as remembered by his son
Eugene "Beany" Lee
In the two decades (1920-1940) that I enjoyed close association with Leo, I remember him as a friendly, genial and outgoing person. He loved to have people around him. He liked what he was doing and worked hard at it. At first he seemed to require opinions of others. Daily I typed for first draft from his handwritten notes. I would often comment on a sequence. He would listen to me and often make changes I suggested.
The earlier books were red, in two nightly session, to groups of neighbors in the yard at Hi-Lee Cottage on Lake Ripley. Each night the reading was followed by the usual "hot dog" roast over the huge bonfire that I always built. This grouping together with his friends around an open fire on a beautiful summer night was what Leo liked the best. He had little interest in money. He liked to be with people, answer their questions, tell stories of his youth in Utica, Illinois (Tutter) and listen to their stories. He got along the best with the kids. They accepted him for what he was. In a community of farmers, who worked from dawn to dusk and often seven days a week, a man that made a living sitting in a chair and writing stories was considered by many adults as a little strange. The kids did not feel this way.
How did the book plots start? Hi-Lee Cottage was a mecca for kids from Cambridge, Ripley and the surrounding farms. Our doors were never locked. We were all busy doing things and soon we discovered that some of our many activities became basic plots for short stories and books
A Cambridge boy and myself were exploring a large rock pit close to Cambridge. We found a large stone the shape on an egg. Of course we knew it was not an egg. We had been reading an article about a famous explorer finding petrified dinosaur eggs. So we pretended we had found a dinosaur egg and set in in the yard at Hi-Lee with a sign, "Dinosaur Egg --- Do Not Disturb." Leo watched all our activity. Now he knew that we knew that this shapely stone was not an egg. But he did not ridicule us. This attitude shows a sterling part of his character that comes out in his writings. He had endless patience and understanding with youth. As people came to call he would say something like this: "Beany and his friend Bob found this petrified dinosaur egg a few week ago and brought it home to show me." In a few months I was typing the first draft of Jerry Todd and the Purring Egg.
I was rummaging around in a dump outside of Beloit, Wisconsin and found an old bath tub with a wooden rim around it. I knew that Leo liked unusual presents so I brought it home and cleaned and polished it. I took it up to the lake as a birthday present for Leo. He was delighted with it and very many people took pictures of him in the tub. My mother was horrified by the old tub in the yard by her garden but it remained there. Leo was the boss. (I think this was the reason that his very close friends used to call hem "King"). In a short time I was taking the handwritten manuscript pages back to Beloit to type the first draft of Jerry Todd and the Buffalo Bill Bathtub.
Many of the plots of other books were based on things that went on around us. Whispering Mummy was based on a true incident in Beloit that I was much involved in and I have the article out of the Beloit paper to prove it. The Rose Colored Cat was my best pet as a kid in Beloit. A beautiful yellow cat friend. The bit about the rest home for cats came from an article in a Chicago paper. A party advertised to take care of cats, and jokers from around the area sent crates of stray cats to this person. I had the original "Talking Frog" that was made in the Black forest in Germany and given to me as a Christmas present. The Treasure Tree was a giant basswood on the island across the bay from our cottage on Lake Ripley. I climbed it many times. It was my kite that got caught in the tree. The old farmer that saved pennies was a real person. He lived in a farm house near the island. Always asked for pennies when he was in stores in Cambridge. Later thousands of pennies were removed from between the walls of his farm home.
(Published in the Yellowback Library, November/December, 1982)