Friday, February 14, 2014

BELOVED CHILDREN'S BOOK AUTHOR "LEO EDWARDS" - Edward Edson Lee

I have always been a voracious reader.  I actually taught myself to read by reading, and re-reading my older brother's comic books.  I will usually read everything and anything I can get my hands on.  When I was a teenager, most of my friends collected the Hardy Boys detective novels, but I much preferred the Tom Swift, Jr. adventure books.  After reading all of the Tom Swift Jr. books, I was thrilled to find out about the original Tom Swift books that were published in the early part of the twentieth century.  One of my friends had a bunch of original Tom Swift books that had belonged to his father.  I was talking about the Tom Swift books with my friend's dad one day when he said "Have you read any of the Leo Edwards books?"  When I told him that I had never heard of them, he loaned me "Poppy Ott and the Prancing Pancake" by Leo Edwards:


I was hooked from the moment I started reading.  It was kind of a mystery/detective story but it was also an adventure story.  I returned the Prancing Pancake and asked for more.  This time I borrowed "Poppy Ott's Pedigreed Pickles:


I was always a fast reader, and within a day or two I was ready for "Poppy Ott's Seven League Stilts":


Now there was a problem.  These were all the Leo Edwards books that they had.  This was many years before ebay (it was even before the internet) so I was limited to any books I could find in used book stores. As often as I found a used book store, I never found another Leo Edwards book.  It was not until years later that I was able to complete my Leo Edwards collection thanks to ebay and abebooks.com.

Let's take a closer look at this beloved children's book author to see what we can "dig up" about him.

First of all, "Leo Edwards" was a pen name.  The author's birth name was Edward Elvy Lee.  He was born in Meridan, Illinois on September 2, 1884 to Eugene Henry Lee (1854-c1884) and Mary Emelia, nee Cannon (1851-1913).  Eugene and Mary were married in LaSalle, Illinois on May 31, 1876.  The 1880 US Census finds them in Deer Park, Illinois, but they ultimately settled in Utica, Illinois where they were blessed with four children:  Clara Belle Lee (1875-1938), Clyde O. Lee (1880-1890), Edward Elvy Lee (1884-1944), and an unnamed child who died in infancy.  Eugene Lee was a laborer/farmer by trade.

Unfortunately, Eugene Lee died about the time young Edward was born (1884).  The 1890 US Census is, of course, lost, but by 1900 Clara Belle had married to Charles W. Morse (1872-1950), so it was just Edward and his mother.  In 1897 what remained of the Lee family left Utica, Illinois and moved to Beloit, Wisconsin where Mary Cannon Lee had family.

The 1900 US Census finds 49 year-old Mary Lee, a widow and her 15 year old son Edward living at 903 Park Avenue in Beloit, Wisconsin:

903 Park Avenue, Beloit, Wisconsin

To help support his mother, Edward had dropped out of school and was working as a machinist.  Sometime in the latter part of the first decade of the twentieth century Edward and his mother moved right across the border to Roscoe, Illinois.  They rented rooms in a building at 329 Roscoe Avenue, in Roscoe, Illinois. Unfortunately this building no longer exists.

From a young age, Edward enjoyed writing.  In December of 1909 he submitted a short story to the Beloit Daily News for their Christmas story contest.  On December 15, 1909 he had his first published story when "Only a Dog" was published as the third place winner in the Daily News contest.  It is a bleak tale that tells a story from the dog's point of view.  He submitted his story under the name "Edward Edson Lee" which he may have thought sounded more professional than his birth name of Edward Elvy Lee.  If you want to read "Only a Dog" prepare to be depressed and go here:

http://myplace.frontier.com/~music_lee11/LeoSite/fiction/stories/onlyadog.html

On November 24, 1909, Edward married Miss Gladys Tuttle (1884-1970) of Roscoe.  Gladys was the daughter of Eugene Edgar Tuttle (1864-1934) and Margaret Jane, nee Thompson (1865-1949)  Gladys also has a sister, Mary E. Tuttle (1895-????)  The new Mrs. Lee moved in with her husband and his mother.

The 1910 US Census shows the family still living at 329 Roscoe Avenue in Roscoe.  There was 25 year-old Edward, 20 year-old Gladys, and Edward's mother Mary, who admitted to being 58 years-old.  Edward reported that he was a machinist.  They had no children.   

According to his family's website, Lee continued to work while tuning his creative writing skills.  He worked in the advertising department of the P. B. Yates Machine Co. while in Beloit.  In 1915 he moved to Detroit, Michigan to join the advertising department of the Burroughs Adding Machine Company.

Between 1917 and 1920, Lee moved again to work for the advertising department for the Autocall Company in Shelby, Ohio.

The family website goes on to say that during this time he wrote his first successful story featuring boy detective Jerry Todd: "The Cruise of the Sally Ann" that was published in the Shelby, Ohio Daily Globe. This story became the basis for Jerry Todd and the Oak Island Treasure, which before its publication in book form, was serialized in Boys Magazine (September, October and November 1920).

His success in getting his writing published encouraged him and he left his job in Shelby and went back to Beloit to continue his writing career. He sold many short stories to magazine such as American Boy, The Target, Classmate, and The Pioneer.

The 1920 US Census finds the Lee family living at #14 Marvin Avenue, Shelby, Ohio:

14 Marvin Avenue, Shelby, Ohio

There was Edward, and Gladys and a new arrival, a son "Eugene Edward Lee" (1912-1996) born September 1, 1912.  Edward lists his occupation as being in the advertising department for the Autocall Company (manufacturing) in Shelby.  It was at this time that his career as an author of children's stories finally began to bear fruit.

In late 1921, Edward Lee sold a seven part serial to The American Boy Magazine that ended up being published in the magazine from January through July of 1922.  It was called "Andy Blake in Advertising". It was a success so Lee decided to flesh out the story somewhat into a book-length story and was able to have it published by D. Appleton & Co., New York.  Here is the cover of "Andy Blake in Advertising" by Edward Edson Lee:


The book was released by D. Appleton & Co. on September 15, 1922. There was just one printing  - only 1,467 copies were bound.

For reasons lost in the mists of time, Lee made the decision to leave D. Appleton and move forward with noted children's book publisher Grossett & Dunlap.  In 1924 G & D purchased three Jerry Todd stories and in 1925 they purchased three more.  When Lee joined Grosset & Dunlap he decided to use the pen name "Leo Edwards" - perhaps because it was more "folksy" sounding and not as intimidating as "Edward Edson Lee".

For Grosset & Dunlap's most popular series, publisher Edward Stratemeyer used a team of ghost writers who shared pen names. "Tom Swift" by Victor Appleton, "The Hardy Boys" by Franklin W. Dixon, "Nancy Drew" by Caroline Keene, "The Rover Boys" by Arthur M. Winfield - all of these series were written by Stratemeyer, his daughter Harriet, or any of a number of staff writers they kept at the ready. Unlike the norm at Grosset & Dunlap, all of "Leo Edwards'" stories were written solely by Edward Lee.

The Jerry Todd series was very successful and in 1926, the companion Poppy Ott Series was launched. This was followed by the Andy Blake series (including a reissue of "Andy Blake in Advertising" by Grosset & Dunlap), the Trigger Berg series and the Tuffy Bean Series.

In all, Leo Edwards wrote thirty-nine books that were published by Grosset & Dunlap:

The Jerry Todd series
Jerry Todd and the Whispering Mummy - 1923
Jerry Todd and the Rose-Colored Cat - 1924
Jerry Todd and the Oak Island Treasure - 1925
Jerry Todd and the Waltzing Hen - 1924
Jerry Todd and the Talking Frog - 1925
Jerry Todd and the Purring Egg - 1925
Jerry Todd in the Whispering Cave - 1927
Jerry Todd, Pirate - 1928
Jerry Todd and the Bob-Tailed Elephant - 1929
Jerry Todd, Editor-In-Grief - 1930
Jerry Todd, Caveman - 1932
Jerry Todd and the Flying Flapdoodle - 1934
Jerry Todd and the Buffalo Bill Bathtub - 1936
Jerry Todd's Up-The-Ladder Club - 1937
Jerry Todd's Poodle Parlor - 1938
Jerry Todd's Cuckoo Camp - 1940

The Poppy Ott series
Poppy Ott and the Stuttering Parrot - 1926
Poppy Ott's Seven-League Stilts - 1926
Poppy Ott and the Galloping Snail - 1927
Poppy Ott's Pedigreed Pickles - 1927
Poppy Ott and the Freckled Goldfish - 1928
Poppy Ott and the Tittering Totem - 1929
Poppy Ott and the Prancing Pancake - 1930
Poppy Ott Hits The Trail - 1933
Poppy Ott & Co., Inferior Decorators - 1937
The Monkey's Paw - 1938
The Hidden Dwarf - 1939

The Andy Blake series
Andy Blake - 1928
Andy Blake and His Comet Coaster - 1928
Andy Blake's Secret Service - 1929
Andy Blake and the Pot of Gold - 1930

The Trigger Berg series
Trigger Berg and the Treasure Tree - 1930
Trigger Berg and His 700 Mousetraps - 1930
Trigger Berg and the Sacred Pig - 1931
Trigger Berg and the Cock-Eyed Ghost - 1933

The Tuffy Bean series
Tuffy Bean's Puppy Days - 1931
Tuffy Bean's One-Ring Circus - 1931
Tuffy Bean At Funny Bone Farm - 1931
Tuffy Bean and the Lost Fortune - 1932

The 1930 US Census found the Lee family back in Wisconsin.  They were living in a home they owned (with a value of $4,500.00) at 164 Porter Drive, Oakland, Jefferson County, Wisconsin.  Edward listed his occupation as "Author of Juvenile Books for Boys".  In addition, Lee's income from his books allowed him to buy Hi-Lee Cottage, a summer home at Lake Ripley, just out of Cambridge, Wisconsin.

One of the interesting parts of Leo Edwards' books were the illustrations by noted artist Bert Salg.  He did a dust jacket for each volume, as well as internal illustrations.  All of the dust jackets shown in this article, except for Andy Blake in Advertising, were by Salg.

The Trigger Berg books and the Tuffy Bean books were launched in the depths of the Great Depression and did not sell well, so the series were ended with only four books in each.  Although the Jerry Todd, Poppy Ott and Andy Blake series sold well as the 1930s began, they were ultimately also done-in by the depression, and the last book published was Jerry Todd's Cuckoo Camp in 1940.


The 1940 US Census saw Edward and Gladys still living at the home in Oakland.  Eugene had gone out on his own by then.  Lee listed his occupation as "Author - Juvenile Books."

The family website says that although his writing was successful and he did earn a good living from it for a time, ultimately he was left with very little long term income from the books of any substantial nature. The coming of World War II found him seeking employment in a nearby industrial firm.  He was attacked by illness and other misfortunes and in mid 1944, his son Eugene took him to his home in Rockford, Illinois.

Leo Edwards (Edward Edson Lee) died September 28, 1944 in Rockford, Illinois at the age of 60.  He is buried next to his mother in the Oakwood Cemetery in Beloit, Wisconsin.

In August of 2013 I decided to drive up to Beloit to photograph Lee's grave and pay my respects to the man whose writings had given me so much enjoyment over the years.  It was a beautiful summer day and I found the cemetery with no problem.  I did not immediately find Lee's grave, but a quick call to the cemetery office gave me the exact location.  Here is a photo of the graves of Edward Edson Lee and his mother Mary:



Edward Edson Lee "Leo Edwards" - may he rest in peace.

In this writeup, I just scratched the surface of the many facets of the man who was Edward Edson Lee.  If you would like more information about Edward Edson Lee or Leo Edwards, his family has a wonderful website that you will enjoy:

http://myplace.frontier.com/~music_lee11/LeoSite/index.html

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