Wednesday, January 30, 2019

31 Days of Nancy Drew Topic #30 Nancy Drew Goes to Court, Celebrates her 50th & The Beginning of a new Nancy Drew Era

31 Days of Nancy Drew Topic #30

Nancy Drew Goes to Court, Celebrates her 50th & The Beginning of a new Nancy Drew Era

Today I'm going to round out our look at Nancy Drew and the classics over the course of five decades and part of another through the mid-1980s. We've covered Nancy Drew with some brief historical background through the 70s and today I'll focus on how it was the beginning of a new era of Nancy Drew by the year 1979. What would follow that and the Stratemeyer Syndicate's legacy, I'll touch on too.

As I mentioned yesterday, there was frustration at the Syndicate over the royalties being paid by Grosset & Dunlap, who had been publishing books for the Stratemeyer Syndicate for decades and specifically for 49 years for the Nancy Drew series. In a nutshell, the older contracts stated a certain percentage and over the years they never renegotiated the royalties. I won't bore you with contract law, but suffice it to say, this royalty issue and other issues that had transpired over the years, not to mention Grosset & Dunlap's lack of interest in doing something big for Nancy Drew's 50th anniversary, gave Harriet and the Syndicate partners the final impetus to do something. So, they made a decision - ultimately Harriet's - to switch publishers from G&D to Simon and Schuster. Simon & Schuster had been courting Harriet for awhile, wanting the Stratemeyer catalog. They also threw in a nice little cookie in the form of plans for a huge 50th Nancy Drew party and lots of publicity and promotion. Hook, line and sinker, Harriet switched to S&S. G&D wasn't exactly blindsided, but they apparently didn't think she would actually do that. And the 57th book in the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories series, The Triple Hoax, was published by S&S in paperback, ending the era of classic hardcovers in recent decades of bright yellow spines and there would be no more illustrations by Rudy Nappi. So, a new era began for Nancy Drew - a modern era where she would continue to sleuth and thrive for the last 40 years. This year is the 40th anniversary of The Triple Hoax going to print and S&S's beginning as Nancy Drew's second publisher. Ruth Sanderson was the new illustrator for the series and more would follow - it's Ruth's work that is rather coveted by collectors like Jim McNamara who owns The Triple Hoax and quite a few other Ruths, but there are other favorite illustrators too.


From 1979 to the mid-80s, we have the Wanderer era - the imprint used by S&S for these books and I touched on all of that in a previous posting, so I won't delve back into all of those books and spinoffs - but I will picture some of them here plus an article on Nancy's 50th. The images of Flying Saucer, Kachina Doll, Captive Witness, Broken Anchor and Emerald-Eyed Cat are borrowed from collector Lea Fox's section of her website on the Wanderer paperbacks - here's the link to check that out.

I will note that Nancy in the Wanderer period and beyond in the run up to #175, stuck to her classic self for the most part - still the same mystery-magnet she always was and the stories were in the vein of the classics - especially the Wanderers. You go from a small family run type company - the Stratemeyer Syndicate - to a corporate environment at S&S where these books are some of many the publisher is focusing on and things are just not going to be the same. It's a different way to run and manage things. Nancy Drew didn't have a "mom" in Harriet anymore. And she had a lot of different editors and ghostwriters, so over time and with so many books being published, continuity would suffer at times and some books are written better than others. Nancy Drew Mystery Stories as a series ran its course with book #175, Werewolf in a Winter Wonderland, published in 2003 and two new series replaced it, the Nancy Drew Diaries being the the current series being published.

What I do want to focus briefly on is what happened when the publisher switch was made and that's the stuff of courtroom drama!

As you can imagine, Grosset & Dunlap didn't want to let go of these popular and good selling series - Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, the Bobbsey Twins, etc. So, they filed suit against the parent company for Simon & Schuster - Gulf & Western Corporation - and against the Stratemeyer Syndicate. Harriet was stunned and saddened. It was a shame that it came to a trial between all these parties and that G&D couldn't have worked out royalty issues to begin with. However, had they worked out something, who knows where we'd be today as far as the longevity of Nancy Drew. But, that's neither here nor there at this point.


1980 found the parties in Manhattan in NY at the US District Court for the Southern District of New York in a small courtroom before the Honorable Judge Robert J. Ward. The trial was fairly short and various people testified including Syndicate partner Nancy S. Axelrad, Harriet, and also a surprise witness to the stand - one Mildred Wirt Benson, "Millie" - the original ghostwriter of the Nancy Drew series. She was brought on as a witness by G&D, who was trying to get the rights to the series during the trial on the basis of several things - including copyrights. However, it didn't go G&D's way and in the end the result was that S&S could continue to publish new stories in paperback and G&D would have the right to continue to reprint the first 56 classic hardcovers. The cost of the litigation and resulting stress, didn't help anyone involved. But who got the better deal? And what would happen next? I'll be covering this more extensively in my biography on Millie that I'm currently writing. But for now, read on for a few more clues.....

Within two years of the trial, Harriet passed away in 1982. Her reign as Carolyn Keene and as Syndicate partner, had sadly come to an end. But the Stratemeyer legacy would live on and still does today. I don't imagine that Harriet's father, Edward Stratemeyer, would have ever thought his creations would last so long and inspire so many, or that his daughters Edna and Harriet would take over the company and run it for so many years. So, it's a very rich legacy indeed. By 1984, the remaining Syndicate partners and the Stratemeyer heirs decided to sell the business to S&S, it was financially beneficial to them to do so, finances were not as good as they had once been and there were other issues. So ultimately, S&S acquired the  backlog of Syndicate properties and continued to publish new books in the various core series. Today, they still own the rights and anyone who wants to license these properties must go through them and their licensing agents. Warner Brothers  is unique in that they still have a long standing contract that allows them to film movies based on the series through books 22 if they want to use anything  plot-wise/etc. from the books. I learned more about this from having consulted on the 2007 film and doing some research for the legal department at Warner Brothers. Since 1979, Nancy Drew has gone through a lot of changes as to cover art styles, spinoff series and the like. But she still endures - part of that is nostalgia and the passing down of these books from generation to generation.

Grosset & Dunlap, in preparation for the trial, actually reached out to Millie because, as collector and researcher Geoffrey S. Lapin notes, they had acquired Platt & Munk who had formerly acquired Cupples & Leon who published Millie's Penny Parker series. They were going through a backlog of what they'd acquired and wanted to have an alternative series to publish if they lost all rights to Nancy Drew. They reached out to Millie and wanted to see about her revising the Penny Parkers for the current market. It was then, that they discovered who she really was and that she'd written the first Nancy Drew books and that's how she got involved in being a witness at the trial. In fact, Geoff received a call, from G&D who had Millie in their office at the time of the call.

Geoff attended the trial in NYC and got to meet Harriet and observe the process, research behind the scenes and got access to exhibits and documents G&D subpoenaed from the Syndicate and S&S. Some of his books were also sent to G&D's attorneys to use during the trial. He sat with Millie at the trial on the wooden benches that filled the courtroom in the row behind Syndicate partners and Harriet's two daughters. He was with Millie when he was introduced to Harriet who had just walked in on day one. Startled to see Millie there, Harriet infamously blurted out, "I thought you were dead!" and Millie responded with a cute quip about that not being the case. Harriet hadn't seen Millie since the 1950s when Millie and her second husband George Benson stopped by the Syndicate's offices on a trip back east, so it had been nearly 30 years that the two had come face to face.

I'm curious though about why Harriet would have thought that Millie was dead, since just a few years prior, Millie had reached out to NBC erroneously in the mid-70s when news was trickling from Hollywood about possible TV show options on the series - this resulted in her being threatened with suit by an attorney for the Syndicate. So, she was on their radar in the mid-70s. However, by the time of the trial in 1980 and all its stresses, Harriet had a lot of health issues and her writing wasn't as up to par as it had been - her last Nancy Drew Book would be #57 The Flying Saucer Mystery which was presented to her on the witness stand during her testimony, as Geoff observed. Her attempt at the next book, The Secret of the Old Lace, had to be rewritten by Syndicate partner Nancy Axelrad. So, it's possible clarity on that day in court was a bit fuzzy.

I think overall, in my study of these books and hearing from many fans over the years, that both G&D and S&S got a good deal out of the trial. G&D gets to keep reprinting the classic 56 which are ultimately the favorites of most fans and collectors. They are still good sellers and the stories for the most part hold up well over time. S&S had to continually modernize and update Nancy Drew and that's proven to be hit or miss at times, but overall Nancy Drew keeps on sleuthing. S&S also gets the licensing end of the deal and the brand provides lots of royalties and opportunities there. The publisher didn't overly license and merchandise the series though until the early 2000s when there became a greater push to do so. I think some lost years in there didn't help the series as far as the brand goes due to lack of merchandising and licensing. After all, Warner Brothers had trouble getting Mattel to license and create a Nancy Drew Drew Barbie when they were looking to do merchandise for the 2007 film. It was only if a sequel came about, that they would get more companies on board to license--there was hesitation. My hope is that with the upcoming Broadway musical, the current WB Hidden Staircase film coming out in March and the upcoming CW TV series that's going to pilot, we'll begin to see more in the way of books and merchandise and the brand will evolve even more for the modern era.


I'd be remiss not to also mention the 50th anniversary birthday party that Nancy Drew was given by S&S - held in NYC with lots of fanfare and publicity. Famous authors and NYC glitterati attended. Actors dressed as characters from the books mingled with the crowd. There was a mystery to solve. A roadster was there that Harriet was seen posing in for news and TV. It was quite a celebration! Ruth Sanderson attended. Publicity blanked the country about Nancy Drew and Harriet. Here's a link to the CBS news coverage from the event reported on by Walter Cronkite. In the New York Public Library, there are items from this celebration and information. There was also an attempt to get a US Postal stamp to commemorate the 50th, but that never materialized.

Since this time period, Nancy has celebrated even more anniversaries and her 90th will be April 28, 2020. For nearly 90 years, fans of all generations have read and collected these books and related collectibles. For tomorrow's posting, and my final of the 31 days of Nancy Drew series, I'll be focusing on the fans - like Nancy Drew Sleuths - and the various fan clubs out there over the years among other things. As much as those behind the scenes do to keep this series alive, it's also the fans who help keep them alive too.

In the comments, what do you think about the outcome of the trial and how it has effected all of those involved behind the scenes? Do you prefer the classic 56 over what came later? Who is your favorite illustrator of the classic paperbacks? Feel free to share your art if you own any.

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