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It Took a Sisterhood to Create Nancy Drew

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It Took a Sisterhood to Create Nancy Drew

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It Took a Sisterhood to Create Nancy Drew

It Took a Sisterhood to Create Nancy Drew

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Nancy Drew, a fixture on children's reading lists since 1930, has hit the big screen. Melanie Rehak tracks the history of the long-lived mystery series in her bookGirl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

America's favorite girl detective is back in an update for the big screen. The movie "Nancy Drew" opens in theaters today.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Of course, Nancy Drew first snooped her way to the scene of the crime in print, "The Secret of the Old Clock" launched the mystery series in 1930. And if you read the books, you'll remember Nancy's loving widowed father, her girl chums George and Bess, and the long-suffering boyfriend, Ned Nickerson. The books are still written today, albeit with some changes - Nancy drives a hybrid and uses email.

Melanie Rehak has written a history of the Nancy Drew series called "Girl Sleuth," and she came into our New York bureau to talk about it.

Hello, good morning.

Ms. MELANIE REHAK (Author, "Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her"): Hi. Thanks for having me.

MONTAGNE: Just to talk about the writer, Nancy Drew books are all attributed to Carolyn Keene.

Ms. REHAK: Right.

MONTAGNE: It turns out - completely never existed.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. REHAK: Yes.

MONTAGNE: Although she's been writing for an awfully long time.

Ms. REHAK: Yes, she has. You have to admire her longevity for a person who, in fact is not real, so.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONTAGNE: The books were created, initially, by a man.

Ms. REHAK: Yes, they were. And this is actually this really extraordinary man named Edward Stratemeyer, who - before he thought of Nancy Drew, he actually thought of lot of other very famous children series like Tom Swift and the Bobbsey Twins and the Hardy Boys. And when he thought of Nancy, which was in the late 1920s, all the girls' books have followed pretty much the same trajectory, which was that the girls in them - and there had never been a series with the single heroine before - grew up and got engaged and got married.

And so he thought of Nancy Drew and designed her to never grow up, never get married, and gave her all these sort of very trailblazing qualities for the that time - her own car, total independence, all these kinds of things.

MONTAGNE: You know, Nancy - her great appeal, of course, is how intrepid she is. But her clothing and fashion sense is given rather a lot of attention without actually taking away from her sleuthing skills. And it sort of, over the years - what, in the 1930s she actually wore gloves in public.

Ms. REHAK: Yes. And hats - little cloche hats, frequently. By the '50s, she sort of moved into sportswear, kind of trousers and penny loafers. I remember feeling a great sense of relief reading "The Clue of the Dancing Puppet," when she finally is able to run out in the middle of the night and all she has to do is slip on a pair of loafers. And I thought, oh, it must so great for her. She can just, you know, slide into her shoes and dash off, you know. Finally, no more heels.

MONTAGNE: You've seen the movie that's out today, "Nancy Drew," the latest screen adaptation. And she's updated to where she's solving a mystery here in Los Angles, and still wearing penny loafers and old-fashioned clothes.

Ms. REHAK: Yes. The thing that's very different about the Nancy in this movie, is that she's been made into the nerd who proves everybody wrong, which is, you know, very different from who she originally was. The whole point of her originally was that she was a very popular girl, and she didn't have to prove anything to anybody. So that, I thought, was very entertaining, but it's certainly not who she originally was.

MONTAGNE: You've thought about this a lot. What accounts for Nancy Drew's staying power? When I was a kid reading her, she was always in another time.

Ms. REHAK: Well, I think that that's still really true. There are still little girls who are reading their mother's and grandmother's copies, and, you know, they love to go into this world where people are talking about their chums, and they have to look up some style of hat that Nancy's wearing. I mean, all things - I think it's actually become very exotic to little girls to kind of enter into this place where people throw afternoon tea parties and you don't have to have chaperones for their college dances.

MONTAGNE: Melanie Rehak is the author of "Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her." Thanks for joining us.

Ms. REHAK: Thank you for having me.

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