A Brief History
In 1959, Robert Arthur, a very successful pulp and radio mystery writer, began working in Hollywood in the television industry. "He wrote scripts for The Twilight Zone, and worked as a story editor and script writer for Alfred Hitchcock's TV show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents."(1)
In 1962, Robert Arthur moved from Hollywood back East to Cape May, New Jersey. There, because of his association with Hitchcock, Arthur was approached by Random House to edit a series of adult and juvenile literary anthologies which would capitalize on Hitchcock's popularity. Arthur assembled several titles such as Alfred Hitchcock's Ghostly Gallery (1962) and Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Stories My Mother Never Told Me (1963). For each of these, Arthur took on the "voice" of the master and wrote the celebrated "Hitchcock" introduction.
The success of the Hitchcock anthologies "led Robert Arthur to suggest to Walter Retan, an editor at Random House," his idea for a new juvenile book series which would use not only Hitchcock's name, but also his character.(1) The series was to revolve around a trio of junior detectives who lived in Southern California and solved baffling mysteries. The books were to have a high quality of characterization and writing that was (and still is) uncommon in juvenile fiction. Retan apparently agreed to the idea and the first two titles, #1 The Secret of Terror Castle and #2 The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot, were published in 1964. Completely written by Arthur (including, as before, the Hitchcock introductions), the books had beautiful internal illustrations and detailed cover art, provided by Harry Kane and Ed Vebell, respectively. Thus, The Three Investigators series was born!
Through 1967, Robert Arthur wrote two Three Investigator titles a year. Walter Retan continued to be the editor and Harry Kane now provided all the art for the series. "The books quickly became an international success. In 1968, in failing health, Arthur decided it was time to bring other authors into the series."(1) He contacted Dennis Lynds (William Arden), who wrote the first non-Arthur-authored Three Investigators title, #10 The Mystery of the Moaning Cave, published in 1968. "Jenny Fanelli took over as series editor on the last book Arthur wrote, which was #11 The Mystery of the Talking Skull."(1) Sadly, Robert Arthur died in 1969.
From 1969 to 1978, the series continued to flourish and sold on par with the most popular of juvenile mystery series. Nick West and M.V. Carey joined William Arden as authors and Ed Vebell, Jack Hearne and Herb Mott lent their illustrative and cover art talents. The series even expanded with an entrance into the more affordable and profitable paperback market, with many of the available titles issued by Scholastic, Windward Books and Random House itself (with new Stephen Marchesi cover art).
By 1979, however, The Three Investigators had changed rather dramatically and abruptly. The costly Trade Hardcover Edition was dropped in late 1978 in favor of a lower quality paperback edition. Robert Adragna became the exclusive artist for the series, but he only created cover art; those famous internal illustrations were no longer provided. The series was still very popular, however, and had a significant presence on book store and library shelves.
By the early 1980s, even more changes were on the way and the series began to shows some signs of decline. Alfred Hitchcock passed away in 1980. Faced with the dilemma of continuing the series with a deceased mentor, Random House decided to replace Hitchcock in 1981 with a fictitious mystery author named Hector Sebastian. The books were still published at a rate of about two a year and the very talented Marc Brandel joined Arden and Carey as a series author in 1983, but even so, the quality of the plots and characterization began to weaken. Random House also unsuccessfully attempted to expand the series with an unremarkable puzzle book and four somewhat "trendy" Find Your Fate Mystery titles.
In 1984 and 1985, Random House made what most fans consider to be the worst decision of the series when it published the Revised Edition of the original 30 Hitchcock books, in which all references to Alfred Hitchcock were removed and replaced with Hector Sebastian. This was perhaps the final blow of the original series and it soon faded away in 1987 after an impressive 23 year, 43 book run.
From 1989 - 1992, Random House attempted to revive The Three Investigators with the new, young adult targeted, Crimebusters series and an erratic reissue of the original 43 books. Both were discontinued after runs of eleven and twelve books, respectively. Jenny Fanelli retired from Random House soon after and any new work on The Three Investigators series was effectively terminated in North America. It has continued on successfully in Germany, however, where there are currently over 100 books in the series.
From 1998 - 2000, Random House began to slowly reissue the original 43 Three Investigators titles yet again, but it may come as no surprise that this effort has stalled and plans for continuation are unclear.
1. Arthur, Elizabeth & Bauer, Stephen (2000) Startling Discoveries: The Biography of Robert Arthur, Jr., the Creator of the Three Investigators Series, from the Official Site.
2. Morley, Michael (1995) Dennis Lynds: An Interview with a Juvenile Series Author, from The Three Investigators U.S. Editions Collector's Site.
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This page last updated on 26-Jul-04