First aired in early 1977, The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries, based on the classic young adult novels, has a fondly-remembered place in pop culture nostalgia today. Of course. a lot of young girls loved the show because it co-starred Shaun Cassidy, the squeaky-clean teen idol that continued his brother David’s legacy of cuteness, but you didn’t have to be a love-sick teenager to enjoy it.
The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries was a perfect show for ABC’s ‘family hour’, which was on Sunday nights at 7:00 pm in the US, and a lot of parents enjoyed watching with their kids. The show was never a monster hit, but it did very well in its timeslot, and ABC had a tough time replacing it after it was cancelled in early 1979.
In the short time it was on, the show created a lot of fun memories for young people at the end of the decade, and one episode also left its mark emotionally. For those involved in the show, there are also a lot of great memories looking back, which they were more than happy to share with us in this tribute to The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries.
In 1976, producing partners Arlene Sidaris and Joyce Brotman were looking for a project that would move them up the ladder professionally, and it turned out they didn’t have to look further than their kitchen. Sidaris had bought several Nancy Drew cookbooks she was going to give away for Christmas, and Brotman wondered aloud, “Whatever happened to Nancy Drew?”, which set the idea in motion to bring the famous young detective back.
The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew characters were created by Edward Stratemeyer. Stratemeyer’s daughter, Harriet Adams, wrote many of the Nancy Drew novels under the name Carolyn Keene, and she also wrote Hardy Boys books under the name Franklin W. Dixon. Arlene and Joyce discovered the rights to Nancy Drew weren’t available, but the rights to The Hardy Boys were.
They first tried to sell The Hardy Boys as a feature to Paramount, then Arlene and Joyce went to Universal. “The pitch was it was two brothers, with a Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid kind of repartee between them,” Brotman says. Frank Price, then the President of Television at Universal, was interested, and the network encouraged Arlene and Joyce to get the Nancy Drew rights as well.
The Stratemeyer Corporation was still run by Harriet Adams, who was then in her eighties. Arlene and Joyce contacted her, and secured the Nancy Drew rights by convincing Adams her characters would keep their innocence. “We didn’t want to be sexy, and we didn’t want to have violence, because she wanted to protect her characters and her approach to the books,” Sidaris says. “Nancy Drew was smart, inventive, and resourceful, so the sex thing just didn’t have a place.”
Then Price contacted veteran writer-producer Glen A. Larson, who immediately jumped onboard. Larson’s track record at Universal was pretty strong, and he had written and created a variety of different shows throughout his career. “My interests are extraordinarily varied,” he says. “I had taken a failed pilot called Cyborg, and wrote a new project called The Six Million Dollar Man. We brought Quincy to the air, and that was something Frank Price told me they were trying to do for years, but nobody wanted to do a show about dead bodies. That climate seems to have changed!”
As far as why he decided to take on The Hardy Boys, “I happened to have nine kids,” Larson continues, “so I wasn’t foreign to the idea of something that appealed to a young American.”
From the get-go, ABC wanted The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries for their 7pm Sunday timeslot, which was also known as family hour. The potential to have a hit show on family hour was huge because the largest number of TV sets in use was during that time period. “NBC had the Disney Movie, CBS had 60 Minutes, and ABC was looking for something, so we were perfect for that time slot,” says Sidaris.
In casting The Hardy Boys, Brotman and Sidaris were looking for a “young David Cassidy” to play Joe Hardy, and they found out there actually was one, his brother Shaun, who had just turned eighteen. Shaun was the first person they saw on the first day of auditions, and he immediately won everyone over. “He was just the cutest thing, and such a nice young man,” says Sidaris. And unlike a lot of children of famous parents, Cassidy had his head screwed on right, having already learned the pitfalls of celebrity from his family.
Parker Stevenson, who played Frank, the older Hardy brother, already had a number of movies and commercials under his belt, and Larson was impressed with his performance in the 1976 film Lifeguard. When he got the call to audition for The Hardy Boys, Stevenson had just graduated from college, and was enrolled in NYU to go to business school.
Stevenson’s attitude toward acting at the time was, this will help me pay for school, this is interesting, but I really want to get through college and go on. “I didn’t know I was going to be a (full-time) actor until I made the decision to go and see what would happen with The Hardy Boys,” he says. “I was glad to have something that moved me out to California to stay for a while.”
“When we saw Parker with Shaun, we knew right away that was the combination that was gonna work for us,” Brotman says. “The two of them were opposites, but balanced each other so well,” says Anne Lockhart, who co-starred on two Hardy Boys episodes, and later went on to star on Battlestar Galactica. “Parker was an Eastern, preppy kind of guy, and Shaun was the Southern California kid.”
Nancy Drew was a bit harder to cast because, as Brotman recalls, “Everybody had a fixed image in their heads, so everyone that came in, ‘No, she’s not tall enough,’ ‘She’s too blond,’ ‘She’s too red…’ But when we found Pamela, everyone was happy.” Like Stevenson, Pamela Sue Martin was already a working actor for a number of years, and had a featured role in the disaster classic The Poseidon Adventure.
Larson was asked to put together a one-day presentation pilot for the network, and as Stevenson recalls, “Glen took that literally and he shot 24 hours!” Larson recalls, “I couldn’t figure out what I would show the networks. We started at around 8-9 in the morning, and we shot 23 and 7/10 hours straight, which was a studio record.”
As the shoot stretched into the next morning, Cassidy joked, “I don’t think my mother’s gonna let me do this!” Cassidy and Stevenson had just barely met each other before shooting the presentation, and as Parker recalls, “In those 24 hours, I really got to know Shaun!”
The presentation was good enough to get the go ahead from ABC, and the first The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries episode, The Mystery Of The Haunted House, hit the air on January 30, 1977, a pretty fast turnaround for a show that was first pitched to Universal the previous September.
The books would be difficult to adapt into a one-hour format, so Larson and his team of writers came up with original storylines instead. Larson was always very prolific, and could crank out scripts pretty quickly. “Glen was such a machine, cranking out shows,” says Stevenson. “He had it so down.” (The Hardy Boys writing staff also included Steven de Souza, who wrote Die Hard, and Christopher Crowe, who went on to write the screenplay for The Last Of The Mohicans).
The shows took the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew all over the world, which was mostly the Universal lot substituting for Egypt, Transylvania, China, London, etc. One episode was shot at the Psycho house (The House On Possessed Hill), “Jaws Lake” was another location used on the show, and there was Hollywood history everywhere you turned on the lot. One day, Parker went to lunch at the Universal commissary and sat next to Alfred Hitchcock.
“There was one episode with Ray Milland, who I liked right away,” he says. “I spent hours talking to him about playing tennis with William Randolph Hearst at the Hearst castle, and what life was like out here back in the 30s and 40s. To sit and talk with someone like that was so much fun, and there were a lot of people like him who would come in and do episodes.”
In addition to the classic Hollywood actors who guest-starred on the show, The Hardy Boys also had cameos from rock n’ roll people like Ricky Nelson, Paul Williams, and Elton John lyricist Bernie Taupin, who was a friend of Cassidy’s, and appeared with Williams on The Hardy Boys Meets Dracula episode.
The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries was never a hit hit, but it did well in the ratings, with the Boys slightly in the lead. Stevenson says he first became aware that people were tuning in to the show when he went to see the King Tut exhibit at L.A.’s Museum of Modern Art. “I was looking through the glass at a gold mask, and on the other side I saw someone that recognized me, and instead of looking at the mask, they were looking at me. It was like, ‘No, no, you’re makin’ a mistake! You need to be looking at this, it won’t be here again!'”
It also wasn’t long before Cassidy’s career as a pop singer exploded, and he became the object of desire for millions of teenage girls. Anne Lockhart recalled being driven back to hotel she was staying at with Parker and Shaun after a day of shooting The Mystery Of The African Safari episode in San Diego.
“We pulled up to the hotel, and there were a hundred girls there screaming,” she says. “Parker and Shaun were like, ‘Oh my God, what are we gonna do?’ I told the driver, ‘Keep going.’ We sped through the front entrance of the hotel, and there was a side door. All these girls took off running after the car, we all jumped out and ran into the hotel. I held the door closed with all my strength, heels dug into the ground, with a hundred girls on the other side trying to pry it open. I’m screaming over my shoulder, ‘Run, you guys! Run!,’ and I was able to give them a thirty-second head start to get to their rooms before the door opened up and the girls ran past me.”
The first season, The Hardy Boys would have an episode one week, Nancy Drew would have her own episode another week, and during the second season, they had several shows together. Because The Hardy Boys had a slightly bigger audience, the powers that be wanted to change the ratio of the episodes, and it was drastic enough that Pamela Sue Martin left during the second season.
Says Andrew Mirisch, a producer on the show, “When we lost Pam, I thought it was a big loss. Pam was so convincing, she really became Nancy Drew.” Janet Louise Johnson became the new Nancy in the second season, then for the third season Nancy Drew was eliminated altogether.
When The Hardy Boys came back for the third season, the show took a darker turn. “As the show progressed, we toughened it up,” says Andrew Mirisch. “We dirtied them up a bit. They were a little big squeaky clean in the beginning, then we put them in more used looking Levis than brand new off the shelf clothes.”
On the first show of the third season, The Last Kiss Of Summer, Joe marries his girlfriend Jamie, a beautiful, tanned, Southern California dream girl. But shortly after their marriage ceremony, Jamie is killed by a drunk driver, played by Kevin Brophy, who also starred in the short-lived series ABC series Lucan, about a boy raised by wolves.
Joe becomes obsessed with bringing Brophy to justice, and is haunted by Jamie’s memory (the show has a lot of romantic flashbacks of her while the Bread song If plays as her theme). This was also the episode where Parker is tricked into surfing shark-infested waters by Brophy, a nod to Jaws 2, which came out that summer.
The Last Kiss Of Summer is often voted the favorite episode among Hardy Boys fans, and is still surprisingly moving after all these years. It was definitely a risk, “but at that point, we felt we had to expand our horizons and our audience,” says Brotman.
“I remember seeing a rough cut of the episode and thinking, ‘This is going to be an excellent episode’,” says Mirisch. “It felt elevated. The acting caliber was right where it should be, you really believed this was a marriage.”
After Summer, the third season continued with another high caliber episode, Assault On The Tower, written by Christopher Crowe and starring Patrick Macnee of The Avengers. “Remember we used Patrick in Battlestar Galactica,” Larson says. “His voice opened the show: ‘There are those who believe that life here began out there…'”
But the third season didn’t get very far before ABC cancelled The Hardy Boys (the last episode, Life On The Line, aired on January 14, 1979). “ABC got to a point where they had so many hits, they got a little greedy,” Larson recalls. “Battlestar followed The Hardy Boys at one point, and it was awfully expensive. They were looking at the numbers for Mork And Mindy, which were huge, and they said, ‘If we could get a 40 share on a show with one stage, one camera that costs practically nothing, let’s move that one to Sunday night.’ When they moved it, they took out Battlestar, The Hardy Boys, and they cancelled the development of Magnum P.I. So, in one phone call, it was like a massacre.”
As soon as The Hardy Boys got dumped, ABC’s Sunday night ratings fell in half, and it took years for the network to regain the numbers they had. Larson says ABC had “cancellation remorse” with the show, and years later Stevenson ran into a former ABC executive who told him, “The biggest mistake I made was canceling your show.”
“Our numbers were really strong compared to now,” Sidaris says. “What we had in terms of fan mail and books sales was really impressive, but ABC just didn’t pay attention. With all their research, and all the money they put into it, they really didn’t get the true picture of how successful we really were.”
Cassidy was still on top of his game as a performer, but he wisely moved away from the teen idol scene not long after The Hardy Boys was cancelled, and today is a respected television writer and producer.
“Shaun studied Glen Larson,” says Stevenson. “He was really interested in how you write a script, how you execute it, how you make the dialog work. He was off doing interesting work so quickly after The Hardy Boys. He wasn’t looking to milk the teen idol thing. He was off doing a play, he did a movie of the week where he played a handicapped person (Like Normal People), and he was amazing. He wasn’t making easy choices.”
Stevenson and Mirisch feel the show definitely could have gone further, and there’s always the possibility the cycle will come back around again for the young detectives.
In 2007, Warner Brothers tried to bring Nancy Drew back in a feature film, which was a flop, and a Hardy Men movie has been in the works for years, an idea Anne Lockhart finds ludicrous.
“Who wants to see the Hardy Boys old?,” she asks. “What worked about them was they were innocent, young, smart kids. That’s what worked when the books were written in the 30s and 40s.” Then Lockhart was informed that The Hardy Men, if it ever gets made, will be a starring vehicle for Tom Cruise and Ben Stiller. “Oh please!”