(Also posted at Chicks on the Case, Sept. 1, 2015)
I’m no expert on Nancy Drew—but in the early nineties, it was (literally) my job to plan, facilitate and approve the girl detective’s every move. I was the lucky editor of two Nancy Drew book series.
Dream job? Well, sure. But I have a confession to make. I was Team Bess.
I mean, who didn’t love Nancy? She was intelligent, brave, clever, popular, stylish, sporty and attractive (she, of course, preferred the word “interesting”). She also had a wealthy, doting father who valued her opinions, a cool car, a handsome, oh-so-boring boyfriend, and a housekeeper who never quirked an eyebrow when Nancy disappeared on her sleuthing adventures.
A lot of people tell me George was their favorite Nancy Drew character, because she was a gutsy tomboy who “did things.” But when I pipe up about my fondness for Bess, I usually get crickets,"You're kidding!" or the eye roll.
Bess and her cousin George first appeared in 1931’s The Secret at Shadow Ranch. Bess was the loyal, “pleasantly plump” blonde chum, the “fraidy cat” who loved clothes, shopping, food, and boys. Maybe she wasn’t big on self-discipline, or running straight into the jaws of danger, but she was just as smart Nancy (well, almost).
I don't even want to talk about George. Not because I was jealous or anything that she was an amazing athlete and generally fearless. I simply didn't appreciate those occasional, snide remarks about her cousin's penchant for ice cream.
Bess had different, but equally key, strengths. She could talk a suspect to death, or at least long enough to gather key intel—and charm the most reticent of witnesses. She brought welcome humor to the books (you have to admit, Nancy wasn't really a bag of laughs), boomeranged her cousin George’s put-downs and—most importantly—she always, always had Nancy’s back.
Ask me how I got started writing mysteries and—like many authors—I’ll credit Nancy. I loved the way she followed clues, confronted the bad guys, escaped their evil clutches, and restored Justice to the World. But sometimes, as even Mildred Wirt Benson, who wrote 23 of the first 30 Nancy books, once told a journalist, I was “so sick of Nancy Drew I could vomit.”
Bess would be horrified that I just said that. But I have to be honest, just like her. And maybe there are a few more ways we’re alike, too (the diet-tomorrow and scaredy-cat parts, anyway). That’s probably why I put a little Bess Marvin in one of my sleuths, Summer Smythe. And while Bess didn’t make the cut in the Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries TV series in the late seventies (she did show up in a two-part episode), today she's a star in computer games, fan fiction, and social media, with zillions of her own loyal fans.
Hey, Bess—you go, girl! You deserve that ice cream.
So are you Team Nancy, George or Bess? Cast your vote--and help Bess kick George's butt!