Dec. 19 , 2006

The secret of the Hardy Boys lies in McMaster's vaults

Hamilton, ON - The diaries, correspondence and early material of Leslie McFarlane, best known for penning the hugely popular Hardy Boys books, have been obtained by McMaster University Library, and are being described as a “dream acquisition.”

In addition to the archives—which includes McFarlane’s first published essay, an IODE 1918 Haileybury High School prize winner—the University has acquired first editions of two of the 20 books McFarlane wrote for the Hardy Boys series: The Secret of the Caves and The Tower Treasure. The series, which began in 1927 and ended in 1979, followed the sleuthing escapades of teenage brothers Frank and Joe Hardy.

“Leslie McFarlane's diaries, photographs, and other documents represent a wealth of primary research materials for scholars and the educated public,” says Carl Spadoni, McMaster’s research collections librarian. “It’s a dream acquisition. The archives are thoroughly Canadian in character, but they also have broad, international appeal. We are immensely grateful to Brian McFarlane and Norah Perez for their generosity in making this extraordinary donation of their father's archives to the University Library.”

Spadoni says the University plans to acquire early first-editions of all of McFarlane’s books. Such books now have a market value of between $1,000 and $5,000.

Leslie McFarlane had a reputation for versatility—at various points in his career he was an editor at Maclean’s, a screenwriter, producer and director for the National Film Board of Canada, head of the TV drama script department at CBC, and a Hollywood scriptwriter (for Bonanza).

It is his Hardy Boys work, however, that stands out as his most endearing legacy. As one of a stable of ghostwriters writing under the pen name of Franklin W. Dixon, McFarlane is widely credited for creating the literary style and characters’ personalities that served as the template for the series, and he also served as its most prolific author, writing 20 books in the 58-volume series.

“I was about 10 years old when I discovered the Hardy Boys books on my dad’s bookshelves, and began reading them,” recalls son Brian McFarlane. “One day I asked him why he was interested in reading kids books and he told me he didn’t read them, he wrote them! ‘But don’t tell your friends that I write that nonsense,’ he told me. I don’t think he had any idea of the huge impact those books had on young people and how it hooked so many of them on reading.”


“He considered the Hardy Boys books hack work but he nonetheless approached his work as a pro,” says daughter Norah Perez. “He had a funny relationship with those books: he never got any fan letters, no feedback from the Syndicate, no notice of sales figures. Some times he vowed he’d never write another Hardy Boys book. At the end of his life he said to us: ‘You know, I think people are only going to remember me for those damn books.’


“It’s the diaries, though, that I find most fascinating,” continues Perez. “The daily entries not only include intimate family revelations, but also record my father’s personal, professional and financial struggles before, during and after the Great Depression, through the Second World War and the postwar years.”


Born in Carleton Place, Ontario, in 1902, Leslie McFarlane started out as a journalist in the Ontario towns of Sudbury, Cobalt, Welland and Ottawa, before moving to the United States in the 1920s to write for the Springfield Republican. While in the States, he freelanced short stories for the boys’ adventure series Dave Fearless, and it was from this that a connection was forged with the Stratemeyer Syndicate. The Syndicate had spawned a host of serialized novels for children and young adults—Nancy Drew and the Bobbsey Twins are examples—and McFarlane helped develop the Hardy Boys franchise.

Its 58 volumes were written by a cast of ghostwriters who all used the pen name Franklin W. Dixon, and all of whom were sworn to secrecy. The series debuted in 1927, and McFarlane wrote books 1-16 and 22-24, regarded as the best of the series.

While still writing for the Syndicate, McFarlane returned to Haileybury in Northern Ontario in 1929, working full-time as a freelance author and turning out novels as well as hundreds of mystery, adventure and sports stories, novelettes for magazines, and many radio plays for CBC. He later worked as an editor at Maclean’s and then as a director/producer at the National Film Board of Canada, where one of his works, Herring Hunt, was nominated for an Academy Award. In the 1950s, McFarlane took a position at the CBC as head of the TV drama script department, and while there his friend Lorne Greene convinced him to move to Hollywood for a short period and write scripts for the TV western series Bonanza, in which Greene was the star.

McFarlane married and had three children, and it appears the McFarlane gene has spawned somewhat of a literary and creative dynasty. Brian McFarlane was for many years a commentator on Hockey Night in Canada, as well as the author of more than 65 books on hockey; Norah McFarlane Perez is a U.S.-based writer who has authored five young-adult novels (her earliest work won an international short story competition in Seventeen magazine), and is currently at work on a family memoir. Another daughter, Patricia, a model and wife of Canadian composer Dr. William McCauley, died in 1981.

“Our dad was such a quiet, modest man,” says Brian McFarlane. “What amazes us is how he, with nothing more than a high school diploma, could be so accomplished a writer in so many different areas. When I look at the amount of work our dad turned out I consider him the most prolific writer in Canadian history.”

In his 1976 autobiography, Ghost of the Hardy Boys, Leslie McFarlane wrote about his wide-ranging and prolific career. In the same year, he sold some of his archives to the University but those archives chiefly concerned his later years as a script writer and filmmaker. He died in Whitby, Ontario, in 1977.

McMaster University, a world-renowned, research-intensive university, fosters a culture of innovation, and a commitment to discovery and learning in teaching, research and scholarship. Based in Hamilton, the University, one of only four Canadian universities to be listed on the Top 100 universities in the world, has a student population of more than 23,000, and an alumni population of more than 120,000 in 128 countries.