In February of 2006, Robert Arthur's original working manuscript for The Mystery of the Talking Skull was discovered listed at an on-line auction site where it was being sold as a script from an Alfred Hitchcock movie. Before the auction ended, the seller revealed that he had found this manuscript in his elderly mother's attic in Linwood, New Jersey where it had resided for at least 30+ years. The seller's mother had been a friend of Robert Arthur's aunt, Margaret Fischer. After Mr. Arthur died in 1969, Ms. Fischer gave a number of his personal possessions to her friend, including this manuscript.
Upon acquisition of the manuscript in March 2006, it was given a thorough examination and read from beginning to end. Shortly thereafter, it was read side-by-side with the published version of the book and many notes were taken regarding the content of the manuscript and the differences between it and the published version. A heavy, stale, cigarette odor would waft up from the pages during the first reading but it had completely dissipated after the second reading. I had the eerie yet delightful sensation that the odor was from the cigarettes that Robert Arthur had smoked while pounding out these pages on his typewriter; it was an ethereal, chance encounter with the last earthly vestiges of an admired author.
News of the manuscript's discovery and some scans of its pages was shared with Robert Arthur's daughter, Elizabeth, and the following message was received from Elizabeth's husband, Steven Bauer, in August of 2006:
"That is RA's handwriting; that's for sure! The paper seems to be that acid-drenched stuff we used back then (when I was in college, which was during the time that RA was writing the last of the ten books, we were required to use yellow foolscap (drenched in acid) in our writing classes). At any rate, you have what seems to us to be
the only extant mss. of an Arthur T3I book. Pretty amazing! . . . I'm sure the cigarette smoke was RA's."
For nearly two years the manuscript was sealed in an archival plastic bag and stored away to help prevent deterioration. In 2008 the manuscript was taken apart and each page was digitally scanned. In 2014 ownership of the original manuscript was transferred to a private T3I collection where it has been archivally preserved.
The preliminary sketch on the left (it looks blurry but that is how it was drawn) contains notes in the margins penned by Eugenia Fanelli: "Per text: no cloth on the table - it's a wooden table with ivory inlaid in 'mysterious signs' - probably signs of the Zodiac." And, "large gold rings in ears of woman, woman shouldn't touch ball, her get-up should be pretty exotic so she looks different from pic earlier (#1), hair OK here. - EF"
The original final, published illustration on the right contains the following note in the margin from Ms. Fanelli to someone (most likely Jackie Mabli as the initials match) in the art department: "JM - woman is supposed to have gold hoops in ears - they don't show here - could be touched up with a little white. - EF"
Robert Arthur passed away on May 2, 1969 and probably didn't have the opportunity to see the artwork for his final Three Investigators book. According to copyright.gov, both "Talking Skull" and "Laughing Shadow" were first published on August 4, 1969. One does wonder if Robert Arthur was thinking about or outlining another Three Investigators mystery in the final months of his life.
And finally, for your pleasure and delight, here is the entire first chapter from Robert Arthur's manuscript for Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators in the Mystery of the Talking Skull:
The Mystery of the Talking Skull was Robert Arthur's 10th and final book in the series that he created. The front cover of the manuscript indicates that Mr. Arthur began his Initial Draft on March 21, 1968.
As you shall soon see, the manuscript was typed and appears to be entirely self-edited with all corrections, additions and deletions being penciled in by Robert Arthur. Unfortunately, if the text on an entire page of the manuscript couldn't be used, Mr. Arthur discarded the page. However, if all but just one sentence were crossed out, the page was kept in the manuscript. These latter pages are almost always the most interesting as they lend some insight into different story lines and ideas that were being worked out. After all of the self-editing, the manuscript can be read straight through from beginning to end and it reads almost exactly like the published version of the book with just a few very minor changes.
Please click on the above image to enlarge.
The manuscript contains loads of material of interest to a T3I enthusiast. Some examples:
- The original title of the story was The Mystery of the Auction Trunk.
- Many changes were made regarding chapter titles.
- The reporter, Fred Brown, originally had a much larger role in the story.
- Many character names, street names and house numbers were changed as the story developed.
- We learn that Bob Andrews has an Uncle Dick who edits a country newspaper back East in New England.
- There is a lot of humor between Pete and Jupe that was deleted along with a large amount of Pete's typical
"scaredy-cat" type of humor.
- Aunt Mathilda likes to bake her own bread and Uncle Titus jokes about her whole wheat bread.
Some Notes on the Editorship and Illustrations in "Talking Skull":
1968/69 was the general time frame in which the original editor for the series, Walter Retan, passed his duties on to Eugenia Fanelli. As we know, at this point in the series' history the books were published in pairs. So Dennis Lynds was very likely working on his manuscript for "Laughing Shadow" in 1968 as well. Evidence found on original Harry Kane sketches and artwork indicates that Ms. Fanelli was assigned to edit "Talking Skull" while Mr. Retan worked with Dennis Lynds on "Laughing Shadow" and both editors worked with Harry Kane on the artwork for their respective books. Afterwards, Ms. Fanelli continued on as the senior editor of the series.
It is currently unknown as to how much input Ms. Fanelli had on "Talking Skull". As mentioned previously, the
manuscript appears to be self-edited by Robert Arthur with very few and very minor changes between it and the published story. However, she did work quite closely with Harry Kane on the sketches and final illustrations, one shown below, for the book. The sketch dates from March 1969 while the final illustration was drawn not too long after.