History | Biography

Edward Edson Lee, perhaps better know to readers by his pen name, Leo Edwards, was born September 2, 1884, in Meriden, Illinois. His parents were Eugene Henry Lee and Mary Emelia Cannon Lee. He grew up in the nearby town of Utica where Edward attended public school.

In 1897 Edward and his mother moved to Beloit, Wisconsin. In order to support his mother, he dropped out of school to work in a local factory.

Lee was married to Gladys Eveline Tuttle on November 24, 1909. They had one child, a son, named Eugene, born on September 1, 1913, who would become the inspiration for Leo's most popular fictional character, Jerry Todd.

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." But 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. His first published story, Only a Dog, won third prize in a contest and appeared in the Beloit Daily News December 15, 1909. 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.

Not only did he write books, but he had learned to play the piano by ear and had composed many tunes that reflected 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 by the Victor Kremer Co. of Chicago.

Lee continued to work while tuning his creative writing skills. He worked in the advertising department of the P. B. Yates Machine Co. while in Beloit. In 1915 he moved to Detroit, Michigan to join the advertising department of the Burroughs Adding Machine Company.

Between 1917 and 1920, Lee moved again to work for the advertising department for the Autocall Company in Shelby, Ohio. It was here that Lee became acquainted with Howard (Scoop) Ellery, Donald (Red) Meyers, and Neuvill (Peg) Shaw. He used these boys in his early writing and in his first successful story The Cruise of the Sally Ann that was published in the Shelby Daily Globe. This story became the basis for Jerry Todd and the Oak Island Treasure, which before its publication on book form, was serialized in Boys Magazine (September, October and November 1920).

He success in getting his writing published encouraged him and he left his job in Shelby and went back to Beloit to continue his writing career. He sold many short stories to magazine such as American Boy, The Target, Classmate, and The Pioneer. In 1924 he contracted with Grosset & Dunlap to write the Jerry Todd Series.

His first published book was put out by D. Appleton & Co. as Andy Blake in Advertising (written by Eugene Lee...It was the start of the Grosset & Dunlap publications that he assumed the pen name of Leo Edwards) which was a republication in book form of a seven part serial written for The American Boy and published in that magazine January through July of 1922. There was only one printing of this book and only 1,467 copies were bound. Needless to say it's a difficult book for collectors to find.

Grosset & Dunlap brought out the first three Jerry Todds in 1924, and three more in 1925. The series was very successful and in 1926, the companion Poppy Ott Series was launched. The Andy Blake, Trigger Berg and Tuffy Bean Series were launched into the teeth of the "Great Depression" and did not sell well, and were aborted with only four books in each series. The other series were also hit by the depression, and the last book published was Jerry Todd's Cuckoo Camp in 1940.

The author was genuinely interested in children, as the Chatterbox section of the books demonstrates. This is a unique feature not found in other series books of the era, and his great interest in the Boy Scout troop of Cambridge, Wisconsin. 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. There was always a large group of children who attended his lakeside home on Lake Ripley, and may of his books are dedicated to various of the youngsters who were around him there.

Although his writing was successful and he did earn a good income from it for that time he was left with very little income from the books of any substantial nature. The coming of World War II found him seeking employment in a nearby industrial firm. He was attacked by illness and other misfortunes and in mid 1944, when his son Eugene took him to their home in Rockford, Illinois, where he died September 28, 1944. He is buried in Beloit, Wisconsin.

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