Mildred Wirt Benson, creator of Nancy Drew, the brave sleuth who preferred to be called “interesting” rather than “pretty,” died at 96 in Toledo, Ohio. Benson, who was still working as a columnist at the Toledo Blade despite her technical retirement a year ago, became ill at work Tuesday. She was taken to the Toledo Hospital where she died, according to the Associated Press.
A journalist for 58 years as well as the author of more than 130 books and countless short stories, Benson was best known for creating Nancy Drew. Using the pen name Carolyn Keene, she was the first ghostwriter for the series that is still in print and has sold more than 200 million books in 17 languages. Bound by an agreement with the series’ publisher to keep her identity secret, Benson’s name only became widely known in 1980 after a court case allowed her to disclose her identity as the author of the first 23 of the series’ 30 novels. Interestingly, Benson was forced to sign contracts stipulating that she would receive no royalties resulting from the Nancy Drew series and would not retain the rights to her pen name.
Writing the Nancy Drew novels between 1930 and 1953, Benson is said to have used her own independent spirit and spunk as a model for Nancy Drew. An article paying tribute to Benson that appeared in yesterday’s Washington Post noted that she “abandoned the idea that girls were only seeking romance and instead gave Nancy a yen for adventure – along with a wealthy lifestyle, an understanding widower dad and a fabulous blue roadster.” Luann Sharp, Assistant Managing Editor of the Blade told the Post, “There would be women in their fifties, sixties, who would write [to Benson], “You are what changed my mind and made me believe I could be more than a housewife.'”