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Recalling Newark News Writer Howard Garis and His Rabbit

By Nat Bodian

 

        The Newark News, the greatest of New Jersey's newspapers in the last century, was felled by a lengthy strike and ceased publication on January 23, 1973.

        During its lifetime, many rated the Newark News superior to the New York Times with a daily circulation of 300,000 copies and a Sunday circulation of 420,000.  Its news staff numbered 250 writers.

        One of the most prolific writers attached to the Newark News staff was Howard R. Garis.  This is a recollection of his life with the News, where he was employed as a reporter.

        Garis, born in 1873, had been a successful writer of children's books during the first decade of the 20th century.  Edward M. Scudder, publisher of the Newark News, had been aware of Garis's activities as a writer of stories for children, and signed him to write some stories for children which could be published daily in the Newark News.

        Garis created a batch of stories about the adventures of a rabbit hero named Uncle Wiggily, a pink-nosed elderly gentleman bunny, and his friends that included such characters as Baby Bunny, Skiller Scaller, Alligator, and Nurse Jane Fuzzy Wuzzy.

        Scudder loved Garis's stories and ran the first Uncle Wiggily in the Newark News on January 10, 1910.  Uncle Wiggily instantly caught on, and Garis continued with a daily Uncle Wiggily story in the Newark News for nearly four decades, one appearing every day except Sunday -- more than 15,000 in all, until his retirement in 1947.  His Uncle Wiggily stories were nationally syndicated and appeared in papers from coast to coast.

        While writing for the Newark News, Garis continued writing juvenile books as well and, according to his entry in the Encyclopedia Britannica, he wrote about 500 books.

        Garis's book-writing activities were far more prolific than his Uncle Wiggily writings.

        Under various pen names, as well as under his own name, he wrote for the Stratemeyer Syndicate, established by Edward Stratemeyer, a Newark native, a close personal friend, and a former writer for the Newark Sunday Call.

        Among Garis books published by the Stratemeyer Syndicate were the first 35 Tom Swift books...stories about Tom Swift and his fabulous inventions.  All 35 were written under the pen name "Victor Appleton."

        The first Tom Swift book, one of six he wrote in 1910, was "Tom Swift and his Motor-Cycle."

        In lieu of royalties, Garis was paid a flat $125.00 per book, which in that era, was the equivalent of two months pay.

        Garis wrote books under a variety of other pen names.  As Lester Chadwick, he wrote the stories of Baseball Joe...as Roy Lockwood, he wrote the Great Marvel series...As Clarence Young, he wrote volumes 1, 2, and 8 of the "Motor Boys" series.

        Garis also wrote the first six volumes of the "X Bar X" series for boys under his own name between 1926 and 1928.  He also wrote most of the volumes of the following series: College Sports, Larry Dexter, and Dick Hamilton.

        Garis was a major contributor to the long-running Bobbsey Twins series.  After Edward Stratemeyer, head of the Stratemeyer Syndicate, had launched the series under the publisher-assigned author name of "Laura Lee Hope" for the entire series, Howard Garis's wife, Lillian McNamara Garis wrote volumes 4 to 28, and later, volume 41.

        Garis' numerous contributions to the Stratemeyer Syndicate ended in 1933 as a result of a disagreement with the Syndicate's then operators, Harriet S. Adams and Edna C. Stratemeyer.

        Garis died in 1962 at the age of 89 1.

        Starting with "Uncle Wiggily and His Friends," collections of Uncle Wiggily stories also appeared in book form and sold millions of copies.  They continue to be big sellers, especially on the internet.

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