Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

The Greg Hatcher Legacy Files #100: ‘Friday’s Quest’

[Today’s short, fun post went up on 6 February 2009, and you can find it here. Enjoy!]

This is a house of illness this week, I’m afraid, so there’s not much in the way of a column. However, I do have one little nugget from the odds-and-sods pile I’m going to go ahead and put up, because it’s too good not to share.

On one of our thrift-shop bookscouting expeditions that I occasionally chronicle in this space, I stumbled across an interesting little oddity.

Ever wonder what Fran Striker did after creating The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet for radio in the 1940’s? Probably not, but God help me, it’s the sort of thing that crosses my mind, and I just found out. Apparently he went on to create Tom Quest.

This was a short-lived boy’s adventure series published by Grosset & Dunlap from 1947 to 1952 or thereabouts.

Then in 1955 the series was reprinted in super-cheap hardcover by Clover Books, designed to be sold on drugstore racks alongside Whitman’s Big Little Books and Trixie Belden and so on. Clover also put out new seventh and eighth books in the series along with reprinting the original six.

I discovered all this myself just today after a little research … I do carry a lot of crap in my head but I’m not that good. I’m indebted to Bob Finnian, who maintains the Tom Quest Unofficial Homepage, for most of this info. [Edit: Sorry, that’s a dead link!]

Anyway, poking around in one of our local thrift stores, I scored the last of the Clovers, number eight — Mystery of the Timber Giant.

Thanks to some first-rate scholarship from Fred Woodworth in the article reprinted on Finnian’s page, we know this is actually a rewrite of an earlier licensed Gene Autry novel, Gene Autry and the Redwood Pirates, which also featured an unscrupulous lumber baron as the villain.

But here’s a fun fact that neither Mr. Finnian nor Mr. Wordworth mentions.

First let me catch you up on the series premise. Tom Quest is the son of a famous scientist and explorer, and goes on his adventures with wisecracking newspaperman Whiz Walton and a huge Texan guy named Gulliver. In the first book, Tom discovers that his father, long believed dead, may still be alive, and, in the second novel Tom, Whiz, and Gulliver travel to Central America in search of him. They do, eventually, find Quest senior (sorry, I guess that was a SPOILER!!)

In later books Tom’s scientist father takes Tom with him on his expeditions and though Tom is nominally the hero of these adventures, really it’s tough guy Gulliver that gets most of the action.

Sound familiar? It should.

Because according to the Wold Newton mythology, Tom later started going by his middle name, Benton, and became a scientist himself.

And his son Jonny Quest would go on to have even more fantastic adventures.

What I love about this supposed connection is the certainty that it was completely unplanned by anyone working on any of these properties … and yet it’s so perfect.

More is revealed in this vastly entertaining series of articles here. [Edit: That link doesn’t have anything to do with the Quests, but I guess it’s the right one?]

As for me, I’m taking some more flu medicine and stumbling off to bed. See you next week.


  1. Jeff Nettleton

    There are some other suggestions for Jonny Quest inspirations, like the Rick Brant series, also from Grossett and Dunlap, as well as the Tom Swift Jr series. The direct inspiration was the radio show Jack Armstrong, The All-American Boy, which Hanna-Barbera was hoping to adapt. Doug Wildey developed a concept around those ideas and produced a short test reel (some of which survives in the end credits). The series was sold, but the licensing of Jack Armstrong fell through.

    There are also elements of Milton Caniff’s Terry & the Pirates and a little Steve Canyon. However, juvenile adventure series tend to have a lot of the same elements; so, if you keep going back, you find other properties with similar ideas. The Edisonades of the turn-of-the-century are filled with young Yankee inventors, who go on grand adventures, with their scientific marvels. Where the protagonist is young, there is usually some adult guardian/bodyguard and pets are a common thing.

    The cool part of Jonny Quest was taking that template and mixing it in with a James Bond world, a kick-ass theme and incidental music, and some of the best background painting in tv animation, plus excellent voicework and great scripts.

    1. All of that, plus some absolutely wonderful opening and closing credits. When I was a kid, they had me from the pterodactyl attacking. And every time I used mummies as a Dungeonmaster, i could hear the theme music playing in the background.

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