Thursday, May 28, 2015

Nancy Drew & Mildred Wirt Benson Event at Toledo-Lucas County Public Library

Nancy Drew Sleuths will be in Toledo, OH this week celebrating the 85th Anniversary of Nancy Drew and the 110th Anniversary of Mildred Wirt Benson. A big highlight of our mini con there is a library event at the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library downtown in the McMaster auditorium, on Saturday, May 30th. The program runs from 11:00am to 12:30pm and following that, there will be a ceremony for the Literary Landmark being dedicated to Benson for her writing career. I am currently writing a biography on Benson and will be speaking about her life and career as will Geoffrey Lapin, the man who discovered Benson, the original Carolyn Keene, back in the 1960s.

The above video was put together by the library to highlight the event.

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!