Search for Books

Children's Books Future Releases Authors & Illustrators Reading Guides Catalogs
Girl Sleuth Logo Harcourt

The Making
(and Remaking) of an Icon

The original proposal for nancy Drew suggested that her name be Stella Strong, Nell Cody, Helen Hale, or Diana Dare.
When Nancy Drew was introduced she wore cloche hats and gloves whenever she was out in public, as was proper in the 1930s. Later, in the ‘50s, she changed to sport dresses and rompers, and even—gasp—pants.
Nancy got her famous hair color by mistake: She was originally blonde, but when a printer’s error gave her hair a reddish cast in a cover illustration, the writers followed suit and described her thereafter as “titian-haired.”
Nancy’s father gave her her trusty blue roadster as a birthday gift. After a brief stint as a maroon roadster, it went back to snappy Nancy Drew blue, eventually morphing into a blue convertible to keep up with the latest styles. In the new series launched in 2004, Nancy Drew: Girl Detective, Nancy drives a blue hybrid car.
Nancy’s mother died when she was ten, leaving her the ever-capable mistress of her household (with a little help from reliable Hannah Gruen). Later books changed this and made her three years old at the time of her mother’s death.
Carolyn Keene was a pen name, a cover for the series’ ghostwriters that worked so well the Authors Guild asked her to join their organization and she was listed in Who’s Who in America. Ms. Keene also regularly responded to fan mail.
Nancy began her adventures as a precocious sixteen-year-old who had apparently already graduated from high school. When the books were revised in the 1960s, she became an eighteen-year-old; the driving age had gone up and the sleuth without her trusty car would be no sleuth at all.
River Heights started out as a town located somewhere in the Midwest. As the books were revised the town migrated to the East Coast, close enough to New York for Nancy to travel into Chinatown to solve The Mystery of the Fire Dragon (1961).
Nancy’s tomboy friend George declared in The Secret of Shadow Ranch that her name was not short for Georgia—she was just plain George, named after her grandfather. But as times changed, so did her story: In 1960’s The Clue in the Old Stagecoach she confessed that it really was short for Georgia after all.
The Girl Sleuth

Nancy and boyfriend Ned Nickerson never once kissed, but in The Secret the Old Attic she does "faint into his strong arms."
Until the late 1950s Nancy often carried a gun on her adventures, and in The Secret ofShadow Ranch she had to shoot a wild lynx to save Bess and George.
Nancy’s cases took her all over the world. In the original books she traveled to London, Montreal, Mexico, Hong Kong, Hawaii, Scotland, France, Peru, Argentina, Africa, Turkey, and Japan. In the original Mystery of the Brass Bound Trunk, her ocean liner’s destination was changed from England to Buenos Aires because World War II had broken out.
Over the years, among other mishaps, Nancy has been bound and gagged repeatedly, knocked unconscious with a gun and left to die in a basement ( The Bungalow Mystery), locked in a closet ( The Secret of the Old Clock), poisoned with deadly gas ( The Secret in the Old Attic), threatened by a cult ( The Secret of Red Gate Farm), been the recipient of menacing notes ( The Clue in the Old Album), and gotten chased by a vicious dog ( The Mystery of the Moss-Covered Mansion).
Nancy has an astonishing range of skills in the books: She’s an expert swimmer, horsewoman, linguist, actress, circus performer, driver, amateur historian, and crack shot—not to mention a fashion plate.
The Phenomenon

The very first Nancy Drews were The Secret of the Old Clock, The Hidden Staircase, and The Bungalow Mystery, published on April 28, 1930.
There were 56 books in the original Nancy Drew Mystery Stories series. In 1982 Simon & Schuster launched a new series called the Nancy Drew Files, which ran for 124 volumes and was followed by various Nancy spin-offs. The original series is still in print.
Nancy’s adventures have been translated into many languages, but her name hasn’t always traveled with her: In France, she’s Alice Roy (perhaps because Nancy Drew is hard to pronounce in French); in Finland she’s Paula Drew; in Sweden she’s Kitty Drew; in Germany, her publishers transformed her into Susanne Langen, a German law student with an uncle in River Heights; in Russia she’s Nensi Dru. Her books have even appeared in Braille.
Beyond the Pages

Nancy received a high pop-culture accolade in the 1960s when the National Lampoon did a parody of her. In it she was called to solve the Patty Hearst kidnapping and was targeted by the Symbionese Liberation Army for assassination: They tried to kill her with an overdose of Midol.
Pamela Sue Martin played Nancy in a short-lived TV series that ran along with the Hardy Boys on Sunday nights in 1976 (in the same season that Charlie’s Angels debuted and Wonder Woman was still going strong). Later Martin posed on the cover of Playboy as Nancy, wearing a trench coat and nothing else.
Back to Top
About Us | Careers | Contact Us | Policies | Privacy Policy | Rights and Permissions | Terms and Conditions
Harcourt.com | Copyright © 2000-2005 by Harcourt, Inc. All rights reserved | Webmaster