Brian’s Father


Brian’s Father was Leslie McFarlane, Canadian author who penned the first Hardy Boys under the Ghost name Franklin W. Dixon.

Library acquires first editions of Hardy Boys books

From McMaster University’s Daily News website

by Jane Christmas
December 20, 2006


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 include 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.'” mcfarlane-edited1

“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 to 16 and 22 to 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.

  4 Responses to “Brian’s Father”

  1. Hi again Brian:

    I was very pleased to hear back from you after my previous email, so I thought I’d try my luck again on 3 different topics…

    1. I shouldn’t speak ill of the dead, but I have some problem with all of the praise hockey insiders heap on Roger Neilson. It’s sad he died of the same illness which claimed my mother. And, I gather he was an innovator re video and other scouting. But he made it to exactly one Cup final while coaching half the teams in the league. And, he seemed to coach the boring, defence-first hockey which made the NHL so dreadful before the lockout. Am I completely wrong?

    2. Why is Billy Reay not in the Hall of Fame. He won more than 500 games as a coach. Is it because he never won the Stanley Cup with some pretty good Chicago teams?

    3. I just watched a Toronto-Chicago game from 1961 on Leafs TV which included a bench-clearing skirmish and the resulting appearance on the ice by Toronto police. I thought that was quite interesting! When did the cops stop going on the ice to help the officials?

    4. Two unrelated notes. You may be interested in knowing that a question in the trivia league I play in recently asked for the pen name of the Hardy Boys author. No one could remember the name, but I mentioned that your father wrote a large number of the stories under that pseudonym.

    5. Finally, I’ll share with you that the most exciting game I ever saw in person was Canada vs. the Soviets at the 1985 world championship in Prague. (I used to be in the media.) Canada’s 3-1 victory was our first over the Soviets at the worlds since the 1961 Trail Smoke Eaters. Canada ended up losing to the Czechs in the final, but that team included 5 Hall of Famers — Francis, Lemieux and Yzerman at centre (enough strength up the middle even at their tender ages!) and Stevens and Murphy on defence. Rick Vaive, John Anderson, Bernie Nicholls, Tony Tanti and Dave Taylor were among the others on that team in front of Pat Riggin. As I said, that’s my favourite hockey memory.

    Sorry if I went on longer than planned! Hope you’re well and having a nice time in Florida!

  2. I recently came across a letter sent to me by Leslie MacFarlane in about 1963, and would be happy to share it, if anyone is interested.

    Here is my story:

    I am a retired teacher. In my youth, I was a fan of the Hardy Boys series. I still have many of them. As my parents executor, I have been going through the vast arrary of heirlooms, mementos and junk from their house of 60 years.

    Today I was helping my some empty some old boxes of books and papers from my parents’ attic. We created a van load and then I took it all back to our place to go through the boxes and bags, sifting and sorting it all into categories: stuff for the dump, stuff for charitable causes, stuff for my brothers, stuff for me.

    As I dug through one box of mixed maps, letters, and books, I found an envelope addressed to me. The postmark said “Whitby” and I stopped in disbelief. I knew I had found a treasure that I had last seen in the mid sixties.

    In 1963 when I was in Grade 7, we were required to make a speech about a famous Canadian. I was stumped. My dad had recently shown me a short biography in the Globe and Mail about a hero of mine. This man’s real name, unknown to me at the time, was Leslie MacFarlane.

    Let me explain. I had long been a fan of the Hardy Boys detective series. I would rather read a Hardy Boys book than watch television. In fact, the Friday night routine at our house was as follows: my dad would go out to the local hotel with his cronies and have a few beers; with Dad out of the way, my mom would have her girl friends over for coffee and conversation; with Mom occupied, I would go to bed early with a bag of cookies or chips and a root beer and read the newest Hardy Boys mystery (or reread an old one).

    By Grade 6, I had read each of the Hardy Boys books (then 40 or so) at least once. Between my best friend and me we owned them all and lent them back and forth to each other. The series was written by a man I considered to be the world’s greatest author, Franklin W. Dixon.

    It was a revelation to me to learn, in the Globe article, that Franklin W. Dixon was a nom de plume, for a number of writers. But the first and greatest of the Franklin W. Dixon’s was a Canadian writer named Leslie MacFarlane, who was living in Whitby. The article said that not only had MacFarlane penned the first 21 Hardy Boys books, he had written some of the books of a half dozen other series, under other names, including some of the Nancy Drew series, under the name of Carolyn Keene.

    I was very excited. Franklin W. Dixon, the famous writer, was a Canadian who lived in Whitby! I had been to Whitby. It wasn’t that far away.

    I had a brainstorm. I would do my class speech on Leslie MacFarlane, aka Franklin W. Dixon. But for a speech I needed more information than the short bio in the Globe. So I wrote a letter to my hero, addressed simply to Mr. Leslie MacFarlane, Whitby, Ontario.

    About a week later, I received a letter in the mail. The envelope contained a brochure on the life of Leslie MacFarlane, autographed by the great man himself. But to my disbelief it also included a personal typewritten two-page letter to me, starting with “Dear Mark” and ending with Mr. MacFarlanes signature. In his letter he offered me tips should I wish to become a writer myself someday. I was very impressed.

    I got to work immediately on my “Famous Canadian” speech. With his letter, the brochure and the Globe and Mail article in front of me, the speech fairly wrote itself. (This is literally true because, as I look back, my speech was, in places, a verbatim transcription of the materials he sent me.)

    My speech was a triumph. That is to say, many of my classmates – the boys who read for pleasure – actually listened to it. My teacher suggested that I pass the letter and brochure around the class, so that the other kids would know I didn’t make the whole thing up.

    I received top marks for the speech (which was essentially an act of plagerism) and additional credit for initiative which, I believe, I deserved.

    The letter remained among my treasures in my top drawer for a few years. Then, as my interest in juvenile fiction waned, the letter receded further back in the drawer. By the seventies, when I next thought of it, the letter had disappeared. Every few years, I would think of the episode as a particular highlight of my pre-pubescence and I would ask my mother if she had ever come across it. She had no idea what had become of my prized letter. I had only myself to blame.

    Today I shook out the contents of an old dirty box full of old dirty papers and one envelope slipped out and landed in the table in front of me. The address said “Mark Clare” and the postmark said “Whitby” and I just knew. I picked up the envelope and turned out the contents. In front of me was a brochure about Leslie MacFarlane, autographed by the man himself, a personal letter to me, and my speech, neatly typed on 3 X 5 cards by my mother.

    I could not be more pleased.

    April 14, 2010.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing this. It is very valuable. I am in the process of setting up a site for my grandfather and would love to include your note if I have your permission. I will also bring your wonderful note to the attention of my Dad, Brian, Im sure he is going to be thrilled.
    With great appreciation,
    Brenda McFarlane

  4. I’ve been a “Hardy Boys” fan all my life and have the original books I received as a kid. I’m also a comic book fan. Dan Spiegle is a comic book artist who started out drawing the “Hopalong Cassidy” newspaper comics in 1949. He’s worked for all the major comic book companies, and in the late 50s did the art on four Hardy Boys comics for Disney. He will turn 90 in October, and he’s still drawing comics.

    I’ve produced a comic book “The March On Fort Whoop-Up”, which depicts the formation of the NWMP in 1873 and their march west the following year. You can check out some of the pages on my website I’d like to send a copy to Brian if you’ll send me your mailing address.

    Last year I contacted Dan Spiegle about doing a Hardy Boys comic for me, and am now the possessor of the comic book art for “While The Clock Ticked”. I’m still pinching myself – he’s always been one of my favorite artists.

    But I need a contact for the rights to the story at Grosset and Dunlap. With my NWMP comic, I got approval from the Mounted Police Foundation in Ottawa (their ad is on the back cover).

    Regards – Pete Brouwer

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