Friday, April 25, 2008

An Obituary for Harriet Adams

Today, I found a newspaper clipping of an obituary for Harriet Stratemeyer Adams tucked inside a Nancy Drew book. Harriet Adams was the daughter of Edward Stratemeyer and took over the running of the Stratemeyer Syndicate in 1930 when her father died. Mrs. Adams ran the Syndicate until her death in 1982.

During the 1970s, Mrs. Adams was very vocal about her role in writing the Nancy Drew books. She claimed to be the author of all of the original 56 books, and her statements annoyed many people who knew that a few other people, including Mildred Wirt Benson, had written many of the manuscripts from outlines supplied by the Syndicate. In fact, as I have been reading the editorials in various issues of The Mystery and Adventure Series Review from the 1980s, I have read quite a few bitter comments that some collectors made about Harriet Adams.

To get back to the obituary—needless to say, it has some glaring errors due to the statements that Mrs. Adams had made in the preceding years. The clipping is from Monday, March 29, 1982, and Mrs. Adams had passed away on Saturday, March 27, 1982. The text of the obituary follows (click on the image to read directly from the clipping):
Harriet S. Adams, who wrote nearly 200 children's books carrying on the Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys and other series created by her father, died of a heart attack.

The Maplewood, N.J., resident was 89.

Mrs. Adams, who died Saturday night, was honored as mother of the year in 1979 but was better known by millions of readers as Carolyn Keene, the author of the Nancy Drew mysteries.

She inherited a flair for fiction from her father, Edward Stratemeyer, one of the most prolific writers of all time.

Her father wrote under many pseudonyms and was the creator of Tom Swift, the Bobbsey Twins, the Rover Boys, the Hardy Boys, Don Sturdy, Honey Bunch and even Nancy Drew, who was the heroine of three of his mystery novels.

His daughter later revised the three Nancy Drew books and then wrote all of the remaining novels featuring the young girl detective.

Carrying on her father's other series, Mrs. Adams also wrote under the pen name of Franklin W. Dixon for the Hardy Boys, Victor W. Appleton II for Tom Swift Jr., and Laura Lee Hope for the Bobbsey Twins.

In writing the Nancy Drew novels Mrs. Adams stuck to the cliff-hanger approach.

It was a successful formula for 50 years and more than 70 million copies of the books had been sold in the United States alone. The Nancy Drew stories were translated into more than a dozen languages.

Mrs. Adams was born in Newark, N.J. on Dec. 6, 1894. While attending Wellesley College, she worked as a student reporter for the Boston Globe. A year after graduation from Wellesley in 1914, she married Russell V. Adams, an investment banker.

Stratemeyer died in 1930 and Mrs. Adams, who had been busy bringing up her children, immediately began working on the Nancy Drew series.
It has never bothered me that Mrs. Adams claimed more of the credit than perhaps she was due. To Mrs. Adams, Nancy Drew was like her daughter, and she was very protective of Nancy Drew. By the time Mrs. Adams was in her 80s, she very well may have convinced herself that she had written all of the original versions of the stories as well as the rewrites.

Additionally, as the head of the Stratemeyer Syndicate, it was Harriet Adams' duty to protect the interests of the Syndicate. Since the Syndicate retained sole ownership of the stories, it was not in the Syndicate's interest for it to be known that many of the stories had been written by other people. The point I'm making that I am very open-minded, and I do see Mrs. Adams' side of the story.

I feel that all of the people who contributed to the success of the Nancy Drew series were important. Edward Stratemeyer created the series; Mildred Wirt Benson wrote most of the early books; Walter Karig wrote three of the early books; and Harriet Adams revised all of the original stories and wrote all of the new stories from the 1950s until her death in 1982. Of all of these people, I feel that Harriet Adams' contribution was more significant than the others, simply because she kept the Nancy Drew series going for more than 50 years. While she claimed too much credit, she rightfully deserved a large amount of credit for Nancy Drew's success.

While I am a big fan of Mildred Wirt Benson and feel that her influence on the early Nancy Drew books was significant and lasting, I have been concerned in recent years that Harriet Adams has been completely forgotten. There are some people who feel that Mildred Wirt Benson deserves all of the credit for Nancy Drew's success. Others say that it was Edward Stratemeyer who thought up the idea. I want people also to remember the woman who kept the series going, who seems now to be all but forgotten.


Anonymous said...

Hello. I couldn't quite figure out how one posts something other than by leaving a comment. I was hoping someone might be able to help me locate the name of an author - the book is "Wendy Hill, Professional Secretary". It was probably from the 1960's. I remember enjoying it as a child and would love to find it again - but googling the title brings up nothing. Any Good Samaritan out there who happens to know the author? Thanks so much. Lindsey

Linda said...

Hi Jennifer,

Since you are a Nancy Drew fan like I am, you may be interested in this new mystery series I stumbled upon (actually my daughter read it first LOL). It's Bitter Tastes by V.B. Rosendahl. I definitely flashed back on Nancy Drew as I read it. The heroine, Kathy -- age 11, solves a mystery and also has a disability she has to deal with. She's gutsy, and isn't afraid to do what she thinks is right.

Don't know if you have daughters, neices or neighbors you can share it with, but I suspect you do considering this blog (haven't read it all . . . .yet).

Happy Reading,