B: March 29, 1910 Danville, Il. - D: February 10, 1986 New York City, NY
(BTW: Our author was legally born Helen Weinstock, but changed her name to Wells at some point)
About: Helen Wells’ background is rather interesting!
She was born in Danville, Illinois, and as a child her family (mom, dad and brother) moved to NYC.
As a teenager, Wells studied painting and then music at the Art Students League in NY (a 142 year old institution in NYC whose mission is to provide access to art classes and studios to all regardless of financial or technical background - which is pretty cool!). Later while attending NYU she became the school’s first female editor of their literary quarterly. After graduating in 1934 with a major in philosophy and a minor in sociology and psychology she became a social worker for a few years.
(Art Students League building)
Like many women during WWII, she volunteered her time; unlike many who rolled bandages or worked in a hospital (as Agatha Christie did), Wells worked in the State Department’s Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs. Meaning? She escorted foreign visitors from (in this case) Latin America around NYC.
After winning two writing contests and submitting articles to magazines for several years, Wells began writing full time. In 1943 she created Cherry Ames - a nurse who solves mysteries while on various jobs (think Nancy Drew with a cap), first in the military during WWII and later while working for various private companies and people. Wells drew upon her own life to help flesh out Cherry’s background - basing Cherry’s hometown directly on her own, Danville, Il. The house Cherry grew up in was the same as the one which Wells spent her childhood in, according to her brother. In addition,Wells made Cherry an NYC transplant, just as she herself was, moving Cherry’s entire family to the city later in the series. All of these parallels, I am sure, is what help to make this series feel as warm and inviting as a Christmas cookie.
While Wells didn’t work in the medical field, her brother later said she spent a large amount of time with nurses while she was writing the Cherry series - I assume to get the details correct! While Wells may not have any direct experience for her first series, the second series she created Wells had far more first-hand experience in it. In 1947, Vicki Barr strolled off the pages in her smart stewardess outfit, flying to exotic locations, finding herself in all sorts of mysterious circumstances and with all kinds of people. This once again corresponds with Helen's life! Not only did her volunteer work during the war (meeting all kinds of important foreign visitors) help her, but she traveled extensively. Brazil, Spain, Austria, Israel, Mexico, England and many other countries stamped the pages of her passport. Thus it seems the inspiration for the Vicki Barr series sprung up rather naturally!
Wells left both these series for a time - handing the reins over to Julie Campbell Tatham who was the creator of the Trixie Belden series - in order to concentrate on radio and television (while, of course, still receiving 5% of the royalties while Tatham wrote the series because she was their creator). Eventually Wells decided to return to her girl sleuth roots and begun writing both her heroines again. (I couldn’t find any info on the shows she worked on during this period, frustratingly enough.)
(Institute of Children’s Literature building)
The last book I can find that she wrote was in the Cherry Ames series in 1968. After this she taught writing courses at the Institute of Children’s Literature, worked with the Mystery Writers of America and several other organizations. Wells passed away on February 10, 1986 in NYC.
“Far in the back of her mind she was thinking. But she could not dredge up these half-formed feelings, these obscure bits of ideas, into clear, definite thoughts. . . Her mind ticked away, singing a song she could not decipher.”
- Cherry Ames, Veterans' Nurse
Detective: Cherry Ames
1st Book: Cherry Ames, Student Nurse -- 7th: Cherry Ames, Private Duty Nurse
17th: Cherry Ames, Boarding School Nurse -- Last: Cherry Ames: Ski Nurse Mystery
No. of Books in Series: 27
Note: #8 -- #16 were written by Julie Campbell Tatham
Detective: Vicki Barr
1st Book: Silver Wings for Vicki -- 3rd Book: The Hidden Valley Mystery
9th Book: The Mystery of the Vanishing Lady -- 15th Book: The Mystery of Flight 908
No. of Books in Series: 16
Note: #4 - #8 were written by Julie Campbell Tatham
It is believed that the final book #16 - The Brass Idol Mystery - was written by Walter B. Gibson (the creator of The Shadow).
Under the Pen Name: Francine Lewis
Detective: Polly French
1st Book: Polly French Of Whitford High - Last Book: Polly French And The Surprising Stranger
No. of Books in Series: 3
Stand Alones: 8
4 “Based on a True Story” novels
My 52 Weeks With Christie: Golden Age Gals: A.Miner©2017