Frank Merriwell At Yale Again And Again And Again

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Certainly Patten must have known who fitted this definition like a collar model—his name was Richard Harding Davis, scion of an old Philadelphia family of early American stock. Patten’s generation was all too aware of what Davis looked like from an illustration in the young man’s sensationally popular book of short stories; he was a handsome male character called Van Bibber, drawn by Charles Dana Gibson, the young Boston artist who had also invented the feminine type soon to be famous as the Gibson Girl. In the nineties, according to a perceptive if ribald old artist of that era, there were two striking characteristics that no illustrator failed to make clear when he was drawing American ladies and gentlemen: to give to the latter a strong cleft chin and to the former a prominent cleft bosom. Those, said my illustrator friend, were the veriest guarantees of bluest blood. No other symbol was needed. Go look at a Gibson Girl, if you doubt it; and look, too, at portraits of Charles Dana Gibson and Richard Harding Davis themselves. There stands Frank Merriwell, not only of Fardale Academy and Yale, but also of Cluett, Peabody & Company, shirt and collar merchants, who knew class, male or female, when they saw it.

The first number of Tip Top Weekly , price five cents, was Frank Merriwell; or, First Days at Fardale , an immediate sellout. Thereafter for many years Tip Top maintained a circulation of 135,000 copies. But this figure has little bearing on the actual number who read the tales. Tip Tops were bought, read, then sold or bartered to other boys. I recall that one Tip Top fetched two Nick Carters , or two Diamond Dicks , or two Fred Fearnots. And because Street & Smith fully appreciated the value of literary properties, every little while three Tip Top Weeklies were strung together to make a Merriwell book, price fifteen cents, in the Medal Library .

Week after week the biography of Frank Merriwell moved steadily on. He aged slowly, but excitingly. Even in Fardale Academy days, Frank seemed uncommonly prone to sprained ankles, broken hands, shattered legs, and one disaster or another, but he never failed to come through with that home run in the ninth, no matter how dreadful the injury. He kept the opposing batters helpless trying to hit his “doubleshoot” curve (of which more later). Going on to Yale, as predestined by Smith, he became the finest athlete in the annals of that institution, and there, in addition to more sprains and fractures, he had to contend with the villains of Harvard and, to a lesser degree, the scum of Princeton, Dartmouth, West Point, and other low-lived and gangster-ridden groves of Academe, all of whom were bent on getting Frank drunk, loaded with prussic acid, drugged, or kidnapped just before the Big Game. Or they might even try to bribe him. In vain. The final end was always the same: a glorious and, in any other hands, impossible victory.

When, by the nature of things, Frank had to leave Yale—taking most of the scholastic honors—his long-lost brother Dick Merriwell was just entering Fardale. This entry into the saga of a second Merriwell naturally presented certain difficulties. Consider baseball, for example. No living ballplayer had been able to do much with pitcher Frank’s uncanny double-shoot, a wicked throw that curved first one way, then the other, on its way to the plate. It made a mockery of batting practice. A man at the plate facing a double-shoot didn’t need practice. All he needed was a miracle.

Gil Patten knew in his heart he could not get his readers to accept two double-shoots in one family; but he could not afford to let Dick lose a ball game. So he gave Dick a jump-ball that merely leapt a foot above its natural trajectory just as the batter swung. More than one lad of my generation like to have thrown his arm out (as we put it in those far-off days) trying to get a baseball to curve two ways, or at least jump like a startled rabbit.

Both Merriwells performed as fullbacks on the gridiron. They stroked the varsity crew. In field or track they might enter the 100-yard dash, the mile, the pole vault, the broad and high jumps, and the weight-throwing. If at the last moment some slicker added a discus event, thus thinking to beat a Merriwell in one contest, Frank (or Dick, as the case might be) would pick up the big platter, cuddle it a moment in his arm, then toss it out of the park.

Both before and after college, Frank went around the world several times, playing ball with an All-American team. With his chums (villains had “cronies”) he did some big-game hunting on the side, was captured by natives and held for ransom, then released in haste when he affrighted the savages by his expertise as a ventriloquist. Among his friends were the required satellite characters mentioned by Ormond Smith: Harry Rattleton, who stuttered and was given to spoonerisms; Ephraim Gallup, a Vermont farm boy, or well-I-swan type; Barney Mulloy, who rejoiced in a full Hibernian brogue; Hans Dunnerwurst, who was afflicted with the accents of Weber & Fields; and a sort of part-time villain, Bart Hodge, who was at last completely charmed by Frank, as well he should have been, if only because Frank had saved his life half a dozen times.