Article: ALFRED HITCHCOCK AND THE THREE INVESTIGATORS

Have Mystery, will Travel

(At Article written for Firsts Magazine, April 2004)

 

 

Enter the world of Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators—it doesn’t matter if you enter by Green Gate One (you have to push the eye of the fish painted on the board of the fence at the back of the Jones Salvage Yard then two green boards swing up so you can enter) or Tunnel Two (one of several secret entrances to the investigators headquarters)—each entrance transports the reader to a place where mystery, danger and suspense rule the day. While Alfred Hitchcock’s name blazes across the titles of the original stories, it’s actually the three investigators who are the heroes of the series. The crew of three investigators is headed by Jupiter Jones, a large, rather bullishly shaped young man who had been a child movie star and who has an intellect to match his size.  Pete Crenshaw is the second investigator. Last is Bob Andrews, called “Records” because he’s their main researcher and record keeper. This series of boys (and girls like me) young adult mysteries that originally debuted in 1964 and continued in its original form through 1979 is one of THOSE series that grab young readers attention and make an impression that can last a lifetime.

 

My personal introduction to this series was back in grade school somewhere around sixth grade--I can’t  remember too clearly-- when I was offered a copy of one of the books by a friendly children’s librarian after I had plowed through all the Encyclopedia Brown Mysteries (a series of short mystery anthologies by Donald J.  Sobol). She thought this series would suit me well. They did.  In fact, I got hooked on the series & read every title in the series that that library owned and tried to find more.  For some unknown reason, the characters of the series stuck in my head even after I had passed through my mystery phase and gotten hooked on science fiction.  What I’ve found out since is that I’m not the only person to have felt that special affinity for Jupiter Jones and his investigator friends. There are tons of fans of the series and they have made the series into a mini-phenomenon of collecting.

 

As with many of the other girl and boy series during the last century, the 3I (Three Investigators) series is a book collecting muddle which is not easily interpreted.  Though not as difficult to identify editions as the Nancy Drew & Hardy Boys Mysteries are, the 3I series has more than a few hurdles to overcome when figuring out edition information.  Add to that the fact that the series comes in several different formats, that there is an “original” series and a secondary series, that there are spin-off books, AND that the series has continued in Germany even though the American series was discontinued in 1987 (sort of), you get a book collectors nightmare of what to collect, what exactly are the true first editions and where to draw the line at what is considered a collection.

 

 

For most 3I collectors, the original—and core collection--series starts with

Book number 1: The Secret of Terror Castle which was originally published in trade hardback format in 1964.  This originating title was penned by the creator of the series Robert Arthur. This series ends with book number 30: The Secret of Shark Reefwhich was originally published in trade hardback format in 1979 and was authored by William Arden.   While that sounds rather straightforward, it’s actually not. Robert Arthur started the series and authored the first nine books by himself, however his health started to fail and he realized that to continue the series, he would need other writers.  The tenth book in the series was written by William Arden. The eleventh book was written by Robert Arthur and this was the last 3I title he produced before his death in 1969. The next books in the original series were written mainly by two authors, William Arden and M. (Mary) V. Carey with an additional two titles being written by Nick West (a pseudonym of Kin Platt).

 

At this point, a collection of 3I books, would be fairly straightforward…one would think. However, as this is a Random House series of juvenile books, there is basically no publisher’s identifying information (IE: No first edition notations) on the copyright page until the 21stbook in the series was published. After book number 20, Random House updated its copyright information (possibly across the board) and first printings are clearly identified by a number line (I.E.: 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1).   Another wrinkle to add in is the fact that there were two hardback editions published of the first 28 volumes in the series. There was a regular trade hardback edition and a Gibralter Library Binding edition which was mainly available as libraries and institutional copies.  Now, if that’s not confusing enough, Random House then decided that the books were popular enough to offer paperback copies…there are three distinct editions of the paperback copies.

And if that’s not too confusing, Random House changed the name of the series mid-stream after Alfred Hitchcock died in 1980 and renamed it The Three Investigators (sans the Alfred Hitchcock designation) and changed the design of the book covers to match. This was done on volume 31 and continued through to the end of the official American series at number 43.

 

Ok, now my head hurts. Trying to explain all this clearly is not an easy task!  So let’s take a break from the specifics of the series publishing history and get to the meat of the books themselves.  Book number one ALFRED HITCHCOCK AND THE SECRET OF TERROR CASTLE introduces Jupiter (Jupe), Pete and Bob and their brand new detective agency which is run out of an old discarded trailer hidden amongst the detritus of The Jones Salvage Yard stock (a salvage business run by Jupiter’s Aunt & Uncle). The boys have carefully and surreptitiously outfitted the trailer to be their headquarters and included secret entrances and exits, a phone (back in the 1960’s this was the height of technology!) and all sorts of fun stuff.  They decide to call themselves the Three Investigators and Jupiter has even provided the crew with their own business card which prominently displays their logo, three large question marks followed by their names & positions in the agency.  What they need next is something to investigate…and Jupiter decides the way to get this is to invoke the aid of the great movie director, Alfred Hitchcock.  With the use of a Rolls Royce and a driver which Jupiter won in a contest (and can use for one month) the investigators finagle their way onto the movie lot and into the great director’s presence. What follows is a great start to the series: there’s a house that may or may not be haunted, a treasure to be found, evil men to be foiled and tons of danger for the investigators.  The really nice thing about this series is that the original author decided not to write the series down—in other words, he used deductive reasoning, clues and blind alleys and even word play/ word tricks--to make the reader think hard about where the story was going to go.  Each book has some challenging vocabulary (with a bit of explanation in some cases) and the plots aren’t straightforward, which gives the reader a bit more of a challenge.  Of course, these books were set for what we now refer to as “young adult” readers, so they aren’t quite as tough as an Agatha Christie title, but all the clues are presented with enough obfuscation to make the reader push him or herself to think carefully about what he/she has read.

 

The series took off like wildfire and a minimum of two new titles were published every year from 1964 through 1974 (after that there were sporadic years where only one title was published per year). As the series continued, the Three Investigators added more inventions to their arsenal of equipment to help solve mysteries.  Here’s a short list of things which Jupiter introduced into the series:

 

 Colored chalk: (not itself an invention) but something that the investigators were always supposed to carry with them.  If they felt they were in danger, they were to mark a question mark (each boy had a different color chalk assigned to him) on some object where the other boys could find it. This came in especially handy when the boys were kidnapped or carried off by the bad people in the stories.

 

“Ghost to Ghost Hook-up”:basically a phone chain for young people. The investigators would each call five friends and ask them if they had information that might help an investigation or ask them to keep an eye out for something. In turn, each of the five friends would call five more friends, etc. etc.

 

Walkie-Talkies:. Remember that these stories were originally written in the early to mid-1960’s when Walkie talkies were rare and expensive things and way too precious to give to youngsters.

 

The See-All: This was a periscope-like assemblage used to check out what was going on at the salvage yard when the boys were in their headquarters. Since headquarters was supposed to be a secret location, they had covered it over with junk and were unable to view out the windows.

 

A Speakerphone Radio: Because there were three boys & only one phone, a speakerphone arrangement came in very handy so that all three of them could hear a caller & ask questions. Now days they call this phone conferencing. I’ll bet that if the books had been penned today, the boys would have cell phones, satellite communications & iBooks!

 

 

While part of the thrill of reading the series had to do with the gadgets the boys carried, there were many other features that made the stories so readable.  Back in the late sixties, the name of Alfred Hitchcock sent tingles down the spine of nearly anyone in the US—the man was a genius at finding just the right thing to touch a nerve in people.  This series capitalized on that fact and even though Alfred Hitchcock himself had nothing to do with books, his cachet added sales appeal as the books sat on store shelves.  All three of the boys came from standard middle class families, but they were allowed a large amount of freedom in their movement and during the series traveled long distances either alone or as part of some group—this was a great attraction to those of us who had to be in by the time the streetlights turned on every evening. Again, for those of us who were not inclined (or allowed) to hazardous living, these books included some sort of personal danger to one or all of the boys in each story.  In one book, The Secret of Skeleton Island, the boys take scuba gear and go off by themselves to search for hidden treasure—in the process, they get stuck in a cavern that has an air pocket at low tide, but is completely submerged during high tide.  Now, I will admit that in the case of this story, the boys have willfully disobeyed all the correct rules of scuba diving by not checking air tanks, not watching their watches and in particular, going off without supervision or telling anyone where they were, but the do end up in real danger of dying which is something that many series either gloss over, or don’t allow at all.  The 3I stories all give young readers a sense of wish-fulfillment: in our minds we could BE the intrepid investigators, braving danger, trying new & thrilling things and using our intellects to solve the answers to all the puzzling questions. 

 

Of course, there were also some really hackneyed, cookie-cutter plot features to the stories. By shear dint of having a specific series with three well defined characters, there had to be some sort of plan for writers to use.  Once the series became successful (and it did very quickly), guidelines had to be set up for the authors to follow.  One of the most noticeable (from the perspective of an adult living in the 21stcentury) is the use of the “foreign character” which pops up in nearly every book.  In the first book, there is a young Chinese boy who gives the boys the help they need to find the missing jewels. Broadly painted and with all the ethnic stereotypes included, this young man speaks broken English, bows to one and all and generally acts like a very bad Charlie Chan imitation. This format follows through the original books and includes young foreigners from many parts of the world including Greece, Mexico, American Indians (Native Americans now) and even made up countries.   Another similarity in each book is the use of some sort of jewel, token, amulet, etc. is stolen or hides some sort of clue on, in, or in some cases, points the boys in the direction they need to go.  Skulls, statues, and artwork: all of these and many more are items that come into play in the series.

 

So, now that I’ve given you a bit of the flavor of the series, let’s get back to the books themselves & the massive muddle of conflicting information regarding edition and state. There are, at this point in time, no formal bibliographies available for information on the points of the 3I books, however, there are some very diligent fans of the series who have delved deep into the morass of publishing foibles (there’s my vocabulary sentence for the weekJ) to come up with some guidelines to help categorize printings (remember that for the original hardback books, there was no altering or updating of the text, so all of them are technically First editions). Here are some of the points I’ve been able to ferret out.

 

Firstly, all 43 of the original books were available in at least one form of hardback edition.  Of these, the first 28 came in two hardback editions—a trade edition specifically for sale in bookstores and a Gibralter Library binding edition for Libraries.  After book number 21, the information on the copyright page generally offers detailed information regarding the edition including a number line which states edition (this includes the GLB—Gibralter Library Binding—editions) so later entries in the series are fairly straightforward.  Before book number 21, the information for both the Trade & the GLB editions is minimal at best & sometimes conflicting at worst.  There are some binding features of the books which do help visually identify the library editions from the Trade editions:

 

v  GLB editions have stitched bindings to withstand the rough usage given lending copies.

 

v  Most of the GLB covers have a smooth, semi-gloss finish to the bindings

 

v  Present on all GLB copies is the Elephant Emblem which is the GLB logo. It’s found on the rear cover of the book towards the bottom spine hinge.

 

v  With a very few exceptions, there are no lists of titles for the 3I series found on the rear covers of the GLB editions.

 

 

With the Trade bindings, the chances of there being any standardized visual clues is slim, however, in direct contrast with the GLB bindings, there are a few points that can be used for recognition:

 

v  Where the GLB bindings are stitched, the Trade editions have glued bindings which are extremely prone to damage (and so too are the endpapers…many, many copies of the trade edition have cracked inner hinges or have been “repaired”.)

 

v  The cover/binding of the Trade editions varied from a Matte finish for the early titles to a glossy/ laminated finish for the later titles.

 

v  There is no Elephant Logo on the rear cover of the book. Reprints from 1971 were issued with ISBN numbers which are listed on the bottom rear edge of the book cover.

 

v  Printings of the Trade edition generally list previous books on the back cover (there are numerous points to this, so be careful). These rear cover listings came in pairs of two (because generally two books were printed each year) so that a first edition of a book printed in the first part of the year would also include the title that was still unpublished (IE: Book #7: The Mystery of the Fiery Eye includes on its back cover list book #8: The Mystery of the Silver Spider).

 

I won’t, at this time, try to include a complete listing of all the possible information regarding the physical books (endpaper art, variant points, back cover lists, etc). There is simply too much data for it to be included in this overview.  So, knowing that there’ is much more detailed information to find elsewhere, lets move on to other things.

 

In addition to the hardcover copies of the first 43 books, there are the paperback books (which came out in several variations over the years) which are also collected.  In 1971 Scholastic Books started producing the series in a paperback publication. The first of these, Book #4: The Mystery of the Green Ghost, was issued in a large format binding that was slightly smaller than the original Random House hardcover editions. This binding size continued for one more book: #1: The Secret of Terror Castle. After this, the size was dropped to a mass market-like size with completely different printing plates, no text illustrations and in some cases, different cover art. 

 

In 1972, Random House added a trade paperback edition for retail sale as an alternative to the hardback trade editions. These paperbacks were trade edition size and generally included the same cover art, interior art and details of the hardback editions. This trade sized paperback was published in conjunction with the hardback editions until Random House decided to drop the Hardcover editions all together due to cost factors.  In 1978 Random House switched from having Trade hardback copies available to ONLY paperback Trade editions.  The first original story published only in trade paperback was book #29: The Mystery of the Sinister Scarecrow (there was still a GLB hardcover of this title printed & it’s at this point in the series that these GLB hbs are the ONLY hardback copies available). The series continued its publishing schedule of two books a year until book number 42, The Mystery of Wrecker’s Rock, published in 1987.  During the 1980’s the series had gradually started to fade from prominence and Random House decided there were other fish to fry…so the series officially ended with book #43 (The Mystery of the Cranky Collector).  Of course, in publishing, there is NEVER really an end to a series-- only two years later, Random House tried to renew young readers’ interest in the series by bringing out a mass market paperback series called Three Investigators Crimebusters series but that fizzled after eleven titles and is no more.  There was an off-shoot series published in the early 1980’s called the Find-your-Fate Mysteries which included several 3I titles (the series itself was not 3I, but included different series characters). Accordingly, these titles and the very illusive Book of Mystery Puzzles (a puzzle book based on the 3I characters and hardly ever seen without some sort of doodling or notations for the puzzles) are some of the most expensive books in the series.

 

Going off on a bit of a tangent, there is some interesting history—or more specifically NON history regarding the series and the real life Alfred Hitchcock, who’s name is emblazoned at the top of the books.  I did a little sleuthing of my own to find this information, though thanks go to Michael Morley who interviewed one of the later writers of the series for the real clues (the interview was published in The Yellowback Library back in 1995.  The series of 3I was originally pitched by main author Robert Arthur (more on him in a bit) to Random House publishers back in the early 1960’s.  The connection between Robert Arthur & Alfred Hitchcock was via the fact that Arthur had edited a bunch of Alfred Hitchcock anthologies/ghost stories for adults in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.  He was then approached by Random House to edit a series of anthologies in a similar vein for young adults. Some of the titles he edited in this series were: Alfred Hitchcock’s Ghostly Gallery, Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbinders in Suspense, etc. Subsequently, it was Arthur who came up with the idea for a youth series that capitalized on the Hitchcock mystique and he who did all the writing for the books, including the introductions supposedly by Hitchcock.  The ONLY connection Alfred Hitchcock had to the series was a hefty check cut to him on a regular basis for the use of his name.  For someone who could hear the stentorian breathing of Hitchcock in every word of the introductions to each book, I found this bit of knowledge saddening, but quite believable.

 

So, now we know a bit more about the genesis of the series. Let’s look at the man who brought it to life and kept it going for so many wonderful years.  Robert Arthur Jr. was born November 10, 1909at Fort Mills, Corregidor Island, The Philippines to Robert Arthur Sr. and Sarah Abbey Arthur (nee Fee).  As Robert was an Army brat, his early life was spent moving from spot to spot, mostly on the East Coast. He decided that he wanted to be a writer early on & in fact his first story was published during his high school years. He received a B. A. in English then later an M. A. in Journalism from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.  After college, he started writing stories for the pulp magazines & received a fairly steady wage, even during the depression. He wrote for a number of pulps, mostly specializing in the Mystery and Fantastic veins: The Shadow, Amazing Stories, Thrilling Detective, etc.   At some later point, Arthur took a class in writing for radio and met David Kogan who became his partner in radio writing.  As with many authors, Arthur branched out into several projects at the same time, writing for pulps, several national magazines and also co-wrote and produced Dark Destiny on the radio and their own radio show The Mysterious Traveler (Adventures in Fear).   In 1950, The Mysterious Traveler received an Edgar award for Best Radio Show of the Year. Unfortunately, a brush with the rabid McCarthyism of the era ended Arthur’s radio work, but this change did have the good fortune of taking Arthur to Hollywood where he became a scriptwriter for shows like The Twilight Zone and fortuitously, as a story editor and script writer for Alfred Hitchcock Presents.   From this connection, the evolution of the 3I books naturally took shape.  

 

Since we’ve turned to the subject of authoring this series, there are some interesting tidbits of information regarding the other authors who took on the job of writing the series after Robert Arthur passed away.  First & foremost, is Dennis Lynds who wrote for the series under the pseudonym or William Arden.  Lynds wrote his first 3I title before Robert Arthur died (The Mystery of the Moaning Cave, 1968) and then a second title, The Secret of the Crooked Cat, after which, he decided that the job was just too fraught with arguments to continue. Random House insisted on previewing and ok’ing all aspects of the writing, especially the original outlines, which made Lynds uncomfortable with the job. He left the job to pursue his own writing for two years, only coming back to the series in 1972 inThe Mystery of the Shrinking House. He went on to write a total of thirteen books for the series.  Dennis Lynds has many other famous pseudonyms including Michael Collins, Brett Halliday, and Maxwell Grant.   Next comes a female writer who was not allowed to show her feminity.  M. V. Carey (Mary V. Carey) stepped into the 3I series in 1971 with The Mystery of the Flaming Footprints, and continued through to the end of the series in 1987. Supposedly, she was writing a manuscript for yet another title in the series when it was cancelled in 1987. All together, she penned 15 titles in the 3I series.   After that comes Nick West, a pseudonym of Kin Platt, who went on to write both youth fiction (Big Max-a youth picture book series, among other things) and adult detective/adventure series works like The Kissing Gourami. He wrote a total of two titles for the series, one in 1970 (The Mystery of the Coughing Dragon) and the second in 1971 (The Mystery of the Nervous Lion). Last but  not least is Marc Brandel, who came late to the series. He wrote three titles in the series, starting in 1983 with The Mystery of the Kidnapped Whale, followed by The Mystery of the Two-Toed Pigeon and finally, The Mystery of the Rogues’ Reunion. Brandel tried to recapture Robert Arthur’s love of characterization of the boys, though some people feel that his writing wasn’t up to the job and fell a bit flat for readers.

 

 

Now then, take a deep breath, shake the confusion from your tired brain & let’s look at something a bit easier to handle: The prices.  Technically, it’s not all that difficult to complete a set of the 43 original titles; however, the collector needs to decide a number of different factors regarding just exactly he/she would like to collect.  If it is true first edition, first printings of the series, then the collection would end up as half hardback, half trade paperback (depending on how one interprets first edition). It is possible to have a complete collection of hardbacks, but if that is the desired collection, one might end up with ratty ex library copies sitting next to trade hardbacks—but even that leaves out the later off-shoot series which were only published in paperback.  It is possible to find GLB hardbacks for the later books which are in nearly perfect condition (no library markings, tape, stamping, etc), but for these, the collector should expect to pay handsomely. Prices for the first 21 volumes tend to be fairly stable, and because there is not much information present within the bookselling community regarding the editions & different bindings, etc. they are generally all lumped together under the category “youth mystery stuff” like the later Nancy Drew & Hardy Boys mysteries.  Many of these titles can be found for $15-$20 in fairly good condition. If dealers have some idea about the editions, then the prices do rise so that first editions may end up going for $25-$35.  It’s after the 21stbook that prices start to fluctuate, and in some cases, the prices have varied by astounding amounts.  Back in July of 2002, prices for the hardback books towards the end of the series (IE: #35-43), in decent condition were going for $75-150. However, things have settled down for the present (especially on Ebay) and prices for Hardback editions of the last ten or so titles generally runs around $25-$50. Part of that has to do with condition. Ex library copies can be found in totally trashed condition, barely hanging onto life, or in nearly pristine condition and of course, that’s a big, big factor.  In one of those strange collecting quirks, the prices for the paperback first editions for the titles after #28 have definitely risen since I started checking last year. Prices for nice clean, bright copies (without tears, scrawled names, sticker marks, etc) have gone up a bit overall & quite a bit for the later titles. In fact, for the last five titles or so, the price for a nice paperback copy almost equals a generally average hardback edition.  There is one truly “rare” instance in the oeuvre and that is the Three Investigators’ Book of Mystery Puzzles.  It was published in paperback in 1982 and written by Barbara McCall. It’s a combination logic puzzle, maze, word trick book and was supposed to be “used” (IE: written in and then thrown away), which means that not only that it possibly had a smallish print run in the first place, but that surviving copies are getting fewer and farther between.  Unused copies command a premium price. The last check online listed no copies on the major databases & only one copy available through one of the fan websites of 3I. That copy was for an unused book and was being offered for $90.00. Pretty steep price for a kids’ paperback that doesn’t even have a full story!  The Find your Fate Mysteries which include some 3I titles can run for $5.00 to $40.00 (and they are all paperbacks too). The later 3I crimebusters series came in both hardback & paperback—the prices on these are not spectacular and can be had for reasonable amounts.

 

As mentioned before, completing a collection of this series is not monumentally difficult. It is time consuming and there are lots of questions a collector needs to ask him or herself about what exactly are the most important features wanted, but all in all, in the end, it’s the satisfying feeling of sitting down and reading one of the “Thrilling”, “Suspensful” “Mystifying” stories where Jupiter and his cohorts save the day that makes collecting this series a real joy.

 

 

 

A few quotes from Jupiter and the other investigators:

 

“But the expression on Jupe’s face gave him the answer. Give Jupiter Jones a good mystery to solve and it was like handing a steak to a hungry bulldog—he wasn’t going to give it up!” (The Mystery of the Fiery Eye)

 

“Alone, Mr. Hitchcock began to smile. Even a Dancing Devil was no match for the Three Investigators. He wondered if his bright young friends would ever meet their match. Perhaps next time!”  (The Mystery of the Dancing Devil)

 

“Green Gate One. The presses are rolling.” (The Secret of Terror Castle—First book in the series—and the first mention of one of the secret entrances to the investigators hideout)

 

 

A few of the websites dedicated to 3I:

 

http://www.tunneltwo.com/

 

http://www.3investigators.homestead.com/files/t3ihome.htm

 

http://www.threeinvestigatorsbooks.homestead.com/

 

 

 

 

 

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