Startling Discoveries: The Biography of Robert Arthur, Jr., the Creator of the Three Investigators Series


     Why call this section Startling Discoveries? Because for almost thirty years now, misinformation about Robert Arthur’s life has been spreading through the world, starting with errors made in reference works, errors which have been replicated almost endlessly. One such error appeared in a catalogue which listed science fiction and fantasy stories, and which attributed five of Robert Arthur’s stories to Ray Bradbury. This led to the erroneous conclusion on the part of some bibliographers that Robert Arthur was, of all things, a pseudonym of Ray Bradbury. 

     But the major error, which was replicated over and over again, involved the conflation of Robert Arthur’s life with the life of an entirely different man, Robert Feder, whose middle name happened to be Arthur and who was sometimes listed as “Robert Arthur Feder”. Similar dates of birth and death compounded the problem, and up until now, few bibliographers have wondered at the obvious inconsistencies in The Robert Arthur Feder story, like the fact that when Robert Arthur, Jr. was living in Yorktown Heights, New York, Robert Feder was living in Los Angeles. 

     These bibliographers also did not appear to be troubled or puzzled by the fact that Robert Feder was a movie producer who was hard at work in Hollywood at the same time that Robert Arthur was working in New York on his radio show The Mysterious Traveler. For one man to have accomplished all that the mythical Robert Arthur (Feder) was said to have done would have involved feats of extraordinary prestidigitation, and would also have required that this mythical man work at least twenty-seven hours a day. From our point of view, the worst result of the error was that the extraordinary body of work Robert Arthur produced in his lifetime was gradually forced, in most reference works, to take a back seat the movie productions of Robert Feder -- since such reference works had limited space available. 

     Well, as Jupiter Jones says in The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot, “People are very unobservant. Even eyewitnesses to an occurrence often contradict themselves.” In fact, probably the creator of Jupiter Jones, Pete Crenshaw and Bob Andrews would not have been particularly surprised at the confusion and misinformation about his life and work, since after all, that was why he went looking for The Three Investigators in the first place -- because he knew that the world could use a lot more people who were capable of accurately observing, analyzing and deducing. Still, it is certainly time to set the record straight, so herewith is the true and accurate biography of Robert Arthur Jr. Please feel free to pass it on to any biographers or bibliographers who are in need of accurate information, Consider yourself deputized, as of now!


Robert Arthur as a college student.

       ROBERT ARTHUR, JR. the creator of ALFRED HITCHCOCK AND THE THREE INVESTIGATORS (now known as THE THREE INVESTIGATORS) was born on November 10, 1909, at Fort Mills, Corregidor Island, the Philippines, where his father, Robert Arthur, Sr..., then a lieutenant in the United States Army, was stationed. Robert Arthur Sr... graduated from West Point in the class of 1907, and shortly afterwards was stationed in New Orleans where he met Robert Arthur’s mother, Sarah Abbey Fee. They were married shortly before Robert Arthur Sr... was posted to the Philippines.

     Because of his father’s profession, Robert Arthur’s childhood was spent moving. From 1911-1915 he lived in Fort Monroe, Virginia, from 1915-1919 in Fort Andrews, Massachusetts, and from 1919-1924 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where his father was a Professor of Military Science and Tactics in the University of Michigan’s ROTC program. In 1924, Arthur’s family was back at Fort Monroe , and from 1924-1925 at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, then from 1925-1929 at Fort Monroe again. He and his brother John Arthur, who was born in 1914 and later became a career army officer, were educated in the public schools of Hull, Massachusetts, Ann Arbor, Michigan, Leavenworth, Kansas, and Hampton, Virginia, and it was in Hampton Virginia that Robert Arthur attended high school, and was elected President of the senior class. 

    Then, although Arthur was offered scholarships to both West Point and Annapolis, he turned them down, because by the time he was in high school, he already had his heart set on being a writer, and indeed, he published his first story while he was attending Hampton High School. In 1926 Robert Arthur enrolled at William and Mary College in Williamsburg, Virginia. Two years later, he transferred to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, from which he graduated in 1930 with a B.A. in English with Distinction. After working as an editor at one of the Munsey Publications, he returned to the University of Michigan where he received his M.A. in Journalism in 1932. He then moved to New York City, where he lived in Greenwich Village in a walk-up apartment at 123 Waverly Place.

     During this time, Arthur began writing stories for publication in the pulp magazines which flourished at that time. In those days, a first-class pulp writer could make four and sometimes five cents a word, so Arthur was able to support himself in New York during the Depression. Between his graduation from Michigan in 1930 and 1940, his stories were published in Wonder Stories, Detective Fiction Weekly, Mystery, The Illustrated Detective Magazine, Street & Smith’s Detective Story Magazine, Amazing Stories, The Shadow, Street & Smith Mystery Reader, Detective Tales, Thrilling Detective, Double Detective, Startling Stories, Collier’s, The Phantom Detective, Argosy Weekly, Unknown Worlds, and Black Mask.

     In addition, during this time, Arthur worked as a writer and editor for pulp western, fact detective, and screen magazines for Dell Publishing, and was associate editor of Photo-Story, a picture magazine published by Fawcett Publications. More significantly, he conceived and edited Pocket Detective Magazine for Street and Smith, the first pocket-sized, all-fiction magazine, in which several of his stories were published. In February 1938, he married Susan Smith Cleaveland, a radio soap opera actress from whom he was divorced in 1940. In 1940, he took a class in radio writing from Eric Barnknow at Columbia University, and it was in this class that he met David Kogan, with whom he decided to partner in radio writing. 

     Arthur and Kogan began to write and produce together in the early 1940’s, during which time -- from 1942 until 1944 -- Arthur was also Copy Editor and later Head Writer for Parade, the national literary supplement. As Head Writer, he was in charge of many of the major text pieces; he also accompanied photographers on photo shoots, wrote stories from research, and originated story ideas. Between 1940 and 1943, his stories appeared in Detective Fiction Weekly, Weird Tales, Startling Stories, Thrilling Wonder Stories, Detective Fiction Weekly, Detective Tales, Comet Stories, Unknown Worlds, Short Stories Inc., Asteroid, Astounding Science Fiction, Detective Tales, Detective Novels Magazine, MacLean’s Magazine, Household Magazine, The Elks Magazine, Astounding Science-Fiction, and Astonishing Stories, Sir!, Baffling Detective Mysteries, Dime Mystery, and Detective Story Magazine.

     Then, from 1944 until 1952, Arthur, with Kogan, was a producer-director for the Mutual Broadcasting System, for which he and Kogan co-wrote and produced many shows for Dark Destiny, and also their own show, The Mysterious Traveler, which was re-aired as Adventure Into Fear, and syndicated among radio stations by Harry S. Goodman Productions. During the time The Mysterious Traveler was aired, it ranked at the top of all shows heard over the Mutual Broadcasting System, consistently outranking CBS and NBC shows broadcast at the same time. In a report from the Research Department of WOR Radio dated July 31, 1950, The Mysterious Traveler was ranked first out of the sixteen most popular shows on radio. Robert Arthur and David Kogan were awarded the Edgar for Best Mystery Radio Show of the Year by the Mystery Writers of America.

  Previous to this, while enrolled in a class taught at Columbia University by Whit Burnett, the editor of Story Magazine, Robert Arthur had met Joan Vaczek, a fiction writer and the daughter of a Hungarian diplomat. Arthur and Vaczek were married in December of 1946, and moved to a house on Croton Lake Road, facing the Croton Reservoir, in Yorktown Heights, New York, where they lived until 1959. They had two children, Robert Andrew Arthur in 1948, and Elizabeth Ann Arthur in 1953. Elizabeth Arthur, like her parents, is a writer of fiction and non-fiction. While living in Yorktown Heights with his wife and family, Robert Arthur continued to write short stories, and publish them in the pulps, and from 1946 to 1948 he was also the managing editor of the Waverly Publishing Company. From 1948 to 1951 he produced Dark Destiny, a dramatic TV series. After 1952,he worked as a co-producer for the radio show Mystery Time

     In 1953, because of Arthur’s involvement, and the involvement of his partner David Kogan, in the Radio Writer’s Guild, The Mysterious Traveler was abruptly canceled. WOR and the Mutual Broadcasting System, during the McCarthy era, believed that the Radio Writer’s Guild was leading writers, in the words of Kogan, “down the path to Moscow.” Robert Arthur’s era as a writer for radio came to an end. Before it ended, however, he wrote and produced over five hundred radio scripts for his two shows as well as for other shows such as The Shadow and Nick Carter. In 1959, Robert Arthur and Joan Vaczek were divorced, and it was at this time that Arthur moved to Hollywood where he lived for almost three years, working in television. He wrote scripts for The Twilight Zone, and he worked as a story editor and script writer for Alfred Hitchcock’s TV show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

     In 1962, Arthur moved back from Hollywood to Cape May, New Jersey, where he lived with his father’s aunt Margaret Fisher Arthur, until his death in 1969. Because of his association with Hitchcock, Arthur was, during this period, approached by Random House to edit a series of literary anthologies which would capitalize on Hitchcock’s popularity. Arthur, drawing on his knowledge of the fields of mystery and suspense -- as well as his knowledge of the pulp magazines in which so many of the classic stories first appeared -- put together a number of Alfred Hitchcock Presents anthologies which included Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Stories For Late At Night, (1961); Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Stories My Mother Never Told Me, (1963); Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Stories Not For The Nervous, (1965); Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Stories That Scared Even Me, (1967); Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Stories They Wouldn’t Let Me Do On TV, (1968). For each of these, Arthur wrote the “Hitchcock” introduction.

      Simultaneously, Arthur was involved in editing a series of anthologies for younger readers: Alfred Hitchcock’s Haunted Houseful, (1961); Alfred Hitchcock’s Ghostly Gallery, (1962); Alfred Hitchcock’s Monster Museum, (1965); Alfred Hitchcock’s Sinister Spies, (1966); and Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbinders in Suspense, (1967). He also edited, under his own name, Davy Jones Haunted Locker, (1965); Spies and More Spies, (1967); and Thrillers and More Thrillers,(1968). Collections of Arthur’s own short stories were brought out by Random House as Ghosts and More Ghosts published in 1963 and Mystery and More Mystery, published in 1966. The success of these anthologies led Robert Arthur to suggest to Walter Retan, an editor at Random House, a new children’s book series which would use Hitchcock’s name. The Secret of Terror Castle was published in 1964, and the rest, as they say, is history. 

     From 1964 until his death Arthur wrote two Three Investigator titles a year, working with Walter Retan. The books quickly became an international success. In 1968, in failing heath, Arthur decided it was time to bring other authors into the now successful series. He contacted Dennis Lynds, who wrote the first non-Arthur-authored Three Investigators title, The Mystery of the Moaning Cave, published in 1968 under the pseudonym William Arden. Jenny Fanelli took over as series editor on the last book Arthur wrote, which was The Mystery of the Talking Skull (# 11). This was the only book on which she and Arthur worked together, but after Arthur’s death, Fanelli worked until her retirement from Random House in the early 1990’s with -- most notably -- Dennis Lynds, who wrote thirteen Three Investigators books, M.V. Carey (Mary Carey) who wrote fourteen Three Investigators books, Marc Brandel, who wrote three Three Investigators books, and Kin Platt, who wrote two books under the pseudonym Nick West.

     It wasn’t until well after Robert Arthur’s death that “Alfred Hitchcock” was dropped from the title of The Three Investigators in new books in the series, and Hitchcock was removed as an ancillary character, replaced with a fictitious Hollywood-type named Hector Sebastian. When Jenny Fanelli retired from Random House, The Three Investigators series was effectively terminated in America, although it continued on in Germany, where there are currently at least 84 books in the series. Titles # 57 (Tatort Zirkus, 1993) to # 84 (Musik des Teufels, 1998) are German language originals. Walter Retan, the series original editor, died in 1998 in New York. In 1998, Random House began, slowly, reissuing Three Investigators titles. 

     Robert Arthur died in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on May 2, 1969, at the age of fifty-nine. Because of his early death, Robert Arthur was unable to prevent errors about his life and work from making their way, over the last thirty years, into numerous reference works. 

    For accurate biographies of the four other main writers of The Three Investigators books, please find the Contemporary Authors entries for Dennis Lynds , Mary Carey, Kinn Platt and Marc Brandel, at