The Three Investigators: We Investigate Anything

3investigators2.jpgJAmussen at LA Voice is asking if there are any iconic childrens books that take place in Los Angeles, such as “Make Way for Ducklings” featuring Boston.

New York has The Cricket in Times Square and Eloise (for starters); Paris has Anatole.

While I couldn’t answer this specifically, I was reminded of my favorite book series while growing up called “Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators”, that takes place mostly in and around Los Angeles.

The three main characters, each about 13 years old, live in the fictional town of Rocky Beach, “10 to 12 miles from Hollywood and 15 miles from downtown Los Angeles.” (source: Wikipedia)

The series, created by Robert Arthur, begins with Jupiter Jones, a slightly overweight kid who’s dad owns a junkyard, guessing the right number of jellybeans in a jar and wins the use of a limo, plus driver, for one month. This is perfect, because he has recently convinced his two best friends, Pete Crenshaw and Bob Andrews, to start a private investigation firm. Hearing that Alfred Hitchcock is looking for a real haunted house to shoot his next film, the boys sneak into the studio lot with the help of the limo and convince Hitchcock to let them research Terror Castle, a prospective location that is experiencing some unusual activity.

As a nerdy film geek of a kid there was plenty to love about this series. There was the Hitchcock connection, which became part of each book as Hitch would write the prologues (in actuality, these were written by the novel’s author with his consent). The Investigators built their basecamp in an abandoned trailer inside the junkyard, and had numerous tunnels and secret tunnels to access it without prying eyes. Most cases involved the supernatural, although always with a Scooby-Doo type ending (I always wanted a story where it turned out the ghosts were real, and not a cover for the bad guys to commit a crime). The mysteries were almost always solved in a smart way by our protagonists that involved the reader, similar to the Encyclopedia Brown stories.

Since moving to Los Angeles I’ve tried to figure out where the author intended Rocky Beach to be. Malibu? Playa del Rey? Palos Verdes? Or a mishmash of any coastal area? The T3I fan site has a theory:

(Author) Robert Arthur says that Rocky Beach is 15 miles from downtown Los Angeles . Also, Rocky Beach is described as being 10-12 miles from the hills outside Hollywood. With such detail, it seems that Arthur was basing Rocky Beach on an actual town…

I’m not a California resident; so I may not have the proper perspective to make the best guess of which town was intended. However, in playing detective a little, it seems like Topanga Beach may fit the bill. First, Topanga Beach is described as a “rocky beach” on several websites (as opposed to a sandy beach), the name “Topanga” is Shoshonean and means “over” or “above” and (apparently) has the connotation of mountains or large rocks. Finally, the shortest driving distance from Topanga Beach to Hollywood is 17 miles, and the shortest driving distance from Topanga Beach to Los Angeles is 21 miles.

The books are still occasionally reprinted, although the Hitchcock reference was replaced in more recent versions with fictional filmmaker Reginald Clarke due to legal issues with the Hitchcock estate (and maybe because today’s readers wouldn’t even know who Hitch was).

While not children’s books per se, as far as teen pulp novels go, for Los Angeles the Three Investigators may be the most iconic.

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6 Replies to “The Three Investigators: We Investigate Anything”

  1. Once i discovered these books in the small Carnegie-funded library in my Ohio hometown of 2,000 people, I quickly read every single one they owned…and then went back and read them again and again.

    I once checked the LA Central Library for some of these titles, but they only had a poor “Make Your Own Story” version that captured none of the original flair.

    Darn you, now I am going to have to dig some of these up somewhere for my own son.

    BTW, I have no memory of the Hitchcock connection in the original stories. I guess I wasn’t too clear on who he was at the time. (SMILE)

    Douglas

  2. Doug: They sell on eBay frequently – just make sure you get the old versions as without Hitchcock they had to make some changes. Your boy will likely need a brief primer on who Hitch was, but he’ll appreciate it all the more. When I read the books Alfred had already passed on, but it was still a cool concept made even cooler by using a real celebrity instead of a made up one.

    5000!: I’ve never heard about Weetzie Bat, but I just made use of my Amazon Prime account to get them this week.

  3. I live in LA now but originally from Coimbatore, India and the public library there had a complete collection of Three Investigators and I grew up reading everyone of them.

  4. I remember these fondly. There was one in which they investigated a Satanic cult, I think (the cover has a giant snake on it). Perhaps they had stumbled on Jack Parsons?

    Another kids book which took place in LA (I think) was “Stranger from the Depths” – a favorite of mine.

  5. God, I loved those books as a kid. “Ramble scramble!”. I read as many as the Anaheim Public library had. The one where Hitch tried to kiss Jupiter freaked me out a little, though.

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