When I was a pre-teen, I read every Nancy Drew and Dana Girls book I could get my hands on. Sure, they were a little campy, but what girl didn’t want to imagine themselves as a pretty super-sleuth, going forth and saving the world? You could do that with a heroine like Nancy Drew.
As an aspiring author, I was also fascinated by Carolyn Keene. What type of woman must she be to be able to turn out so many intriguing stories? Then I found out – she’s not just one woman. She’s a whole team of them (and men, too.)
The Stratemeyer Syndicate, the company that invented Nancy Drew, wanted to use a variety of authors to create the Nancy Drew Mystery series. Instead of producing fifteen books by fifteen different authors, they thought it would be much simpler to use one generic name to be used by all, which makes sense. This way the books would all be side-by-side in a library or store which shelves books alphabetically by author’s last name, making it easier for the readers to find all the books.
When the series began in 1953, Nancy was introduced as a titian-haired (strawberry blonde) beauty with brains, spunk, and a little roadster. She also had a boyfriend named Ned Nickerson. Her father was an attorney, and Nancy helped him solve his most difficult cases, nearly always inciting the ire of the villain, who would proclaim, “If it wasn’t for that Nancy Drew (or meddling girl, or interfering female) I’d have gotten away with this.” The first four novels in the series are “The Secret of the Old Clock,” “The Hidden Staircase,” “The Bungalow Mystery,” and “The Mystery at Lilac Inn.”
As the years progressed, Nancy became more updated, and the writers even went back to earlier publications and removed racial stereotypes and tweaked some outdated plots. Today’s Nancy Drew is a modern version of the original, but the essentials are still the same.
Edna Stratemeyer contributed ten plots to the Nancy series, and her sister Harriet took over from there, authoring twenty-four of her own. Others to bear the title of “Carolyn Keene” were Mildred Wirt Benson, with a total of twenty-three books, three of which became the first three to be released. Walter Karig used the female pseudonym for three books. Leslie McFarlane, James Duncan Lawrence, Nancy Axelrod, Priscilla Doll, Charles Strong, Alma Sasse, Wilhelmina Rankin, George Waller Jr., and Margaret Scherf all contributed as well, making “Carolyn Keene” a very used and very well-known name. In the beginning, each of these authors were paid only $125 per book and they signed a confidentiality statement that they would never divulge their involvement in the project. Well, that must have been lifted, as I was able to find a list of all their names!
Leslie McFarlane began the Dana Girls stories in 1934. Heralded as a “Hardy Boys” for girls, these books feature sisters with a penchant for solving mysteries. They were also ghost-written under the name of Carolyn Keene using the same formula of many authors under one umbrella, but while they were enjoyable, these books never did achieve the popularity of Nancy Drew, who now even has her own line of PC games.