This June, I attended a fun and frivolous fan event in San Diego for readers of the Nancy Drew Series. The Nancy Drew Sleuth Convention had exactly the right mix of nostalgia, mysterious clues, a surprising amount of education, and several opportunities to dress up in period clothing—what more could a girl want? Add in about 75 nice folks who like reading books, a few experts and some celebrities, and it was all I could hope for.
Highlights included a 1930s murder mystery, a tour of the Keeline Family’s private collection, a mystery scavenger hunt at the San Diego Zoo, a radio program performance, and a 1970s night celebrating the Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys television show. Actors Pamela Sue Martin (Nancy Drew) and Parker Stevenson (Frank Hardy), along with show producers Joyce Brotman and Arlene Sidaris were the guest speakers.
They discussed details about the show, especially fan reactions, and how the Hardy Boys episodes received higher ratings than Nancy Drew because, as Joyce said, “Girls want to watch boys on television and boys want to watch boys.”
Readers of the books, who had certain images in their heads about what the characters should look like, didn’t always agree with the producers about the actors who were selected for the show—especially the secondary characters (Ned looked too nerdy, George wasn’t pretty enough, etc.).
According to Arlene, the fans sent them so much feedback that they did affect change. Time and budget also dictated the show’s direction. The actors worked a straight 24 hours just to film the show’s “Haunted House” pilot, shot on location at Universal Studios, on the set of Psycho. Hannah Gruen’s character was hired, but then cut in order to give fans more time with the main characters.
Ratings spiked when Shaun Cassidy, as Joe Hardy, started singing on the show. Parker mentioned that the two of them instantly clicked, and that Shaun was fun to work with and “his timing is wonderful.” When Pamela and Parker were asked if they would consider filming a 40-year reunion show, Pamela said no, Parker said yes, and Shaun no longer makes appearances and instead, focuses on his career as a writer and producer.
During the autograph session, I had a few moments to speak with each of them. To Pamela, I mentioned that I had watched several Nancy Drew episodes while deciding on a 70s costume to wear—and in all the scenes she wore neck scarves. She showed me a publicity photograph of her favorite green scarf that she kept for years. She was pleasant, although during the Question and Answer session, she very obviously didn’t want to talk about the negative aspect around why she left the show, stating that, “I don’t make a habit of looking back.”
Parker seemed genuine, polite, and unchanged from his television personality. As he and Pamela entered the banquet hall that night, the event coordinator verified their seating accommodations, and Parker was overheard saying something to the effect of, “Where would you like me to sit, Ma’am? This is your event.” He came across as a true gentleman. Parker also said he might consider acting again now that his kids are older, and he wouldn’t be as constrained by the long hours.
The celebrity visit was notable and worth documenting, but I also enjoyed the three days of lectures offered by 20 experts. This particular year, Nancy Drew shared the spotlight with other mystery series books, including Tom Swift, Fighters of Freedom, Connie Blair, Judy Bolton, Penny Parker and modern-day Jex Malone. The session featured a surprising range of topics, including a visit with the designers of the Nancy Drew gaming software, producer notes about a recent Nancy Drew play, and a profile of actress Bonita Granville, who played Nancy Drew in the 1938 and 1939 movies.
Again, I must comment on the enjoyment-factor of this convention. The coordinator, Jennifer Fisher, put so much detail into every aspect–from the custom-made table decorations to thoughtful gifts and door prizes. Jennifer, who has over 4,000 Nancy Drew collectibles herself, began Nancy Drew Sleuths as an online forum http://www.nancydrewsleuth.com in 2000 on the 70th anniversary of Nancy Drew. In 2007, she published the book Clues for Real Life: The Classic Wit and Wisdom of Nancy Drew. In San Diego, she shared her expertise about Mildred Wirt Benson, the original Carolyn Keene.
I will mention that my nostalgic feelings from reading the yellow-spine Nancy Drew books as a child was not my only reason for visiting San Diego. During the zoo scavenger hunt, I treasured a nice visit with my former zoo director from Oklahoma City, Dwight Scott, who recently took the post as San Diego Zoo director.
I also spent a day with Gayla Peevey Henderson, who sang “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” as a child in 1953, but who has become a dear friend of mine over the last few years. Dwight and Gayla made my trip complete.
If you are a Nancy Drew fan, consider going to next year’s sleuth convention. I gained a new perspective about the books, the on-going legacy of Nancy Drew, and my own feelings about reading mystery books.