Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Elmont Junior Detectives

  One of the first series of books that I followed in my youth was the Hardy Boys. Starting in fourth grade, I read every one that I could find -- at the time there were only about forty of them -- buying some and trading for others with a couple of my friends who were also enthusiasts.
   Frank and Joe Hardy were the sons of detective Fenton Hardy and, in every book, they got involved in some kind of mystery, be it searching for a lost treasure, foiling the schemes of robbers and smugglers, or tracking down kidnappers.
   I was reading the books in the early 1960s, just as the Stratemeyer Syndicate which produced them was beginning their revisions of the novels, updating them from their original 1920s-30s versions. I got to read the original stories, rather than the ones that were "revised to update the references and remove racial stereotypes." (I was never quite sure what a "roadster" was, but Frank and Joe drove one and I looked forward to the day when I could drive one too.)
  At the same time, I was enjoying the science fiction adventures of Tom Swift, Jr., also produced by the Stratemeyer Syndicate. Like the Hardy Boys, Tom and his friends had exciting adventures, albeit with more fantastic elements, including incredible machines, amazing scientific discoveries and visitors from Planet X.

  Budding writer that I was in those days, it should not come as a surprise that I would invent my own version of these series: The Elmont Junior Detectives. The team, based on my friends, included Ricky Margaroli and Joe Milack ("the M&M Boys"), Booboo Bouchard, Nicky Tortorelli and Woodsy, with yours truly as the leader. In addition to the text, handwritten in a marble notebook, there were spot illustrations, just like the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift books. Given my limited artistic skills, however, most of the drawings were of things rather than people.
   In one adventure, the EJD battled "Destructo, the Deadly Robot." Said robot was wreaking havoc all around the town and attracted the attention of the EJD when it threw an entire department store into the air. This particular event was one of the illustrations: I clipped a picture of the store, Great Eastern Mills, which was a mainstay of Elmont at the time, from the newspaper and glued it onto my drawing of a sky and clouds. It was captioned "Great Eastern flies by." As with the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift, no one was ever seriously injured or killed in these stories; I never addressed what happened when the flying building hit the ground.
   In another story, the EJD built the "Atomobile,"an atomic-powered flying car, and flew it into outer space. This was a particularly remarkable achievement for a bunch of elementary school students given a) the U.S. space program was still in its infancy, with John Glenn only recently having orbited the Earth and b) funding consisted of allowances and money earned mowing lawns and shoveling snow. Despite these limitations, the EJD was able to fight off an alien invasion, without adult supervision or intervention.
   Alas, the EJD did not enjoy a long career a la the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift. They also did not have a legion of fans, except, of course, in the imagination of the person who invented them.

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