Boyhood memories lead to quest for the real Blake Savage
By Roy Peter Clark
I found the book at a flea market in Old Montreal, at a booth that sold
antique sheet music, old political buttons and classic movie posters.
Something about it caught my eye. Perhaps it was the starry blackness
of the cover, a backdrop for a scene of enemy warships exploding in deep
space. I recognized it at once as a book I had owned and loved as a boy: Assignment
in Space with Rip Foster.
"I found an old friend of ours," I told my brother. "Do
you remember Rip Foster?" To my amazement, he began to list
the characters, even some minor ones, by name. He recited the plot and
recalled that, at the end, the young hero loses his red hair from
In the days that followed, I stared at the book with what I can only
describe as a sense of wonder. I imagined myself in 1960, at the age of
12, picking the book off the shelf in some variety store, and stealing two
quarters from my mother's purse to buy it. I loved the smell of a new
Now the book smelled musty, like a damp garage. That smell raised the
ghost of another memory, of a boy stretched out for hours on an old sofa
holding a book to the light.
Rip Foster reminded me of a time in my life when reading was
still new, when it empowered me to peel back the secrets of the adult
world and fed my youthful dreams of freedom and escape. Perhaps my parents
could still browbeat me into wearing rubbers on rainy days. But on those
rainy days, I could turn a page and become Tom Swift or Frank Hardy or Rip
Foster. Through their adventures I felt transported.
Those feelings returned as I began to read Rip Foster again, and they
grew into something more. I read the book on airplanes, in hotel lobbies
and over lunch counters, ignoring the stares of those who wondered at a
man so engrossed in a book for boys. As I read, a sense that was long numb
returned to life, a curiosity that drove me to want to learn everything I
could about this book, its history and its author, a man with the strange
name of Blake Savage.
Assignment in Space
The work of Blake Savage proved as gripping as I found it almost 30
years ago, a tale of heroism and adventure to feed the imagination of
those of us who grew up a generation before Star Wars. Rip Foster
and his Planeteers are space Marines, escorted from planet to planet in
the galaxy by their friendly rivals, the Rocketeers. They fight for
freedom and justice.
They live in an advanced atomic age. Rip, a new Planeteer, accepts a
dangerous mission: to find an asteroid made of a radioactive material
called thorium, and to set off a nuclear blast to send the asteroid into
Earth orbit, providing the Federation of Free Governments with a rich
supply of nuclear material.
In one scene, Rip and his sidekick, a 7-foot Hawaiian named Koa, open
cases of supplies they are to transport to the asteroid: "Several
large cases remained. Koa ripped the side from one and let out an
exclamation. Rip hurried over and looked in. His stomach did a quick
orbital reverse. Great Cosmos! The thing was an atomic bomb!"
I laughed with joy at the vitality of that passage, and at characters
whose thoughts exploded off the page: "Ten planeteers riding an
asteroid!" thought Rip. "Sunny space, what a great big
I could hardly resist such chapter titles as: "Rake That
Radiation!" "Duck - Or Die!" "Repel Invaders!"
"Get the Scorpion!" "Ride the Planet!" Truly, I
thought, this was a universe in which the exclamation point rules!
The author's universe was also a place in which science ruled. At every
twist of plot, Rip and his men rely, not on outlandish contraptions, but
on applied science, such as the ability to measure radiation. At every
point of scientific explanation, the author writes in a credible voice and
with respect for his young readers, as in this passage describing the
effects on Rip of a nuclear blast:
"The ship's radiation safety officer had put both Rip's and
Santos' dosimeters into his measuring equipment. They had taken over a
hundred roentgens of hard radiation above the tolerance limit. This was
the result of being caught unshielded when the last nuclear charge went
Whoever Blake Savage was, he reflected the scientific and political
vision of his time. Rip's enemy is no gargoyle from a distant galaxy. The
enemy is the Consolidation of People's Governments, earthlings known as
"the Connies". Change one letter in that name and the symbolism
becomes clear. If the Planeteers are space Marines, the enemies are
malicious space commies, who lust for power and territory.
Something was going on here that, trapped in time, I could not see as a
child. Rip Foster was a political allegory. I turned to the
copyright page and found the date 1958, but a line of tiny type noted an
original copyright date of 1952 under the title Rip Foster Rides the
I picked an almanac off the shelf and read the news headlines for the
years 1951 and 1952. The Korean war raged, Harry Truman pressed forward on
development of the hydrogen bomb, and Sen. Joseph McCarthy saw a Commie
behind every bush. Blake Savage, whoever he was, must have penned this
boy's adventure during the height of the Cold War.
Blake Savage. What a wonderful name, I thought, a name so totemic it
didn't need an exclamation point. But who was Blake Savage? Was he still
alive, I wondered. Had he written other works? And was Blake Savage even
his real name?
My curiosity was now as bright as Rip Foster's hair. But before I set
out in my quest to find Blake Savage, I would try to solve one other of
the book's mysteries.
A voice from the past
I found this message printed in an immature hand, perhaps that of a
10-year-old boy, on the inside cover of Rip Foster: "This is
the property of Lorne Rother. 5590 Beominster Pl." What followed was
a phone number. I knew it was old because of the alphabetical exchange:
Here was a boy who thought so much of this book that he carefully
printed his name, address and phone number inside. I imagined him as a
member of the Rip Foster brotherhood and wondered who he was and what had
become of him, and whether he would be curious to know that his childhood
treasure had found its way into my hands.
Against the odds, I decided to try the number. I was inspired by the
faint hope that RE-8 was still a Montreal exchange that was now 73-8. A
Montreal operator told me that the 73-8 exchange still existed. So I
A woman answered the phone and thought I was crazy. I can only imagine
what I said to her: "This is going to sound strange . . . my name is
. . . I bought this book . . . and it had the name Lorne Rother . . . I
just called the number on the odd chance." More in frustration than
in cooperation, the woman said, "Wait one minute, I'll let you talk
I could feel my heart beating in my chest. He was still there after all
these years, and I would make a mystic connection. The book would bring us
together in a bond that only devoted readers could understand. Then I
heard his voice.
"What was the name of the book?" he asked, slightly amused.
"Assignment in Space with Rip Foster."
"Huh. I don't remember it at all."
I described the book for him, but nothing clicked. "Did you read a
lot when you were a boy?"
"Not much," he said.
"What do you do now?"
"I'm in wholesale dry goods."
In search of Blake Savage
Undeterred, I called the Whitman Publishing Co. in Racine, Wis., which
had published Rip Foster and many of my childhood favorites.
Whitman, I soon learned, was owned by Western Publishing and was now
nothing more than a brand name. Long out of print were the adventures and
mysteries, many based on television series, that I had enjoyed as a child,
books such as Adventures at Chimney Rock and The Diamond Cave
Mystery. Whitman had also published a Famous Classics series, where I
discovered Robin Hood, The Three Musketeers, and Treasure
Alas, the official records from the 1950s are sketchy. Authors were
paid flat fees instead of royalties, so no publication history of books
such as Rip Foster survives. "All we have is an item number
for the book," said Kim McLynn, speaking for Western Publishing.
"As you know, the book was published under two titles. And your guess
was right. Blake Savage was a pseudonym. The author's real name was Harold
Harold L. Goodwin! The name of a postmaster, perhaps, but not a master
storyteller. Western could provide no mailing address or other information
about the author. Calls to company offices in New York and an affiliate in
Toronto proved fruitless. Finding Blake Savage, or Harold L. Goodwin,
would be as difficult as finding a hunk of thorium in an asteroid belt.
I called the copyright office in Washington, D.C. A friendly woman told
me that the name and address of the author might be on file in her office.
"But the bad news is that we're backed up about two months on
When in trouble, call you local librarian.
"I've found Harold L. Goodwin, a.k.a. Blake Savage, in an index
called Contemporary Authors," said Kathy Arsenault, a
librarian at the University of South Florida, Bayboro campus. I rushed
over and gathered the large volume onto my lap. It said "GOODWIN,
Harold Leland 1914-."
That meant he was alive in 1967, the year that the index was published,
and that, if he were still alive, he would be 73 years old. What followed
was a seven paragraph description of his career, a career so impressive
and relevant to my search, that, at one point, I gasped.
The first piece of information dilated my pupils. From 1951-'58, that
would include the period he had written Rip Foster, Harold L.
Goodwin was director of atomic test operations for the Federal Civil
Defense Administration! No wonder he knew so much about nuclear energy. In
1953, he won an award as the outstanding young man in federal service.
But even more impressive than his career in government service was his
publication record. More than 30 volumes were listed, including factual
books about space travel and sea exploration, and the Rick Brant Science
Adventure Series for Boys, 23 nifty adventures written from 1947-1968
under the pseudonym John Blaine. I would learn later that the Rick Brant
series, published by Grosset & Dunlap, made Harold L. Goodwin one of
the most popular authors of boy adventure books in this century.
There also in Contemporary Authors was Harold L. Goodwin's
Maryland address. Directory Assistance got me a phone number. I dialed. A
woman answered. "Is this Mrs. Goodwin?"
"Yes, it is."
I identified myself and said, "Do you remember Adventures In
Space with Rip Foster?"
"Remember it," she said in a charming voice, "I typed
Voice of the master
A few days later, I landed an interview.
"If your readers are going to identify with the characters and
identify with the situation, and follow you as an author, you had better
respect them and not write down to them." said Hal Goodwin.
His voice over the telephone was cool and elegant. As we talked, I
stared at a photograph he had sent me. It showed a handsome man with a
broad face, wire-rimmed glasses, and wavy hair, as gray as Rip's planet,
combed straight back.
"I didn't write down to the young kids who were going to read
me," he said. "I didn't even pull my punches on language. I
didn't mind using three-syllable words if that is what was required."
I could read the passion for his work in his voice as Goodwin described
a writing career that produced 42 books and several hundred popular and
technical articles for journals and magazines. He talked about his early
days as a reporter for a news service and his adventures during World War
II as a combat correspondent in the Marine Corps.
"When you're in the heat of battle, you don't beat a typewriter
very much, but it's there," said Goodwin. "I carried a little
Swiss-made typewriter, weighed all of two pounds, I think, and turned out
an awful lot of copy."
Goodwin's specialty was "Joe Blow" stories, articles about
individual Marines that appeared in hometown newspapers back in the
States. He also produced major feature stories on the war for magazines
such as Argosy and Coronet. The humor, camaraderie and
struggle he chronicled would germinate and grow into the imaginative
exploits of Rip and his platoon of space Marines.
Hal Goodwin said he did not remember how he came up with the pseudonym
"Blake Savage." He used it only once, for Rip Foster,
which also turned out to be the only space fiction of his career. Goodwin
estimates that he wrote Rip Foster in late 1951 or early 1952, the
year he wrote Stairway to Danger, his ninth book in the Rick Brant
series. The timing explains the political texture of the book, which
rarely surfaced in his other work.
"At that period we were at the height of the Cold War," said
Goodwin. "I picked an enemy that seemed to have verisimilitude at the
time. Two opposing forms of government. One a dictatorship and the other,
presumably, a democracy."
It was Goodwin's postwar career in civil defense that fueled his
fascination with nuclear energy.
"I was a radiation monitor during the test series in 1951 in
Nevada," he said. "I went out with my handy dandy little field
survey meter and helped to chart the outline of the radiation field
resulting from the shots there. I moved up to the job of actually
directing the agency's participation in all of those things, which ended
in 1957 with a whole village set up there, and I had 1,800 people from all
over the country performing emergency operations, as they would in case of
a real nuclear attack. It was quite a show."
It was about 1957 that Whitman Publishing made plans, without telling
Goodwin, to reissue Rip Foster under the title Assignment in Space.
Goodwin learned about it only when his wife and sons went into a drugstore
after Sunday school and saw the book with a different cover.
"They owned it," says Goodwin, who won't say how much he was
paid for Rip Foster or any of his books. "I didn't expect a
millions dollars," he said, "and I didn't get a million
Goodwin's good fortune has been to lead two magnificent lives, a life
of writing and a life of government work, bound together by a love of
science. After six years with atomic testing, he spent three years as
scientific adviser to the U.S. Information Agency, following by six years
with NASA as an information specialist. His work took him all over the
world and gave him settings for his stories.
Goodwin retired from government service in 1974 as associate director
of the National Sea Grant program, which he helped design in 1969. He was
the principal writer of a landmark report, "Our Nation and the
Sea," and with Sen. Claiborne Pell wrote Challenge of the Seven
Seas, justifying a national ocean program.
I asked him how he found the time to write boys' adventure books that
would sell 2-million volumes and be translated into Icelandic, French,
Finnish, Dutch, Norwegian and Japanese.
"I wrote on weekends and evenings, mostly," said Goodwin,
"I'm a night owl. My diurnal cycle causes me not to turn on until 10
a.m. I was producing a boys' book a year. I did a lot of writing, but I
really enjoyed the kids' books."
The kids Goodwin wrote for were about 12-16 years old, some smart ones
a little younger, some romantics a little older. He laments the fact that
few true adventure stores are being written for teens, having been
replaced by books burdened with social messages.
"There doesn't seem to be much optimism in the world," he
said. "I'm out of touch with that. As I tell my sons and my wife,
this is not my world."
"What was your world like?" I asked.
"My world was a more innocent one in a lot of ways," he said.
"Drugs were not a problem. The sexual revolution had not arrived. And
people still had manners. And I miss all that. I miss the quietness of the
time in which I grew up, even though there were a couple of wars
Goodwin is reminded of those glory days when a reader of his books, now
grown, discovers him and makes contact. The gesture touches and pleases
"And it happens oftener than you might think," he said.
"There was a long period there when my readers were in college. And
they'd come home during summer vacation and pick the books off their
shelves and re-read one or two or go though the whole series and then sit
down and write me a letter, and tell me that they enjoyed them just as
much the second time."
I wondered aloud, "Do many people track down Blake Savage to ask
about Rip Foster?"
"You are the first ever," he said.
A chain unbroken
Yet I find I am not alone, that there are others who are seduced by the
books of their childhood. Hal Goodwin told me about a mecca for such
people, a place that housed perhaps the greatest collection of boy
I am standing now in the middle of it with a man my age named Paul
Camp. Dressed in black and sporting a Buffalo Bill Cody beard, he looks
like a character in a Lone Ranger adventure.
Camp inhaled adventure novels as a boy, and was one of those kids who
would trade three Tom Swifts and two Nancy Drews for a single story by Hal
Goodwin. In junior high, he even tried to build some of the electronic
gadgets that figured in the plots of the Rick Brant series. He dreamed the
dreams of power and escape.
Here we stand back to back, like the Hardy Boys, surrounded. Everywhere
we turn, we eye some ancient treasure. The Clue of the Coiled Cobra,
a Ken Holt adventure by Bruce Campbell; The Mystery at Rustler's Fort
by Troy Nesbit; A Pass and a Prayer, a Chip Hilton sports story by
Clair Bee; Dangers in Deep Space, a Tom Corbett adventure by Carey
Rockwell; and three copies of Rip Foster. Thousands of
adventure books, by American and British authors, some going back more
than a century. And all of them right here - in Tampa.
Paul Camp is a librarian in the Special Collection department of the
University of South Florida. He and Jay Dobkin are caretakers of this
collection of books, which once belonged to a man named Harry Hudson.
Until his death in 1982, Hudson, who lived in Clearwater, collected 400
series of boy adventure books, about 4,000 volumes. All subsequent
research in the field derives from Hudson's Bibliography of American
Boys Books in Series 1900-1950.
So intense is the interest in these works that Dobkin and Camp are
planning a conference for next May 12-14 on American juvenile literature
with emphasis on series books. Authors, dealers, collectors, illustrators
and academics will gather. "Hal Goodwin will be there," promises
So what began at a flea market in Montreal finds its way to a library
in my own back yard, the adventure offered by a single old book multiplied
thousands of times. I am struck suddenly by how every copy of every book
has its own biography, how a book can be well-traveled or reclusive,
ignored or pampered, traded or discarded, bought or sold, lost or found,
how it can decay and turn to dust.
An expert guesses that 100,000 copies of Rip Foster came into
existence. One came into my hands as a man. But what of the one I read as
a boy? Was it sold, or given to the poor? Did my mother throw it away?
Does it survive? Did I write my name in it?
I think these thoughts again in a back room of Haslam's Book Store. I
browse through the old books, hoping for visitation by some other ghosts.
I am not looking for anything special, but there it is, a blue hard cover,
with Whitman at the bottom and Rip Foster Rides the Gray Planet at
"So now I own the first edition, too," I say to myself,
"and for only a dollar and a half."
I examine the inside cover and find an inscription: "To Mikie, to
share and enjoy, Christmas 1958."
Then, inside the back cover, I find a signature in childlike cursive:
"Michael Harvey Lawrence, Esq, Inc." I rush home to see if I can
find his name in the phone book.
Editor's Note: Originally published in the St.
Petersburg Times, October 19, 1987. Reprinted with permission of the
Roy Peter Clark teaches at the Poynter Institute for
Media Studies in St. Petersburg, FL. He is the author of Free to Write.