“Cool. Christopher Cool. TEEN Agent.”
“I’m not calling you that.”
Following a request for more “Boy Books” after a long run of girl-books, I dug up this Stratemeyer Syndicate/Grosset & Dunlap series from the mid-1960s. And, oh boy, I did not know what I was in for.
Background: TEEN is an acronym for Top-Secret Educational Espionage Network: “This hush-hush corps of bright young students had been specially developed by the CIA on the theory that its members would be less open to suspicion than older agents.”
What could possibly go wrong?
We’re introduced to Ivy League undergrad Christopher Cool (not a nom de espionage, but the son of physicist Dr. Jonathan Cool) (!!!) and his fellow agent and roommate (wait for it) Geronimo Johnson. Concerning Geronimo, we learn:
“[C]oming from the greatest race of guerrilla fighters in history, with the blood of Apache war chiefs in his veins, had been naturally attracted to the stealthy, deadly business of cold-war espionage.”
And just so the reader never forgets what a stealthy Indian Geronimo Johnson is, he is constantly saying stealthy, Indian-y things like “Let’s go, choonday.”
I could do this all day, but because Geronimo is too, you know, ethnic, to be the main character or do anything important in the plot or romance the ladies, we really must get on with the crew-cutted adventures of our blond superboy.
The Plot: We open with Chris and Geronimo zipping off the campus of Kingston University a TOTALLY FICTIONAL, GUYS! Ivy League college in New Jersey. The crusty, bitter old Dean looks on with disapproval:
“Humph! Cool again! Most brilliant student I’ve ever had, yet there he goes- off to New York for another night on the town. Young idiot would rather moon away his time in some bleating discotheque, I suppose!”
Chris and Geronimo Johnson go to the CIA Headquarters, which is located in a Jaguar dealership in midtown Manhattan, where they are given their assignment and outfitted with various gadgets by their CIA-boss, Q… OH COME ON! They actually named the guy Q? Can we at least pick another letter if we’re going to rip off James Bond?
Chris and Geronimo Johnson then head to the Jersey Shore, where they are supposed to rendezvous with another agent, but that goes south with the other agent is… blasted with some sort of cold beam. Ladies and gentlemen, your super-secret Commie weapon: the Russkies are planning on making us God-fearing Americans really cold, one tedious person at a time.
This turn of events necessitates that Chris and Geronimo Johnson go to Paris and speak italicized French and become in involved in various sub-Scooby Doo level capers that include falling in a river, getting chased by bats, and watching various things explode.
On the flight over, while Chris is trying to make time with a Jeanne Moreau-esque ingénue, somebody shoves a live toad in the pocket of his sports coat. This is the calling card of TOAD
“the most feared and fiendish secret organization in the world. As a criminal setup aimed at eventual world domination it outmuscled all known gangs. Its intelligence network at times rivaled the Russian KGB or American CIA.”
And yet, there they are, running around stuffing amphibians in the pockets of people’s sports coats!
The ingénue turns out to be the fiancée of the double-agent who was… made to be really cold. She tells Our Hero that he was on the trail of Le Glacier, or as it translates into American “The Chiller”, who is rumored to be involved with a top-secret weapon called Ciel Assassin. Or since we Americans don’t like that frou-frou Frenchy stuff: Skykill.
Chris gets shoved off the observation deck of the Eiffel Tower, but is saved by his Jet Boots, or as the CIA officially calls them: “Rocket Hoppers”. Which is a tie for Worst Name For A Gadget in the book: his infrared goggles are officially called the “Snooper Scope”.
By this time he has jeopardized the fate of the free world so badly that the CIA has to call in a girl-agent to help out, and Chris gets to try and put the moves on feisty (of course) redhead Spice Carter.
Spice is supposed to provide an excuse for Chris to get into a fancy party (excuse me, a gala fete) as her date so they can do some actual spying. Geronimo is along too, but no date for him, because he’s so Indian-y and everything (“he has a weakness for red-headed squaws. He doesn’t see too many on the reservation.”)
So, everyone slinks around and does spy stuff. For some reason Chris needs a disguise:
Chris could see purple-and-gold drapes shrouding the windows. The TEEN agent grinned. “Just what I need. A perfect set of threads for the well-dressed Afro-Asian man-about-town!”
Oh, we’re not really…?
From the emergency kit strapped inside his cummerbund, he took a small tin of dark ointment used for night commando operations and a black nylon-elastic skullcap. Chris fitted the cap tightly over his blond hair, the pushed up his sleeves and rubbed the ointment over his face and hands.
I’m sure nobody is going to notice the teenager in blackface and dressed in the dining room curtains running around. Way to spy.
Chris has an encounter with Le Glacier. He falls in La Seine. Everyone gets chased by bats.
The identity of Le Glacier is uncovered, everyone is chased by bats (again), and in true super villain style, he reveals the details of his nefarious scheme before doing away with Chris and Spice. Geronimo Johnson to the last-minute rescue! I guess he gets to do something after all! He probably shouldn’t get used to it, though.
The TEEN Agents are debriefed by the President of the United States aboard Air Force One on the way to Vienna:
“Any danger that the Reds acquired anything?”
Well, done and done then.
Any final words, Geronimo?
“To each his own, choonday– to each his own.” Geronimo gazed out the car window and began humming a plaintive Apache ballad.
I cannot tell you how much I am looking forward to future volumes in this series, and meeting TEEN Agents who represent many more ethnic stereotypes. Further editions promise to include:
Yummi Toyama is a petite Japanese-American TEEN agent from Berkeley University with almond eyes, a flawless golden complexion, and jet-black hair that reaches nearly to her waist.
SIGH. And don’t forget:
Beauregard Tatum, a Negro late of Mississippi and currently a student at Harvard, is one of TEEN’s most remarkable students. He has a six-foot-four frame and 270 pounds of slablike muscle. He also has one of the most brilliant minds ever recruited by TEEN, but does his best to disguise his brainpower with flamboyant foolery.
Oh, just…. yowzah.
Boola-Boola Department: While Princeton rightly wanted no part of this mess, Vassar, Berkeley and Harvard were not so picky.
Maybe We Should Not Be Entrusting Teenagers Department: “Remember, this gadget could alter the balance of power in the cold war- and it seems the Pentagon takes a very dim view of that.”
Sign It Was Written in 1967 Department: More Red Menacing than a Jack Webb educational short film.