Ghostwriters and pen names

The original Laura Lee Hope–Edward Stratemeyer

Most mornings, I listen to Morning Edition on NPR and Garrison Keillor’s Poetry Corner closes out the show at 8:55, Monday through Friday.  October 4 was the 150th birthday of Edward Stratemeyer.  I had never heard of him, but I discovered that I read his work.  He was the original writer of The Hardy Boys, Tom Swift, The Bobbsey Twins, and Nancy Drew books along with several other less popular children’s book series.  There is no Frankson Dixon, Carolyn Keene, or Victor Applegate.  There is no Laura Lee Hope which is an incredibly sweet name for a children’s book author and the alleged name of The Bobbsey Twins’ author.

I guess if I’d done the math, it is implausible to think the same person wrote about the Bobbeys since the syndicate published them from 1904 to 1990-something.  Listening to Keillor, I found that Stratemeyer eventually hired more than 50 ghostwriters to pen the 1,600 books that his syndicate published.  When he died in 1930, his daughters inherited the Stratemeyer Syndicate; they continued and expanded their father’s success introducing characters like Tom Swift, Jr.  When asked about the books’ success, Harriet Stratemeyer Adams stated that “They don’t have hippies in them…And none of the characters have love affairs or get pregnant or take dope.”  So much for reality.

Walter Karig also wrote under the Carolyn Keene pen name.

It was interesting to see the different authors who had published under the ghost names.  Howard Garis who wrote the Uncle Wiggily stories was a prolific writer for the syndicate writing 20+ Nancy Drew mysteries and many of the Tom Swift stories.  I was glad to be reminded about Uncle Wiggily since they were GE’s favorite stories.  Each one of them ended with a trailer for the next story:  But don’t worry, I’ll find a way to get him out, and in case we have ice cream pancakes for supper I’ll tell you, in the next story how Uncle Wiggily got out of the bear’s den, and how he went fishing—I mean Uncle Wiggily went fishing, not the bear.  Ice cream pancakes?  Sounds yum!  We laughed at the words, GE and I.  Garis wrote for the syndicate until he had a falling out with the publishers.

One of my favorite mystery writers today, Susan Wittig Albert, wrote under the pen name Carolyn Keene.  Mildred Wirt Benson also published under the Keene name and received a special Edgar Award for her works.

It made me wonder about the other teen mysteries I loved.  I liked the Bobbsey Twins as a little kid until I outgrew them.  Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys were good if we didn’t have anything else to read; Tom Swift Jr. was my favorite until we discovered Rick Brant.  The Rick Brant series was not part of the Stratemeyer Syndicate and it left Tom Swift in the dust.  I say “we” but my first exposure to Rick and his sidekick Scotty was when my older sister, Georgie the First, read the books to me.  We reenacted the stories all over the backwoods and hills around Montell in the summer with our cousin Willie.

Harold L. Goodwin wrote Rick and Scotty’s adventure using the pen name John Blaine.  Goodwin who was the Director of Atomic Test Operations for the Federal Civil Defense Administration for six years joined NASA in the early 1960’s.  His last book, The Magic Talisman, wasn’t published until after his death in 1990. Back in the 60’s, ESP was crazy mojo to the traditional publishing world.  The book wasn’t printed because it dealt with psychic phenomenon.  I thought about buying a copy of the book for my older sister for old time’s sake, but there were only 500 copies printed and the price for the one listed on is $1,199.  Sorry, G-1, it’s the thought that counts; the book costs.  A lot.

Born Helen Weinstock, Helen Wells changed her name legally to her pen name.

I checked out my other favorite kid mystery series, Cherry Ames, Student Nurse, to see if it was part of the Stratemeyer Syndicate.  It wasn’t.  Cherry Ames was the creation of Helen Wells who was formerly Helen Weinstock.  Wells was the first female editor of the NYU literary quarterly where she graduated with a major in philosophy and a double minor in sociology and psychology.  She was a social worker before turning to writing full-time.  She also served as a volunteer for the State Department during WWII, taking visitors from Mexico and Central America around the US.

I liked old Cherry but nobody else in the family much cared for her.  That was in the day when I thought nursing would be a great career for me.  I fell asleep dreaming of soothing the sick, offering comfort to the injured.  That was until I discovered that I am a serial gagger.  If you gag, I gag; if you are upchucking, I am with you.  That’s an impediment to a medical career.

About texasgaga

I am a mom, a grandmom (Gaga to my 2nd oldest grand-child), a sister, a friend, a construction estimator, a homeowner, an active member of a 12 step recovery group, an artist, a reader, a survivor, a do it yourself wannabe, a laugher
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3 Responses to Ghostwriters and pen names

  1. sydlogsdon says:

    I stumbled across your site while googling for biographical information on Harold L Goodwin. Rick Brant was a shining light of my childhood in 50s and 60s Oklahoma.
    Here are a couple of facts to add to your post: the first three Rick Brant books were cowritten by Goodwin and his friend Peter J. Harkins. Then Harkins moved, and Goodwin wrote the rest of them alone. He also wrote one superior SF YA novel under the pseudonym Blake Savage.
    Most of the Grosset and Dunlap books were by the Stratemeyer Syndicate, but not all were. The Ken Holt series (which I didn’t read) had real authors, a husband and wife team. They and Goodwin arranged for brief, offstage crossovers between the two series. Now I know that Cherry Ames (which I also didn’t read) had a real author. Thanks for that tidbit.
    A sidenote on Helen Wells changing their name: science fiction author Andre Norton was born Alice Mary Norton, used the pseudonym to hide her gender, then had her name legally changed to Andre Alice Norton. A pseudo-pseudonym, perhaps.
    If you still want a copy of The Magic Talisman, you can go to,
    two thirds of the way down the page, where they sell print-on-demand reprints through Lulu. I haven’t used the service myself, so this is FYI, not a recommendation.
    Syd Logsdon

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