I am writing a biography on Mildred Wirt Benson, a real life Nancy Drew and the original Carolyn Keene. Follow my progress and learn more about the biography here. Interested publishers may inquire.
The Mysterious History of Nancy Drew
For over 88 years, Nancy Drew has trailblazed through generations, her enduring and forever timeless quality a huge part of her appeal.
She endured through the depression era of the 1930's and the war-torn 1940's when many other series were discontinued and waned in popularity.
There are many factors that have led to the success of Nancy.
In the beginning she was just a name. Just a few pages of plot at the hands of
creator Edward Stratemeyer and his Stratemeyer Syndicate. She debuted at a time when girls were ready for something different--something that
gave them higher ideals. Nancy was the embodiment of independence, pluck, and intelligence and that was what many little girls craved to be like and to
Mildred A. Wirt Benson, who breathed such a fiesty spirit into Nancy's character.
Mildred wrote 23 of the original 30 Nancy Drew Mystery
Stories. It was this characterization that helped make Nancy an instant hit. The
Stratemeyer Syndicate's devotion to the series over the years under
the reigns of Harriet Stratemeyer Adams helped to keep the series alive and on store shelves for each succeeding generation of girls and boys. Nancy
was always Harriet's favorite. Harriet's dedication to the series helped tremendously in
ensuring that Nancy is still around today and likely will be
for many years to come.
The original publishers, Grosset & Dunlap, played a huge role in the
success of Nancy Drew. From their marketing strategies to their many salesmen, they kept the series in widespread distribution so that children from all around the country and later in foreign countries could discover
Nancy's exciting world.
It was Grosset & Dunlap who helped choose the original artist, Russell H.
Tandy, to illustrate the series. His illustrations have
been a huge factor in Nancy's success. They were sophisticated and classy. They brought to life the character of Nancy very memorably and no
doubt helped sales as children were attracted to the glamorous covers.
generation of women and men who read the books as children,
have passed them down to siblings, to children, to grandchildren and have kept alive the memories of reading Nancy as a child. Nostalgia plays a large
factor in the continuing success of the series, which is still published today by Simon &
Schuster, who helped bring Nancy Drew into the modern era.
This section will be a brief highlight of some of these key players in the success of the Nancy Drew series. A time line below will chronicle the major events in the history of
Nancy Drew History In the Making
was born in 1862, during the Civil War and a divided nation. It is fitting that having come from an era of a country divided,
Edward's creations have brought so many
diverse people from all walks of life together, all sharing a common love and nostalgia for children's books. Orphans, adventuresome youths, and often motherless sleuths have
adorned the pages of Stratemeyer history in a common theme of overcoming life's obstacles for a better and more brilliant future.
Edward had been writing for quite some time when demand for books became overwhelming. To meet demand with a
steady supply of new stories, he employed ghost writers and this successful ghost writer policy became a key part of
the Syndicate's success.
Edward was a traditionalist as far as women and their place in society were concerned.
When Nancy was created, it had only been nine years since women had been given the right to
vote, having gained that Constitutional right in 1920. Many of the female heroines of Edward's
pre-Nancy books had some independence and had their
own adventures yet they were still more domestic and traditional.
Grosset & Dunlap
was run by
Alexander Grosset and
George Dunlap. Alexander had been a bookkeeper for U.S. Book Co. and George a salesman for the company. After it failed,
they rebound the paper-bound novels left in stock with cloths and boards and began a reprint business that expanded to
juvenile series. They
made a success of their company and helped make a success of Nancy and thus began a
publishing phenomena. It was a
phenomena and a success though, that Edward never got to fully realize, as he died of
pneumonia just two weeks after his creation debuted.
It was after their father died, that sisters
Harriet Stratemeyer Adams and
Edna Stratemeyer Squier
took over the Stratemeyer Syndicate. It was through their efficient management that the Nancy Drew series was kept in production and
survived for as long as it has. Being the traditionalist that he was, Edward had not approved of Harriet working outside the home
and she helped edit for him
at home until her marriage. Marriage and family kept her busy, but after her father's death, she fulfilled her desire to write and played a very active role in the
Syndicate, especially after Edna became a silent partner around 1942. In time, Nancy became Harriet's baby--she
considered Nancy like a daughter--and remained staunchly dedicated to the series. She wrote most of the series after
Mildred quit writing for the Syndicate and
in 1959 began a revision of the first 34 texts.
The original Nancys were full of descriptive imagery and flow, suspense and drama, and more
vividly brought to life the character of Nancy as opposed to the
faster paced and less descriptive flow of the revisions. Most of the originals were the work of
Mildred A. Wirt Benson, who wrote 23 of the first 30 books--1-7, 11-25, and 30.
Tired of what she liked to call the "namby-pamby" style of girls' series books, she had no intention of characterizing Nancy as
came to embody the feisty spirit of independence that emanated from Mildred. Mildred always felt that girls could do the same things as boys could
and she lived her life that way. It was her take on Nancy that helped spark Nancy's widespread popularity.
Her ideas of what Nancy should be were different from the more traditional finishing-girl style of Harriet Adams, and
as the series went on. As a result of these differences,
Nancy underwent changes at the direction of Harriet and later under Harriet's revision.
For a brief period during the depression, due to pay cuts in ghost writer's fees, Mildred declined to write any more Nancy's after volume #7,
The Clue in the Diary, and so the Syndicate hired Walter Karig briefly to write volumes 8-10. Walter had served in World War I and was a journalist.
He wrote books in other series for the Syndicate. After revealing his authorship to the Library of Congress in the mid 1930's, however, he was not in
good graces with the Syndicate, for ghostwriters were not supposed to reveal their authorship of the books as part of a release they signed. These
releases gave all rights to the stories to the Stratemeyer Syndicate. The ghostwriters were paid a one time fee.
Russell H. Tandy
was a commercial illustrator and an acquaintance of Edward. Edward submitted a sample of Russell's work, the cover to Kate Martin's Problem,
as well as the work of another illustrator, Ernest H. Townsend. He submitted Ernest's cover for Two Girls and a Mystery. Both books were part of the
May Hollis Barton Books. Russell's work was favored and it was he who helped portray a bright and adventurous Nancy. His portrayal of Nancy was
classic. Nancy was sophisticated and glamorous--the embodiment of an all-American girl. He illustrated the dust jacket covers and internals for volumes
1-10 and 12-26. He did not paint the cover of volume #11, The Clue of the Broken Locket, yet he drew the internal illustrations. The reasons for this remain a mystery.
In 1950, a new style of Nancy debuted. She was less sophisticated and more wide-eyed, the work of magazine
Bill painted the covers for volumes 27-29 and revised the covers
volumes 1-9 and 11.
The Clue of the Velvet Mask, was illustrator,
first Nancy Drew cover.
Rudy had been illustrating covers for detective magazines. He was the longest running illustrator for
the series and illustrated the first art for volumes 30-56, and revised art for 1-5, 8-34. He also
created the cover for the Triple Edition with a theme of Nancy surrounded by images from the first three books: a clock, staircase, and bungalow. He also
created covers for the collectible puzzle books.
Today, Nancy is still being published by
Simon & Schuster. The original classic series that began with
The Secret of the Old Clock, through volume 175, Werewolf in a Winter Wonderland. Currently, Simon
& Schuster publishes the Nancy Drew: Girl Detective series. In 1979, the
Syndicate switched publishers and in that same year, Simon & Schuster published volume
#57, The Triple Hoax. A lawsuit was filed and the case went to trial in 1980.
In the end,
Grosset & Dunlap retained the right to keep printing the first 56 volumes but Simon & Schuster
retained all rights to the series and to continue publishing it. They purchased the Stratemeyer
Syndicate outright in 1984.
Other spin off series include the
Nancy Drew Notebooks and Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew (currently in print) and the Nancy Drew Girl Detective Series (currently in print) which replaced the classic series in 2004.
Nancy has been modernized for today's generation yet she still
retains many of the same qualities that made her so popular back in 1930. No doubt one
factor in her long
success story is the fact that she is not your typical domestic traditional girl.
She was not namby-pamby then and
she most definitely is not namby-pamby today.
Nancy Drew Through the Years
1862--Edward Stratemeyer is born.
1892--Harriet Stratemeyer is born.
Russell H. Tandy is born.
1895-- Edna Stratemeyer is born.
Walter Karig is born.
1905--Edward Stratemeyer forms the Stratemeyer Syndicate. Mildred Augustine (Mildred A. Wirt Benson) is
1911--Bill Gillies is born.
1920--Women get the right to vote.
1923--Rudy Nappi is born.
1926--Mildred Augustine is hired to write the latest Ruth Fielding volume, part of a Stratemeyer series.
1929--At age 24, Mildred A. Wirt writes
the first Nancy Drew book,
The Secret of the Old Clock.
1930--The first 3 Nancy Drew books debut on April 28th as a breeder set and are an "overnight success."
books are Russell
H. Tandy's first three Nancy Drew covers. Edward Stratemeyer dies of pneumonia on May 10th.
1931--Bess Marvin & George Fayne are introduced in volume #5,
The Secret at Shadow Ranch.
1932--Nancy meets Ned Nickerson for the first time in volume #7,
The Clue in the Diary.
Mildred A. Wirt declines to write volumes 8-10 and Walter Karig steps in. Volume #8,
Nancy's Mysterious Letter, was published and Nancy's roadster briefly became maroon in color.
The familiar orange 1930's silhouette and the orange silhouette endpapers debut.
1933--Karig's last two Nancys, volumes 9 and 10, The Sign of the Twisted Candles, and
The Password to Larkspur Lane, are published.
1934-- Fortune magazine publishes an article on Edward Stratemeyer and the Stratemeyer
fifty-center, affordable to more children and families is discussed at length as well as the
success of Nancy Drew. The dust jacket art for volume #11, The Clue of the Broken
Locket, remains a mystery as to it's mysterious illustrator--a mystery that even Nancy has
not solved. Mildred A. Wirt returns to writing volumes in the series with Broken Locket.
1937--Three of the four glossy internal illustrations are done away with and only the glossy frontispiece continues to be used.
Nancy's dog Togo, is introduced in volume #14, The Whispering Statue.
1938-1939--Four Nancy Drew movies are released by Warner Brothers.
The movies starred
Bonita Granville as Nancy and Frankie
Thomas as Ted (instead of Ned!)
1941--Glossy frontispieces give way to plain paper frontispieces beginning with volume #18,
The Mystery at the Moss-Covered Mansion. Russell H. Tandy's
frontispieces for volumes 1-17 go through a slight
revision as well.
1946--The wrap-style dust jacket is introduced beginning with volume #23, The Mystery of the Tolling
1949--Russell H. Tandy's last cover appears on volume
#26, The Clue of the Leaning Chimney, also his last frontispiece as well.
1950--Bill Gillies's first cover for volume #27, The Secret of the Wooden Lady debuts as
his revisions of covers for volumes 1-9 and 11.
1952--Bill Gillies last cover is used for volume #29, The Mystery at the Ski Jump.
1953--Mildred A. Wirt Benson's last Nancy is published, volume #30, The Clue of the Velvet
Mask. Rudy Nappi's first cover appears on Velvet Mask.
1957--The Nancy Drew Mystery Game appears on the market, created by Parker Brothers.
Nancy on the cover in a red raincoat and matching hat.
1959--The 1959 version of the Nancy Drew Mystery Game appears with a re-done cover with Nancy in a green raincoat.
The game is now available in Canada and these games bear a swirl symbol on the cover. Harriet Stratemeyer
Adams begins what will be a nearly 20 year revision project for the first 34 volumes. The first two revisions are
published for The Secret of the Old Clock, and The Hidden Staircase. The first type of
book club editions, the Cameos, are released with new art by Polly Bolian.
1962--The yellow spine picture cover format is introduced.
1973-- The Nancy Drew Cookbook:
Clues to Good Cooking is released.
1977--Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys
appear on TV in a weekly mystery hour.
The last revision of the first 34 books is complete with volume #24, The Clue in the
1979--The last Nancy Drew® picture hardcover is published, volume #56, The Thirteenth Pearl.
The Stratemeyer Syndicate switches publishers to
Simon & Schuster. Simon & Schuster publishes their first
Nancy, volume #57, The Triple Hoax.
1980--Simon & Schuster and the Stratemeyer Syndicate celebrate Nancy
Drew's 50th Birthday!
Grosset & Dunlap sues Gulf & Western Corp., of which Simon & Schuster
is a subdivision, and the
Stratemeyer Syndicate over breach of contract. Mildred A. Wirt Benson testifies and is publicly on
the record as being the original Carolyn Keene. Harriet Stratemeyer Adams also testifies.
1981--Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys appear for the first time together in print in Nancy
Drew and The Hardy Boys Super Sleuths, a Wanderer paperback.
1982--Harriet Stratemeyer Adams dies.
1984--The Stratemeyer Syndicate is sold to Simon & Schuster.
1985-- The first printing guide to the Nancy Drew® books is published: Farah's Guide to Nancy
Drew Books and Collectibles.
1986--The Nancy Drew Files series is launched.
Nancy is more modern and more into romance.
1988--The first series involving both Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys is launched--Nancy Drew and
The Hardy Boys SuperMysteries.
1989--The River Heights series spins off of the Files series.
1991--Volume #100, A Secret in Time, is published and ties back into the first mystery,
The Secret of the Old Clock. Applewood Books publishes its first reproduction of the
original Nancy Drew Mystery Stories, The Secret of the Old Clock. Mildred A. Wirt Benson donates
her old typewriter that she wrote the early Nancys on to the Smithsonian Institute.
1992--The River Heights Series ends with volume #16, The Jealousy Trap.
1993--The first ever Nancy Drew Conference is held at the University of Iowa, Mildred A Wirt Benson's alma mater.
Mildred is honored for being the original Carolyn Keene. Grosset & Dunlap and Simon & Schuster reach
an agreement with Mildred that she be acknowledged on future printings of the books she wrote.
1994--The Nancy Drew Notebooks series debuts.
1995--Nelvana/New Line Television debuts a short-lived Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys TV series.
The On Campus series debuts and Nancy goes off to college!
1997--The Nancy Drew Files series ends with volume #124,
Crime at the Chat Cafe. Her Interactive releases its first Nancy Drew computer game, Secrets Can Kill,
based on the File of that same title.
The Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys SuperMysteries
series ends with volume #36, Process of Elimination. The On Campus series ends with
volume #25, Snowbound.
2000-- Bill Gillies dies.
2002--Mildred A. Wirt Benson dies.
A pilot for a third TV series, Nancy Drew, aired on ABC in December. Unfortunately, it
was not picked up as a future TV series.
2003--The Nancy Drew Mystery Stories series, in print since 1930,
with volume #175, Werewolf in a Winter Wonderland, published in November 2003.
New Nancy Drew merchandise: Gumshoe Girls begin selling line of Nancy Drew
loungewear and accessories.
2004--A new re-launched Nancy Drew series, Nancy Drew Girl Detective, debuted
in March 2004. Volume 1, Without a Trace, made the NY Times Best Seller List.
continues the tradition of the classic series with much richer descriptive stories. Simon & Schuster's 25th anniversary
publishing the Nancy Drew series.
2005--Nancy Drew Turns 75--on April 28, 2005, dating back to when the first 3 books were published in 1930. 100th anniversary
of the Stratemeyer Syndicate. June, 2005 marks the debut of the Nancy Drew: Girl Detective Super Mystery series.
Nancy Drew Graphic Novels by Papercutz debut in March 2005. Chronicle Books begins selling Nancy Drew stationary
items and American Greetings produces a 75th anniversary Nancy Drew ornament. Specialty Boardgames produces a Nancy
Drew party game.
June 16-19, 2005:
Nancy Drew 75th/Stratemeyer Syndicate 100th Conference in NYC.
2006-- Warner Brothers films a new movie, Nancy Drew: The Mystery in
Hollywood Hills starring Emma Roberts as Nancy Drew.
The Nancy Drew Notebooks series is relaunched as Nancy Drew and
the Clue Crew in June 2006 with a junior detectives club.
2007-- Nancy Drew movie debuts on June 15.
2010-- Nancy Drew celebrates her 80th anniversary!
Nancy Drew Sleuths fan group hosts their 10th annual convention in Florida including an 80th anniversary cruise.
2011-- For the first time ever: Nancy Drew Paper Dolls!
2012-- The Nancy Drew Girl Detective series ends with volume 47, Stalk, Don't Run.
2013-- Back to illustrated covers, the Nancy Drew Diaries series debuts, replacing the Girl Detective series.
2015-- Nancy Drew & the Clue series ends with volume 40, Butterfly Blues. Prolific Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys Illustrator Rudy Nappi passes away on March 13 at age 92. Nancy Drew celebrates her 85th anniversary on April 28. The Nancy Drew Sleuths celebrate this milestone and others with a series of 3 historic Nancy Drew Mini Cons. Nancy Drew Sleuths fan organization turns 15! The Nancy Drew Clue Book series debuts, replacing the Clue Crew series.