Frank and Joe Hardy were brothers living in the city of Bayport on Barmet Bay with their father, police detective Fenton Hardy, their mother, Laura, and their Aunt Gertrude. However, they were more than just your average American teen boys; they were amateur detectives with a penchant for getting involved in one mystery after another.
Realizing there was a large untapped market for children’s books, Edward Stratemeyer began to create books to fill that void with purely entertaining stories rather than the moral instruction dominating that market. He first created the Rover Boys under the pseudonym Arthur M. Winfield. The resulting series proved a success, selling five million copies over 30 volumes from 1899-1926. In 1904, he began writing The Bobbsey Twins as Laura Lee Hope and Tom Swift in 1910 as Victor Appleton. In 1906, Stratemeyer founded of the book-packaging firm The Stratemeyer Syndicate, realizing that he could produce more books a year through different publishers under different pseudonyms under his control as books with his real name on it failed to sell as well. After a time, Stratemeyer could no longer juggle multiple series and decided to hire ghostwriters to take over some of the books under the established pseudonym for that title. In 1911, Stratemeyer developed a talent for writing mysteries, published under the name Chester K. Steele.
In 1926, the Syndicate began focusing on mysteries geared towards its younger base when Stratemeyer created The Hardy Boys. He pitched the series to publisher Grosset & Dunlap, who had come up with the name for the series. Under Stratemeyer’s model, the books were created by making a detailed outline of the plot, which was then given to a ghostwriter to flesh out under the pseudonym Franklin W. Dixon, edited in-house, and then released. Stratemeyer and his daughter, Edna, had a hand in developing some of the early outlines for the series, while his other daughter, Harriet, took over the duties in 1934 with Andrew Svenson. Other outliners included Vincent Buranelli, James Duncan Lawrence and Tom Mulvey. A large part of the early foundation for the franchise came from the series’ first writer, Leslie McFarlane, who penned 19 volumes before eventually allowing himself to quit a series and working conditions he despised (aside from the strict anonymity of its authorship, the Syndicate had stringent rules to be followed for each book and vastly underpaid for the amount of work being done).
In 1959, the series underwent an extensive revision in content, prompted by Harriet, now the sole company head, and Grosset & Dunlap. Harriet wanted to modernize the stories to bring them up to contemporary times as well as simplify the writing style to appeal to a younger audience. Grosset & Dunlap also wanted racial slurs and stereotypes removed as many parents were complaining about the content of the books they published. Slumping sales also contributed to this decision. However, instead of fixing any minority characters, the cast of the books was completely whitewashed until the 1970s. While a number of the original stories were maintained and modified, several plots were entirely rewritten from scratch to become virtually new stories with the same titles. A greater emphasis was placed on fast-paced action rather than mood building.
Along with these story changes, the characters themselves underwent some revisions. Many of McFarlane’s original stories featured Hardy Boys who were skeptical of authority figures--including law enforcement--as a means to convey that those in charge were sometimes not above board. The Hardys also received compensation sometimes for their sleuthing, which went towards their college educations, and their devotion to their Aunt Gertrude stemmed from the fact she was rich. With the revisions, the Hardys were entirely respectful of authority to the point that they wouldn’t go beyond the speed limit, even to chase down a villain. Villains no longer smoked or drank, nor possessed many of their unique character quirks (Pedro Vincenzo, for example, branded his victims in the original 1934 text of The Mark on the Door, but not in revised editions), and often surrendered in lieu of the shoot-outs that dominated the original stories.
In 1956, Disney contracted the production of two serials that aired during The Mickey Mouse Club. Starring younger versions of the Hardys to appeal to the show’s audience, The Mystery of the Applegate Treasure was based on the series' first book, The Tower Treasure. The Mystery of the Ghost Farm was an original story by screenwriter Jackson Gillis. After the Syndicate conducted a survey to determine why sales were falling on the series, they discovered a large factor was due to the high cost of the books and competition from television. The Syndicate quickly approved an hour-long pilot based on the book The Mystery of the Chinese Junk with the Hardys portrayed as young adults. It aired on CBS, but the show was never picked up due to the pilot’s poor ratings.
|The animated band: Frank, Pete, Wanda, Chubby and Joe.|
A more fully-realized attempt came in 1969 when Filmation acquired the rights to the franchise. Having struck a major hit with The Archie Show the year before on both television and the radio, Filmation sought to duplicate that success with the Hardys. As a result, Filmation took some liberties with the source material. Gone were the clean-cut teens as described in the books; instead Frank (Dallas McKennon) and Joe (Byron Kane) were given long hair and the latest mod styling to complement their new vocation as members of a band. Fellow band mate and friend Chubby Morton (McKennon) was a play on their friend from the books, Chet Morton. Wanda Kay Breckenridge (Jane Webb) was the only female member of the band and loosely based on Callie Shaw, Frank’s girlfriend from the books. Created exclusively for the cartoon was Pete Jones (Kane). Pete received the distinction of becoming the very first African-American character to be featured in a Saturday morning cartoon (although his voice actor was white).
The Hardy Boys premiered on September 6, 1969 and became the first action-adventure mystery show on Saturday mornings. It also became the first to deal with the concept of drugs and provided public service announcements to its audience, such as not smoking and wearing seat belts. The band traveled around on a worldwide tour in a brightly-colored Rolls Royce Silver Ghost and often ended up being caught up in a mystery, leading to confrontations with the culprits. To combat the growing concerns of violence on television, all of the fighting was done off-camera. Characters would be tackled and tumble off screen, sounds of fighting would be heard, and then the camera would pan over to the victor. Any of the conflict shown on screen would be done through comedic methods; such as Chubby clumsily knocking their foes over while giving chase. Filmation used the various Hardy Boys books for episode plots, but their adherence to the books varied between episodes; some being near adaptations while others bore only a passing connection to the story for which the episode was named. Episodes included two different story segments and at least one musical number. The series was written by Eric Blair, H.F. Mauberly, David Melmuth and Ken Sobol, and Ray Ellis (under his son’s name, Marc) provided the rest of the show’s music.
As for the books themselves, early 1970s revisions featured the Hardys as members of a band they formed, something that had not been previously established in the series until then. In 1980, Harriet, dissatisfied with the lack of creative control or recognition for the Hardys’ 50th Anniversary with Grosset & Dunlap, switched over to Simon and Schuster for further publications. A legal battle over that move resulted in Grosset & Dunlap being awarded the rights to the original books as they were in print in 1980, but Harriet retained all rights to the characters and could produce new material based on them.
58 books ran in the original series until 1979. The Hardy Boys Mystery Stories ran from 1979-2005, published by the imprints Wanderer Books and Minstrel Books, continuing the original numbering until #190. The first spin-off, The Hardy Boys Casefiles ran from 1987-98 published by Archway Parperbacks with Simon and Schuster handling collected editions of the books. It featured a darker and grittier version of the Hardys and their world. A younger-reader series, The Hardy Boys Are: The Clues Brothers ran from 1997-2000, with The Hardy Boys: Undercover Brothers running from 2005-12 as a replacement for the Mystery Stories series. In 2010, Simon and Schuster’s Aladdin imprint began annual publication of The Hardy Boys Secret Files, which featured the Hardys as grade-school detectives. In 2016, it was rebooted as The Hardy Boys Clue Book, which served as an interactive experience that encouraged readers to write down clues and predictions. Simon and Schuster launched the newest book series in 2013 called The Hardy Boys Adventures, published three times a year with a first-person narrative that alternates between Frank and Joe each chapter. Between 2004 and 2011, Papercutz produced a series of new graphic based on the characters; the 10th issue of which included an episode guide and information about the cartoon. In 2017, Dynamite Entertainment published Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys: The Big Lie with a follow-up, The Death of Nancy Drew, planned for her 90th anniversary in 2020.
Originally posted in 2015. Updated in 2020.