Millie Benson, longtime journo who under the pseudonym of Carolyn Keene wrote the first 23 “Nancy Drew” mystery stories about the intrepid, stylish teenage detective, died Tuesday after falling ill at her desk at the Toledo (Ohio) Blade newspaper. She was 96.
Author, who also penned the Penny Parker mystery series, continued to write her newspaper column despite failing eyesight; the day after she was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1997, she was back at her desk working on her next column.
Paid $125 per tome and no royalties for any of the books, movies, TV series, board games and more that were derived from her creation, she was bound by an agreement with the publisher not to reveal her identity as the series author, but it became known in 1980 when she testified in a court case after the publisher’s daughter had attempted to lay claim to being the author.
First book was published in 1930, and films soon started being issued in 1938. Dozens of ghost writers followed Benson, and although the character has been modernized, she still is infused with the backbone Benson felt was missing from other fictional heroines.
Ladora, Iowa, native and the first person to receive a master’s degree in journalism at the U. of Iowa, Benson was an adventurous reporter for 58 years who wrote more than 130 books and hundreds of short stories. She finally went into semi-retirement — in January of this year.
She was married to two journalists who predeceased her. She is survived by a daughter.