And The Real Nancy Drew Is…?

Pamela Sue Martin - Nancy Drew

Bonita Granville, Emma Roberts and then only last month, Sophia Lillis as Nancy Drew in the Katt Shea-directed feature film (which kind of vanished in a blink). Now there’s Kennedy McMann, who’ll assume the role of the plucky ‘girl detective’ in the upcoming CW series due this Fall, which from all advance news sounds more like Veronica Mars meets Riverdale than a Carolyn Keene novel, which may not be an entirely bad thing, after all.

Pamela Sue Martin - Playboy

But there’s still one more Nancy Drew we shouldn’t forget: Pamela Sue Martin, who played the part in the late 1970’s The Hardy Boys-Nancy Drew Mysteries series on ABC, which alternated between Parker Stevens and puppy-love heartthrob Shaun Cassidy as the Hardy Boys one week, then Pamela Sue Martin as Nancy Drew the next. A largely forgotten bit of 70’s era TV, perhaps, but episodes are actually all over the place online, and I assume available as DVD’s…I mean, every  television series good or bad seems to be. Martin went on to do some films (the original The Poseidon Adventure, for instance) and more TV series, initially stirring up quite a to-do when she tried to rev up her clean-cut ingenue image by posing for several men’s magazines including France’s Lui and U.S. Playboy. Now Pamela Sue Martin will join the CW’s Nancy Drew series, playing Harriet Grosset, a psychic who assists the teen detective with her murder investigation, though the clues will lead to some seemingly otherworldy mysteries.

Playoby 1978

The CW network seems to enjoy inside-TV nostalgia casting. Supergirl, starring Melissa Benoist as Kara Danvers/Kara Zor-El/Supergirl has included Helen Slater (star of the one-shot 1984 film Supergirl) as Kara’s earth stepmother Eliza Danvers, while Dean Cain (Clark Kent/Superman in ABC’s Lois & Clark: The New Adventures 1993-1997) as her stepfather, and Terri Hatcher (Lois Lane on that same show) was a villainous alien mother of Supergirl’s season two love interest. Oh yeah, and Linda Carter, star of ABC’s kitschy 70’s Wonder Woman series, played the President (who turned out to be an alien).

Nancy Drew, High School Hipster

Nancy Drew by Tula Lotay

The prior post noted that the CW Network will soon launch a Nancy Drew series, starring Kennedy McMann as the iconic teenage sleuth. From what I can glean of the planned storyline, I get the feeling the series’ inspiration comes less from the classic ‘Carolyn Keene’ books and perhaps more from the Dynamite Entertainment Nancy Drew comics series that started last year.

Nancy Drew 1 by Tula Lotay

In writer Kelly Thompson’s reimagining of the Nancy Drew universe, the plucky girl detective’s in a hipster high school world with old pal Bess and gay punkette George forming her ‘Scooby’ gang of investigators. The interior art is by Jenn St-Onge (look for more of her work at the artist’s site, jennstonge.ca) with each issue released with multiple covers (that annoying trend among greedy comics publishers) and I’ve gone with the ones drawn by British comic and illustration master Tula Lotay. I’m only four issues into the series so I think I have some catching up to do, but it’s a good read for a “Teen+” marketed title, and it sure ‘feels’ a lot like what the CW is touting for its network Nancy Drew series.

Nancy Drew 4Nancy Drew 5

Nancy Drew on the CW

Kennedy McMann Nancy Drew

The CW network is a reliable go-to destination for superheroes – traditional (Supergirl) and reimagined (Arrow) along with tween/teen soap operas redone with some contemporary sizzle, and now they’ll take a whack at rebooting that iconic teen mystery classic of all classics, Nancy Drew.

Let’s guess that this new Nancy Drew won’t drive a sporty roadster, have a kindly housekeeper or go poking around in attic’s or behind grandfather clocks. Kennedy McMann will take over the on-screen role previously done by Bonita Granville in several B-movies, Pamela Sue Martin in the 70’s Hardy Boys-Nancy Drew series and Emma Roberts in a quirky big screen re-imagining.

Three Screen Nancy Drews

McMann’s Nancy Drew will find her college plans derailed by a family tragedy and herself a murder suspect, which rekindles her love for detective work. Drew will team up with ‘George’ played by Lydia Lewis, a tattooed tough girl from the wrong side of the tracks, the duo reluctant partners at first due to some bad blood from their past, but destined to form a close bond while becoming kickass investigators. Initially, their sleuthing suggests the real culprit may actually be a long dead local girl, which will lead to some ghostly goings-on, though online rumors suggest it’ll be more Twin Peaks style weirdness than a spook show. Myself, I’m picturing Veronica Mars meets Scooby-Doo. If anything, I suspect much of the inspiration comes from the current Nancy Drew comics series from Dynamite Entertainment, scripted by writer Kelly Thompson. The show will be CBS Studios’ third attempt to launch a Nancy Drew series, with key creators culled from CW projects like Supergirl, Charmed and Vampire Diaries.

Not sure if ‘Carolyn Keene’ would approve, but we’ll see.

Do Not Disturb

do not disturb by devotchka

The sign on the hotel room doorknob may read ‘Do Not Disturb’, but I’m betting she’s going to ignore that. She could be a ‘stiletto gumshoe’, or could just be a jealous spouse or girlfriend in this nifty photo called (not surprisingly) “Do Not Disturb”, by Devotchka.

No Luck For A Lady.

no luck for a lady

My copy of Floyd Mahannah’s No Luck For A Lady is a 1958 second printing of the 1951 paperback (of the 1950 hardcover titled The Golden Hearse) and my scan above doesn’t do the gorgeous Robert Maguire cover art justice. The original edition (don’t know the artist on that one, sorry) is shown below.

Some sites bill the book as a ‘Cassie Gibson’ detective novel, but that’s stretching it a bit. Oh, there’s a character called Cassie Gibson, and she really is a private detective. But the novel’s really Nap Lincoln’s story, a fellow en route to San Francisco to embark on a year-long South American construction job when he loses his shirt in Reno. Broke and hitchhiking at night, he’s picked up by a big yellow Cadillac convertible driven by a beautiful redhead – Miss Cassandra Gibson (strangely, she’s described as both a redhead and a blonde in an example of some very rushed copy editing). But Cassie’s Caddy has a flat, and when Nap looks in the trunk for the spare, he discovers a corpse and a stash of narcotics. Nap learns that Miss Gibson is a licensed P.I. who’s trying to keep the agency her father started afloat, now on a case that has her mixed up with gamblers and gangsters. Soon enough Cassie and Nap are on the run from the local law while duking it out with some mighty scary Reno crooks.

no luck for a lady - original

This ought to be Cassie’s book, but Nap Lincoln is the hero of ths ‘Cassie Gibson Detective Novel’, with the lady P.I. playing second fiddle all the way. It’s too bad, because her character is an interesting one. It’s all the more frustrating then to read the closing scene, with Cassandra and Nap about to go their separate ways, only to ‘fess up about their feelings for one another. Before they have the last paragraph’s climactic kiss, Cassie tells Nap, “I’ve had enough detecting to last the rest of my life. I don’t want to be a detective, Nap. I want…to be a woman.”

The two being mutually exclusive in 1950, apparently.

 

No Business For A Lady

No Business For A LAdy copy

James L. Rubel’s No Business For A Lady (1950) is a frustrating novel. While the book’s front and back covers tease with “Meet Eli Donovan, lady detective and easily the most beautiful shamus living”, and “Most detectives have angles, but here’s one that has curves”, we’d expect postwar paperbacks to pitch a female private detective that way. What’s frustrating is 1) that a genuinely interesting female P.I. character that preceded G.G. Fickling’s Honey West and Carter Brown’s Mavis Seidlitz couldn’t garner her own series, and 2) that a well-conceived character could be dropped into a plot that relies on an utterly implausible crime, albeit in an otherwise well-told tale.

Rubel’s Eli Donovan is a licensed L.A. private investigator earning a comfortable living on routine cases like background checks and debt collections. Nothing glamorous or exciting, but it’s enough to pay for a nice wardrobe, a sporty coupe, a handsome apartment and to indulge her weakness for hats – the fancier and frillier the better (this is still the era when men and women alike wore hats darn near everywhere). Actually, based on the novel’s description, neither woman depicted on the book covers shown here resemble her at all.

Now, don’t be fooled: Eli’s no daffodil. She’s a former Marine, former cop and, oddly enough, a former chorus girl (briefly). She packs a Walther automatic and can take care of herself. A war widow, Eli Donovan fell in love with a fellow Marine who went missing on Tarawa, was finally declared dead and supposedly buried there according to the Corps. She didn’t make it through WWII unscathed herself, and was seriously injured in a Jeep accident, requiring plastic surgery. With her appearance changed, she also switched from a “mousey brunette” to a blonde to start fresh after the war (and so, she doesn’t resemble either of the women depicted on the books’ covers).

Early in the novel, Eli has a chance to earn a bigger than usual fee from a wealthy but stern and unattractive businesswoman (“with a face that looked like it was sired by a horse”) who admits to being insanely jealous over her handsome cad of a husband, who she suspects of being unfaithful. Well, so far, so good. The setup could lead to delicious vintage mystery/crime fiction fun: adultery, murder…all the good stuff.

And it does. Well…sort of. Because the main plot device here is that the unfaithful (and very flirtatious) hubby is a dead ringer for Eli Donovan’s dead husband. In fact, it turns out that he actually is her husband, who really wasn’t killed on Tarawa after all. Yet for a good 50 – 75 pages, he apparently doesn’t recognize Eli as his former wife. And she’s not sure he’s her husband…she only suspects he might be. Now don’t you suppose you could instantly recognize your spouse, even after a 5-6 year absence? And I don’t mean from a distance, or in a brief encounter, but in multiple meetings, over drinks, dinner and romantic one-on-ones? The whole business comes off kind of silly, and torpedoes this otherwise well done novel.

That nonsense aside, the story is well told with interesting secondary characters, some twists and turns, and most of all, an otherwise credible and well-drawn heroine. The novel’s conclusion feels open ended enough to lead to a sequel and a series. At the very end, Eli and her police chief pal go over details of the case when he asks if she still has feelings for her ex, now a felon wanted not only by the police, but the Marine Corps. Eli assures him she’s over him.

“Then find yourself a nice guy and settle down to raising a family,” he suggested. “This is no business for a lady.” I shook my head and smiled at him. He was a swell friend and I liked him. But he hadn’t analyzed me correctly. I liked men. I loved the way they whistled when they saw me. I was still young and I had a lot of years ahead of me before my hair turned gray, my face got lined and the whistling stopped. I couldn’t picture myself living in semi-poverty surrounded by wet diapers and screaming infants. Maybe someday I’d be lucky enough to meet the right man. Until I did…? I said, “Sorry, Bill. But I’m not a lady.

 (Scan of my pretty solid 1950 edition at top, the 1965 edition below (that one’s not mine.)

No Business for a Lady 1965

More About Mavis…

and the undead sing 1974

More About Carter Brown’s Female Private Detective, Mavis Seidlitz (see the preceding post):

Mavis Seidlitz appeared in a dozen paperbacks written between 1955 and 1974 by ‘Carter Brown’, pen name for English-born Australian writer Alan Geoffrey Yates (1923 – 1985), who wrote over 320 ‘Carter Brown’ novels alone, selling more than 120,000,000 copies in over a dozen languages. Check those numbers: three-hundred-and-twenty novels. Additionally, Yates wrote science fiction, westerns and other crime novels under alternate pseudonyms, including Todd Conway, Raymond Glenning, Sinclair MacKellar, Dennis Sinclair and Paul Valdez. He favored U.S. settings, yet he’d already written more than 30 detective novels set in America before ever visiting the States.

Prolific? Driven? It’s unclear, but for a while, Yates was under contract to deliver one short novel and two long novels to his publishers each month. Nonetheless, he was an admitted procrastinator and frequently suffered from total writer’s block, often sitting down at the typewriter mere days before a manuscript’s deadline and plowing through (allegedly) with the aid of a little Dexedrine.

What writer wouldn’t be humbled by Yate’s prodigious output? The writing, publishing and bookselling marketplaces are very different today than they were in the postwar heyday of paperback originals. Now writers hope their small press publisher’s 2,000 to 5,000 copy trade paperback print run will sell out in a couple years with tolerable returns. Self-published and hybrid authors obsessively monitor anemic Amazon sales-ranks. A lucky few achieve bigger mass-market levels, but do so via a shrunken network of independent book retailers, one online behemoth and only one viable national chain.

But just how can any writer get their head around the notion of selling over 120 million books?

More in the next post…

The Bump & Grind Murders - Photo cover

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