It All Started With Beverly Gray

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.

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8 Responses to It All Started With Beverly Gray

  1. I have never heard of Beverly Gray. How cool that Clair Blank started writing so young and that she kept the series going so long. I can see why you were inspired, Kaitlyn!

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  2. MCWriTers says:

    Oh, I love this post, Kaitlyn. And I’m so sorry that I didn’t have Beverly Gray with me in Union when I was growing up, when being a smart girl was NOT a good thing. (I never dated a boy in my high school) Great that you could track them down and have them all.

    There were two books I used to take out of the library all the time, and when I went to find them as an adult, having decided not to steal them from the Vose Library, they were so expensive that I have up. But books sure were an inspiration. Still are.

    Kate

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  3. Brenda Buchanan says:

    Ah, the sweet success of finding a book in adulthood that was such a good friend when we were kids.

    I have not heard of Beverly Gray but am sure I would have consumed her adventures as you did. So happy to hear you tracked them all down eventually. Do you find upon re-reading them that you can recall specific ideas or passages?

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    • What I remember most are the characters and how loyal they were to each other. And also some pretty unbelievable (but fun) plot twists, like Beverly being kidnapped by gypsies and the whole gang being shipwrecked on a deserted island . . . long before LOST!

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  4. Carol-Lynn Rössel says:

    Hey Kathy. I read Beverly Gray, too. I was a voracious Stratemeyer Syndicate reader, and she was not my first choice (she was, after all, so much older than I in the books). My first Woolworth’s type mystery was “Ginny Gordon and the Lending Library.” My aunt Elvira gave it to me and I’d never seen a mystery before. But her daughter (they lived across the street) had Nancy Drew and Dana Girls books and it was a slippery slope. I’m thinking this might have been 1955? Not that we had Woolworth’s. We had Mary’s Five and Ten and those books had the sort of laminated covers. I do think they were 59 cents. I went right to Main Street, where Mary’s lived, and bought myself a Trixie Belden book.
    I just went upstairs to check on the Ginny Gordon library mystery and could not find it on my shelves in the bedroom. It’s there someplace. When the furnace spewed oil throughout the house two years ago the cleaners had to wipe down every single book here — thousands of them — and now I cannot put my hand on things anymore. They thought just putting them back on any shelf was an achievement.
    Anyhow, Aunt Elvira (who once in her lifetime, before I was born WAS a librarian in Tottenville, where I lived) probably thought she was getting me hooked on libraries with the book. So much for that plan. Not that libraries aren’t loverly, but they never were my career track. I, once, owned every Nancy Drew (got them second hand in the Staten Island Flea Market, in 1930s editions). Ya know, the older ones were superior. They rewrite ’em now. Gack.

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  5. sandra gardner says:

    OMG: Another Beverly Gray reader! My older cousin (quite a bit older)lent me her collection along with The Little Colonel Stories, by Annie Fellowes Johnston (post-Civil War Kentucky), Not much in common with this one, but I do believe that Beverly Gray got me hooked on mystery reading and now, mystery writing. I bought my own collection in second-hand bookstores, and added ones I didn’t have through Amazon used books. but the World’s Fair was out of reach– over $100, I think.
    Anyway, would love to compare stories about the Alpha Deltas!
    Sandy Gardner
    sgardner2@hvc.rr.com

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  6. brenda hogg says:

    I also rode the bus to Woolworths in Newark NJ, had to be in 1958, to buy BEVERLY GREY mysteries. Dont remember any titles really but she was my best read. Never got into Trixie or Nancy back then. I am now approaching 73 yr old and have been thinking about Beverly. Ahhh, the memories.
    Thanks, Brenda

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  7. Pingback: Thoughts on the Cover Challenge | Maine Crime Writers

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