Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Missing Millie: Young Reader's Biography


As part of their Biographies for Young People series, the Ohio University Press is coming out with a book for kids 8 and older on Millie Benson, ghostwriter of 23 of the first 30 Nancy Drew books. The book, "Missing Millie Benson" is written by Julie K. Rubini and comes out in September--here's a blurb:

Growing up in Ladora, Iowa, Mildred “Millie” Benson had ample time to develop her imagination, sense of adventure, and independence. Millie left her small hometown to attend the University of Iowa, where she became the first person to earn a master’s degree from the school of journalism. While still a graduate student, Millie began writing for the Stratemeyer Syndicate, which published the phenomenally popular Hardy Boys series, among many others. Soon, Edward Stratemeyer tapped Millie for a new series starring amateur sleuth Nancy Drew, a young, independent woman not unlike Millie herself. The syndicate paid its writers a flat fee for their work and published the books under pseudonyms. Under the pen name Carolyn Keene, Millie went on to write twenty-three of the first thirty books of the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories. In all, Millie wrote more than a hundred novels for young people under her own name and under pseudonyms.

Millie was also a journalist for the Toledo (Ohio) Times and The Blade. At the age of 62 she obtained her pilot’s license and combined her love of aviation with her passion for writing, sharing her travels and adventures with readers.

Follow the clues throughout Missing Millie to solve the mysteries of this ghostwriter, journalist, and adventurer.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Nancy Drew's 85th Spotlight #27

Let's go behind the scenes of The Hidden Staircase for a few interesting items I've found in the Stratemeyer Syndicate files at the NYPL and also from my original outline of this story...

The original outline describes the Turnbull twin sisters as "eccentric but loveable."

The outline refers to Carson Drew several times as "daddy."

When Edward sent Mildred the outline for The Hidden Staircase in 1929, he included the outline for The Secret of the Old Clock for reference.

Edward wrote Mildred in a November 8, 1929 letter, "I trust that you will go a the new story immediately and try to carry it through in the style as the latter chapters of the story just received. Make the characters as vital as possible and connect the incidents as plausibly as possible and give it the intenseness of the latter part of the first story. Then I am sure we shall have what we want."

When he received the manuscript, he wrote Mildred on December 11, 1929 to say "I have received the manuscript of 'The Hidden Staircase' and read it with much satisfaction. It seems to me it ought to interest ay girl who likes mystery stories. I shall make only a few changes and those of small importance."

When writing Hidden Staircase, Mildred departed from the outline in one instance and wrote Edward about it. As the setting was the middle west, she changed the reference to The Mansion being from Revolutionary times to the Civil War to be historically accurate.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Nancy Drew's 85th Spotlight #26


April 1993 was a mysterious month! The original Carolyn Keene, Mildred Wirt Benson, was unmasked in a huge way to mainstream America - as she said, they "blew her cover!" At the Nancy Drew Conference, which attracted fans from all over who converged on Iowa City and the University of Iowa, scholars and fans intermingled and shared their Nancy Drew stories of rediscovery. Benson was honored as well and was even ABC's Person of the Week. This past week, Nancy Drew Sleuths held their first of three Nancy Drew Mini Cons in Iowa City to honor the 85th anniversary of Nancy Drew and the 110th Anniversary of Mildred Wirt Benson and met with the organizers of the 1993 conference, Carolyn Dyer and Nancy Romalov - editors on the book about the conference pictured above. Touring historical sites related to Benson and the fictional Midwestern "River Heights" were highlights of the event. The next two mini cons will be held in OH and NJ in May and June.

The Beginning

It was discovered at the University of Iowa, that Mildred Wirt Benson was their first student to earn a Masters in Journalism. She was also missing from the Hall of Fame! An assistant professor, Sue Lafky, started a campaign to get Mildred into the Hall of Fame. Once Mildred made it onto the ballot and the awards ceremony was announced, many Nancy Drew fans began to call the university wanting to attend and to meet Mildred.

Nancy Romalov, one of the conference organizers, was researching girls' series books and also teaching a course and she introduced everyone to the series book world and its many facets.

An idea began to develop of hosting what would become the Nancy Drew Conference. Journalism Professor, Carolyn Stewart Dyer, and Romalov began planning.

The Nancy Drew Conference

As Dyer writes in the book about the conference, Rediscovering Nancy Drew, that the conference had several objectives: 1. Examine Nancy Drew as part of American popular culture through an exploration of the history of the series; 2. To make known Benson's role in the development of the character of Nancy Drew; 3. Dig into the controversies surrounding the series; and 4. To address the impact of the series on the lifetime reading habits of fans and their sense of themselves.

The conference was a moment of rediscovering Nancy Drew for many who came and was the first conference of its kind with 500 in attendance. Those who showed up were a diverse group of fans  of all ages, scholars, librarians and teachers.

Benson was named to both the Ohio and Iowa Women's Halls of Fame. The next year after the conference, she received a Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Iowa.

The Nancy Drew & series book zine, The Sleuth, featured several issues in 2008 with remembrances by those who attended this conference in 1993.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Nancy Drew's 85th Spotlight #25

Happy 110th Anniversary to the original Carolyn Keene, Mildred Wirt Benson. She was born in Ladora, IA in 1905 on July 10. She was only 24 when she wrote the first Nancy Drew book, The Secret of the Old Clock, in 1929. It was published along with the next two books in the series on April 28, 1930.

I am currently completing a Biography on Benson's life as a Real Life Nancy Drew.

Benson Image, Copyright - The Toledo Blade 

Nancy Drew fans are celebrating Benson today at the University of Iowa (Benson's Alma mater), at a program about Benson and Nancy Drew to celebrate the 85th anniversary of Nancy Drew and Benson's 110th. Benson's archive of papers and artifacts plus touring historical sites around the University of Iowa and in the area will cap off a day of playing history detective of sorts and then a set of Nancy Drew books plus a full set of Nancy Drew Computer Games from Her Interactive will be donated to the Iowa City Public Library.

Aside from her legacy as Carolyn Keene, Benson also wrote other books and series--135 published works - many her own books and series and quite a few for the Stratemeyer Syndicate under pen names written on their outlines including the Nancy Drew series. A favorite series of her own that she wrote was the Penny Parker Mystery Stories series:

Benson was also a journalist in Toledo, OH for over fifty years and an adventurer in her later years. Here she is pictured for an aviation story she was doing on the Pepsi Skywriter. She flew until her 90s until her eyesight became too bad.

Benson Image, Copyright - The Toledo Blade 

In her later years she received recognition for having written the early Nancy Drew books and that meant fans would come calling--like our Nancy Drew Sleuths organization of fans and scholars who met her at our first Nancy Drew Convention in 2001 in Toledo, where she signed vintage books for us:

Benson Image, Copyright, 2015, Jennifer Fisher

Benson was quite a fascinating woman and some of her adventures have even rivaled those of Nancy Drew - like getting kidnapped in Guatemala once...but those are tales for another day, to be told soon in my forthcoming Benson Biography!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Nancy Drew's 85th Spotlight #24


Today marks the kickoff of 3 Nancy Drew Conventions in 2015! The Nancy Drew Sleuths are hosting their first Nancy Drew Mini Con in Iowa City, IA this week to celebrate the 85th anniversary of Nancy Drew and the 110th anniversary of Nancy Drew's first ghostwriter, Mildred Wirt Benson.

Benson, a native Iowan, received her degree in English (undergrad) at the University of Iowa in 1925 and then was the first person to receive the schools Masters degree in Journalism in 1927. 22 years ago, she was honored at the University of Iowa at the first ever Nancy Drew Conference in April 1993. Benson's Iowa heritage will be the focus of day one of the convention with a University Library event and donation of Nancy Drew books and a full set of Her Interactive's Nancy Drew Computer Games to the Iowa City Public Library.

Benson's writing - both her person writing and the books she ghosted on Stratemeyer Syndicate outlines like the Nancy Drew books - had the flavor of her native Iowa in some instances, particular the early Nancy Drew books from the 1930s and 1940s.

Much is made about River Heights, Nancy Drew's fictional home town--what I call "Anytown USA." Many fans over the years have seen some of their hometown as being possibly River Heights and then there are fans who prefer that it be based in their region of the country.

What was the intention for Nancy Drew from the beginning, however? When Edward Stratemeyer wrote that outline for The Secret of the Old Clock, it was intended to be the "Middle West." At the time, Stratemeyer couldn't have known that the series would last over 80 years and the location would seem to change overtime depending on who was authoring them. Ultimately, having River Heights be Anytown USA, gave fans the opportunity to feel like their own backyard might just be in River Heights and the ability to dream just a little bigger.

Fans who converge on Iowa this week, however, can envision themselves in River Heights during day two of the event when fans will travel to "River Heights" to see the Nancy Drew book, The Clue in the Crumbling Wall, come to life--for a day of touring, a clues challenge and a masquerade mystery party.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Nancy Drew's 85th Spotlight #23


In honor of the 85th anniversary of Nancy Drew, I'll be discussing the first 3 books this week, which were released on April 28, 1930, 85 years ago...

The Bungalow Mystery

A secluded bungalow, a raging storm on a lake, an overnight bag in Nancy's trunk. Let's discuss.

A Few Fast Facts:

Ghostwriter: Mildred A. Wirt Benson

1930 Outline Length: A little over 2 1/2 pages

3 Cover Illustrations By: Russell H. Tandy, Bill Gillies, Rudy Nappi

Texts: Revision does vary quite a bit in some sequences and in sub-plots!

Synopsis From My Website:

When Nancy and Helen Corning get swept up in a lake storm , mysterious Laura Pendleton comes to their rescue. Her mother recently having passed away, Laura has come to meet up with her new guardians and something isn't quite right about them. Their mistreatment of Laura leads Nancy to investigate and stumble upon a shocking surprise in the cellar of a bungalow. Nancy must use her wits to overcome the villains and solve this baffling mystery involving Laura's guardians!

This mystery begins with a raging storm on the lake and Nancy and her chum Helen Corning are caught up in it--they go overboard and Nancy tries to save herself and Helen. They might have drowned if Laura Pendleton hadn't saved them--and this chance meeting leads Nancy to try and solve the mystery surrounding Laura's strange guardian.

This hasn't been included in the list of books that when revised, became pretty much or totally an all new story. The Hidden Staircase is included in that list. I'd frankly include Bungalow Mystery as well--the revision changes the story quite a bit in parts, locations and sub-plots are quite different in others--even more so I think than Hidden Staircase.

As a mystery, there are suspenseful parts-which are played up quite a bit more in the original as usual since those tend to be more melodramatic. Stumpy seemed much more cruel and hardened in the original than he did in the revision. Of course his wife in the revision had the typical bleached blond hair that these female Nancy Drew villains tend to sport. In the original, Laura seemed to be much more of a feeble character. Interesting too some of the changes such as Nancy getting a ring in the original as a reward and in the revised it's a bracelet.

Original vs. Revised - 5 Interesting Clues:

1. In the revision, Stumpy Dowd's wife is a main character.

2. In the original, near the end there is a whole scene at a bungalow that is not in the revision--in which Carson Drew gets knocked out!

3. Nancy drove at a rate of speed that made Laura Pendleton gasp in alarm at in the original. By the revision, her driving was speedy but careful.

4. The revision has a sub-plot involving an embezzling case that Carson has Nancy helping him with.

5. Nancy is hit over the head with the butt of a revolver in the original version--by the revision it's a cane!

3 Mysterious Things About Nancy:

1. Nancy keeps an overnight case in her trunk with clothes, toiletries, and when in season--a bathing suit.

2. Nancy's an excellent swimmer.

3. Nancy collects matchbooks.

An Important Lesson We Learned From Nancy:

Enter a mysterious and deserted bungalow at your own risk!

Sleuthworthy Rating on a Scale of 1-10:

7. The mystery was a bit all over the place to me--as far as locations and going back an forth. Laura Pendleton wasn't as sympathetic a character in the original as she seemed to be in the revised. It was like reading about a Paris Hilton type complaining about not having maid service and finer things. The bungalow and the cellar with the real Jacob Aborn was creepy and the scene where Nancy is knocked out by Stumpy a bit frightening--especially in the original version. I thought it was very brave of Nancy to try and save the suitcases in the burning fire at the end, though it was a very reckless thing to do.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Nancy Drew's 85th Spotlight #22


In honor of the 85th anniversary of Nancy Drew, I'll be discussing the first 3 books this week, which were released on April 28, 1930, 85 years ago...

The Hidden Staircase 

A hidden staircase, a runaway truck, scary masks. Let's discuss.

A Few Fast Facts:

Ghostwriter: Mildred A. Wirt Benson

1930 Outline Length: 3 pages

3 Cover Illustrations By: Russell H. Tandy, Bill Gillies, Rudy Nappi

Texts: Revision varies the story quite a bit in parts.

Synopsis From My Website:

Original Text:

A visit by a sinister fellow who claims Carson Drew swindled him out of land that was condemned for the railroad leaves Nancy shaken as the man threatens harm if he does not get his money back. Meanwhile, mysterious goings on and thefts of personal items at the home of the Turnbull sisters leads Nancy to try and catch the house "ghost." Someone is trying to get the Turnbull sisters to leave The Mansion! Carson Drew's disappearance and a series of events that put Nancy in danger as she discovers a hidden staircase and secret passageway lead to the resolution of this spooky and suspenseful mystery.

Revised Text:

Nancy resolves to help chum Helen Corning's aunts solve the mystery of the ghost who seems to be haunting their home, Twin Elms. A mysterious man appears at the Drew home to warn Nancy and her father that Carson is in danger. This warning leads Nancy and Carson to search for the missing Willie Wharton, a land owner, who can prove he signed away his land to the railroad and save the railroad from a lawsuit. Meanwhile, the disappearance of Carson Drew, thefts and mysterious goings on at Twin Elms, and the discovery of a hidden staircase lead Nancy to solve this baffling mystery.

While the original is much more descriptive--as typical for the original texts--it also lacks some of the more descriptive objects, hidden entrances and such that the revision adds in. There are several scenes in the revision that heighten the suspense or add a cliffhanger. These include the scene where a truck nearly runs down Nancy and her father Carson Drew so they must dive into the river to avoid it. Also, the scenes where the outbuildings were searched, the girls dress up in costumes found in the attic for a party, the ceiling falls, and Nancy investigates the roof and finds a trap door. The mystery in the revision also involves more details about the land deal background and the kidnapping of Carson Drew is more developed with extra goons helping out Gomber for the kidnap scheme.

I'd recommend reading the revision, if you haven't, as the story though choppier, manages to describe Twin Elms and it's secret entrances and hidden secrets more thoroughly. And for those fans of Helen Corning, she's featured more prominently. Some goofy additions to the revision like the scary mask held up to the window at Twin Elms. Some interesting sleuthing like rocking the chandelier back and forth and using a hammer to tap the wall for hollow spots.

Original vs. Revised - 5 Interesting Clues:

1. In the original version, Nancy takes Carson Drew's revolver with her to The Mansion. She states, "I don’t know whether I could hit the broad side of a barn or not."

2. There are several name changes. Nathan Gombet becomes Nathan Gomber. The Mansion becomes Twin Elms. And relationship changes. In the original, the Turnbulls are friends of Abigail Rowen. In the revision, they are related to Helen Corning. Further, in the original, Rosemary and Floretta are twin sisters. In the revision they become Rosemary and Flora and Flora is Rosemary's mother.

3. In the revision, Gomber has an odd haunter/helper named Willie Wharton.

4. Once revised, a tall Gombet becomes a short Gomber.

5. Roughing it in the original, The Mansion does not have a telephone!

3 Mysterious Things About Nancy:

1. She dates a boy named Dirk.

2. Nancy likes to read and buys a detective story magazine.

3. She doesn't believe in ghosts.

An Important Lesson We Learned From Nancy:

When someone's trying to buy a house and it suddenly becomes haunted, they're probably the one playing "ghost."

Sleuthworthy Rating On a Scale of 1-10:

10. The perfect blend of suspense, "hauntings," secret passageways, and hidden staircases. I especially love these kinds of mysteries. I enjoyed the revision in that there were more of these kinds of hidden/secret entrances--like the listening post which wasn't in the original.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Nancy Drew's 85th Spotlight #21


In honor of the 85th anniversary of Nancy Drew, I'll be discussing the first 3 books this week, which were released on April 28, 1930, 85 years ago...

The Secret of the Old Clock

A musty closet, a missing will, singing lessons. Let's discuss.

Today we jump right in to classic Nancy Drew with a discussion of The Secret of the Old Clock. Have you read Old Clock lately? If not, I'd recommend reading the first volume in the series--where it all began. Published April 28, 1930, it set the tone for what would become one of the most popular and long running Stratemeyer Syndicate series.

A Few Fast Facts:

Ghostwriter: Mildred A. Wirt Benson

Outline Length: 3 1/2 pages

1st Cover Art Illustrated By: Russell H. Tandy

Synopsis from my website:

When the Topham family inherits all of Josiah Crowley's fortune, something isn't right about the whole affair. Josiah promised other friends and relatives that they would inherit. In Nancy's first case, she searches for a hidden will in order to help restore the inheritances to the rightful heirs. Being locked in a closet by robbers and a narrow escape with an old clock lead to Nancy solving this baffling mystery!

As a first book in the series, it has all the makings of a suspenseful mystery--cliffhangers, a missing will, a menacing band of robbers who lock Nancy in a closet, car chases, and even gunfire in the original version.

If you haven't read the original version, I'd recommend it. Not only is the characterization better, the scenery and setting more descriptive, but it has a real timeless quality to it. Not that the revision doesn't have that same timeless quality to a degree, but it is choppier and includes changes that aren't as interesting as the original version.

Original vs. Revised - 5 Interesting Clues:

1. The revised includes a (dare I say somewhat annoying) little girl named Judy being cared for by the Turner sisters who Nancy rescues at the book's beginning. Boring!

2. What a coincidence! Revised River Heights has a famous music teacher--Signor Mascagni.

3. In the revision, Jeff Tucker becomes a country bumpkin and kids everywhere ran to look up "hornswoggled" in their dictionaries.

4. We can't have villains engaged in a drinking orgy! In the revision, the only orgy was of the eatin' kind!

5. 1930s Nancy was much more bold, brash, and less likely to uphold the law.

3 Mysterious Things About Nancy:

1. We learn that Nancy has a few mechanical skills--she can change a flat tire and work over a boat's motor.

2. She has 2 enemies--The Topham Sisters (Ada and Isabel).

3. She's knowledgeable about many things--having studied Archimedes and psychology in school.

An Important Lesson We Learned From Nancy:

When sleuthing in isolated locations, be sure to tell someone where you're going in case you get locked in a closet and left to starve!

Sleuthworthy Rating On a Scale of 1-10:

6 - I could have used more suspense and more villain foibles, some of my favorite mystery devices. I preferred the original and could have done without the sub plots of singing lessons and the police dog and puppy cliffhanger. I liked the scenes around Moon Lake and the name "Black Horse Inn" lent an air of mystery.

What do you all think? Was it one of your favorites? Did you prefer either the original or the revised? As a first mystery in the series, how does it compare with later volumes?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Nancy Drew's 85th Spotlight #20

The first Nancy Drew movie to be produced, Nancy Drew...Detective in 1938 was loosely based on The Password to Larkspur Lane. Nancy Drew was played by Bonita Granville and Ned Nickerson became Ted Nickerson--played by Frankie Thomas. The movie played up some of the drama in the book and maid Effie was especially comical and dramatic--even causing Ted to tackle Nancy's father, Carson Drew, who was locked out of the house. Nancy and Ted thought he was a burglar snooping in the bushes. Effie had barricaded the door shut with furniture.

In the movie, Nancy gets Ted too pool their (mostly his) money to rent a plane so she can take aerial photographs of the area in order to locate the "nursing home" that the missing Mrs. Eldridge is being held at. Instead of Helen in the book version, it is Ted who dresses up as a nurse to help Nancy gain entrance into the mysterious place--dressing in drag for comedy. And Nancy fires a gun like a crazy woman in the end before passing out.

Nancy was much more ditzy in the movie than in the book, but these movies were campy and fun aside from that, so you have to take them for what they are.

Some books advertised the movie with this wrapper seen below:

Here's a sample lobby card below from the lobby card gallery at my website:

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Nancy Drew's 85th Spotlight #19


25 of the original Nancy Drew books were illustrated by commercial illustrator, Russell H. Tandy from 1930 to 1949. These include the original art dust jackets for volumes 1-10, 12-26 as well as the internal illustrations for volumes 1-26. The original cover for book #11 is a mystery--likely not Tandy.

Tandy had been illustrating some of the books for Edward Stratemeyer's Books for Girls series. It was Stratemeyer, in the planning of his soon to be published Nancy Drew series, who submitted the cover illustration of two artists to Grosset & Dunlap: Ernest Townsend's dust jacket art for Two Girls and a Mystery, 1928, and Tandy's dust jacket art for Kate Martin's Problem, 1929. Both covers are shown below.

 

Grosset & Dunlap chose Tandy as the illustrator for the Nancys--a wise choice indeed, for it was Tandy's classic and sophisticated portrayal of Nancy that helped make the series sell quite successfully. Nancy below and Kate above are very similar.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Nancy Drew's 85th Spotlight #18


The 2007 Nancy Drew Movie from Warner Brothers featured a very neat intro that showed scenes - like line drawings from the books - and these were based on some of the classic Nancy Drew books in part. Also in the end credits they morphed line drawings with real movie scenes which was fun. Here are some images from the credits.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Nancy Drew Books: Scary Things Kids (& Adults) Do #63


Someone wanted to make sure we know this was volume #13 in the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories series. So, they wrote it on the cover! And then they underlined it too for good measure! Then they worried that someone might not get a clue, so they added a sticker with the number 13. And naturally for extra good measure, they underlined that one too!

Friday, April 03, 2015

Nancy Drew's 85th Spotlight #17


Prolific illustrator Joseph Rudolph Nappi - known to fans of Nancy Drew & The Hardy Boys as Rudy Nappi, passed away at the age of 92 on March 13, 2015, preceded in death by his wife Peggy just a few days prior. 

Rudy was our guest of honor at our 2010 Nancy Drew 80th Anniversary Convention in Florida - both at our "land" convention on Merritt Island and then on our "sea" convention on a cruise to the Bahamas. They were both so friendly and kind to fans and seemed to have a very good time chatting about his illustration career.

We presented him with our highest honor, the Nancy Drew Sleuths Honorary Sleuth Award.


He illustrated many of the classic Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books. His first Nancy Drew cover was for book #30, The Clue of the Velvet Mask, published in 1953. He would go on to do original first art covers for books 30-34, go back and revise covers for books 1-5 and 8-34 and then did the original/only art covers for books 35-56 from 1953 to 1979. Here are the first and last Nancy Drew covers he painted.

  

Here are 2 original Nancy Drew paintings produced by Rudy Nappi for book 2 The Hidden Staircase and book 33 The Witch Tree Symbol:

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Nancy Drew's 85th Spotlight #16

Carolyn Keene was also a man--briefly--Navy man Walter Karig was one of three men who ghosted the classic first 56 hardcover Nancy Drews from 1930 to 1979. Karig ghosted three of the Nancy Drew books during the early 1930s.

Karig ghosted original twenty-five-chapter versions of books 8 Nancy's Mysterious Letter, 9 The Sign of the Twisted Candles, and 10 The Password to Larkspur Lane.

In these volumes, there was more attention paid to Nancy's roadster and how she skillfully drove it--very descriptive and interestingly there was also more attention paid to her clothing and shopping than in ghostwriter Mildred Wirt Benson's Nancy Drew books that she wrote for the Stratemeyer Syndicate. Villains were also more comic and bumbling at times in Karig's books such as the portrayal of villain Frank Semitt in Twisted Candles.