I always say that my inspiration to become a writer came from reading historical novels and wanting to write one of my own. That’s true, but there was also one particular “girls’ mystery series” that played a role in my choice of a career. No, it was not Nancy Drew, although I read those books, too, devouring them along with the adventures of Judy Bolton, the Dana Girls, Cherry Ames, Vicki Barr, and Trixie Belden. It was a character named Beverly Gray who made the greatest impression on me when I was a girl. Beverly was the one who showed me that there were no limits to what a girl could do with her life.
The series began with Beverly and her best friend from high school starting college. Each of the first four books covered one year, starting with Beverly Gray, Freshman. The fifth title was Beverly Gray’s Career, in which she moved to New York City to become a newspaper reporter. There were twenty-six books in all. In each one Beverly and her friends solved a mystery, but they also pursued careers and took an active interest in what was going on in the rest of the world. I should stop here and point out that Beverly Gray, Freshman was published in 1934. The series thus took readers through the World War II years and into the Cold War era before coming to an end in the mid-1950s. Beverly’s sleuthing was not confined to the generic America of Nancy Drew, nor was it dependent upon a career choice, as was the case with Vicki Barr, a stewardess and Cherry Ames, a nurse. In addition, Beverly did more than write newspaper stories. She wrote a play in her spare time. And a novel. She got rejections, although not as many as most writers do! An aside here: not too long ago, I found out that the author of the series wrote the first four novels while she was still in high school. They were published and the series launched when she was only eighteen!!!
Beverly Gray was the creation of a single writer named Clair Blank, not the product of a syndicate, the way so many girls’ books of that era were. I read the first of Beverly’s adventures when I was growing up in the 1950s in a fifty-nine-cent Clover edition purchased at the local five-and-dime. That would be Woolworth’s, for those of you too young to remember when there were items available that actually cost only five cents apiece. This was, as it turned out, right at the end of the series, when the final volume was published by Clover Books in 1955. They also reissued the previous nine books that same year.
I was eight years old in 1955. Looking back, I can see clearly how reading about Beverly’s life and adventures convinced me that I, too, could go to college, have a career, and be independent. Keep in mind that this was well before the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s got going, but my parents had always encouraged me to do well in school and further my education. I was also fortunate in belonging to “the class with all the smart girls.” Nine of us in the top ten were female. Since no one ever told me I couldn’t grow up to be anything I wanted to be, and since what I wanted to do was write, that’s what I ended up doing . . . just like my role-model, Beverly Gray.
I owe one more thing to reading the Beverly Gray mysteries. Those were the books that turned me into an avid fan of series mysteries and, by extension, into a collector. When I realized there were earlier Beverly Gray adventures that had not been reprinted by Clover, I made the wonderful discovery that bookstores can special order books and can even locate volumes that have gone out of print. In the days before the Internet, that meant searches carried out by antiquarian book sellers by snail mail, but oh the excitement when word came that another treasure had been located! Eventually, I collected all twenty-six books in the series, although it took me well into adulthood to get my hands on Beverly Gray at the World’s Fair, which had only one printing.
Read today, so many years later, the Beverly Gray mysteries are not great literature. Most of them aren’t even very good mysteries. But Beverly and her sidekick in the post-college novels, Lenora Whitehill, who takes a job on Beverly’s newspaper as a photographer, are characters who left their mark on me. I didn’t keep the other series books I owned as a girl, but I still have my Beverly Grays. And Beverly is still an inspiration.