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American Boy, The

Entry updated 14 December 2017. Tagged: Publication.


US monthly Magazine for older boys from November 1899 to July/August 1941, initially in large 12in x 16in format and shrinking to 11in x 14in Slick size in November 1924. The American Boy was published by The Sprague Publishing Company of Detroit, Michigan, whose William C Sprague saw a need for a magazine just for boys that did not talk down to them. Sprague was replaced as publisher and editor by his brother-in-law Griffith Ogden Ellis in 1908; Ellis remained editor until December 1940, after which no one was billed as "Editor" alone. George F Pierrot (1898-1980) was managing editor from before 1927 until Franklin M Reck (Assistant Managing Editor April 1931 to February 1936) became Managing Editor in March 1936 and held that title until the end; Esca G Rodger was Fiction Editor from before 1927 to April 1935 and again from April 1937 to the last issue. Besides nonfiction it featured stories of several types: sports, aviation, sea, career, animal, humour, Northwest, western, foreign lands, historical times, railroad and sf. It was the source for several hardback books each year. Many contributors also sold to the Saturday Evening Post.

No longer alone in the market by the 1920s, American Boy faced stiff competition from Boys' Life, Youth's Companion, and Open Road for Boys. When the Og stories by Irving Crump started to appear in Boys' Life in December 1921, The American Boy answered with "The Mammoth Man" (February-May 1922) by George Langford, an abridged reprint of his Kutnar, Son of Pic (1921). "Thal, the Avenger" by Donald and Louise Peattie followed in August 1928; after that, American Boy left Prehistoric SF stories to Boys' Life. The only other sf pieces in the pre-merger period were two of Thomson Burtis' future aviation stories.

In October 1929 The American Boy bought out its chief rival to become Youths' Companion Combined with The American Boy (still referred to as American Boy) and adopted Youth's Companion's 100-plus year numbering. Before the merger American Boy had a circulation of about 285,000 and Youth's Companion had about 250,000: post-merger circulation jumped temporarily to about 500,000, but October 1929 was an unfortunate date for a merger and the magazine slowly faded throughout the 1930s until the end in 1941. Of the Youth's Companion regulars, only Carl H Claudy survived the end of inventory on hand. Most of the sf in American Boy was published in the post-merger years. Apart from Peter van Dresser's Spaceship stories, all this material was by people who normally wrote something else, suggesting an editor who wanted sf for his story mix and asked his authors to try the genre. Thomson Burtis wrote aviation fiction; Carl H Claudy wrote a little of everything. Excepting three stories, all American Boy sf was written by Burtis, Claudy and van Dresser; besides the above-mentioned prehistoric fiction, editor Franklin M Reck contributed an aviation/space story set in 1975, "The Crimson Light" (November 1938). After the merger Burtis had two serials before leaving to write for Hollywood. Claudy had only one story in the first year after the merger and might have ceased to contribute if not persuaded to try the sf niche. His first sf story was "The Land of No Shadow" (February 1931), which set a record for reader mail and established him as one of the magazine's star authors. This was strong meat for a youth publication, in that after a terrifying experience one of the two leads is dead and the other is in an asylum. James Wade's article on the resulting sequence was titled "On being Scared Out of One's Knickers: Carl Claudy's Kane-Dolliver Juveniles" (March 1980 Riverside Quarterly). Claudy's next sf was the serial "The Master Minds of Mars" (November 1931-February 1932; exp vt The Mystery Men of Mars 1933), the first of his Alan Kane and Ted Dolliver or Adventures in the Unknown stories. "The Land of No Shadow" was incorporated into the resulting novel sequence as The Land of No Shadow (1933), with a long prologue for continuity, minor editing to make it a Kane-Dolliver story and the ending slightly changed so that the Kane character was only missing and presumed dead. The second Kane-Dolliver story was "The X Mystery" (October 1934), appearing in hardback as The Blue Grotto Terror (1934), again with much added material for continuity. When Burtis was in Hollywood and American Boy needed another sf author, it acquired the Amazing Stories and Boys' Life author Peter van Dresser. Boys' Life upped its sf quota in the 1930s to match American Boy; when the latter ceased publication, Boys' Life ran no more sf until 1949.

Some nonfiction is of associational interest. A Hyatt Verrill had a science column until about 1913. Franklin M Reck interviewed famed paleontologist Roy Chapman Andrews in August and October 1933 and March 1934. He also interviewed Peter van Dresser on what a routine trip to space (see Space Flight) would be like and what an orbiting Space Station would be like: the results appeared in December 1938 and January 1939. These can be compared to the Collier's Weekly series in the 1950s.

Several Anthologies were assembled from American Boy stories, three including sf. American Boy Adventure Stories (anth 1928), edited anonymously, featured "Barrett of the Air Police" (January 1928) by Thomson Burtis and "Thal, The Avenger" (August 1928) by Donald and Louise Peattie. American Boy Adventure Stories (anth 1952), edited by Cécile Matschat (?1895-1976) and Carl Carmer (1893-1976), featured "The Helmet of Pluto" (February 1934) by Carl H Claudy. The Year After Tomorrow (anth 1954), edited by Lester del Rey, Cécile Matschat and Carl Carmer and also including a few stories from Astounding, featured "The Master Minds of Mars" (November 1931-February 1932), "The Land of No Shadow" (February 1931) and "Tongue of Beast" (May 1939) by Carl H Claudy and "By Virtue of Circumference" (November 1937), "Plum Duff" (December 1935), and "Rocket to the Sun" (July 1939) by Peter van Dresser. [ELM]

see also: Boys' Papers; Children's SF.


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