195. Boys at Work: Rick Brant

By at Wk atwIf you didn’t read Tuesday’s post, you might want to do so before you proceed. This week is on the subject apprenticeship literature.

Grosset and Dunlap was the most important publishing house of the twentieth century, in my opinion, because they provided literature for all the kids who didn’t have access to a library and didn’t have much money to spend. For a dollar or so, depending on the decade, you could buy books from any of a dozen or more series. This was before paperbacks made books affordable. If it weren’t for Grosset and Dunlap, I would not be a reader or writer today.

Grosset and Dunlap was almost synonymous with the Stratemeyer syndicate, which provided them with most of their titles. There were exceptions such as the Ken Holt series and the Rick Brant books. Ken Holt never appealed to me, but the Rick Brant books were the jewels of my childhood.

All of the G & D books carried pseudonyms as author. In books from Stratemeyer, this disguised the fact that they were works for hire, written to outlines which were usually provided by Stratemeyer himself. The Ken Holt books however (pseudonym Bruce Campbell) were all written by Sam and Beryl Epstein. The first three Rick Brant books (pseudonym John Blaine) were written by Peter Harkins and Harold Goodwin. The following twenty-one books were by Goodwin alone. (see also 60. Thank You, Harold Goodwin)

In other words, they had real authors, not poorly paid hacks, and it showed.

Relevant aside: Years ago I was attending a teachers’ conference, against my will. If you’ve never been at one, you don’t know what boredom means. I had settled into my normal conference stance of a calm face covering intense irritation at the endless stream of BS. The only bright spot was the keynote speaker, Steve Wozniak. When he came to the podium, he mentioned Rick Brant as a childhood influence.

I whooped. You could have heard me in the street. Then my face turned red. You see, I had never before heard anyone else mention my childhood favorite. This was before I had access to the internet; now I know that there are enough fans of the series to run a fair number of Rick Brant themed websites.

Rick Brant had the perfect life. His father was a noted scientist who lived and worked at home. Rick, his family, and his best friend Scotty all lived on Spindrift Island, which was the headquarters of a group of scientists and engineers. Zircon, Weiss, Briotti and others formed a cadre of the best uncle figures any boy ever had.

He was a junior member of the team. A member -not a mascot. He never outshone the scientists, but he pulled his own weight, mostly building electronic gadgets that the scientists had invented. This was during the electronic middle ages (first tubes, then transistors, then solid state), when a reader could go down to Radio Shack and buy the wherewithal to try his own hand at the trade.

Rick Brant was eighteen years old for 43 years, always working with his avuncular scientists and always learning. That’s good work if you can get it. During that time he went on dozens of expeditions throughout the world. He helped the Spindrift scientists launch a rocket to the moon, find a lost civilization, excavate a sunken temple – the list goes on for twenty-four books.

I so wanted to be Rick Brant.

A week is enough for now, but there are other authors that deserve attention, particularly Howard Pease. Someday soon, we’ll return to this subject.


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