Frank Merriwell's Discovery
on the cover of Tip Top Weekly (1900)
|Created by||Gilbert Patten|
Frank Merriwell is a fictional character appearing in a series of novels and short stories by Gilbert Patten, who wrote under the pseudonym Burt L. Standish. The character appeared in over 200 dime novels between 1896 and 1930 (some between 1927 and 1930 were written by other authors with the same pen name), numerous radio dramas in 1934 and again from 1946 through 1949, a comic strip from 1928 through 1936, a comic book (four issues) Frank Merriwell At Yale, and a 12-episode serialized film in 1936. The book series was relaunched (with a different author) in 1965, but only three books were published.
The model for all later American juvenile sports fiction, Merriwell excelled at football, baseball, basketball, crew and track at Yale while solving mysteries and righting wrongs. He played with great strength and received traumatic blows without injury.
A biographical entry on Patten noted dryly that Frank Merriwell "had little in common with his creator or his readers." Patten offered some background on his character: "The name was symbolic of the chief characteristics I desired my hero to have. Frank for frankness, merry for a happy disposition, well for health and abounding vitality."
Merriwell's classmates observed, "He never drinks. That's how he keeps himself in such fine condition all the time. He will not smoke, either, and he takes his exercise regularly. He is really a remarkable freshie." 
Merriwell originally appeared in a series of magazine stories starting April 18, 1896 ("Frank Merriwell: or, First Days at Fardale") in Tip Top Weekly, continuing through 1912, and later in dime novels and comic books. Patten would confine himself to a hotel room for a week to write an entire story.
The Frank Merriwell comic strip began in 1928, continuing until 1936. Daily strips from 1934 provided illustrations for the 1937 Big Little Book.
There are at least three generations of Merriwells: Frank, his half-brother Dick, and Frank's son, Frank Jr. There is a marked difference between Frank and Dick. Frank usually handled challenges on his own. Dick has mysterious friends and skills that help him, especially an old Indian friend without whom the stories would not have been quite as interesting.
The Adventures of Frank Merriwell first ran on NBC radio from March 26 to June 22, 1934 as a 15-minute serial airing three times a week at 5:30pm. Sponsored by Dr. West's Toothpaste, this program starred Donald Briggs in the title role. Harlow Wilcox was the announcer.
After a 12-year gap, the series returned October 5, 1946 as a 30-minute Saturday morning show on NBC, continuing until June 4, 1949. Lawson Zerbe starred as Merriwell, Jean Gillespie and Elaine Rostas as Inza Burrage, Harold Studer as Bart Hodge and Patricia Hosley as Elsie Belwood. Announcers were Mel Brandt and Harlow Wilcox, and the Paul Taubman Orchestra supplied the background music.
A Broadway musical called Frank Merriwell, or Honor Unchallenged, opened at the Longacre Theatre on April 24, 1971. It closed after one performance.
In 1965, a new book series was launched by author Mike Frederic, with cover tagline "The thrilling sequel to the all-time best-selling American sports series." Only three books were published: Frank Merriwell Returns (baseball theme, 1965), Frank Merriwell Quarterback (1965), and Frank Merriwell At The Wheel (sports car racing theme, 1967).
- The Adventures of Frank Merriwell in The Internet Archive's Old-Time Radio Collection
- Zoot Radio, free old time radio show downloads of 'Frank Merriwell'
- Tip Top Weekly (January 6, 1900): "Frank Merriwell's Limit (full text)
- Adventures of Frank Merriwell collection, at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
- American Heritage Article Frank Merriwell at Yale Again and Again http://www.americanheritage.com/articles/magazine/ah/1961/4/1961_4_24.shtml