Speech by Graham Harrison Lee
Great Grandson of Leo Edwards
Given February, 1997, at a literary reading, Cambridge, Wisconsin
My name is Graham Lee and I am the great grandson of Edward Edson Lee who is perhaps better known to readers under the his pen name Leo Edwards. He was born in Illinois in 1884 and, at the age of thirteen, moved to Beloit, Wisconsin, and later, to a home and studio on Sleepy Hollow Road on the shore of Lake Ripley.
Leo was a talented man. With no formal education after the age of thirteen, when he dropped out of school to support his mother, he developed his own literary skills that rivaled the juvenile writers of his day . . . writers like, Victor Appleton, Percy Keese Fitzhugh, and Laura Lee Hope.
From an early age, Leo showed an aptitude in written composition. A teacher once said to him, "Eddie, I have the feeling that some day you will be writing articles for the big city paper." At home his mother told him that story writing was a waste of time; and later, as he continued to write more stores, his mother begged him with tears in her eyes to give up his "foolish" ambition. Though he received very little encouragement to pursue a career in writing, Leo continued to work on story ideas while working as a factory hand and then, after a correspondence course, a job in advertising. He continued submitting short stories to magazines like the American Boy with only printed rejection letters as a response. More than once during those long years, Leo would ignite huge piles of rejected manuscripts. He once joked that he started bonfires with them.
Success did not come easy. In summing up his ability as an author, Leo once said, "it is merely a combination of love for boys and girls, an intense yearning to write, and 20 years of hard work." Leo Edwards is the author of over 40 books for boys and girls. His works include the Jerry Todd, Poppy Ott, Andy Blake and the Trigger Berg series. The first Jerry Todd in book form was Jerry Todd and the Whispering Mummy published by Grosset and Dunlap in 1924. In six years it sold over 300,000 copies. The titles of his books are great: Jerry Todd and The Rose-Colored Cat, Jerry Todd and the Waltzing Hen, Jerry Todd and the Purring Egg, Jerry Todd and the Flying Flapdoodle, Poppy Ott and the Seven League Stilts, Poppy Ott and the Galloping Snail, and more.
The Secret and Mysterious
Order of the Freckled Goldfish
In 1931, Leo Edwards was receiving 10,000 letters a year from fans all around the country. Forty years after his death in 1944, letters continued to arrive. A club was even formed after an adventure in book titled Poppy Ott and the Freckled Goldfish.
The motto was:
Leo was a talented man. Not only did he write books, but he also learned to play the piano by ear and has composed many tunes that reflect the turn of the century with titles like "Who has the presidential grin? It's Taft, Taft, Taft" and "Let's go riding on the Trolley." At the age of twenty four one of his songs, "My Southern Violet," was published. Leo took a great interest in the Cambridge Community. His letters describe high school basketball games that he'd attend and yell his head off until his voice was gone. He was heavily involved with the local Boy Scouts for whom he wrote and produced plays.
Leo's stories were always based on real people and real locations. A strong characteristic of Jerry Todd and all of Leo's heroes, in addition to reverence, truth, and a compulsion to do good deeds, was their intense respect for their parents. He captured in his books a particular enduring quality about growing up in America.
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I've chosen his first book, Jerry Todd and the Whispering Mummy, which he considered his masterpiece, to read a selection. The book introduces us to Jerry Todd and his friends, Scoop Ellery, Red Meyers, and Peg Shaw. They've just purchased four detective badges from a mysterious man at the train station. Now as members of the Jupiter Detective Agency (Murders and Robberies a Specialty) they're about to enter the Tutter College Museum to settle a disagreement....