“Dear Jerry West, I hope you’re not too busy shooting baskets to write more of these good stories.”
Author Andrew Svenson, who wrote The Happy Hollisters using the pseudonym Jerry West, received thousands of letters from young readers, many asking how he found time to play professional basketball and write a popular children’s mystery series. Did you ever wonder if Jerry West, the children’s author, was the same person as Jerry West, the basketball player? We’ll let you in on a little secret: although Andrew Svenson enjoyed several sports and early in his career worked as a sports editor for the Newark Evening News, he definitely was not a professional basketball player. He chose the pseudonym Jerry West for his books series simply because it was shorter and easier for children to remember and pronounce.
Andrew Svenson began writing children’s books in 1948. At that time, the “real” Jerry West was a 10-year-old boy from West Virginia who liked to hunt, fish, and shoot basketballs into a makeshift hoop. Andrew Svenson had already completed eighteen volumes of The Happy Hollisters by the time Jerry West started playing professional basketball in 1960.
Jerry West was a co-captain of the gold-medal-winning U.S. Olympic basketball team in 1960 and played as a point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers from 1960 to 1974. Standing 6’3” tall, he was famous for the last-minute game-winning plays that earned him the nickname “Mr. Clutch.” While West was on the team, the Lakers played in nine National Basketball Association (NBA) finals, and he was chosen for the NBA’s All-Star Team fourteen times. Throughout his entire 932-game career, he scored an impressive 25,192 points, ranking him among modern basketball’s greatest players. When the NBA honored the fifty best basketball players in history in celebration of their 50th anniversary in 1996, West was on the list, along with Shaquille O’Neal, Michael Jordan, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
All told, Jerry West spent 40 years with the Lakers, as a player, head coach, scout, and general manager. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1979 and named the NBA’s Executive of the Year in 1995. He also held executive positions with the Memphis Grizzlies and the Golden State Warriors, and he is currently an executive board member for the Los Angeles Clippers. In 2011 he published his memoir, West By West: My Charmed, Tormented Life. Unlike Andrew Svenson, he did not feel the need to use a pseudonym!
The choice of “Jerry West” as a pen name for The Happy Hollisters series was definitely a coincidence. Since both the books and the basketball player were at the height of their popularity in the 1960s and 70s, it’s understandable that some young readers were confused. We don’t know whether the basketball player is aware of the children’s series written by an author with the same name, but one thing is for sure—with their shared name and mutual love for sports, Svenson and West would have had a great chat if they had ever met!
Research notes, Andrew Svenson Archives of The Hollister Family Properties Trust