R. Brinley was born in Hudson, New York in 1917. He had a peripatetic
childhood, living in Hudson, Lansdowne, Pennsylvania; West Newbury,
Massachusetts; Evanston, Illinois; and Hollywood, California, to
name just a few of the places. When he lived in Hollywood in the
Twenties, he pitched pennies with Jackie Cooper, who became a child
star, and sold newspapers to Charlie Chase, the silent comedy star,
at the corner of Western Avenue and Hollywood Boulevard.
He attended high school in West Newbury in the same building in
which I went to first grade, many years later. My father lived at
what the family called "the Farm." It was indeed a farm; but, it
was also home on and off for a variety of intellectuals during the
Depression and a young man who was later to achieve great literary
fame, John Cheever. We often visited the farm when we lived in West
Newbury, and I remember the large library in one room.
West Newbury contributed a good many place names and several of
the characters to the Mad Scientists' Club stories. My father graduated
in 1935 and went West again to Stanford University, where he studied
History, English, and Speech and Drama. During his years at Stanford,
he worked at the Peninsula Creamery in Palo Alto, which is still
He was recruited by Harry Bridges' waterfront union to fight in
Spain for the republican side in the civil war (Bridges' union was
a Communist front organization). He and a colleague went along with
the deal because they wanted a free trip to Europe: they planned
to jump ship in Biarritz and tour through France. Alas, his father
got wind of the caper and had my father's passport pulled. I remember
my father telling me about a visit from a union recruiter one day
while he was working at the Creamery who wanted to know if he was
still going to join up.
It was in Palo Alto that my father met my mother at the Palo Alto
Community Playhouse. He was the assistant director. Here is an excerpt
from his resume: "Assisted in direction of major productions...directed
workshop productions, handled publicity and season ticket campaigns...Appeared
in major roles in ..ten productions. Typical productions: Winterset,
Pygmalion, High Tor, The Importance of Being Earnest.. Stage Door,
You Can't Take it With You, Our Town, Ah, Wilderness."
After they were married, they moved to Southern California, where
he worked for the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation as a systems analyst.
Never far from the theater, he co-founded the Lockheed Players,
producing and directing The Importance of Being Earnest, Lady Blackmere's
Fan, and Springtime for Henry.
In 1944 he entered the Army, which became his career and made his
family international travelers. The service first took us to Germany
and Austria, and later to Japan and Panama. Another excerpt from
his resume gives a flavor of a long-lost time in our history: "...Assigned
as Special Services Officer, Third U.S. Army in Munich and Heidelberg...Escorted
USO shows. Directed Troop Entertainment Program for U.S. Occupied
Zone, Germany...Organized road circuit of twenty-one show units
and ninety-five dance bands..Arranged talent exchange with Bal Tabarin
and Folies Bergeres in Paris, and the Palladium in London...Wrote
and directed seven musical productions for troop entertainment...utilizing
both soldier and professional talent, twenty-girl ballet, and concert
Among his assignments were running The Stardust Club -- a nightclub
for soldiers in Heidelberg, managing a resort hotel for Allied officers
in Kitzbuhl, Austria, and serving as an aide to the commanding general
of the Third Army in Vienna. In the latter assignment we lived in
the Vienna Woods in a house that was built with straw instead of
lathe to hold the coat of exterior stucco. It was our house of straw.
After returning to the States, he worked in public relations for
the Salvation Army while we lived in West Newbury. He re-entered
the Army during the Korean War, saw action with the 7th Division
and was aide to Lt. General William K. Harrison-- the United Nations
negotiator -- during the final peace negotiations that ended the
conflict. He stayed with the general in subsequent assignments in
Japan and Panama.
Returning to the States again, he became news chief for the U.S.
First Army on Governors Island, New York. We lived on Staten Island
in the oldest house on the island, so he took two ferries to get
to work-- one from Staten Island to Manhattan; and the other from
Manhattan to Governors Island. He handled press relations for two
major POW trials, induction of Elvis Presley and Brooklyn Dodger
pitcher John Podres into the Army, the reception of 30,000 Hungarian
refugees in 1956, a Nike missile site explosion in Middletown, NJ,
and numerous other events.
It was after the launch of Sputnik in 1957 that my father started
and directed an Army program for assistance and safety instruction
for amateur rocketeers, which he did until leaving the service in
1959. This experience led him to start writing the book, Rocket
Manual for Amateurs, published in 1960 by Ballantine Books.
About the same time, the Mad Scientists of Mammoth Falls came to
life in The Strange Sea Monster of Strawberry Lake, which
he completed in 1960. We were still living on Staten Island when
he finished the story, but the family had moved to Florida by the
time it was published by Boys' Life in 1961. It was followed by
Night Rescue and The Unidentified Flying Man of Mammoth
Falls in 1961. The Mad Scientists' Club was on its way.
He continued writing the stories while working for the Martin Company
in Orlando as a public relations representative, completing The
Great Confrontation, the last of the short stories, in 1968.
At Martin his last major public relations assignment was the Sprint
missile program, our first anti-ballistic missile defense system.
in Florida were his most productive, as there he wrote eleven of
the twelve Mad Scientists' Club short stories. Most of the stories
were written when he lived in Winter Park, at the time a small town
adjacent to Orlando. Because Rollins College is located there, he
again became active in the theater, appearing in productions that
used local talent in addition to the students majoring in drama.
While still writing the last two tales in 1968, he embarked on the
first novel length story about the Club by sending the publisher
a synopsis for what would eventually become The Big Kerplop!,
but was entitled, The Sunken Village.
He, my mother, and various cats and dogs, moved to New Jersey in
early 1970, with The Sunken Village still unfinished. Over
the next two years, while working at Bell Laboratories, he continued
working on it, completing the book in 1973 after they had moved
to the Shenandoah Valley. In the valley he wrote the last Mad Scientists'
Club book, The Big Chunk of Ice.
My father intended to devote himself to writing when he moved to
the Shenandoah. He arrived with new ideas. One was a series of stories
about a young man's adventures in the valley during the Civil War.
He hoped that the Mad Scientists' Club stories, if promoted, would
provide a steady income while he wrote more of them, the Civil War
series, and other things he had in mind.
But, the Mad Scientists of Mammoth Falls had run their course. He
had ideas for more stories, but constant problems with the publisher
sapped his desire to bring another tale to life. The Big Kerplop!
was finally published in 1974, but MacRae Smith was on the ropes
and unable to pay the printing bill. The Big Chunk of Ice
was also submitted to MacRae Smith, but never published.
Both my father and mother ended their years in the valley. It was
the first time they stayed in one place so long in their lives together.
He spent a good part of the last twenty years of his life trying
to get the stories re-issued and The Big Chunk of Ice published.
In the early Eighties, my father and I investigated publishing the
works in hard cover ourselves, but we were unable to get the venture
off the ground.
In his last years, he was approached by several producers for the
movie and TV rights. By this time, the stories already had a classic
feel to them, and he was especially careful that any production
preserve the flavor of the times in which they were written. The
producer who could agree to this condition was never found. This
was a matter close to my father's heart. As he told more than one
interested producer, "I feel I owe it to the millions of readers
who have treasured the stories over the years to be able to see
them on the screen as they read them"
Illustrations used by permission of Bertrand R. Brinley, L.L.C.
Copyright © 2010 Sheridan Brinley