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Nancy Drew Is Alive and Well in Books and Now on TV

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Move over, Pepper Anderson, Kojak, Barnaby Jones, Delvecchio and Star-sky & Hutch. Another sleuth, named Nancy Drew, is here. Last month when ABC’s Nancy Drew Mysteries series premiered, it outrated all those other nouveau TV detective shows. Such popularity will not surprise the generations of 7-to 13-year-olds who have bought more than 60 million copies of the Drew books since author Carolyn Keene began writing them in 1930. The Secret of the Old Clock was the first, and volume 54, The Strange Message in the Parchment, has just come out. Now, because of the TV show, which alternates with The Hardy Boys on Sunday nights, two million more copies of the books have been printed.

“I always hoped that a truthful and intelligent TV series could be made for my Nancy Drew,” says Mrs. Harriet Adams who writes as Carolyn Keene. Mrs. Adams, a curly-haired, 84-year-old grandmother, took over plotting excitement for the teenage sleuth when her father, Edward Stratemeyer, who started the series, died. Stratemeyer had an assembly line of writers helping him produce novels for youngsters, such as the Bobbsey Twins, the Hardy Boys, Tom Swift, plus Nancy and lesser known characters like Bomba the Jungle Boy. At the time of his death he had 17 series in print. “The publishers were wringing their hands,” says Mrs. Adams, “so I said to my sister, ‘Why don’t we try it?’ ” Her sister Edna stayed for 12 years. Harriet, a Wellesley English major, now runs the syndicate. It employs five writers to turn out books for the Bobbsey Twins (still), Tom Swift Jr., the Dana Girls and other characters. But Mrs. Adams writes the Nancy Drew adventures all by herself. “Nancy is like another daughter to me,” says Mrs. Adams, who has two daughters, a son, 11 grandchildren and a great-grandson. A widow, she lives alone in a rambling, two-story house in Maplewood, N.J., a five-minute drive from the office.

When Mrs. Adams began to write the series, she toned down the spirited, sharp-tongued Nancy. “I thought she was a little too bold, too bossy.” But she did not tamper with Nancy’s cool independence and leadership. Her boyfriend, Ned, is always two steps behind, as are the police.

Mrs. Adams prides herself on the authenticity of every locale she writes about. Whether it’s Peru, Africa or archeological digs outside Las Vegas, Nancy never goes anywhere that Mrs. Adams hasn’t checked out first.

The formula her father originated still works. Give the reader a mystery at the outset and end each chapter on a note of suspense. Over the years Mrs. Adams has gone back and modernized the old books. For example, she’s removed the running boards from cars, updated hairstyles and dressed Nancy in pantsuits instead of white gloves and dresses. Nancy and her friends continue to live wholesome lives, however; they do not experiment with sex or drugs or witness violent crimes. And her romance with Ned will always be puppy love. “I’m never going to let her get married,” says Mrs. Adams.