The mystery behind Franklin W. Dixon’s mysteries.

What Happened at Midnight

I knew from early on that I wanted to be a writer. I knew from the time I could read real, honest-to-goodness chapter books that I wanted to write mysteries.

I no longer wanted to be me.

I wanted to be Franklin W. Dixon.

Why?

He wrote the Hardy Boys series.

The names of his book stick with me still.

The Tower Treasure.

The Secret of the Old Mill.

The House on the Cliff.

While the Clock Ticked.

The Sinister Sign Post.

And I’m just getting warmed up.

Franklin W. Dixon was, I reasoned, the greatest writer of them all.

When we drove into Kilgore for whatever reason, my mother dropped me off on a downtown street corner, and I walked straight to Martin’s Bookstore.

I haunted Martin’s Bookstore.

I knew where the Hardy Boys resided, and there was a whole bookshelf filled with the novels.

Edward Stratemeyer, the book packager who created the Hardy Boys series.
Edward Stratemeyer, the book packager who created the Hardy Boys series.

I spent a lot of days and a lot of hours with Frank and Joe Hardy, a couple of amateur sleuths, and their father, an internationally famous detective. Time and again the boys stumbled on incidents and clues that had them bringing villains, murderers, thieves, kidnappers, and all around bad guys to justice.

Were they clever?

They were the best.

Were they lucky?

No.

They were smart.

The adventures never stopped.

The Hardy Boys were always in danger.

They never lost their nerve.

And they lived entangled with intrigue within an atmosphere of mystery and intrigue.

Each case might be their last.

Franklin W. Dixon was a genius.

He was a master storyteller.

He was my idol.

It was written: “Never were so many assorted felonies committed in a simple American small town. “ The Hardy Boys confronted murder, drug peddling, racehorse kidnapping, diamond smuggling, medical malpractice, big-time auto theft, the hijacking of strategic materials, and, of course, espionage – even during the 1040s – and they always got their man.

The Hardy Boys changed over the years as society changed.

But Franklin W. Dixon kept right on writing.

How could he do it?

How could one man churn out so many words?

I found out the truth later.

I had been fooled.

Somebody had lied to me.

There was no Franklin W. Dixon.

He was the figment of one man’s imagination.

Leslie McFarlane who wrote the first books in the Hardy Boys series.
Leslie McFarlane who wrote the first books in the Hardy Boys series.

Edward Stratemeyer had been the founder of a book-packaging firm, and the books were actually conceived in 1926 and written by a stable of ghostwriters, although Canadian Leslie McFarlane did write the first ones and the best ones.

McFarlane said, “It seemed to me the Hardy Boys deserved something better than the slapdash treatment Dave Fearless had been getting. I opted for quality.”

The critics blamed the author because, they said, the books reflected McFarlane’s “lack of sympathy with the American power structure.” McFarlane defended himself by saying, “I had my own thoughts about teaching youngsters that disobedience to authority is somehow stupid … Would civilization crumble if kids got the notion that the people who ran the world were sometimes stupid, occasionally wrong, and even corrupt?”

Maybe that’s why I liked the Hardy Boys so much.

They were rebels long before I knew what a rebel was or became one.

In later years, long after I quit reading them, the Hardy Boys lost some of their grit. It was written: “The books became more respectful of law and authority. Even villains no longer smoked or drank, and scenes involving guns and shoot-outs were compressed or eliminated in favor of criminals simply giving themselves up.”

McFarlane was devastated. The books have been gutted, he said.

Franklin W. Dixon was just as disappointed, and he didn’t even exist.

Edward Stratemeyer originally wanted to produce a series built around a couple of crime-solving detectives called the Keene Boys.

The publisher balked.

He didn’t like the name.

So the amateur sleuths became the Hardy Boys instead.

Stratemeyer, however, was still obsessed with the name Keene.

So he created the pseudonym of Carolyn Keene and had ghostwriters produce another successful series featuring a girl detective.

He called her Nancy Drew.

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  • Caleb Pirtle

    Most people learned to read by reading Dick and Jane. I learned on the pages of the Hardy Boys mysteries.

  • Renee Pawlish

    I loved the Hardy Boys! Read all of them multiple times, and I even tried to write a mystery way back when I was in grade school.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Renee, you could have done a great job writing the Hardy Girls.

  • Nancy Drew was the ONLY role model available for a lot of women of my generation who was independent, smart, and supported (but not limited) by the grownups in her world. The boyfriend was an occasional appendage.

    Generations of writers, physicists, and lawyers remember reading every one they could get their hands on. I was gifted two a year: birthday and Christmas.

    I lived in Mexico, and there were only wives and mothers out there – and that wasn’t me.

    I don’t care if a man created the series, and I never thought ANY authors were real people (except maybe Conan Doyle), so it didn’t matter who wrote them: only that they EXISTED.

    My mother gave away some of mine after I left home, without asking! I got some of them back, made sure my daughter read them (but of course by then, 42 years later, there were many books for girls with brains).

    Nobody can tell you girls can’t do anything if you’ve already read that they can.

    Long live Carolyn Keene (the fact that she never did is irrelevant).

    • Caleb Pirtle

      If we hadn’t had Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys in those days, we would have had a much bleaker life. To me they were great literature. I refuse to read them now. I’m afraid they might not be quite as good as I believe they are.

  • Don Newbury

    Great slant, grand slam wrap-up, Caleb!…

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Don, it’s tough to find out that your idol is only the figment of somebody else’s imagination.

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