Frank Merriwell At Yale Again And Again And Again

PrintPrintEmailEmail “I do not use liquor.” Frank’s voice had an edge to it as he addressed the caddish fellow, “and I will thank you to put away that flask. Don’t you know you can’t drink that stuff and play good baseball?”

Patten himself had urged Street & Smith to drop Tip Top and start a new magazine, Top Notch , for which he now began to write and where he kept up his onslaught on rum and tobacco. He invented Lefty Locke, a big-league baseball player who lasted several years. Patten and Lefty did a great deal to make Top Notch successful from the start. Its readers were slightly older than the Tip Top crowd, but hardly over-mature.

In the late 1920’s, Patten came to think he had run completely out of sports fiction, and shifted to a new art form described in the trade as “love story westerns.” It was an appalling experience, and he told his biographer, John L. Cutler, that he “cordially detested” them. Grind them out he did, however. By now—indeed, long before the last Merriwell story—Patten realized what he had done; he had “sold himself into virtual slavery.” He had thought, at first, that Merriwell would occupy him at most five days a week, leaving two days “for more serious literary effort.” This was, of course, the delusion harbored by every penny-a-liner since movable type was invented.

At least twice Patten wrote novels “the way, I wanted to.” Neither was published. He wrote two plays, one the unfortunate Men of Millions , the other not produced. Patten’s first wife, the good speller, was granted a divorce on grounds of incompatibility. (Their only child, a son named Harvan Barr Patten, died in 1951.) Patten was married twice more. Most of his active life he lived in Camden, where he was well liked, and where with the passing years he became something of a local institution, regarded almost as a native son. Little more could be added to the status of a resident of a Maine village who was born in another Maine village.

In his age, when I came to know him, Gil Patten was a tall, animated, and white-maned old gentleman of striking appearance and genial personality, devoted to lake fishing and the essays of Montaigne. He had lived, he said, a full life. For all his unbounded imagination, he was something of a realist; he knew well enough that the Merriwell stories were absurdities. He was proud that he had received over the years more than 50,000 letters from young people; and he felt that Frank Merriwell had come to embody traits that could do harm to no lad—”courage, honor, and loyalty.” He was pleased that Frank’s fame had outlasted the dime-novel era. Above all, the old gentleman said, he cherished the many letters from young men who had written to say they were inspired to go to college by Tip Top Weekly . Many of them did go to college, too, and no few of these chose Yale.

Although I never got to Yale myself, my heart was long set on going there, and the reason, I fear, was neither William Graham Sumner nor William Lyon Phelps nor yet Ted Coy. It was because of the peerless Yale athlete and scholar, Frank Merriwell. You’d think they could have given him some sort of a degree, perhaps just an honorary B.A., posthumously, so to speak. But they haven’t.