Barney Cook

Created by Harvey J. O'Higgins (1876-1929)

Sixteen-year old BARNEY COOK, better known as "Detective Barney," predated not just the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, but also The Continental Op, Race Williams and all the rest. Unlike most child detectives, Barney was a real kid, and is still considered "the most believable of boy detectives in American literature" (re: Maddened by Mystery).

O'Higgins achieved this by permitting Barney to do only the things a real kid would do. So, although Barney's the office boy and go-fer for New York's Babbing Detective Bureau, "the big work," as Howard Haycraft puts it, "is done by the head of the firm (although) Barney's alert observation and quick wits are allowed to contribute to the solution."

And, after having read "The Anonymous Letter," ther first story in the series, I'd have to agree. This is simply great stuff, no matter how old you are. Barney's that rare combination of pluck and wit that makes him smart without being precocious.

Baney's creator, Harvey O'Higgins, was born in London, Ontario, and studied law at the University of Toronto, but soon turned to journalism, writing for The Toronto Star and later, The New York Globe. He wrote magazine articles and short stories, as well. It was, in fact, an article on the famous Burns detective agency that gave him both the inspiration and the background for the Barney stories, which were published in Collier's, and later collected in book form in The Adventures of Detective Barney (1915).

With his writing partner, actress Harriet Ford, O'Higgins wrote several Broadway plays, including The Dummy, a 4-act play featuring Barney that had a long successful run in the New York theatres. It was later made into a couple of films, a silent one in 1917 and one with sound in 1929.

Higgins also wrote several short stories featuring John Duff, a New York city lawyer/detective. Apparently, the 1929 collection of Duff stories, detective Duff Unravels It, is "the first approach to psychoanalytical detection."

SHORT STORIES

  • "The Case of Padages Palmer" (November 30, 1912, Colliers)
  • "Though Mountains Meet Not (December 7, 1912, Collier's)
  • "The Kidnappers (December 21, 1912, Collier's; akaa "The Dummy")
  • "The Anonymous Letters" (January 4, 1913, Collier's)
  • "Barney and King Lear (September 20, 1913, Collier's)
  • "Barney Has a Hunch (September 5, 1914, Collier's)
  • "The Blackmailers" (November 1914, Colliers, also Crime in a Cold-Climate, 1994)

COLLECTIONS

PLAYS

  • THE DUMMY
    (1917, New York)
    4-act play
    Official opening: April 13, 1914
    Original script by Harvey J. O'Higgins and Harriet Ford
    Starring Ernest Truex as BARNEY COOK

A four-act play that had a long successful run in New York City's Hudson Theater (202 performances). Although the lead, ernest Truex, was thirty-five at the time, his short stature allowed him to play a convincing 16-year old. Thep lay was later made into a couple of films, a silent one in 1917 and with sound in 1929.

FILMS

  • THE DUMMY
    (1917, Famous Players)
    Silent, black and white
    Based on the play by Harvey J. O'Higgins and Harriet Ford
    Screenplay by Eve Unsell
    Directed by Francis J. Grandon
    Starring Jack Pickford as BARNEY COOK
    with Frank Losee as Babbing
    Also starring Edwin Stanley, Helen Greene, Ethelmary Oakland, Ruby Hoffman, Hal Wilson

  • THE DUMMY
    (1929, Paramount)
    70 minutes, black and white
    Based on the play by Harvey J. O'Higgins and Harriet Ford
    Screenplay by Herman J. Mankiewicz and Joseph L. Mankiewicz
    Directed by Robert Milton
    Starring Mickey Bennett as BARNEY COOK
    with John Cromwell as Babbing
    Also starring Fredric March, Ruth Chatterton, Fred Kohler, Vondell Darr, Jack Oakie, Zasu Pitts, Richard Tucker, Eugene Pallette

The Photoplay review states: "The picture looks like a convention of new Hollywood faces imported from the speaking stage...well worth seeing, despite its obvious experimental talkie crudities...the fundamental appeal gets it across."

Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.


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