Thursday, November 05, 2015
What is it with teenage detectives, anyway?
The fundamental instability at the heart of Nancy Drew is a direct result of the production method that wrought her. Like the thirties starlets programmed by the Hollywood star system to radiate glamour, power, and searing perfection, Nancy is a fundamentally collaborative project who embodies distinct, often contradictory visions for how a super-girl should look and behave. The publishing tycoon Edward Stratemeyer created her in 1930 to capitalize on the girl consumers he knew were reading his popular Hardy Boys books. He hired a cross-country network of ghostwriters to write the series under the collective pseudonym Carolyn Keene.
Nancy’s original ghostwriter, Mildred Wirt Benson of Ladora, Iowa, was herself an amateur archeologist responsible for the most adventurous iterations of the sleuth. In her autobiography, she discusses the detective as a product of her “unfulfilled desire for adventure” who “embodied qualities that [she] wished [she] had.” Stratemeyer and his daughter, Harriet Stratemeyer Adams, disapproved of this early characterization of Nancy: a boisterous teenager who drove a roadster and talked back to police officers, they argued, was “too flip.” Adams’s subsequent revisions began a gradual domestication of Drew that spans the series. Though Nancy still used bold words, she now did so with dainty adverbs—“Nancy said sweetly,” “Nancy said kindly”—adorning each line of dialogue like doilies.
If modifications to Nancy’s character reflected different ideals of femininity, tweaks to her appearance reflected ideals of beauty furthered by cinema and pop culture. Benson’s books called for “blonde” curls, but the illustrator Russell Tandy tinted Nancy’s hair a more voguish silver—just when the 1931 film Platinum Blonde premiered Jean Harlow’s famous, noxious dye-job, a cocktail of peroxide, ammonia, Clorox, and Lux flakes. By the end of the decade, writers reddened Nancy’s hair on a schedule roughly concurrent with the release of the Olivia de Havilland film Strawberry Blonde (1941). In later decades, the artist Rudy Nappi portrayed Nancy as increasingly glamorous and adult—on fifties-era covers she resembles Hitchcock’s blondes, immaculately dressed in Tippi Hedren–like suits and full-skirted, Grace Kelly gowns.
This is somewhat timely, as Nancy Drew was a topic of conversation recently. I wasn't aware that Nancy Drew was written by ghost writers under a collective pseudonym, but then again, I was more into Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators myself (and it's odd to think that they're still popular in Germany).
I was quite upset when Alfred Hitchcock was retconned out of the series:
When Alfred Hitchcock died in 1980, Random House chose to replace him with the fictitious mystery writer Hector Sebastian and in 1981 the series became known as "The Three Investigators Mystery Series". Things just didn't seem the same without old Alfred and the changes in the plots and in the characters were noticeably different to regular readers of the series. In 1982 Random House issued a book of mystery puzzles featuring The Three Investigators. It appears to have bombed. In 1983 Marc Brandel joined the fold as a Three Investigators author. In 1984 and 1985, Random House very slightly revised the texts of the first 30 titles. In this new Revised Edition, Alfred Hitchcock was replaced by the fictitious movie director Reginald Clarke in the first book and by Hector Sebastian in books #2 - #30. This may have been the straw that broke the camel's back for the series.
But apparently, such things happen even in the Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys books.