The very first Nancy Drew mystery debuted in 1930… and I often call my mother Nancy Drew. My mother was also born in 1930 and celebrated her 90th this year on April 6th… although due to the virus pandemic… she sadly celebrated alone. When I tell her she turned 90… she’s quick to tell me, “no I’m not!” I’m not sure how old she thinks she is… but I’ll just let her be ever what age she wants to be!
While we all know that the iconic Nancy Drew is a fictional character… she seems very real to many of us who grew up following her from mystery to mystery! She calmed us to sleep at night… with flashlight in hand as we read under the covers… often keeping us out of trouble by allowing us to tag along in her sleuthing travels. Nancy Drew was one of the first female sleuths created by publisher Edward Stratemeyer in 1930… conjuring up a female counterpart to the Hardy Boys. Even though Stratemeyer had the vision for Nancy in creating the first story line… the book series were ghostwritten by many authors over the years… published under the pseudonym of “Carolyn Keene.” As a young girl of 9 first reading Nancy Drew, I never knew Carolyn Keene wasn’t a real author… only learning later that “Carolyn Keene” was only a pseudonym name. I never gave it much thought until later in life when I discovered Nancy again… but now in a different way.
Me as a young Nancy Drew reader!
I began reading Nancy Drew as a 9 year old girl who loved to read… and while many talk about checking out their books at the library… I never did. I did spend my Saturday mornings weekly at our town library, but I only have memories of checking out biographies on the presidents, scientists and the likes of Annie Oakley and Anne Frank; there are no memories of perusing the titles of Nancy Drew at the library… but I had many of those titles on my bookshelf.
All my Nancy Drew books were bought new! Whenever mama took a trip to the newly opened K-Mart… I was quick to tag along… I knew exactly where I wanted to head to… the book department. I don’t remember having any specific titles in mind to buy… as it was usually the books art cover which made that decision for me! Even today, I can easily just enjoy perusing all the art covers of Nancy Drew… as they truly are miniature pieces of art! What I wouldn’t give to actually own one! In 2018, my favorite “The Secret in the Old Attic” cover art went up for auction at Swann Auction Galleries in NYC on June 5, 2018… but, sadly I didn’t get the winning bid of $35,000… hubby would have strangled me! I surely did want it, but good to know that it went to a great home. The Old Attic was book no. 21 in the original classic Nancy Drew Mystery Stories series, and first published in 1944. The original cover art was by Russell H. Tandy… one of the most popular artists of Nancy Drew art covers. Swann Galleries also sold another Nancy Drew “Tandy” painting… The Secret at Shadow Ranch.
RUSSELL H. TANDY. “The Secret in the Old Attic.” Original cover illustration for the book of the same name by Carolyn Keene, published as “Nancy Drew Mystery Stories #21” (New York: Grosset & Dunlap 1944). Watercolor, pencil, ink, and gouache on Whatman drawing board. 578×457 mm; 22 3/4×16 inches. Signed in lower right image. Matte attached to perimeters of recto. Verso has release stamp of September 22, 1955 and with publisher’s labels reading “Blue print and Hold / 9am.” Provenance: Collection of the Tandy family. (Info from Swann Gallery Catalogue)
Additional Details from catalogue… This cover features all the visual hallmarks of a classic Nancy Drew mystery novel including a dusty attic, an old chest holding a number of curious artifacts, sheet music spilling out across the floor, and an ominous skeleton peering out at Nancy from behind a closet door as she sifts through the evidence by candlelight. Another “secret” hidden in this cover is the personal family anecdote that the three pieces of sheet music, titled “The Song of My Love,” “March,” and “In the Eve” were all musical compositions that Tandy created in his early career as both a cornet player and occasional composer for the great conductor John Philip Sousa and The Goldman Band. In a nod to that history, the plot of the novel centers around stolen music created by a deceased soldier named Philip March that Nancy must sleuth out. The image shows her at the moment she discovers hidden musical manuscripts that will help solve the mystery.
Russell’s classic and sophisticated portrayal of Nancy helped make the famous series so successful. He illustrated a total of 26 Nancy Drew books from 1930 to 1949. In addition to his literary illustrations, Tandy worked for department stores as a fashion illustrator. He also drew some of the illustrations for Butterick Patterns and designed the original logo for Jantzen swimwear. In his social life, he counted Ernest Hemingway, Salvador Dalí, John L. Sullivan, and Norman Rockwell among his friends.
This cover is probably responsible for my love of rambling through old dusty attics… secretly looking for a mystery to solve… or maybe even a ghost!
When my interest in Nancy Drew was re-woken… I learned so much more about my beloved sleuth that I never knew before, such as…
- Nancy debuted in 1930… created by publicist Edward Stratemeyer.
- There are two editions for each book for the first 34 volumes. They are often referred to as OT (original text) and RT (revised text)
- In 1959 they began revising the OT books… changing much of the wording as some called it racist… also changing Nancy into a somewhat less unruly and violent character she often portrayed in the earlier books. While I didn’t necessarily see this in the later books I read, but in being only 16 years of age.. she seemed to have had no rules like I had.
- Nancy Drew has been translated into 45 languages around the world.
- There have been 5 Nancy Drew films, three TV series, several computer games, and many Facebook Fan groups… of which I’m a member of several.
- The many “warnings” Nancy received… and who doesn’t laugh at the many times that Nancy is knocked unconscious… and the dastardly and snooty villains she’s encountered… and the unusual clues and all the iconic clothing Nancy wore.
- Hypers…. all the funny quotes from Nancy, Bess and George… and the superstitions … and all those who eavesdropped on them. Never leave a window up or stand near a bush… as there surely will be someone lurking in the shadows… eavesdropping!
- Much of the stolen goods that Nancy was usually hot on the trail of… was of jewelry.
- When I wrote my “2018: A to Z … All About Nancy Drew“… I was amazed at all I hadn’t known. You can read my April AtoZ blog challenge over Here.
The classic Nancy Drew books are the original volumes of 1-56… which were only published in hardcover. While they have continued through the years, and still published today… they are usually released in paperback, but they often publish special editions and covers in hardcover. Even after the first 56, they did publish a few more in hardcover due to copyright issues… and are searched out by fans today.
While the original Nancy Drew Mystery Stories (in hardcover) continued past the first 56 (paperback), they finally ended them in 2003. But also during that time, they launched a new series to keep drawing the young readers in… and keeping the older reader still hanging on.
In the 1980’s, they slowly began to change Nancy into a slightly older Nancy, taking her in a different direction… slightly more professional. The Nancy Drew Files even allowed Nancy to become more romantic, which we never read about in our classic original books. The 2004 Girl Detective series soon featured Nancy now driving a hybrid electric and even having a cell phone… far cry from the original roadster and landline phone from the books. It always made me laugh when I’d read how Nancy had to leave the scene to go in search of a phone to call the police; she could never immediately call for help! I’m not sure how driving an electric car would help her… just picture her out of juice on the back roads… with nowhere to plug in… but at least she’d be able to call for help!
What’s your favorite Quote?
Through the years, there were several writers, writing under the pseudonym of Carolyn Keene… but most of the Nancy Drew “die hard” fans consider Mildred Wirt Benson… as the true original Carolyn Keene! Mildred wrote the first seven volumes… as well as books 11 through 25… writing many of the early, and most-loved… such as, The Secret of the Old Clock, The Hidden Staircase, The Mystery of Lilac Inn, The Secret of Shadow Ranch, the Secret of Red Gate Farm, and The Clue in the Diary. It’s often these that still remain as top favorites of the fans.
Stratemeyer’s daughter’s, Edna & Harriet, took over their father’s publishing company a short couple of weeks after Nandy Drew’s debut in 1930… helping to keep Nancy alive after his death. It was later Harriet (Adams) who began later to write many story outlines, as well as manuscripts for volumes 33 through 56. Harriet had a deep love for Nancy Drew… which truly kept her alive through the years. Did Harriet’s father share his writing of Nancy to her many years before she debuted in 1930… if so, it helped Harriet to bond with Nancy!
Nine decades have passed since this beloved series was read by many of our grandmothers, mothers and daughters… and even today, in many of my Nancy Drew Facebook groups, I find all ages, reading and discussing Nancy Drew… and from all around the world; it makes me smile when I read posts of young girls posting about Nancy Drew. I have five granddaughters from the ages of 6-10… but no real Nancy Drew reader yet… although I keep trying to encourage. In today’s reading world, Nancy Drew has much opposition in reading series, television shows and games! It does make it hard to compete with what is all out there… but I keep trying to encourage! Just the other day I finally sat down to watch the latest (2019) Nancy Drew movie of The Hidden Staircase with McKinley (8) and Grace (6). It had been filmed in my mother’s hometown of Monroe, Ga… and I was there for much of the filming; that was quite interesting to them as I told them how close some scenes were to their great-grandmother’s house. They lasted for the entire movie… so I’m hoping they will ask to watch again. When I first watched last year with granddaughters, Ella (10), Ana (7) and Nina (7)… who are all movie buffs… they immediately wanted to restart the movie and watch again. I think we had three movie viewings that same afternoon, before I called quits!
Wanna Play Nancy Drew?
In reading Nancy Drew as as adult, I pay more attention to detail… and her ability to solve any mystery that comes her way… often coming from her father requesting her help. It does make you laugh though, as how many fathers today would be asking their 16 year old daughter to help them solve a mystery or crime… and who would be handing them a pistol to take on a weekend ghost hunting exhibition! Nancy’s father did that very thing when she went to spend the weekend at the mansion of the Turnbull sisters in “The Hidden Staircase” to search out a ghost!
While I never thought of coloring any of the illustrations in the books when I first read… I do enjoy coloring them today!
Today they often talk about the language and actions in the early Nancy Drew books… especially calling the portrayal of much of the character language as racist. People seem to have forgotten that when those books were written, they were written in the speech of the people of where they lived… people spoke differently in various parts of the South… it was not written with intent to hurt or slander. Being from the South myself, and growing up in the 50’s and 60’s… I often heard that type of dialect… but it’s not heard today. As times changed, they felt the need to rethink those early books… rewriting them to better suit the changing times… and those changed books were really the only ones I first read as a young 9 year old girl. As an adult today, I have now read most of the earlier “original text” books… those with the different words and often even different story lines… and I love them both… it’s often like reading two entirely different stories.
Even though the books are supposedly all about Nancy Drew… it really is the entire group of characters who make the story work. I would say Carson Drew, as her father, had the least of storylines. I love Hannah Gruen’s storyline… in keeping the household running and the household well fed with her delicious foods… and who didn’t enjoy reading about all the great comfort food she prepared. She made sure they ate! Nancy’s sometime sleuth pals, Bess Marvin, George Fayne, and Helen Archer occasionally, were always there for her… no matter what time of day, they’d drop plans in a heartbeat to go anywhere with her; Nancy’s, sometime boyfriend, Ned Nickerson could always be counted on to come to Nancy’s aid in a crisis. Being a romantic in reading… Nancy really kept him and love at a distance… and it seemed like he often wanted more than she offered… but he remained true to her and always very protective.
Did you have a truly favorite character above anyone else?
As events were cancelled this year, due to the 2020 Coronavirus Epidemic, events such as the many Nancy Drew Sleuth conventions didn’t happen… we were unable to gather to celebrate Nancy’s 90th birthday…. so Nancy will re-celebrate her 90th birthday next year! But I will celebrate via Zoom with many of the Nancy Drew fans around the country today… and even the world to chat and remember Nancy Drew!
I so love all the “mentions” of Nancy Drew discovered in watching TV… my ears are always open!
Nancy Drew came back to television last fall (2019) with a new show on The CW channel. Even though they kept Nancy at age 18, they changed it up a bit with Bess and George not really being her best friends… even changing Ned Nickerson into a character so unlike our old Ned… twisting his name to Nick Henderson; why the name change? I didn’t mind the nickname of Nick… as it seemed short for Nickerson.
Curious as I was… I tuned in and was immediately hooked… but not crazy on the relationship of Nancy and Nick… and how they interacted so closely right away. Our Nancy would never have jumped into bed so quickly! George, while still very tomboyish, was way cold to Nancy… and Bess, still a blonde, was new to the town… arriving with lots of secrets and baggage. Like the book, Nancy lost her mother quickly… only to live alone with her father… but not with a relationship like they shared in the books. Many don’t like how that part of their story line is portrayed. I wouldn’t have minded if they had changed it up slightly different… leaving the mother alive for a change, and having the father die… leaving Nancy’s mom to be the lawyer. I can already think of many ways, of how it could play out with Nancy only interacting with her mom.
Unfortunately… no one lives forever… as even characters in books, comics and movies are eventually killed off. Unfortunately, it seems this year that our Nancy Drew is being killed off in a comic book series by Dynamite Entertainment… and they are considering it a celebration of the iconic character turning 90! I’m not sure why they want Nancy Drew dead… but they are calling in the Hardy Boys to investigate. Really? Personally… maybe it should be the other way around… at least to me! I don’t have high hopes that the comic will sit well with the thousands of fans around the world!
What’s your favorite Nancy Drew mystery story?
To celebrate Nancy’s 90th’s Birthday… I plan to continue reading all those stories I still have never finished! Time and things often have gotten in the way of reading… but I’m joining in the Nancy Drew Facebook “Book Club” where we will read and discuss a book twice a month!
and always when in a dilemma… think WWNDD!
…And if you happen to not know what that stands for… google away!
Click for more … Nancy Drew stories
or to read my A to Z: 2018 – All About Nancy Drew
I great up in a great era… reading Nancy Drew!
© 2020, copyright Jeanne Bryan Insalaco; all rights reserved