Created by John R. Coryell (1848-1924)
What a long strange trip it's been for NICK CARTER.
"The Little Giant" first appeared as a 19th century detective and adventurer in Street and Smith's New York Weekly dime novel, on September 18, 1886. He was young, strong, dedicated to clean living (No cigarettes! No booze!) confident, a master of disguise, and possessor of a keen mind, filled with more trivia than anyone would ever need to know (except, of course, for dime novel master sleuths!) and otherworldly strength, able to "lift a horse with ease... while a heavy man is seated in the saddle... he can place four packs of playing cards together, and tear them in halves between his thumbs and fingers."
No wonder pulp historian Jess Nevins refers to him as "the Grandfather of superheroes."
It seems that Nick's dad, the legendary detective "Old Sim" Carter, had raised his son from an early age to become a pefect mental and physical specimen.
Upon reaching adulthood, Nick becomes the world's greatest detective, with a swank apartment on Madison Avenue in New York City, although his cases frequently have him hopping all over the world, frequently accompanied by his loyal (and manly) partners-in-arms Patsy and Scrubby. He appeared in three stories written by Coryell, and then, literally thousands more in various Street & Smith publications, mostly written by Frederic van Rensselaer Day (1862-1922).
Although occasionally being accused of being some sort of American Sherlock Holmes wannabe (even though he actually made his debut a year before Holmes) he was really modelled on other popular dime novel detectives of the time, like Old Sleuth, Old Cap Collier and Old King Brady. He did subsequently take on Holmesian attributes, to be sure, but he was always more than a mere knock-off. Another popular hero of the same era, Sexton Blake, suffered the same fate..
By 1949, it was estimated that Carter had appeared in over 4000 dime novels, pulps, films (both silents and talkies, including many in French), comic books, comic strips and radio shows. There were probably more Nick Carter adventures than those of any other fictional detective.
As with any long-running character, Nick went through numerous changes. Originally a pretty straightforward dime novel detective, he soon developed into a sort of two-fisted consulting detective/adventurer. In the twenties, the superhero stuff was toned down a little and he became more of a standard hard-boiled detective, although his adventures still bordered on the fantastic; more Doc Savage than Continental Op. During the forties, his cases became much more realistic, and more downbeat.
It was as a radio show in the forties, in fact, that Nick really made his mark as a private eye. Nick Carter, Master Detective was one of the first detective radio shows to really hit it big with audiences. In it, Nick was a pretty typical private eye of the time, caught somewhere between the two prevelant models of the time, somewhere between two-fisted tough guy and gentlemanly sleuth, although there were some distinctive touches.
The opening for the show was particularly memorable, and really grabbed you. An increasingly urgent knocking (pounding) on Nick's office door. A startled Patsy, his assistant (now a female secretary) opens the door and says, "What's the matter? What is it?" A male voice says, "Another case for Nick Carter, Master Detective!"
While not exactly hard-boiled, there was never any doubt about Carter's toughness or his abilities. In one episode, Patsy was facing imminent murder and she bet $100.00 to a penny that Nick would save her. Rumor on the street has it that the phrase "In The Nick of Time" can be attributed to Nick's always arriving just in time.
The story lines usually followed the formula of the classic detective story. Nick would be on the case looking for clues. Each clue would bring him a little closer to the criminal. After the criminal had been apprehended, Nick would explain the meanings and importance of the various clues.
The series was unusual for several reasons. Most, if not all of the episodes followed a 19th century convention and had sub-titles such as "An Angle on Murder" was also called "Nick Carter and the Mystery of the Mutilated Foot." Lon Clark played the title role for the entire twelve year run, over 700 episodes! (In roughly the same length of run, no fewer than six actors played Johnny Dollar and two others auditioned.) Nick Carter, Master Detective even fostered a spin-off series, Chick Carter, Boy Detective, which ran from 1943 to 1945; Chick was Nick Carter's adopted son.
The radio show finally petered out in 1953, but by the 1960s, Nick was back, smack dab in the middle of the James Bond feeding frenzy as a spy, in a long string of "men's adventure" paperbacks than ran under the title Nick Carter: Killmaster.
The Killmaster series was published from 1964 until the late 1990s, with at least 260 titles published, the transition of our hero from adventurer to globetrotting secret agent handled by (among others) Michael Avallone (creator of Ed Noon), Robert J. Randisi, Bill Crider, Michael Collins, Gayle Lynds and Martin Cruz Smith, all writing under the house name of Nick Carter.
The first known cinematic adaptation of Nick Carter was this six-part French silent serial. Episode titles are "Gùet-Apens," "L'affaire des bijoux," "Les faux-monnayeaurs," "Les dévaliseurs de bank," Les Empreintes" and "Les bandits des habits noir."
Known episodes include "En danger" and "Le sosie."
This loopy, over-the-top spoof has Nick visiting Prague, where he gets tangled up in the search for a missing dog -- and a carnivorous plant.
Jess Nevins' page. Well worth checking out.
Respectfully submitted by Stewart Wright (December 8, 1998). Additional information by Kevin Burton Smith, Jim Doherty and Jess Nevins. Special thanks to John McDonagh and Nancy Pike for their help, as well.
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