Template:Infobox Person Lester Dent (October 12, 1904 – March 11, 1959) was a prolific pulp fiction author of numerous stories, best known as the main author of the series of stories about the superhuman scientist and adventurer, Doc Savage. The stories were credited to the house name Kenneth Robeson.
Dent was born in 1904 in La Plata, Missouri. He was the only child of Bernard Dent, a rancher, and Alice Norfolk, a teacher before her marriage. The Dents had been living in Wyoming for some time, but had returned to La Plata so that Mrs. Dent could be with her family during the birth. The Dents returned to Wyoming in 1906, where they worked a ranch near Pumpkin Buttes, Wyoming.
Dent's early years were spent in the lonely hills of Wyoming. He attended a local one-room school house, often paying for tuition with furs that he had caught. He had few companions or friends; this early loneliness may have helped develop his talents as a story-teller.
Around 1919, the Dent family returned to La Plata for good, where Dent's father took up dairy farming. Dent completed his elementary and secondary education there.
In 1923, Dent enrolled at Chillicothe Business College in Chillicothe, Missouri. His original goal was to become a banker. However, while standing in the application line, he began talking to a fellow applicant about career options. He found out that the starting salary for a telegraph operator was $20 a week more than a bank clerk, so he changed his major to telegraphy. After completing the course, he taught at CBC for a short time.
In 1924, Dent became a telegraph operator for Western Union in Carrollton, Missouri. In 1925, he moved to Ponca City, Oklahoma, to work as a telegrapher for Empire Oil and Gas Company. It was in Ponca City that he met his future wife Norma Gersling. They were married on August 9, 1925.
In 1926, the Dents moved to Chickasha, Oklahoma, where Dent worked as a telegrapher for the Associated Press. One of Dent's co-workers had published a story in a pulp magazine, earning the huge sum (for that time) of $450. Dent, a voracious reader, was very familiar with pulp magazines of the day, and was sure he could write as least as well, if not better. He took advantage of the slow time during the graveyard shift to write. His first professional sale was an action story entitled "Pirate Cay"; it appeared in the September 1929 issue of Top Notch magazine.
Shortly after the publication of his story, Dent was contacted by Dell Publishing in New York City. They were willing to offer him $500 a month if he would write exclusively for their magazines. Dent, stunned by the good fortune, took some time considering the offer, but eventually accepted. The Dents relocated to New York, arriving January 1, 1931. Dent quickly learned the trade of the pulp author, teaching himself how to write quickly and with few rewrites. He soon surpassed Dell's needs, and began writing for the other pulp chains.
In 1932, Henry Ralston of Street and Smith Publications contacted Dent with a proposition for a new magazine. Ralston had scored a great success with The Shadow magazine, and was interested in developing a second title around a central character. He had in mind a gadget oriented detective, which appealed to Dent's love of gimmicks. While Dent was unhappy that his stories would be published under a house name, he found it hard to turn down the $500 per novel (which would later increase to $750), and accepted Ralston's offer.
Issue Number 1 of Doc Savage magazine hit the stands in March, 1933; within 6 months it was one of the top selling pulp magazines on the market. Much of the success stemmed from Dent's fantastic imagination, fueled by his own personal curiosity. Dent was able to use the freedom that his new-found financial security allowed him, to learn and to explore. In addition to being a wide-ranging reader, Dent also took courses in technology and the trades. He earned both his amateur radio and pilot license, passed both the electricians' and plumbers' trade exams, and was an avid mountain climber. His usual method was to learn a subject thoroughly, then move on to another. An example is boating: in the late 1930s, Dent bought a 40 foot two-masted schooner. He and his wife lived on it for several years, sailing it up and down the eastern coast of the US, then sold it in 1940. The Dents traveled extensively as well, enough to earn Lester a membership in the Explorers Club.
In 1940, the Dents returned to La Plata for good. Dent continued to write for Doc Savage, but also found time to work in the other pulp genres. His post-1941 Doc Savage work benefited from this; the later Savage novels are known for their tighter plotting, improved dialogue, and a shift towards mystery instead of super-science. Doc Savage himself begins to shed his superhuman image, and to show more fallible, human side.
Doc Savage Magazine ceased publication in 1949. Of the 181 Doc Savage novels published by Street and Smith, 179 were credited to Kenneth Robeson; and all but twenty were written by Dent. The first novel, The Man of Bronze, used the name Kenneth Roberts, but this was changed after it was discovered that there was another author named Kenneth Roberts. The March 1944 issue, "The Derelict of Skull Shoal", was accidentally credited to Lester Dent. This was the only time during the run of the magazine that Dent's real name was used. Following his tenure on Doc Savage, Dent found continuing success as a mystery and western writer. His final published story was a Western entitled "Savage Challenge", published in the February 22, 1958 issue of the Saturday Evening Post.
Dent appears as a character in the 2006 novel The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril by Paul Malmont. The novel describes friendship and rivalry among pulp writers of the 1930s; it also includes Walter Gibson, creator of The Shadow.
Doc Savage NovelsEdit
See the List of Doc Savage novels for a complete bibliography of Dent's most famous character.
- "Doc Savage" by Corey Pritchard. <http://library.truman.edu/scpublications/Chariton%20Collector/Spring%201987/Doc%20Savage.pdf>
- Cannaday, Marilyn. Bigger than Life: The Creator of Doc Savage. c 1990.
- Lester Dent's Official Page at MySpace
- The Lester B. Dent Collection at the University of Missouri
- City of La Plata, Missouri, hometown of Lester Dent