Donald Briggs originally starred as the fictional character of Frank Merriwell, a juvenile role model who played and excelled at all types of sports at Yale University, including football, baseball, basketball, crew and track.
Besides Frank’s busy sports schedule, he also solved complicated mysteries, always taking the right path and never tired of fighting for the underdog. Merriwell’s creator, Patten, summed up Frank’s character by stating, The name was symbolic of the chief characteristics I desired my hero to have -- Frank for frankness, merry for a happy disposition and well for health and abounding energy.
Indeed, Frank Merriwell was the epitome of the perfect student and person. He didn’t drink or smoke and exercised to keep in great condition. But Frank did show his humanness a few times in the series. Once he let down his perfect façade to play in a poker game and later, Frank confessed his indiscretion to his friend, Bart Hodge, and also revealed that he had an almost uncontrollable weakness for gambling. Frank further confessed that he once stole money from his dear, sweet mother to sustain his gambling habit.
Before radio broadcasted The Adventures of Frank Merriwell, he appeared in a series of magazine stories in Tip Top Weekly beginning in 1896 and continuing to 1912. Patten later wrote the Frank Merriwell series for dime novels and comic books. There were three generations of Merriwells in the series – Frank, half-brother Dick, and Frank’s son, Frank Jr. Dick was an unusual character in the series because he had strange friends (including an Indian) and special talents that helped him meet challenges.
After its 1934 premiere, The Adventures of Frank Merriwell didn’t appear again until October 5, 1946. NBC broadcast the series as a 30-minute Saturday morning show starring Lawson Zerbe. In 1936 a film serial of The Adventures of Frank Merriwell appeared in theaters nationwide. Frank Merriwell has been compared to other juvenile heroic characters such as the Hardy Boys, Encyclopaedia Brown and Nancy Drew.
There’s no doubt that The Adventures of Frank Merriwell provided a positive role model for thousands of children during the turn of the century and beyond. Gilbert Patten grew along with his character, Frank, and changed the scenarios from the late 1800s to the 1940s during and after World War II, when our country was undergoing many changes in the way children were raised and what they were exposed to. The Adventures of Frank Merriwell made for delightful reading and then listening on the radios during the golden age of radio.