Arthur O(lney) Friel was born on 31 May 1885 in Detroit, Michigan, the son of George William Friel and Lucy L. Friel (Thompson). He was the Honor roll from 1896–1897 at the Gossville school and at the New Orchard Road School in 1899. At that time he was staying with his Uncle Joseph and Aunt Lydia (Thompson) Locke. He then left to attend High School and College.
Little is known about his childhood. He claims that “at the age of ten [I] was a veteran trout and bass fisherman, a good boatman, a fair trapper, and an inveterate swimmer. My first real rifle and real dog came to me at the age of twelve after which I was one of the uncrowned kings of the earth.“
He was small of stature (5’6″), around 150 pounds in weight, and had blue eyes. He attended Yale University, graduating with a BA in 1909. In college he was a cross country runner and a member of the N.Y. A.C. team which won the A. A. U. National Championship in 1905. An attack of appendicitis took him out of athletics and he became an avid amateur photographer.
One incident from his college life stands out. He was shot; the culprit was unidentified. A newspaper account of the incident reads:
Student shot in his room: Yale sophomore gets a bullet through his arm while going to bedDaily Sun, May 30th, 1907
New Haven, May 30 – Arthur O. Friel of Manchester, NH, a Yale sophomore, rooming in Lawrence Hall, was shot down in his room late last night by an unknown man.
He had been out to mail a letter and in the absence of his two roommates left the door to his room unlocked. When he returned he noticed nothing wrong and sat down to smoke. In fifteen minutes, he started for his bedroom, adjoining. As he entered the door he received a blow on the head which dazed him. He struck back, however, and his assailant fired at him. The bullet went through his left arm and into the door.
When Friel recovered consciousness, his assailant had escaped.
He joined the Concord Monitor as a reporter in 1909. From 1911 to 1920, he worked for the Associated Press, and seems to have been in the military in a training camp in Plattsburg, New York in 1916. It is not clear whether he saw active service at the front, or was a news editor in New York when on military service. He came out of the war without getting an officer’s commission, and rejoined the Associated Press. Sometime during this period, he got married to Bessie Genevieve Knowlton, the daughter of Edgar J. Knowlton, a newspaper reporter and two time mayor of Manchester, NH.
He turned his attention to writing fiction in 1919, and started contributing to various magazines. Adventure was one of them, where he wrote his popular series about Pedro and Lourenco, two Indian workers on a rubber plantation in the Amazon forest. His other popular series about Ryan, McKay and Knowlton, a trio of explorers in South America also appeared in Adventure before being published in novel form. His treatment of the native population was sympathetic in these, there doesn’t seem to have been any racist bias here.
He also wrote articles giving tips on photography in the Kodak company’s magazine, Kodakery. This is one of the photos in that article of him on a 150 mile tramping trip through the Catskills and using a timer to shoot himself (he calls it “My silent partner”).
These stories of South American adventure seem to have prompted him to learn more about the area he was writing about, or perhaps he was interested in the region before he wrote his stories. In any case, in 1922, he ventured on an expedition into the Venezuelan jungle to find one of the rumored lost tribes of white Indians. His account of the trip was published in a book, The River of Seven Stars. Here’s his account of why he picked that title:
“I was standing in the fore of the boat going up the Orinoco River at sunset one evening. The sun was just setting behind the great hills which the Indians have named the ‘Mountains of Mystery’. The flag of Venezuela was blowing in the breeze. On it there are seven stars representing the seven States. That’s all there was to it – I had found the name for my book.“
When talking about his book, he mentions that travel writing is harder than fiction. “I find fiction easier. You have to keep a [travel] diary, take notes and all that sort of thing. Fiction you can chuck in any additional details you feel like. Anyway it takes too long. Why it took me four months working day and night to finish “The River of Seven Stars“. The returns are slower. A novel has an immediate run and then it’s through. It takes years to get a commensurate amount out of a travel book.“
The 1920s were his most productive time as a fiction writer, with an average of 5 appearances per year in Adventure during that time. The thirties were much less productive, but he still managed to have one or two stories every year published in Adventure, except 1937, when he had none.
He seems to have stopped writing fiction by the time WW2 came around. The decline of the pulps must have been a contributing factor. In “Yesterday’s Faces”, Robert Sampson mentions that Friel became the War Editor of the Concord Monitor-Patriot in 1942. However, his draft card from the same time, in the “old men’s draft”, mentions him being “Self Employed”. After that, there is no information about what he did till his death on January 27, 1959.
|“Student shot in his room”||Unknown author||The Sun||Friday May 31 1907|
|“Hard to get”||Arthur O. Friel||Kodakery||Vol. VII No. 1||Sep 1919|
|“My silent partner”||Arthur O. Friel||Kodakery||Vol. VII No. 5||January 1920|
|“That pal o’ mine”||Arthur O. Friel||Kodakery||Vol. VII No. 11||July 1920|
|“The power of the lens”||Arthur O. Friel||Kodakery||Vol. VIII No. 1||September 1920|
|“Before sunrise”||Arthur O. Friel||Kodakery||vol. VIII No. 4||December 1920|
|“The folks back home”||Arthur O. Friel||Kodakery||vol. VIII No. 8||April 1921|
|“Going it alone”||Arthur O. Friel||Outing||Vol. LXXV||No. 3 December 1919|
|“Snags for the Cameraman”||Arthur O. Friel||Outing||Vol. LXXV No. 6||March 1920|
|“Arthur O. Friel tells of ferocious tribes in South American Jungles”||Charles Samuels||Brooklyn NY Daily Eagle||date unknown 1925|
|“Associated Press roll of Honor”||Service bulletin||Associated Press||No. 1-49||Sept. 15 1904-Dec. 20 1918|
|“Service Notes, News Department||Service bulletin||Associated Press||No. 1-49||Sept. 15 1904-Dec. 20 1918|
|Robert Sampson||Yesterday’s Faces vol. 5|
|WWII “Old Man’s Draft” Registration Cards – New Hampshire|
|“Epsom Memoirs”||George H. Yeaton||1958-1965|
Arthur Friel’s signature as seen on his draft card