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Bless My Collar Button, If It Isn’t Tom Swift
the world’s greatest inventor
December 1976 | Volume 28, Issue 1
Mr. Damon was a true chum, and Tom was able to rescue him from kidnappers, recover his stolen fortune, save him from a giant iceberg, and make him a great deal of money by allowing him to invest from time to time in inventions. Damon was good in a scrap too, and once saved Tom from a burly assailant by spraying the miscreant with a seltzer bottle and then beating him over the head with it. But for all their palship and shared adventures, Tom never presumed to address Mr. Damon by his first name.
The idiosyncracy that most endeared Mr. Damon to the readers was his habit of blessing himself and any part of his body or equipment. There were fifty to sixty blessings per book. “Bless my vest buttons,” he would say, or “bless my fountain pen, I must write a check.” “Bless my aspirin tablets, I am getting a headache,” and so on. There were other eccentrics, but none of them lasted more than a book or two. Mr. Damon was the only one who became a member of the family.
To perk up the series, Stratemeyer-“Appleton” designed some of the most dastardly villains in juvenile history. There were felons of every stamp: arsonists, bushwhackers, kidnappers, bank robbers, and even a molester who tried to force his attentions on Mary. In the first few books, before Tom had hit his stride, the nemesis was bully Andy Foger, a boy about Tom’s age. The grown-up heavies came later. In the war there were German spies, and afterward there were unscrupulous business competitors.
By manipulating the villains, Stratemeyer was able to work off some of his own prejudices. Tycoons in fancy clothes were usually swindlers. Foreigners were to be avoided or mistrusted. Frenchmen were effete and twofaced. Englishmen were unbearable; red-faced, arrogant Basil Cunningham “plainly showed his English ancestry not only in his face and figure but in his general bearing and manner.”
And as already remarked, there were Jews. The murderous Greenbaum of Tom Swift and His Talking Pictures became mentally ill after losing his fortune and tried to blow Tom up with a bomb. It was later explained that Greenbaum recovered fully when he made another fortune on a wise investment. Greenbaum’s employers were the heads of motion-picture and theatrical interests anxious to keep Tom’s talking-picture machine (a kind of color TV set with a fifty-inch screen) off the market at any cost. After the bomb plot failed, they kidnapped Tom and confronted him, wearing masks, but “from two or three little signs Tom had an idea that some of these men were wealthy Jews.” Among these little signs was the fact that although the room was in partial darkness, one of them (referred to as “the fat Jew”) refused to turn the lights up because it would cost money.
Anson Morse, who “wore kid gloves and all that, and had a little black mustache,” was a member of the notorious Happy Harry gang, hired by the shyster law firm of Smeak & Katch to steal Mr. Swift’s turbine engine patent. The gang included Happy Harry himself (so called because he was always smiling), Ferguson Appleson, and Wilson Featherton (alias Simpson). Later they would add a man named Boreck (alias Murdock). These desperadoes lasted through three books before they were put away for good.
Addison Berg, tool of unscrupulous submarine manufacturers, tried to cripple Tom’s undersea boat, and later tried to disable the electric runabout before a big race. Amos Field and Jason Melling burned down a factory to cover the theft of a secret formula. Renwick Fawn stole Liberty bonds and tried to pin the crime on Ned Newton’s father. The master spy La Foy tried to bribe Tom’s secrets out of Rad with half a dollar (and failed). “I think he were a Frenchman,” Rad said. “I done didn’t see him eat no frogs laigs, but he smoked a cigarette dat had a funny smell, and he suah was monstrous polite.”
The worst of the lot were oilman Hankinshaw, who smoked “villainous tobacco” and drank whiskey, and rich young yachtsman Floyd Barton, who wore fancy sweaters. Both of them actually laid profane hands on Mary Nestor. Hankinshaw got a good beating and a five-year sentence in Tom Swift and His Great Oil Gusher , and Barton went to prison for dealing in stolen goods in Tom Swift and His House on Wheels .
Stratemeyer always handled love very carefully. Although he had Tom give Mary a $1,500 diamond brooch in Tom Swift Among the Diamond Makers, he was careful to explain that they were just good friends. Tom and Mary would stay engaged for eleven years, eventually marrying when the series was on its way out.
Tom and Mary met in the usual Tom Swift manner, a near-fatal accident when Tom frightened her horse into running away. Mary had large brown eyes, small graceful hands, and straight white teeth. She was described sometimes as “very pretty,” and sometimes as “beautiful.” She blushed almost constantly in the early books, but suddenly, unaccountably, stopped blushing in the later ones. She was a minor character until the fifth book, when she emerged as a full-fledged girl friend. When Tom won the big Touring Club of America race with his electric car …