The Mad Scientist's Club

Bertrand 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 in operation.

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 orchestra."

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.

The years 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