85 years of Nancy Drew detective stories: solving the mystery of the teen sleuth's timeless appeal - part 2: Stratemeyer, Adams and Bensen
By Susanna Speier
Denver Private Investigator Blogger
One-hundred and fifty-three years ago, today, on October 4, 1862, Edward Stratemeyer, the author and founder of the Stratemeyer Syndicate was born to German tobacconists in Elizabeth, New Jersey.
Click here to read part 1 of this story
He grew up reading Horatio Alger and sold his 1st story ---and one he claimed to have written on brown wrapping paper in his father's tobacco shop. Stratemeyer's big break came in the form of a letter of from the then dying Horatio Alger asking him to complete a story he was too ill to finish. Stratemeyer went on to finish several of Alger's stories posthumously.
The spread of primary education cleared a market hungry for youth fiction and Stratemeyer revolutionized the publishing process by employing teams of ghost writers. A 2004 New Yorker article by Mehgan O'Rourke, titled Nancy Drew's Father compared what Stratemeyer did for publishing to what Henry Ford did for automobile manufacturing. The series books he created included The Rover Boys, Tom Swift Bobbsey Twins, the Dana Girls and The Hardy Boys in addition to Nancy Drew.
"On 10 May 1930 Edward Stratemeyer died in Newark, New Jersey shortly after the premiere of the first Nancy Drew book, The Secret of the Old Clock, according to the Stratemeyer biography written by C.D. Merriman for Jalic Inc. The Syndicate fell into the hands of his daughters Harriet Stratemeyer Adams and Edna Camilla Stratemeyer and Jennifer Fisher (also quoted in part 1) credits their “efficient management” with the series’ long survival.
As Stratemeyer did not approve of women working outside the home, his daughter, Harriet Stratemeyer Adams helped her father edit for him at home until her marriage and after getting married she became a full-time homemaker. Following her father’s death, however, Adams took the helm of his business and her sister, Edna moved to Florida.
“The first 56 books that came out between 1930 and 1979. They’ve always been steady sellers and have always done well, even now” Fisher explains
Nancy’s widespred popularity, however, Fisher credits to Mildred Bensen, one of the ghost writers who wasn’t publicly acknowledged until 1993 when Grosset and Dunlap and Simon and Schuster were forced, by litigation, to acknowledged her authorial contributions.
Bensen “had been writing for Edward Stratemeyer (previously) and he hired her to write for the Nancy Drew series.” said Fisher. “She also did a lot of writing under her own name. She actually wrote more books for herself. 135 published children’s books. She was also a journalist and worked for The Toledo Times and The Toldeo Blade.”
In Bensen’s obituary, The New York Times writer Douglas Martin credits Bensen with writing 23 of the Nancy Drew books explaining, “Harriet Stratemeyer Adams, the daughter of the syndicate's founder, for years said that she alone was the author of Nancy Drew. Her plausible argument was that she had outlined the plot ideas, and then edited Mrs. Benson's manuscripts with a thoroughness that sometimes angered the author. There are experts on both sides of this question.”
Also, according to Martin, Bensen wrote the Nancy Drew books while working as a full-time newspaper reporter. She was “paid $125 a book, plus Christmas bonuses, and signed away all rights to royalties and personal recognition.”
Bensen’s “ideas of what Nancy should be were different from the more traditional finishing-girl style of Harriet Adams and as the series went on. As a result of these differences, Nancy underwent changes in the direction of Harriet and later under Harriet’s revision.” So if you recall a personality shift between the early and the later editions of the first 56 Nancy Drew books, then you picked up on this shift in authorship.
In 1993 Mildred Wirt Bensen, Grosset and Dunlap and Simon and Schuster reached an agreement to credit Bensen for writing under the penname of Carolyn Keene. Bensen continued to write up until 2002. “She worked until the day she died,” said Martin’s obit, “being taken to the hospital from her desk, where she had been working on her monthly column.”
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