Lester Dent

Lester Dent (October 12, 1904 – March 11, 1959) was an American pulp-fiction author, best known as the creator and main author of the series of novels about the scientist and adventurer Doc Savage. The 159 novels written over 16 years were credited to the house name Kenneth Robeson.

Lester Dent
BornOctober 12, 1904
DiedMarch 11, 1959 (aged 54)
Parent(s)Alice Norfolk, Bernard Dent

Early years

Dent was born in 1904 in La Plata, Missouri. He was the only child of Bernard Dent, a rancher, and Alice Norfolk, a teacher before her marriage. The Dents had been living in Wyoming for some time, but had returned to La Plata so that Mrs. Dent could be with her family during the birth. The Dents returned to Wyoming in 1906, where they worked a ranch near Pumpkin Buttes, Wyoming.

Dent's early years were spent in the lonely hills of Wyoming. He attended a local one-room school house, often paying for tuition with furs that he had caught. He had few companions or friends; this early loneliness may have helped develop his talents as a story-teller.

Around 1919, the Dent family returned to La Plata for good, where Dent's father took up dairy farming. Dent completed his elementary and secondary education there.

In 1923, Dent enrolled at Chillicothe Business College in Chillicothe, Missouri. His original goal was to become a banker. However, while standing in the application line, he began talking to a fellow applicant about career options. He found out that the starting salary for a telegraph operator was $20 a week more than a bank clerk, so he changed his major to telegraphy. After completing the course, he taught at CBC for a short time.

In 1924, Dent became a telegraph operator for Western Union in Carrollton, Missouri. In 1925, he moved to Ponca City, Oklahoma, to work as a telegrapher for Empire Oil and Gas Company. It was in Ponca City that he met his future wife, Norma Gerling. They were married on August 9, 1925.

Writing career

All detective 193405
Dent's "Murder By Circles" was the cover story on the May 1934 issue of All Detective Magazine

In 1926, the Dents moved to Chickasha, Oklahoma, where Dent worked as a telegrapher for the Associated Press. One of Dent's co-workers had published a story in a pulp magazine, earning the huge sum (for that time) of $450. Dent, a voracious reader, was very familiar with pulp magazines of the day, and was sure he could write at least as well, if not better. He took advantage of the slow time during the graveyard shift to write. His first professional sale was an action-adventure story entitled "Pirate Cay"; it appeared in the September 1929 issue of Top Notch magazine.[1]

Shortly after the publication of his story, Dent was contacted by Dell Publishing in New York City. They were willing to offer him $500 a month if he would write exclusively for their magazines. Dent, stunned by the good fortune, took some time considering the offer, but eventually accepted. The Dents relocated to New York, arriving January 1, 1931. Dent quickly learned the trade of the pulp author, teaching himself how to write quickly and with few rewrites. After Dell imploded its pulp line in May 1931, Lester retreated to Missouri to regroup. Soon, he was back in New York, writing for the other pulp chains.

In 1932, Henry Ralston of Street and Smith Publications contacted Dent with a proposition for a new magazine. Ralston had scored a great success with The Shadow magazine, and was interested in developing a second title around a central character. He had in mind an adventure hero, which appealed to Dent's love of that genre. While Dent was unhappy to later discover that his stories would be published under a house name (Kenneth Robeson), he was happy to receive $500 per novel (which would later increase to $750), and accepted Ralston's offer.

Issue Number 1 of Doc Savage magazine hit the stands in February 1933; within 6 months it was one of the top selling pulp magazines on the market. Much of the success stemmed from Dent's fantastic imagination, fueled by his own personal curiosity. Dent was able to use the freedom that his new-found financial security allowed him, to learn and to explore. In addition to being a wide-ranging reader, Dent also took courses in technology and the trades. He earned both his amateur radio and pilot license, passed both the electricians' and plumbers' trade exams, and was an avid mountain climber. His usual method was to learn a subject thoroughly, then move on to another. An example is boating: in May 1934, Dent bought a 40-foot two-masted Chesapeake Bay "bugeye" schooner, Albatross. He and his wife lived on it for several years, sailing it up and down the eastern seaboard and even doing some sunken-treasure hunting in the Caribbean, then sold it in 1940.

The Dents traveled extensively as well, enough to earn Lester a membership in the Explorers Club. He was sponsored by fellow pulp writer J. Allan Dunn and Navy Reserve Captain Charles Richardson Pond (1889–1969), a member of the family that owned Pond's Cosmetics and a pioneer of transoceanic flight. He was elected to membership on November 9, 1936 but was apparently not all that involved in the Club beyond bouncing story ideas off more experienced members. He contributed to a year-long one-time fundraiser for the Club conducted throughout the year 1939, for which he was awarded a sterling silver miniature of the coveted Explorers Club Medal, No. 89 of an unknown number of such medallions, with a chain allowing it to be worn as a bracelet. He stopped paying his annual dues in December 1945 and was dropped from membership for this delinquency in January 1948.

In 1940, the Dents returned to La Plata for good. Dent continued to write for Doc Savage, but also found time to work in the other genres. His post-1941 Doc Savage work benefited from this; the later Savage novels are known for their tighter plotting, improved dialogue, and a shift towards mystery instead of super-science. Doc Savage himself begins to shed his superhuman image, and to show a more fallible, human side. Dent may have recycled some generic detective stories as Doc tales; King Joe Cay features Doc working alone, in disguise, with no aides, gadgets, or headquarters, and an interest in the ladies.

Doc Savage Magazine ceased publication in 1949. Of the 181 Doc Savage novels published by Street and Smith, 179 were credited to Kenneth Robeson; and all but twenty were written by Dent. The first novel, The Man of Bronze, used the name Kenneth Roberts, but this was changed after it was discovered that there was another author named Kenneth Roberts. The March 1944 issue, "The Derelict of Skull Shoal", was accidentally credited to Lester Dent. This was the only time during the run of the magazine that Dent's real name was used. Following his tenure on Doc Savage, Dent found continuing success as a mystery and western writer. His last published short story was a Western entitled "Savage Challenge", published in the February 22, 1958 issue of the Saturday Evening Post. A last novel, Lady in Peril, was released as half of an Ace Double the month that Lester died.

Dent suffered a heart attack in February 1959. He was hospitalized, but subsequently died on March 11, 1959. Dent is buried in the La Plata cemetery.[2]

The Lester and Norma Dent House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990.[3]

Since his death, Lester Dent has lived on in reprints and new stories discovered and marketed by his literary agent, Will Murray. Hardcase Crime published his noir novel, Honey in His Mouth, to rave reviews in 2009. Black Dog Books has released five volumes of The Lester Dent Library. Altus Press issued The Weird Adventures of the Blond Adder in 2010 and Hell in Boxes: The Exploits of Lynn Lash and Foster Fade in 2012.

Appearances in fiction

Dent is a featured character in the Paul Malmont novel The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril, which was published by Simon & Schuster in 2006, and in the sequel The Astounding, the Amazing, and the Unknown also Simon & Schuster in 2011. The novels describe friendship and rivalry among pulp writers of the 1930s, and also include Walter Gibson, creator of The Shadow.

Dent also appears in Craig McDonald's Hector Lassiter novel The Running Kind (2014), which touches on Dent's passion for ham radio and aerial photography enterprises, circa 1950.

Pulp fiction formula

Dent's "Master Fiction Plot", often referred to as the "Lester Dent Formula" is a widely circulated guide to writing a salable 6,000-word pulp story. It has been recommended to aspiring authors by Michael Moorcock, among others. Moorcock summarizes the formula by suggesting: "split your six-thousand-word story up into four fifteen hundred word parts. Part one, hit your hero with a heap of trouble. Part two, double it. Part three, put him in so much trouble there's no way he could ever possibly get out of it...All your main characters have to be in the first third. All your main themes and everything else has to be established in the first third, developed in the second third, and resolved in the last third.[4]

See also


Inline citations

  1. ^ "Lester Dent biography". Dale's Doc Savage Page – Archive.org copy. Archived from the original on April 10, 2007. Retrieved October 10, 2011.
  2. ^ McCarey-Laird, M. Martin. Lester Dent: The Man, His Craft, and His Market. (biography) c 1995. ASIN 0964100495.CS1 maint: ASIN uses ISBN (link)
  3. ^ National Park Service (2010-07-09). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
  4. ^ Rosenfield, Eric. "How to Write a Book in Three Days: Lessons from Michael Moorcock".

General references

External links

Altus Press

Altus Press is a publisher of works primarily related to the pulp magazines from the 1910s to the 1950s.


The bugeye is a type of sailboat developed in the Chesapeake Bay for oyster dredging. The predecessor of the skipjack, it was superseded by the latter as oyster harvests dropped.

Death in Silver

Death in Silver is a Doc Savage pulp novel by Lester Dent writing under the house name Kenneth Robeson. It was published in October 1934.

It was the first Doc Savage story not to include all of his aides, due to author Lester Dent having difficulties using all six characters in every story. Only Ham, Monk and Pat appeared in Death in Silver.

The other three, less popular, main characters are described as being away on private ventures: Johnny giving a lecture in London, Long Tom experimenting on an electrical pesticide in Europe, and Renny building a hydro-electric plant in South Africa.

The original intent was that all three would become the basis of the next three novels.

Johnny's story became The Sea Magician in the next issue of Doc Savage, but this did not happen with all of them.The follow-up adventure involving Renny later became the basis for the 1991 retro novel Python Isle by Will Murray.Death in Silver was the third appearance of Pat Savage.

Dent (surname)

Dent is a surname. Notable people with the surname include:

Aileen Dent (1890–1978), Australian artist

Akeem Dent (born 1987), American football linebacker

Alan Dent (1905–1978), Scottish journalist, editor and writer

Albert W. Dent, an academic administrator

Alfred Dent (1844–1927), British businessman and founder of the North Borneo Chartered Company

Ancilla Dent (born 1933), English Roman Catholic nun, ecological activist, and writer

Andrew Dent (1955–2008), Australian doctor and humanitarian worker

Betty-Ann Dent (born 1950), retired American professional tennis player

Borden Dent (1938–2000), American geographer and cartographer

Bucky Dent (born 1951), American baseball player

Burnell Dent (born 1963), former professional American football linebacker

Catherine Dent (born 1965), American actress

Charles Dent (disambiguation), multiple people with the name (includes "Charlie")

Charles Enrique Dent (1911–1976), British biochemist

Charlie Dent (born 1960), Pennsylvanian politician

Chris Dent (born 1991), English cricketer

Clinton Thomas Dent (1850–1912), English alpinist, author and surgeon

Denny Dent (1948–2004), American speed painter

Digby Dent (disambiguation), father and son

Douglas Dent (1869–1959), Royal Navy officer

Eddie Dent (1887–1974), pitcher in Major League Baseball

Edith Vere Dent (1863–1948), amateur botanist and wild flower enthusiast

Edward John Dent (1790–1853), English watch maker

Edward Joseph Dent (1876–1957), English musicologist and biographer of Handel

Eric Dent (born 1961), American complexity theorist

Francis Dent (1866–1955), British railway manager

Frederick B. Dent (born 1922), United States Secretary of Commerce

Frederick Tracy Dent (1820–1892), American soldier

George Dent (1756–1813), American planter and politician from Maryland

Grace Dent (born 1973), English columnist, broadcaster and author

Harry Dent (disambiguation), multiple people with the name

J. M. Dent (1849–1926), British publisher

Jason Dent (born 1980), American mixed martial artist

John Dent (disambiguation), multiple people with the name

Julia Boggs Dent (1826–1902), wife of Ulysses Grant, the President of the United States

Lester Dent (1904–1959), writer best known for creating the character Doc Savage

Martin Dent (academic) (1925–2014), English academic

Richard Dent (born 1960), former football player

Susie Dent (born 1964), English lexicographer

Taylor Dent (born 1981), American tennis player

Ted Dent (born 1969), Canadian ice hockey player and coach

Teresa Dent (born 1959), CEO, Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust

Thomas Dent (disambiguation), multiple people with the name

Vernon Dent (1895–1963), American actor

William Barton Wade Dent (1806–1855), American politician

Doc Savage

Doc Savage is a fictional character originally published in American pulp magazines during the 1930s and 1940s. He was created by publisher Henry W. Ralston and editor John L. Nanovic at Street & Smith Publications, with additional material contributed by the series' main writer, Lester Dent. The illustrations were by Walter Baumhofer, Paul Orban, Emery Clarke, Modest Stein, and Robert G. Harris.

The heroic-adventure character would go on to appear in other media, including radio, film, and comic books, with his adventures reprinted for modern-day audiences in a series of paperback books, which had sold over 20 million copies by 1979. Into the 21st century, Doc Savage has remained a nostalgic icon in the U.S., referenced in novels and popular culture. Longtime Marvel Comics editor Stan Lee has credited Doc Savage as being the forerunner to modern superheroes.

Kenneth Robeson

Kenneth Robeson was the house name used by Street & Smith as the author of their popular character Doc Savage and later The Avenger. Many authors wrote under this name, though most Doc Savage stories were written by the author Lester Dent:

William G. Bogart

Evelyn Coulson

Harold A. Davis

Lawrence Donovan

Philip José Farmer

Alan Hathway

W. Ryerson Johnson

Will Murray

Ron GoulartAll 24 of the Avenger stories were written by Paul Ernst, using the Robeson house name. Robeson was credited on the cover of The Avenger magazine as "the creator of Doc Savage."

Lester and Norma Dent House

Lester and Norma Dent House, also known as the House of Gadgets, is a historic home located at La Plata, Macon County, Missouri. It was built in 1941, and is a 1 1/2-story, Modern Movement style dwelling sheathed in brick and asbestos siding. The house has a gable roof and is of the Cape Cod cottage type. It was the home of American pulp-fiction author Lester Dent (1904-1959).It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990.

List of Doc Savage novels

Doc Savage stories, 181 in total, first appeared in Conde Nast's Doc Savage Magazine pulps. The original series has sold over 20 million copies in paperback form. The first entry was The Man of Bronze, in March, 1933 from the house name "Kenneth Robeson". John L. Nanovic was editor for 10 years, and planned and approved all story outlines. The early stories were pure pulp "supersagas", as dubbed by Philip Jose Farmer, with rampaging dinosaurs and lost races, secret societies led by dastardly villains, fantastic gadgets and weapons, autogyros and zeppelins, death-dealing traps and hair-raising escapes, and plots to rule the earth. In the first few stories, Doc and his aides killed enemies without compunction. An editorial decision made them kill only when necessary for a more adventurous kid-friendly magazine, unlike the bloodthirsty competitor The Shadow.

Doc Savage was the lead story, often illustrated with line drawings. Exciting covers were painted in bold colors by Walter M. Baumhofer. Other adventure stories filled up the back, and there was a letters column. Kids could join the Doc Savage Club complete with badge, or follow "The Doc Savage Method Of Self-development" to build muscle and memory. In Depression America, 10-cent pulps with hundred of pages were handed around barracks or bunkhouses or schoolyards, a popular form of entertainment when people were unemployed and poor, and fantastic stories were a pleasant diversion from real life. Lester Dent wrote most of the stories, with fill-ins by Harold A. Davis, Alan Hathway, and William Bogart that were overseen or rewritten by Dent.By 1938, as the economy improved, pulps were on the wane and faced competition from comic books. During World War II, ordinary men and women performed fantastic deeds daily in exotic corners of the world, and fantastic pulp adventures seemed childish. Charles Moran became editor in 1943 and changed the format to suspense and realism. Doc used fewer gadgets and standard detective tropes. By 1946, in Measures for a Coffin, Doc is busting crooked investment bankers. Doc pared down his team, working mainly with Monk and Ham, and sometimes alone. Successive editors carried this format, and Babette Rosmond retitled the magazine Doc Savage, Science Detective in 1947.

By this time, the Doc stories were shorter than other stories in the magazine. Covers rarely showed Doc anymore, becoming detective-generic, abstract or illustrating non-Doc stories. Dent may have recycled some generic detective stories as Doc tales; King Joe Cay features Doc working alone, in disguise, with no aides, gadgets, or headquarters, and an interest in the ladies. Alan Hathway's grisly The Mindless Monsters reads like a rejected Spider story. Experimenting with new formats, during 1947 Dent wrote five stories with a first-person narrator, an innocent person caught up in a Doc Savage adventure, with one story narrated by Pat Savage, I Died Yesterday. Still, sales fell.

The magazine went bi-monthly in 1947, then quarterly in 1949. Editor William de Grouchy was brought back to revive the magazine, and asked Dent to return to larger-than-life stories. Dent took a new direction, with Doc infiltrating Russia and outwitting "the Ivans". This story, eventually titled The Red Spider in the Bantam run, was killed and shelved by editor Daisy Bacon. She oversaw three pulp-style adventures for the last three issues, but the magazine was cancelled in 1949. In the last story, Up from Earth's Center, Doc delves into a cave in Maine and meets what may be actual demons, and runs screaming in terror. The saga had ended.Until 1964, when Bantam Books revived the pulps as paperbacks. A huge selling point were the striking photo-realistic covers of a vibrant, widow-peaked, shredded-shirted Doc painted by James Bama and later Bob Larkin, Boris Vallejo, and others. Bantam reprinted all the stories, concluding in 1990, but not in the original publication order, and a few stories were retitled. They started as single volumes with numbers. As the stories got shorter, Bantam combined double novels with numbers, and finally Doc Savage Omnibuses with four or five stories without numbers. The rejected The Red Spider manuscript was discovered in 1975 by Will Murray and published during the Bantam Books print run as #95.

In recent years, Anthony Tollin's Sanctum Books, initially in association with Nostalgia Ventures for the first 16 releases, has reprinted all 182 (including the initially unpublished The Red Spider) of the Doc Savage stories from the thirties and forties, usually at least two to a volume, using Baumhofer covers, and some Bama covers for variant editions. The reprint project, 87 volumes in total, was completed in 2016.

List of Doc Savage radio episodes

Doc Savage made it to the radio three times: 1934-35, 1943 and 1985. The 1934-35 episodes were 15 minutes each and were written by Lester Dent. Episodes 27-52 were repeats of the 1934 episodes. The 1943 episodes were 30 minutes long. Episodes 76-78 were repeats of selected 1943 episodes. All the scripts were credited to Lester Dent; no recordings of any episode, nor records of cast or crew exist.The 1985 National Public Radio episodes were 30 minutes each. They were two series, Fear Cay (Episodes 79-85) and The Thousand-Headed Man (Episodes 86-91).

Maxwell Grant

Maxwell Grant was a pen name used by the authors of The Shadow pulp magazine stories.

Street & Smith, the publishers of The Shadow, asked Walter B. Gibson, a writer hired to chronicle the Shadow's adventures, to create a pen name for the Shadow's author for several reasons, primarily so that numerous authors could be used to write the stories without confusing the readers. Gibson, who was also a nonfiction writer, wanted to use a pen name for his fiction. He adopted the pen name Maxwell Grant, taking the name from two magic dealers he knew, Maxwell Holden and U.F. Grant.

Four authors besides Gibson have used the Maxwell Grant pen name: Theodore Tinsley, who wrote 27 Shadow stories between 1936 and 1943; Lester Dent, who wrote one story, The Golden Vulture, in 1938; Bruce Elliott, who wrote 15 Shadow stories between 1946 and 1948; and Dennis Lynds, who wrote nine Shadow paperback novels between 1964 and 1967.

The comic book series The Shadow: Year One, published by Dynamite Entertainment, features a character by the name of "Maxwell Grant". The character is a journalist, who uncovers the identity of the Shadow. However, rather than exposing him, Grant offers to chronicle his adventures.

Millennium Publications

Millennium Publications was an American independent comic book publishing company founded by Mark Ellis, Melissa Martin and Paul Davis. Initially known as a publisher of licensed properties, Millennium adapted works by Arthur Conan Doyle, Lester Dent, Frank Frazetta, Robert E. Howard, Harlan Ellison, H.P. Lovecraft, and Anne Rice; and even TV series like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and The Wild Wild West into comic book form. The company expanded its repertoire of horror comics into original titles in the mid-1990s, and further branched out in its later years to embrace the alternative comics genre, starting a short-lived creator-owned imprint called Modern Comics.

Millennium was distinctive in that they mostly published one-shots and mini-series, with only a couple of their titles running for more than four issues. The company gave now-established comics artists such as Darryl Banks, Dean Haspiel, Josh Neufeld and Mike Wieringo their first steady exposure, while also working with comics legends Jim Mooney and Don Heck on a number of projects. Other notable comics creators who published with Millennium include Brian Michael Bendis, John Bolton, Joshua Dysart, Bob Eggleton, Dærick Gröss Sr., Kelley Jones, Rik Levins, David W. Mack, and Terry Pavlet.

Scarlet Riders

Scarlet Riders is a collection of Northern short stories originally published in pulp magazines. The book's subtitle is "Pulp Fiction Tales of The Mounties". It was edited by Don Hutchison who also provides an introduction covering pulp magazines and the Northern genre as well the writers and stories themselves.

The Man of Bronze

The Man of Bronze is a Doc Savage pulp novel by Lester Dent writing under the house name Kenneth Robeson. It was published in March 1933. It was the basis of the 1975 movie Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze starring Ron Ely.

Top-Notch Magazine

Top-Notch Magazine is an American pulp magazine of adventure fiction that existed between 1910 and 1937. It was published by Street & Smith.Top-Notch Magazine was first published in March 1910. Issued twice-monthly, it published 602 editions until it ceased in October 1937. For most of its history, the cover price was 10 cents. Began as a magazine for teenagers and even as a pulp concentrated mostly

on sports stories, switching to a men's adventure magazine in the 1930s. Notable contributors to Top-Notch Magazine included

Jack London, F. Britten Austin, William Wallace Cook, Bertram Atkey, and Johnston McCulley in the early days; and later Robert E. Howard,L. Ron Hubbard, Lester Dent, Carl Jacobi, Burt L. Standish, J. Allan Dunn, and Harry Stephen Keeler.

Widow's peak

A widow's peak is a V-shaped point in the hairline in the center of the forehead. Hair growth on the forehead is suppressed in a bilateral pair of periorbital fields. Without a widow's peak, these fields join in the middle of the forehead so as to give a hairline that runs straight across. A widow's peak results when the point of intersection on the forehead of the upper perimeters of these fields is lower than usual.

Will Murray

William Murray (born 1953) is an American novelist, journalist, and short-story and comic-book writer. Much of his fiction has been published under pseudonyms. With artist Steve Ditko he co-created the superhero Squirrel Girl.

William G. Bogart

William Gibson Bogart (June 17, 1903 – July 20, 1977) was an American pulp fiction writer. He is best known for writing several Doc Savage novels, under the pseudonym Kenneth Robeson.

In addition to the Doc Savage novels, Bogart published works in many genres under his own name. He also created the detective Johnny Saxon, and featured him in several novels.

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