A tribute to Millie Benson, who Gave Nancy Drew Life

By Thomas Walton
The Blade, Toledo, Ohio

The recent auction of Mildred Benson memorabilia touched me and stirred some wonderful memories of one of the most remarkable women I’ve ever met.

Mildred Wirt Benson was known to her work family here at The Blade simply as Millie.

It was only relatively late in her life that a hidden side of her became public knowledge: As writer Carolyn Keene, she was the author of the first 23 Nancy Drew mystery books, marvelous stories that have inspired generations of young women to believe and achieve.

For much of her life, what nobody knew and she couldn’t say was that her connection with Nancy Drew was a secret mandated by her agreement with her book publisher.

When that veil finally was lifted, the recognition that had been denied her for so many years burst forth. She wasn’t always comfortable with it, but she accepted the applause with grace, no doubt aware that her fans needed to thank her for the Nancy Drew mysteries as much as she needed to write them.

Let me share some of those special memories of Millie. A few years before she died in 2002, at age 96, my wife and I visited a bookstore in Charleston, S.C., and found a copy of one of her many Nancy Drew books, The Bungalow Mystery.

Aware of Millie’s unhappiness with reprints of her originals, reprints that sometimes “modernized” her stories, I decided to call her to see whether this book was the real deal. She asked about the flyleaf and the illustrations. It was indeed an authentic first edition. We bought it for six bucks.

After our return I took it to her, and true to her word, she inscribed it to my wife. “To Dianne,” she wrote, “from Mildred Wirt Benson, who wrote this book under the pen name Carolyn Keene.” Had it been one of the many reprints from later years, she would not have signed it, and she told me so.

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