Leslie McFarlane: Ghost of the Hardy Boys

In the past year or so my grandson has gotten enthused about the Hardy Boys mystery series and I offered to write him a mystery like one of those, so have read a number of these books in preparation. A person could almost get hooked!

So on Thursday when I was browsing the shelves of the Saskatoon Library and spied the autobiography of Leslie McFarlane, entitled Ghost of the Hardy Boys, I brought it home and read part of it yesterday. Knowing the series he’s writing about, I found this book interesting. His writing style is lively and descriptive — though there’s a bit of off-color language.

In this book he tells about growing up in a northern Ontario mining community, the interesting characters who peopled his younger years, then how he got into writing for local papers. After this modest start he moved to the US and landed a reporter’s job in Springfield, MA. While he was covering the “Hotel Beat” for the Springfield Republican, he typed out a reply to an ad for a fiction writer, dropped it in the mail, and forgot about it.

A few weeks later he received a letter; he was offered an outline and should write a couple of chapters as a trial; if his writing was acceptable, he could do the whole book. He was sent two books as sample copies and given the outlines for two more. This started his ghostwriting career for the Stratemeyer Syndicate, where he first did several Dave Fearless books under the pen name Roy Rockwood, then the first twenty-two Hardy Boys books under the pseudonym Franklin W. Dixon and four Dana Girls mysteries as Carolyn Keene. (He says he made his wife promise not to tell a soul about that one.)

After he’d churned out the first seven Hardy Boys stories and had sold a few freelance articles, he felt he was able to make it financially without writing for the Syndicate. In fact, he and his wife were planning to move to Bermuda where he’d continue his writing career — but before he’d sent his letter of resignation to Edward Stratemeyer something happened that shook the world. October 1929. “Black Friday.” Writing markets crashed along with everything else.

During those years of the Great Depression he was thankful for the Hardy Boys series that maintained even sales and kept the McFarlane’s larder supplied. In time the world recovered and so did his freelance writing prospects. Later he worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp, wrote and directed documentaries and dramas, was able to support himself comfortably with sales to magazines as well, and finally gave up his association with the Syndicate. Another ghostwriter — maybe even more than one —  became Franklin W. Dixon. This is apparently the best selling boys’ series ever with book sales in the millions.

McFarlane was born in 1902 in Carleton Place, Ontario, and died in 1977, just short of his 75th birthday, a prolific writer to the end.

Ghost of the Hardy Boys, by Leslie McFarlane
© 1976 by Methuen Publications

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