Lester Dent

May 15, 1970 by

Lester Dent

Lester Dent (1904-1959) was born in La Plata, Missouri. As an adult he was an imposing physical specimen, at 6’2″ and over 200 pounds, who cut a dashing figure and lived a vigorous, exciting, globe-trotting life just as adventurous as the characters he was famous for creating. He often sported a moustache and sometimes a beard. Lester Dent was married to Norma Dent, who also helped him in his writing career acting at times as his secretary.

Dent did an amazing amount of things in his life, often mastering something fully and then dropping it completely. In Lester Dent: The Man, His Craft, and His Market, by M. Martin McCarey-Laird, his wife, Norma, is reported as saying that “…he was like this with every adventure in which he involved himself; when he had exhausted his interest, he moved on to something else.” But his one life long interest seemed to be writing. After trying his hand at writing when working as a telegraph operator in Oklahoma, Lester Dent struck gold with the sales of some stories and moved to New York City. He began a very successful writing career and became for a while, with the Doc Savage series, the most popular and best selling author of the Pulp Era. After his death, some newspapers called Dent the second most prolific author in the world (though this was before Isaac Asimov). Nevertheless, his output and creativity energy was prodigous. In the Doc Savage series alone, he produced 165 full-length novels (of at least 55,000 words each), one each month for about 17 years, all while living, traveling, exploring, building, and writing various other works as well.

Lester Dent is most famous for writing the Doc Savage series (1933-1949), under the pseudonym Kenneth Robeson. Doc Savage is one of the most influential characters in modern American culture, having spawned generations of imitations in literature, comics, cartoons, TV, and film, such as Superman, Batman, James Bond, Johnny Quest, Indiana Jones, and Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt, just to name a very few.

As Lee Server noted in The Encyclopedia of Pulp Fiction Writers, “Many a writer found wish fulfillment in their larger-than-life fictional protagonists, but many who knew Lester Dent thought he really did seem a lot like the amazing Doc. Dent was a huge man…. Like Savage, Dent possessed vast and arcane knowledge and was a master of assorted technical skills. He was a pilot, electrician, radio operator, plumber, and architect. … And like Doc Savage, Lester Dent loved exploring the deserts, sailing tropic waters, and diving for sunken treasure (for three years he sailed the Caribbean on his yacht Albatross, diving for treasure by day, his wife would recall, and sitting on the deck writing Doc Savage stories all night).”

Dent was a gadgeteer and throughout his life he worked with and tried innovations in most forms of technology, from telegraph, radio, televison, to cameras, film, planes, electricity, etc. This is one of the many reasons he was hired to write the Doc Savage stories, though he was a young inexperienced writer of 28 at the time. Dent had the creativity to churn out inventions by the ton, but also the technical savvy to make them believeable and probable, if not functional. Philip Jose Farmer, in his semi-biographical study Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life, says, “As a prognosticator, Dent’s record beat that of Jules Verne. The list of gadgets that first appeared in print in the Doc Savage stories and only came into existence long years later is a long one.”

Lester Dent was not limited to the Doc Savage series. He also wrote nonfiction, novels, short stories in almost every genre (adventure, action, mystery, western, detective), and scripts for comics, radio, and television.

Lester Dent suffered a massive stroke in 1959, and after three weeks in a hospital, died on March 11, 1959.

— Entry by Thomas Fortenberry


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