your book. You have a great challenge before you! I know you can succeed.
Again, it is a pleasure and honor to have made contact with you. I cherish that almost as much as I do with the correspondence I had with Harriet and Andrew Svenson.
Take care, Tim O'Herin


Dear Tim,
I am thrilled to add you to my list of "pen (Internet) pals" interested in the Syndicate's books. Since returning to the USA from the UK four years ago, I have attempted to make contact with as many as I can. Initially because of the astounding amount of misinformation that was being disseminated about my family; and currently, for book research purposes.
There was never any secret that the Syndicate used writers-for-hire. Neither Edward nor Harriet ever denied this fact; only their names were withheld from "public" documents. There were sound reasons for this; writers could come and go under the various pen names, but the numerous series could continue. The Syndicate deliberately protected their "brand name" author pseudonyms by eliminating actual authors' and contributors' names from the records, or having them removed where a writer attempted to have them recorded. People, such as Geoff Lapin, labelled this as some kind of "conspiracy" on the part of the Syndicate to deny their writers deserved credit after he, and "the public," learned of the existence of the ghost writers and their contributions. The media belief in this "conspiracy theory" can be explained and measured by their surprise and sense of betrayal; the very thing of which Edward warned.
My perceived "campaign" to diminish Mildred Benson is mostly the result of accuracy compared to her, and others', inflated and inaccurate statements concerning her contributions, and the necessity of focusing on her work because of the extent of articles extolling Mildred's early work for the Syndicate at the expense of the salience of Edward, Edna and Harriet's. My family remained silent for years in the hopes that common sense, such as yours, and the opening of archival material to the public would redress the balance. It has not. Brenda Lange's very recent book has repeated all the same old inaccuracies, having used other flawed sources instead of archival documents and the Stratemeyer family.
Documented fact: Harriet was "hired" by her father after college in 1914. She assisted with outlines and edited manuscripts until the birth of her first child at the end of 1916. She occasionally took over his office after this when her father was away and Harriet Otis Smith and Edna were unavailable. Edward first suggested that Harriet should publish her writing in 1910 (and he was not given to praise) after the family discovered a number of stories she had written when they cleaned out her room after her departure for Wellesley. However, a college education was the family's aim at that time, not a career with the Syndicate, and nothing was pursued. However, Harriet became a Boston Globe reporter at college and had wanted to continue this after college. Her father did not encourage this career, but did "hire" her for his Syndicate. There are documented private checks to her for her work, after Syndicate royalties came in. There is even an interesting suggestion (which I am still investigation for our book) that Harriet assisted in the production of the outline for ND number 4 and the story idea for number 5 (Edward having dictated his last story while dying in his hospital oxygen tent).
Edward never imagined that his Syndicate would survive his death, but by August of 1930, Otis Smith, Harriet and Edna were producing story outlines. The luxury of Harriet taking over one series exclusively (apart from story plots and manuscript editing), such as for Nancy Drew, was not possible as the girls attempted to run the Syndicate as their father had done. The cutting-down of the number of series (there were a total of 150) was only done after many years. The sisters, with the help of other ghosts, kept many series going with an astounding number of outlines. (This is really a misnomer as exemplified in the ND partial outline I sent you and which is one of the more brief examples. They were really increasingly comprehensive chapter by chapter rough drafts with suggested dialogue.) When you state that Harriet was not "writing" until the mid 50's, this would be defined by completed single authorship books, in conception, through outline, to final manuscript and editing. There are very few Syndicate books that can be described as such and were not collaborations to some degree. As far as series outlined stories are concerned, Harriet was very busy "writing." The (until I got tired of looking them up) series that were continued by the sisters through to the early 1940's before the Nancy, Hardy, Bobbsey, Honey Bunch, Kay Tracey, etc. list was agreed while the Danas, Linda Craig, Tom Swift Jr., etc were being added was:
Sunny Boy, ending in 1931; Billie Bradley 1932; Elmer Dawson pen named books 1932; Doris Force 1932; Julia Edward's books 1932; James Cooper books 1933; Allen Chapman books 1933; Amy Bell Marlowe's Books for Girls 1933; Sky Flyers 1933; Roy Stover 1934; Betty Gordon 1934; Ruth Fielding 1934; Perry Pierce Mystery Stories 1934; Barton Books for Girls 1937; Nan Sherwood 1937; Mary and Jerry Mystery Stories 1937;
Jerry Ford Wonder Series 1937; The Webster Series 1938; Tom Swift 1941; Motion Picture Chums 1941; Moving Picture Boys 1941; Movie Boys 1941; Don Sturdy 1941; X Bar X Boys 1942; Ted Scott 1943; John Cooper books 1953; Roy Rockwood books (Bamba, Dave Fearless) rewritten until 1978.
Harriet was far too busy to "write" Nancy exclusively until 1954. However, she did produce 48 of 61 stories and had control over her depiction from 1930.
As only a counter to the professed primary contribution status by Benson to the Nancy's was I forced to detail the problems with her writing. As I have stated, this was not unprovoked. Mildred's "perfect" descriptions of her writing for the Syndicate were inaccurate. Edna described Mildred as an arrogant "big head," and there are numerous letters detailing the continuous instructions Mildred had to received for her writing. Mildred had been trained by 1930 and the girls were advised by Otis Smith to continue to use her for this reason as their father had found that a new ghost took at least a year and several books to satisfy the Syndicate's requirements. Mildred became an excellent writer and any conclusions concerning my ability to be objective on this point and appropriate credit for her in our book should not be judged by my current writings in defense of the Stratemeyers as a counter to the some thousands of articles giving Mildred primary creative credit for Nancy Drew and its success. But, neither should you deny me an opportunity in such a wide forum in which to present my arguments on this subject in one of the book's chapters as a necessary rebuttal. However, this will not be the focus for my sister and me.
The book will be the unknown personal story of Edward, Magdalene, Edna and Harriet. The Syndicate's history is being written, and far better, by James Keeline. It is our hope that revelations concerning our literary ancestors will be sufficient to debunk inaccuracies in current media articles without giving more than a passing reference to Mildred, and others', "campaign" to add primary creative credit for Syndicate books to her own writings at the expense of the Stratemeyers.
As I have stated, I appreciate and value your rare perspective, and I am certain this is shared by my ancestors. One day, you will not be in the minority as the unarguable facts are documented in future writings where correct research is being done. As Edward knew, people want their favorite books' authors to be a single individual and do not seem to want to relinquish their childhood fantasies of this type such as that Santa Claus could have delivered all of those presents to every single child in the world on one night. It is a nonsense to have believed that one person could have produced all of those books despite even knowing just how prolific Edward Stratemeyer was. Hopefully, eventually, the end result of all of this will be appropriate credit for all those concerned.
Best wishes and the hope of future correspondence,

Booksleuth's Series Book Collection

or How Childhood Entertainment Became a Hobby

Welcome to my small part of the World Wide Web, celebrating 35-plus years of collecting children's mystery series books, including such international literary characters as the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and the Bobbsey Twins.

My name is Tim O'Herin, and I am a resident of Oklahoma City, OK, a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a serious book collector of a not-too-serious genre of books, children's mystery series books.

Almost every American child has read a Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys book. Previous generations might fondly recall reading Tom Swift, the Rovers Boys, or the Bobbsey Twins. But the key word here is "fondly," for the clue to the popularity of these books is tied to the fact, most likely, that no child was forced to read these books. They were true popular reading material, perhaps with a little more stature than a comic book, but less stature than a true "classic" book.
Every person can recall that thrill of obtaining the latest comic book from the drug store, or the next volume of the Hardy Boys, and reading it after lights were out. Typically, if you shared a room with a brother or sister, you read by flashlight under the covers.

My fascination with these type of books was bred through my dear mother, Zoe' L. O'Herin. She loved a good mystery and passed that passion onto her youngest child.

That love of mystery books started with a lesser-known but still popular series, The Happy Hollisters. Oddly, it was the only series books at my local library in New Madrid, Mo., a small town on a great bend of the Mississippi River.

The Happy Hollisters series was written under the name of Jerry West, from 1953-1970. All of my friends at Immaculate Conception Grade School read them, and like me, probably most of them several times each. While these books were never popular with educators and librarians, they did promote the good habit of reading, and I suspect prompted many young people to expand their literature horizon.

Along with being a fan of mystery books, I also developed a serious interest in collecting books, comics and other items of memorabilia. Despite having read The Happy Hollister library books, I wanted to own them, too. Fortunately, the books were offered for sale through a book club of Doubleday & Company, Inc., of Garden City, New York.

The following is a paragraph from a Doubleday & Company promotional letter:

To introduce your child to this series, we want to send him a copy of the first book in the series --
"The Happy Hollisters and the Haunted House Mystery" -- for only 10 cents (to help cover shipping) and without any further obligation on your part. Your child will be thrilled to receive this handsome, hardbound book with its many illustrations and full-color jacket. And he'll be more thrilled when he starts to read it -- it's filled with action on every page and lots of fun all the way through.

At first I did not have an application or any idea how to enroll, so I wrote to the author, Jerry West, and he sent me an application. In his letter, dated Sept. 20, 1965, he wrote:

It is always good to hear from fans who enjoy to read the Happy Hollisters...Keep up your good reading!

With the encouragement and financial support of my mother, I began receiving each volume of the 33-book series. And in the four years I collected the book club volumes, I corresponded with Mr. West, receiving 12 letters from him and a photo.

Soon I expanded my reading interests to include the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and the Bobbsey Twins. It was then that I began a correspondence with one of the most important persons in the history of juvenile fiction, Harriet S. Adams. She had written or edited many of the most popular children's mystery series books of my generation. But I did not suspect that there was a mysterious connection between her and Mr. West. A connection I would not know of until almost ten years later.

to be continued....

The Stratemeyer Syndicate, a great fiction factory

In the Fall of 1967, I read an article in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat about Harriet S. Adams, daughter of Edward Stratemeyer, who created such literary characters as the Hardy Boys, Bobbsey Twins, Tom Swift, Nancy Drew and the Rover Boys.

This article was probably one of the first public notices that there really was no Carolyn Keene, author of Nancy Drew, and Franklin W. Dixon, author of the Hardy Boys. Instead, these characters were brought to life by a group of writers, many with names known only by their respective families. Many were commissioned by the Stratemeyer Syndicate of East Orange, New Jersey, to write the books from mere outlines provided by the syndicate. But what most of the literary characters had in common was the creation by syndicate founder and owner Edward Stratemeyer. Upon his death in the early 1930s, he left his business to his two daughters, Harriet and Edna. Harriet maintained the syndicate through thick and thin and until her death in the 1980s.

I wrote to Mrs. Adams after reading the article and received a letter back with her signature, but on letterhead of "Carolyn Keene." By mistake, she included an extra piece of blank stationary. I received five letters from Mrs. Adams, the rest on syndicate stationary. She sent me an autographed photo and two name cards with her "Carolyn Keene" and "Laura Lee Hope" signatures. Laura Lee Hope was the fictional author's name of the Bobbsey Twins, the Outdoor Girls, and several others series. It should be noted that Mrs. Adams did not write the original books of Nancy Drew or the Bobbsey Twins. She was responsible for writing many of the books in several of the series in the 1960s, and she was a key editor and writer of the syndicate series updates, which sometimes completely changed the stories of some of the early books. In this brief web site I will not attempt to defend or criticize her or the syndicate for those rewrites.
My love of mysteries evolved over the years to include such great fictional characters as Perry Mason, Sherlock Holmes, Charlie Chan, Hercule Poirot, and Miss Marple.

I am ashamed to admit, though, as a youth, I was no great detective. While corresponding at the same time with Harriet Adams and Jerry West, it never occurred to me to question why both of their letters came from East Orange, NJ. And it never occurred to question whether "Jerry West" was a real name or fictional, just like Carolyn Keene. It was not until the mid-1970s, from an article in Rolling Stone, that I found that there was no "Jerry West", and that the real West was New Jersey resident Andrew Svenson. To top off my embarrasement, Mr. Svenson's name was at the top of the Stratemeyer Syndicate stationary as one of the three partners in the syndicate, right below Harriet and sister Edna.

I regret that I never had the chance to meet either Mr. Svenson (he died in the late 1970s) or Mrs. Adams. I actually tried to set up a meeting with her in 1973 when I was passing through New York City from a trip to Europe. I think she would have granted me an audience, but she wrote:

"Coincidentally, the days you plan to spend in New York I will be cruising the Atlantic Ocean on what promises to be a very exciting trip -- to see the total solar eclipse off the west coast of Africa! I am sorry that my schedule cannot permit a visit with you." Later, Mrs. Adams wrote a Bobbsey Twins book based on this trip titled: "The Bobbsey Twins on the Sun-Moon Cruise." It was published in 1975 by Grosset & Dunlap.

In the Spring of 1999, I had the thrill of going through some of the archives of the Stratemeyer Syndicate given to the New York Public Library. In those files I read correspondence from Mr. Svenson to Mrs. Adams and I read fan mail from many young readers. In a separate section of this site will be a copy of an article I wrote for The Yellowback Library, a national magazine for series book collectors, about my "afternoon with the Stratemeyer Syndicate."