When we were kids, my sister Jean and I discovered the Mark Tidd books, written by Clarence Budington Kelland, while we were staying at our grandmother’s house in Staten Island, New York. I remember one of the books was inscribed “To Bobby” — that was my father’s name when he was a boy — from his mother.
Jean and I loved Mark Tidd. He was smart. Even though he looked funny (he was fat, and he stuttered), he always got the better of potential bullies. He and his three buddies got into all sorts of interesting adventures — in one book they took over a failing newspaper, in another book they ran a store, in another book they rented an entire broken-down deserted resort hotel — and they were always saved from looming disasters by Mark Tidd’s brains.
I tracked down some of the Mark Tidd books a few years ago, to see if I would like them now as much as I liked them when I was a kid. The plots and characters were pretty good, as juvenile series books go — the plots and characters obviously look to Tom Sawyer as a model (Tom Sawyer is explicitly mentioned in the opening pages of the first book; see also “Michigan Authors and Their Books,” Michigan Library Bulletin, vol. 16, no. 4, Sept-Oct. 1925 [Lansing, Michigan], pp. 22-24) — but as an adult I picked up on some undercurrents that made me uncomfortable. In the first book, Mark Tidd and his three friends form a secret society, which they model on the Ku Klux Klan; even though there’s no overt racism in the book (everyone in the story is white), even mentioning the Ku Klux Klan positively made it hard for me to like the book. (The later books don’t mention the KKK.) In the rest of the books, Kelland extols the virtues of hard work , honesty, and financial know-how — these are values I can affirm — but he doesn’t seem to recognize that a key ingredient to Mark Tidd’s success in his various enterprises is the backing of his father’s immense capital.
Recently I tried to find a biography of Kelland. The Wikipedia entry on Kelland appears to have been mostly a rehash from a short biographical essay in a 2008 book by John Locke, which was apparently drawn primarily from Kelland’s autobiographical essay “Hitting Fifty” in The American Magazine. Another online source, the Clarence Budington Kelland Web site, is a bit of a mess. I did find the short biographical essay by Locke online, in the introduction to The Ocean: 100th Anniversary Collection, ed. John Locke (Off-Trail Publications: Castroville, California, 2008), pp. 27-32, available on Google Books. But you can’t trust Google Books — they remove books from access without notice — and I felt there should be a reasonably accurate short biography of Kelland freely accessible somewhere on the Web. So today I did some research, reactivated my Wikipedia account, and rewrote the Wikipedia entry.
It turns out Kelland was an interesting man, who embodied some interesting contradictions. He became a wealthy man and was a strong advocate for free enterprise, yet in 1932 he refused to pay dressmaker’s bills run up by his wife because the bills were not for “necessaries.” He favored complete exclusion of Japanese from the U.S., and yet in one of his books (Mark Tidd’s Citadel), a Japanese boy is one of the heros of the story. His best-known characters were friendly down-home characters, yet he himself could be vitriolic, e.g., in 1940 he called Franklin D. Roosevelt the head of the “fifth column” in the U.S. He was an arch-conservative, yet in at least one of his 1920s stories he presents a strong woman character who stands up to her father to make a life for herself (Maureen Honey, “Gotham’s Daughters: Feminism in the 1920s,” American Studies Journal 31.1 , pp. 25-40).
I doubt I would have liked Kelland; personally and politically, he and I would have had very little in common. Yet I find I still like his Mark Tidd books, even in spite of the KKK references in the first book: he obviously understood kids, and understood what kids liked to do, and it’s impossible for me to entirely dislike someone who likes kids.
For reference, below is my recent rewrite of Kelland’s Wikipedia entry ((with my additional notes in double parentheses)) — and I’ve added three Kelland anecdotes not in the Wikipedia entry to the very end of this post:
Clarence Budington Kelland
From Wikipedia, after my major revision, accessed 14 October 2012 U.T.C. 01:02.
Clarence Budington “Bud” Kelland (July 11, 1881 – February 18, 1964) was an American writer. He once described himself as “the best second-rate writer in America”.
Although largely forgotten now, Kelland had a long career as a writer of fiction and short stories, stretching from 1913 to 1960. He was published in many magazines, including The Saturday Evening Post and The American Magazine. A prolific writer, his output included sixty novels and some two hundred short stories. His best known juvenile works were the Mark Tidd series and the Catty Atkins series, while his best known adult work was the Scattergood Baines series. Other notable adult books by Kelland include Conflict (1920), Rhoda Fair (1925), Hard Money (1930), Arizona (1939), and Dangerous Angel (1953). Kelland was the “literary idol” of the teenaged John O’Hara.
Kelland’s work resulted in some thirty Hollywood movies, including Speak Easily (1932), starring Buster Keaton. “Opera Hat,” a serial from The American, was the basis for the film Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) starring Gary Cooper. “Opera Hat” later was turned into the short-lived television series “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town” (1969–70), and the movie Mr. Deeds (2002). One of Kelland’s best-known characters was featured in the Scattergood Baines series of six films from 1941–43, starring Guy Kibbee.
((Kelland’s father, Thomas Kelland, was born July 15, 1854, Less House, Droylesde, Manchester, and was in Fenton City, Mich, by 1870. From “Thomas Kelland,” http://halliwell-kelland.com/002j-Thomas%20Kelland.pdf — Kelland’s mother, Margaret Angelina Budington, was born in Brooklyn, Mich., in 1856. From transcript of newspaper clipping “Author’s parents to be honored with church service,” http://www.halliwell-kelland.com/intro3.html ))
Kelland was born in Portland, Michigan, and attended public schools in Detroit. After completing two years of high school, he took a job in a chair factory, studying law at night. He earned a law degree from Detroit College of Law in 1902, but practiced law for less than a year. From 1903-1907, he worked at the Detroit News as a reporter, political editor, and Sunday editor.
Kelland married Betty Caroline Smith in 1907, and at the urging of his father-in-law, left the newspaper business and moved to Vermont for a short period to run a clothespin mill with his brother. By 1907, he had returned to Detroit to work for The American Boy, beginning as a proofreader, and moving up to become editor. Circulation grew from 90,000 at the beginning of his tenure, to 360,000 in 1915 when he left the magazine. From 1913-1915, he also lectured on juvenile literature and writing at the University of Michigan. Kelland had two sons with Betty, Thomas Smith Kelland (1910-1989), and Horace Kendall Kelland (1913-2010). Tom Kelland also wrote for a living, working a newspaper reporter in New York.
Kelland made the news during the Depression when he refused to pay a $3,313 bill from dressmaker Hattie Carnegie, Inc., for purchases by his wife from February 27, 1931, to February 27, 1932, stating he was not liable for payment because the purchases were not “necessaries.” His wife supported him, stating that she, not he, should have received the bill. Kelland lost the action, and had to pay the full amount. In that same year, Kelland was director of the Bank of North Hempstead in Port Washington, N.Y. The bank failed, tying up most of his securities.
Kelland bought a house in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1937, and became active in national politics at about the same time. He was politically active as a Republican, serving as the Republican National Committeeman from Arizona from 1940 to 1956. Before 1941, he was a non-interventionist, opposing U.S. involvement in what became the Second World War. Earlier, in the 1920s, he had favored complete exclusion of the Japanese from the U.S., saying, “I have believed for many years that the Japanese menace is a real one.” His passionate dislike for the New Deal seemed to have spurred his entry into national politics. Time magazine referred to him as “pugnacious,” “vitriolic,” “peppery,” and “gaunt-faced” — a description at odds with the whimsical character of Kelland’s fictional characters. He was as harsh on his fellow Republicans as he was on Democrats, blaming Eisenhower for “wrecking” the party. He was particularly critical of Eisenhower’s appointment of Earl Warren to the Supreme Court.
From the mid-’20s forward, Kelland served as the toastmaster at the weekly luncheons of New York’s Dutch Treat Club. In 1940, when he was president of the club, Kelland said “the fifth column in this country is headed by that fellow in the White House,” i.e., President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Author Hendrik Willem Van Loon resigned from the Club to protest this “disparaging” remark.
((Kelland an avid bridge player, and a golfer who regularly hit below 80 (Malcolm W. Bingay, Detroit Is My Own Home Town [New York: Bobbs-Merril, 1946], p. 290).
Later in life, Kelland became vice president and director of Phoenix Newspaper Group, which published the Arizona Republic and the Phoenix Gazette. He died in Scottsdale, Arizona, on February 18, 1964.
Mark Tidd juvenile series
Mark Tidd: His Adventures and Strategies (1913) ((Mark Tidd’s father builds a revolutionary turbine engine that is stolen before he can patent it; Mark, with the help of his three friends, Tallow Martin, Plunk Smalley, and Binney Jenks, get the turbine back. Told by James “Tallow” Martin.))
Mark Tidd in the Backwoods (1914) ((Binney’s Uncle Hieronymous invites the four boys to come visit him in the backwoods of Michigan, and the boys keep Uncle Hieronymous from being cheated out of the valuable mineral rights he owns. Told by Binney Jenks.))
Mark Tidd in Business (1915) ((Plunk Smalley’s father has to go to a Detroit hospital after an auto accident, and Mark Tidd and his three friends take over running Smalley’s Bazar, fighting off competition from the five-and-ten-cent store chain. Told by James “Plunk” Smalley.))
Mark Tidd’s Citadel (1916) ((Mark Tidd and his three friends travel to Vermont to stay in a summer resort, only to find the hotel has been closed for six years. Rather than go home, Mark rents out the whole hotel, and winds up in a conflict of international importance. Told by Tallow Martin.))
Mark Tidd, Editor (1917) ((Using his father’s money, Mark Tidd and his friends take over the failing Wicksville Trumpet newspaper, hire the eccentric Tecumseh Androcles to run the press, fight off an out-of-town newspaper, and discover the heir to the Wigglesworth fortune. Told by Binney Jenks.))
Mark Tidd, Manufacturer (1918) ((Mark and the boys help Silas Dolittle Bugg run his sawmill profitably, while fighting off unscrupulous men who want to steal the water rights to the mill, learning about the joys of inventory systems and bookkeeping, and meeting a railroad magnate along the way. Told by Plunk Smalley.))
Mark Tidd in Italy (1925) ((The first of the inferior later Mark Tidd series about the four boys traveling overseas with Mark’s absent-minded father who reads Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire over and over again. Mark’s father is disappointed in modern Rome, and the boys foil unscrupulous adults. Told by Tallow Martin.))
Mark Tidd in Egypt (1926)
Mark Tidd in Sicily (1928) ((The third of the inferior later novels, this one set in Sicily. The boys run into bandits and help an unrecognized Duke. Told by Binney Jenks.))
Catty Atkins juvenile series
Catty Atkins (1920)
Catty Atkins, Riverman (1921)
Catty Atkins, Sailorman (1922)
Catty Atkins, Financier (1923)
Catty Atkins, Bandmaster (1924)
Scattergood Baines series
Scattergood Baines (1921)
Scattergood Returns (1940)
Scattergood Baines Pulls the Strings (1941)
Quizzer No. 20, Being Questions and Answers on Insurance (1911)
Thirty Pieces of Silver (1913)
The American Boy’s Workshop: Each Subject by an Expert (ed.) (1914)
Into His Own: The Story of an Airedale (1915)
The Hidden Spring (1916)
Sudden Jim (1917)
The Source (1918)
The Little Moment of Happiness (1919)
Efficiency Edgar (1920)
Youth Challenges (1920)
The Steadfast Heart (1924)
Rhoda Fair (1926)
Dance Magic (1927)
Hard Money (1930)
Speak Easily (1931)
The Great Crooner (1933)
The Cat’s Paw (1934)
The Jealous House (1934)
Star Rising (1938)
Skin Deep (1939)
Valley of the Sun (1940)
Silver Spoon (1941)
Archibald the Great (1943)
Heart on Her Sleeve (1943)
Alias Jane Smith (1944)
Land of the Torreones (1946)
Double Treasure (1946)
Merchant of Valor (1947)
Murder for a Million (1947)
This Is My Son (1948)
Desert Law (1949)
The Comic Jest (play) (1949)
Stolen Goods (1950)
The Great Mail Robbery (1951)
The Key Man (1952)
Dangerous Angel (1953)
Murder Makes an Entrance (1955)
The Sinister Strangers (1955)
The Case of the Nameless Corpse (1956)
Death Keeps a Secret (1956)
West of the Law (1958)
The Lady and the Giant (1959)
Where There’s Smoke (1959)
Counterfeit Gentleman (1960)
The Monitor Affair (1960)
Mark of Treachery (1961)
The Artless Heiress (1962)
Party Man (1962)
 John Locke, “Authors and Others,” The Ocean: 100th Anniversary Collection (Off-Trail Publications: Castroville, California, 2008), p. 29.
 Clarence A. Andrews, Michigan in Literature (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1992) pp. 87-88.
 James D. Hart, Phillip W. Leiniger, Oxford Companion to American Literature, sixth edition, 1995 (Oxford University Press), pp. 343-344.
 Matthew J. Bruccoli, The O’Hara Concern: A Biography of John O’Hara (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1975), p. 28.
 “Clarence Budington Kelland, America’s Forgotten Author”, https://clarencebudingtonkelland.com/Home_Page.php accessed 13 Oct. 2012 21:45 U.T.C.
 Clarence A. Andrews, pp. 87-88.
 “Michigan Authors and Their Books,” Michigan Library Bulletin, vol. 16, no. 4, Sept-Oct. 1925 (Lansing Michigan), pp. 22-24.
 Obituary, “Clarence Budington Kelland,” Milwaukee Journal, Wed., Feb. 19, 1944.
 John Locke, pp. 27-28.
 “Clarence Budington ‘Bud’ Kelland,” http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=89824479 accessed 13 October 2012 23:08 U.T.C.
 “New York” by George Tucker, New London Evening Day, Aug. 14, 1940, p. 5.
 “Writer Fights Wife’s Clothes Bill; ‘Uncalled For’,” Milwaukee Sentinel, Oct. 11, 1932, p. 14.
 “Hattie and Lawsuits,” http://hattie-carnegie.info/macys.html accessed 13 October 2012 22:51 U.T.C.
 John Locke, p. 30.
 Ibid., pp. 30-31.
 Obituary, “Clarence Budington Kelland,” Milwaukee Journal, Wed., Feb. 19, 1944.
 Ralph Morris Goldman, The National Party Chairmen and Committees: Factionalism at the Top (M.E. Sharpe, 1990), p. 47.
 Cornelius Vanderbilt, The Verdict of Public Opinion on the Japanese-American Question (privately printed, 1921), p. 22.
 John Locke, pp. 30-32.
 “Kelland Says Ike Condoned Republican Party Slaughter,” Lewiston Morning Tribune, Dec. 14, 1958, p. 1.
 “Van Loon Quits Club Because of Kalland Remark,” San Jose Evening News, May 13, 1940, p. 43.
 Obituary, “Clarence Budington Kelland,” Milwaukee Journal, Wed., Feb. 19, 1944.
Primary source for bibliography: “Clarence Budington Kelland Checklist, Chronological List of 64 books,” http://home.earthlink.net/~tidd/list.html accessed 13 October 2012 18:18 U.T.C.
((Sources yet to be consulted:))
((“Clarence Budington Kelland, Prolific Author, Is Dead at 82; Created Scattergood Baines and Mr. Deeds Wrote 200 Short Stories, 60 Novels”; New York Times obituary, February, 1964.))
((Clarence Budington Kelland, “Hitting Fifty,” The American Magazine, vol. 112, no. 4, October 1931. Autobiographical article. Primary source for Locke’s biographical essay.))
The following anecdotes of “Bud” Kelland come from Malcolm W. Bingay, Detroit Is My Own Home Town (New York: Bobbs-Merril, 1946).
Kelland as a football player, p. 287:
Bud was the original Wrong-way Corrigan of football, a generation before Roy Riegels of California University sprang to dubious glory in that Rose Bowl game against Georgia Tech. Bud was playing substitute quarterback on our Central High team. Filled with the old Rutgers spirit of do or die, he dashed down the field with his own teammates doing everything they could to stop him and the opposition cheering him on quite lustily. After that he decided football was a game much better to report than to play. When he had finished law college he joined the [Detroit] News staff as my five-star assistant on the sports staff.
The origin of Kelland’s vitriolic wit, p. 289:
Bud gets his fishhooky barbed after-dinner wit from his English father, Thomas Kelland, and the other side of him which he does his best to hide from his mother.
I can prove that the strange, stinging, spontaneous wit which sparkles from him at banquets and which has given him the designation of “the happiest man on his feet in America” comes from his father.
Dad was a traveling salesman. One day down in Georgia there was a washout on the railroad and the passengers had to eat at a farmhouse. The old fellow who ran the place was a religious crank. He insisted that before anybody could eat he would first have to recite a verse from the Bible. They had not had anything to eat all day and were willing to do anything. Most of them were able to stagger through some quotation. Then came the fellow sitting next to Bud’s Dad. All he could remember was the shortest verse in the Bible. That was why he could remember it. He got up and said: “Jesus wept.”
Tom Kelland got up, bowed his head and murmured: “He sure did!”
Kelland cares for his parents, pp. 290-292:
Bud became a national institution. But his little old mother was dazzled a bit by his success as a novelist. She still felt that he should have stuck to law. Napoleon’s Letizia had nothing on her. Not even the large monthly checks he sent home impressed her. The old folks didn’t think it was a business with a future. Bud did not know anything about these fears until the bank crash of ’33 when Mother wrote him and confessed all. Instead of spending the money he had been sending them, so that they could live in luxury, they had carefully saved it. And now all the banks were closed and it was gone!
Bud was having his own troubles just then. He had accepted the presidency of the Port Washington National Bank and merrily signed any paper that was handed to him. When the crash came he found himself heavily obligated. He filed a voluntary petition in bankruptcy, locked himself in a room and wrote. When he came out, a solid year to the very day and hour after filing his petition, he had $250,000 to pay his creditors a hundred cents on the dollar, and he got his properties back.
For years he had been begging Mother and Dad to come to New York to live with him and his family, but they had refused. Their ways were not his; he had his own family. This time Bud got them to make a visit. He drove them from New York over to Long Island. He drove slowly at one point so they could see a beautiful little cottage by the sea.
A white picket fence surrounded a lovely garden and two Scotties, black and white, played on the porch. Mrs. Kelland loved Scotties.
“What a wonderful little place!” she exclaimed.
“Let’s look at it,” said Bud.
“But we would be intruding.”
“Not at all! People here are complimented by such visits. Come on!”
A maid answered the bell. Kelland explained that they just wanted to see the place. She let them in. Mother was entranced.
“Isn’t it strange!” she whispered. “Everything is just the way I would want it if it were a home of my own. Even the flowers in the garden are my favorites. And those dogs! This is the kind of a home I have dreamed of all my life.”
“All right, Mother,” said Bud, “it’s yours! Here’s the deed for it, Dad. From now on you two live where I can keep my eye on you and you will not be doing anything foolish like saving money. I can pass by every morning on the way to town and toot my horn and say hello.”
“But our church?” gasped Mother.
“There’s a Presbyterian church just around the corner and the minister is waiting to meet you.”
“But our old home in Detroit?”
“That’s up for sale and all your belongings are being shipped here for you to dispose of as you will.”
The story can be told now. The old folks have gone.