The Case of the Dreamy Detectives: Shaun Cassidy and Parker Stevenson remember The Hardy Boys
The 1970s were the Golden Age of the detective drama, a time when viewers could turn on the TV almost any night of the week and watch super-smooth stars solve crimes: Columbo on Sundays, Kojak and Charlie's Angels on Wednesdays, Barnaby Jones on Thursdays, The Rockford Files on Fridays, Mannix on Saturdays.
With the mystery business booming, Hollywood decided it was time once again to bring the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew — the youthful sleuths from Edward Stratemeyer's classic book series — to television. But previous screen adaptations, including the Nancy Drew movies in the 1930s and Hardy Boys serials on The Mickey Mouse Club in the 1950s, were pretty square — and ABC needed something a little hipper to anchor their Sunday-night schedule.
Enter Glen A. Larson, the prolific TV producer and creator of the hit Jack Klugman drama Quincy, M.E. Hired by Universal to develop a cooler (though still wholesome) hour-long series featuring a slightly older version of the well-known characters, Larson found three preternaturally gorgeous actors to be his stars: Pamela Sue Martin, 24, as the bold and determined Nancy Drew; Parker Stevenson, 25, as the level-headed Frank Hardy; and Shaun Cassidy, 18, as Frank's impulsive younger brother, Joe Hardy. Like their counterparts in the books, Frank and Joe Hardy didn't have any official training as detectives, but what they lacked in credentials they made up for in tenacity, intelligence, and incredible hair. Driving around in their groovy wood-paneled van, the brothers tackled mysteries involving everything from smuggling to kidnapping to stolen treasure.
Thrown together on the Universal lot for a 24-hour pilot shoot (more on that in a minute), Stevenson and Cassidy formed a tight and long-lasting friendship despite their very disparate backgrounds. The former was an aspiring architect who had recently graduated from Princeton; the latter was an up-and-coming pop singer with a TV-star mom (The Partridge Family's Shirley Jones) and a Tony and Emmy-winning dad (Jack Cassidy). "Shaun and I couldn't have been more different, but we have the same sense of humor," recalls Stevenson. "We have a kind of a bizarre, dry sense of humor, and we cracked each other up all the time. It didn't really make sense because I was a preppy Ivy League kid, and he was the heir to this entertainment family."
Premiering in January 1977, The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries catapulted Stevenson and Cassidy into teen idol territory, and their popularity only increased after Cassidy's number-one single, "Da Doo Ron Ron," dropped two months later. The series never managed to crack the case of the Nielsen top 10, however, and after a few major revamps — including the departure of Pamela Sue Martin in season 2 (she was replaced by Janet Louise Johnson) and a name change to simply The Hardy Boys — ABC canceled the show halfway through season 3.
Short-lived as it was, The Hardy Boys is a pop culture gem, and its legacy continues with the stars it helped launch. Stevenson went on to appear in a series of TV hits including Falcon Crest, Baywatch, Melrose Place, and most recently, Netflix's Greenhouse Academy. Cassidy, meanwhile, has built a successful career as a TV writer and producer, creating several series (including American Gothic and Invasion) and serving as an executive producer on NBC's hit medical drama New Amsterdam.
Both were gracious enough to join EW for separate conversations to share their Hardy Boys memories, including the epic pilot shoot, their celebrity run-ins on the Universal lot, the show's long-lasting appeal, and how they kept those luscious feathered locks looking so darn glorious.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Some episodes of The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries are currently streaming on Peacock. Have you gone back and watched it?
SHAUN CASSIDY: I have not. I think my children might have seen an episode or two, much to their horror. I'm thrilled for the people that love the show that it's there. I grew up with parents who had made movies when they were very young, and I remember watching Oklahoma with my mom. My mom was 18 in that movie, which is the same age I was on The Hardy Boys, and it's like you're watching a different person. But I'm thrilled it's there for the people that love the show, and I loved the show — it was my first job, and it was a great experience. We shot The Hardy Boys at Universal on the same soundstage where they shot the original Phantom of the Opera, so we got to inhale some real Golden Age asbestos.
This was not the first time I'd been on the set of a mystery show at Universal, however, because my dad had played villains in three separate Colombo episodes, and I'd been fortunate to visit him on the set. He even brought home the 24-year-old director, Steven Spielberg, from the first one for dinner one night. So, this whole Colombo world, and Universal and mystery television was familiar to me. Columbo, as a writer, has always been kind of the pinnacle of detective shows because the writing is so smart, Peter Falk was so great, and the mystery is open-ended. The audience knows who the killer is in the first five minutes, so the challenge as a storyteller is to keep the audience engaged, not just in the who, but the how. And Rian Johnson and Natasha Lyonne have just done a brilliant job recently of reinvigorating that genre with Poker Face.
The show premiered 46 years ago this year. And here we are still talking about it today. How do you explain The Hardy Boys' long-lasting appeal?
PARKER STEVENSON: You know, I've wondered about that for a long time. From the autograph shows I've been to, or if I'm out walking on the beach, people kind of know me from two things, and that's Hardy Boys and Baywatch. And even though I've done a few other things over 55 years — those things didn't shift anything. A lot of times, the people that I'm talking to that know the Hardy Boys, they were young [when it was on]. There were really only three major networks, and that Sunday night show was sort of unusual. It wasn't 60 Minutes — it was a kind of a sweet, fun entertaining show that was straightforward.
The hours were long, but we had a lot of fun doing it, and I think somehow that always comes through. So, it's a connection to childhood in a lot of ways. I was having a Bloody Mary at the end of the Venice Pier this weekend, and a little boy was staring at me. I thought, "He's not going to know who I am." But then then his mother came over and said, "Are you Parker Stevenson?" I said yes. And she said, "Well, he knows you from [Netflix's] Greenhouse Academy, my daughter knows you from Baywatch, and I know you from The Hardy Boys." Which made me feel really old. [Laughs]
There was something really sweet about Hardy Boys. There was that combination of, there's a mystery and maybe there's some jeopardy, and the children are acting like the adults most of the time. And the adults are standing around looking confused. "Where are you boys going?" [Laughs] There was kind of inherent rebelliousness in all of that, which kids liked.
CASSIDY: Well, it transcends the show, obviously, because the books came out in the '20s. Two or three generations had already been invested in the Hardy Boys by the time we did a television show. We weren't even the first television show — Disney did little versions of it on the Mickey Mouse Club [in the '50s]. I think the key is brothers. I love Parker, and Parker was, and remains like a real brother to me. He was a bit older than I was. He just graduated from Princeton, and he was certainly a lot more experienced as an actor, but I respected him a great deal. As I was going through my whole side ride with records and concerts, he remained a grounding influence, which I appreciate to this day. I think that love we had for each other as brothers and the amount of fun we had with each other spilled over into the show. That chemistry was real.
And also, it was [about] bucking authority. There would always be some law enforcement official who had no humor, who we'd be interfacing with. The same was true with Nancy Drew. Every kid wants to think they're smarter than their parents, or smarter than the authority figures. And we were given the opportunity to illustrate that. And we were doing lots of fun things — hang gliding this week, surfing next week, we're off to Bali. Though Bali, or Hawaii, or Egypt was always the Sheridan Universal Hotel.
Might it have something to do with the incredible hair? You both were truly blessed in the follicular department.
STEVENSON: Oh, um… [Laughs] Thank you, I think. I've always felt, and I will say this until I'm no longer here, that you could have put any of a thousand people in our parts. You could have recast me with anybody and with the marketing and the posters and the timing and what Glen Larson was doing and all of that, the show would've done probably just fine. I mean, really… You're part of some project that has 100 people working their butts off to get it done each day, and you're just the face of it. All this work is done, and the last part of that work is, "Okay, now we roll film on this face."
Speaking of your glorious hair, what did they use on it to make it look so gorgeous? And how long did it take to style each day?
STEVENSON: I don't remember anything being used on my hair. If you saw pictures of me at Princeton when I was on the rowing team, my hair was huge. It was a '70s thing. [Laughs] In the makeup and hair trailer, they were doing stuff to us, but I usually was reading the New York Times with one eye open, because it was the only time I could to read the paper. I learned how to open one eye at a time so they could do my makeup and I could still read.
CASSIDY: Wigs, it was all wigs. [Laughs] I think they VO5-ed it. I think they Final Netted it. Again, 18 years old — a lot of hair. And we could be in a windstorm, and it wouldn't move.
Shaun, you were already recording music when the role of Joe Hardy came about — what motivated you to audition for the show?
CASSIDY: It's funny, I was at my manager's office who was my family's manager. A woman named Ruth Aarons, who had been the woman's table tennis champion of the world in the 1940s. She's an amazing person. She had shepherded the careers of my mom and dad and David, and she inherited me. At 16, I'd signed a deal with Warner Brothers records to record. And initially, Warner Brothers' plan was to try and release songs to see if they could get some traction in a different country.
I just graduated from high school. I was like, "Should I go to college? Should I put all my chips on this recording career that hadn't quite happened yet?" I needed a job, honestly. And Ruth said, "Why don't you go on some acting auditions? It might be nice to see if you can walk and talk at the same time, should this singing thing take off." I'd done a little acting in school, and I'd made a couple little independent films. My second audition was the Hardy Boys. I had seen a casting breakdown in Ruth's office, and I remember saying to her, "I think I could do this." I knew it was at Universal, and I knew it was a mystery show. And Glen Larson, the EP, had worked with my dad, so I knew him a little bit. So, I just felt there was something in this for me. I screen tested, and then finally with Parker, got the job, and that was at Universal.
And lo and behold, I have an office at Universal right now. I've been there on and off for most of my career. I've had deals at other places as a writer, producer at Fox and at Disney and so forth. But Universal is like home.
Parker, you were about to enter the business program at NYU when you auditioned for the show. When you went to shoot the pilot presentation, was part of you thinking, "Oh, I'll go do this, and then I'll go back East and go to school because it probably won't get picked up?"
STEVENSON: Yeah, I didn't think it was going to go. At college I studied architecture, and then when I graduated, friends of mine that were a couple years ahead of me couldn't get work. That's just what was happening in the construction industry at the time. And I thought, "Well, I'm in New York, I guess I'll go to business school." When the Hardy Boys thing came along, Shaun was cast first. And they saw lots and lots of people [for Frank Hardy], and they were desperate. [Laughs] This is where the luck part comes in.
Shaun and I couldn't have been more different, but we have the same sense of humor. We have a kind of a bizarre, dry sense of humor, and we cracked each other up all the time. It didn't really make sense because I was a preppy Ivy League kid, and he was the heir to this entertainment family. But I came out and did a screen test with him and got cast right away. I was like, "Oh. Well, it's not going to go anyway, so might as well go out and do a little work and come back."
I read that you all shot the pilot for The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries, an episode called "The Mystery of the Haunted House," for 24 hours straight. Why did the shoot run so long?
STEVENSON: Because Glen had a mandate to shoot a pilot presentation in one day, something to present to the network to say, "This is what the show can be." And Glen being the wild man that he was, he brought us to work at 7 in the morning, and we shot until 7:05 the next morning nonstop. So, he ended up with the third of his pilot shot in that one day.
CASSIDY: It was more. I think it was like 36 hours. The first day of work, I'm still living at home, like with my parents. And I go to work at 5 in the morning, like everybody does. I meet Parker, who I hadn't really met, and we start working. Ray Milland is the guest star on the first episode — the guy who won the Oscar for The Lost Weekend — and we're shooting on the back lot at Universal in a graveyard. It's getting later and later, and they keep breaking for the eighth dinner — more steaks at 4 in the morning! And I'm thinking, "Is this what my parents have been doing all these years?"
How did you stay awake?
CASSIDY: "Have some more coffee, kid." I mean, they weren't Judy Garlanding us, but at 18 years old, I could stand up for four days.
STEVENSON: We were falling asleep all over the place. We were trying to stay awake, but the last shot we did was in a graveyard. There was a [scene in a] grave, but it was getting light, so they put a tarp over the top of the hole in the ground. We climbed down there and we shot our last scene under the tarp in the hole in the ground, because we literally could no longer shoot because of the light. That's how far he pushed it. I remember being pretty irritated, frankly, that I'd flown out to do this one-day shoot and he worked us 24 hours. But it was a pretty smart move, you know? It made everyone else's little pilot presentations look pretty thin compared to what he shot and provided.
Even though you guys were teen heartthrobs, the show was generally very wholesome and tame. Do you remember, were there things Frank and Joe were simply not allowed to do?
PARKER: It was just sort of relentlessly sweet. Shaun would fall in love with some girl, or she'd fall in love with him, and there'd be a sweet, chaste kiss. That's just what the show was.
CASSIDY: The early episodes tried to model the books. The producers and writers quickly realized that you can't do, you know, Joe loses his bicycle as an episode. So, they notched us up to Starsky and Hutch by season 2. But because we were on at 7 o'clock on a Sunday night, the bad guys had guns, and we couldn't have them because we were boys. So, they'd have us walk into scenes with our hand in our pocket as though we had one, but we could never reveal it. We had to be very gentle with violence. Lots of karate. [Laughs]
Shaun's music career exploded just as the show took off as well — which probably explains why Joe Hardy took the stage to sing in more than a few episodes.
STEVENSON: He was a big part of what happened with the show. We worked really long hours, often 18-hour days. We'd always worked late Friday night because that gave them more room for a turnaround Monday morning without having to pay overtime. So we always worked past midnight, until 2 or 3 on Friday night. Shaun would leave and go off on tour for the weekend. And then he'd stagger back in Monday morning, having done concerts in at least two different cities, just looking like something the cat dragged in. And he'd jump into work [on the show]. All of that helped the show hold enough ratings to stay on it. I wasn't out singing — I'd go home and collapse and do laundry. [Laughs]
CASSIDY: How I survived all of it remains a mystery to me. But I'm grateful I did. [Laughs] Being 18 helped a lot. From 18 to 21, I was doing the show during the week and on Friday nights, a car would come and take me directly to an airport. My band would be there. We'd fly out to a city, do a concert Saturday and Sunday night, and be back for work Monday morning — which explains why in many episodes I have big dark circles under my eyes. Warner Brothers, who I had a deal with, when they found out I was doing a television show in the States, they were like, well, we're finishing an album and we're going to get it out in concert with the show coming on.
Both things kind of blew up at the same time. That was a big deal, a very big first act in my life, but in my family, it was not unprecedented. I'd seen other people go through it and learned a lot from their experience, and I knew that [being a] teen idol by its very nature has a short shelf life. I was aware of that even as I was experiencing that, so when that passed, I was like, "Okay, now what am I going to do for a living?" I'd fallen in love with writing, even on The Hardy Boys. I was really invested in the writing staff. They wouldn't let me in very often, but I loved being around the writers and hearing their ideas and learning about the books they were optioning. Very early on, I realized that I wanted to write and produce.
The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries shot on the Universal lot from 1977-1979, when other big shows like The Rockford Files, Quincy, M.E., and The Six Million Dollar Man were also in production there. Were you constantly running into fellow TV stars of that era?
STEVENSON: Yes. There were like 30 shows filming, and the Universal Studios Tour had just started. You'd walk around the corner and Alfred Hitchcock was walking into the commissary. I'd go into Rockford Files a lot because I never could understand how James Garner could talk so softly that you couldn't hear him, but the sound department picked him up and he sounded like he had a big, booming voice.
CASSIDY: We were the babies on the lot. My first day, I think I was late and panicked and couldn't find where I was supposed to park. I saw this space that had the name "Billy Wilder" on it, and I thought that was a kid. So, I parked in that space — idiot me didn't know who Billy Wilder was yet. I was quickly read the riot act by Scotty, who was the legendary gatekeeper — literally the gatekeeper at Universal. "That is Mr. Wilder's space. You will never park there again." I remember bumping into Lee Majors' limousine once with my car. That was awkward.
Parker and I had lunch with Alfred Hitchcock, which was extraordinary. [Legendary talent agent] Lew Wasserman was having a lunch for a guy named Joe Califano, who I think was Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare in California. Lew had invited all of the stars of the Universal shows, which were mostly mystery detective shows — so there's Robert Wagner, and there's Buddy Ebsen, and there's Telly Savalas, and there's Peter Falk. And there's Parker and I, who were clearly invited to entertain Joe Califano's children. I was parked between a young kid, and at the end of the table was Hitchcock. I knew who Hitchcock was. He had just finished Family Plot, which may have been his last film there. He was quite old and spoke verrrry slowly, but he was Alfred Hitchcock. I was completely engaged.
In a 1978 interview, Shaun talked about having some "frustrations" about the show, including about the scripts. How did you both feel about the scripts and the show's stories in general?
STEVENSON: An episode was supposed to be shot in 7 or 8 days, and often it would be 12 or 14 days to shoot it, because we didn't have the script. The pages hadn't come in. So, we'd be sitting around, or the pages would come in and then we'd all look at them and go, "Well, this doesn't make sense." It was kind of patched together from some other ideas that somebody had, and then they'd can those pages and four days later we get the scene to shoot all over again. Or they'd jump to another episode because the episode [we were shooting] wasn't quite finished in the writing. So that was the frustration. It's also why the hours were so long because it took forever sorting out scenes.
CASSIDY: The writing staff were doing all they could do, and Glen had, like, 10 shows on the air. It was not running like a well-oiled machine, let's just put it that way. So, we would be in the middle of the scene and new pages would come down that would be very different. The other thing that used to happen, we were shooting scripts that had not really been thought through. Then with [ADR], they'd cut to the shrubbery, and we'd explain the plot. Like, "The jewels are buried in the thing!" But again, I'm very grateful for that experience and I learned a lot. I've learned through my own experience as a showrunner that being a good writer is not necessarily being a good manager. They're two very different skill sets, and showrunners need both.
Over the course of the three seasons, the show went through a few big changes — most notably, Pamela Sue Martin left halfway through season 2 after her role was reduced, and then she was replaced by Janet Louise Johnson. And in season 3, the show's name was changed to The Hardy Boys. What did you think of all these developments?
STEVENSON: I think the show was hanging by a thread at that point. Pamela, I know she was frustrated because in the first two seasons, it was both shows filming simultaneously, so [the Hardy Boys episodes] were on every other week. I knew Pam, I had done a movie with her in '73, and I knew her really well. We had stayed in touch [after the film], and Shaun and Pamela are still dear friends, which is a miracle. It doesn't usually happen that way. But when she left, she just was ready for something else. I think she was frustrated, and probably the momentum of Shaun singing and all that attention kind of took the wind out of their sails a little bit on Nancy Drew. Janet was really sweet when she came in, but those were hard shoes to fill. Then we started doing crossover shows, where they were combining both shows and that was odd. They were really scrambling to try to find ways to keep the show going.
When the show was finally canceled, how did you find out?
STEVENSON: I don't think the show ever got picked up more than six episodes at a time. We never had a full season pickup. It was always on the bubble, as they say. Even until the very end. We were shooting at the end of that third season, and they canceled us. But then there was a dispute between the network and Universal. The contracts stipulated that Universal would be paid for one more episode, and they couldn't just cancel it. So, they brought us back — after they made us pack up on the set and leave the studio. And then the next day we were back! [Laughs] We did one last episode knowing we were canceled…
I don't know what would have happened to the show if we had kept making it. At what point are we getting too old to be running around with flashlights? [Laughs] In that sense, it was probably time. Also, I was tired. I came out to work one day on the pilot presentation, and three years later I was just fried.
CASSIDY: I just remember it was sudden. And I also remember not being terribly disappointed. I've worked with a lot of young actors who went on to do big things, starting with Heath Ledger [in the 1997 Fox series Roar]. I've been very fortunate that way. What I learned is that often when you have a young kid in a show and the kid is getting some traction, there are agents and managers and people whispering in their ear, "You're bigger than this. Big movies are waiting for you!" That certainly happened to me. It's all driven by money because there's more money to be made elsewhere. But I've also learned that it's very, very rare if an actor leaves their successful show in the middle of the run that the audience forgives them. The smart ones stayed. [When the show was canceled], I thought, "Oh, this is great." But as it turns out, there weren't 100 movies waiting to cast me when I finished. [Laughs] I'm not even sure I would've wanted to do that.
Have you watched any mystery shows recently that you've liked?
STEVENSON: Actually, my wife is obsessed with them. [Calls to wife] Hey, Liz. What are your favorite mystery shows that you're watching now? Your Honor, which we were watching last night. You on Netflix. Basically, I watch what she watches.
CASSIDY: White Lotus is really good. Very much my kind of thing. Poker Face, too. It felt like a marriage of Columbo and Big Lebowski or something. One of the challenges when I was starting to write TV series, like American Gothic and Invasion, they did not want anything serialized on network. They wanted closed-ended [episodes], because they couldn't sell [serialized shows] internationally, or they had some argument why they didn't repeat well or something. It was so frustrating, because I liked shows that felt like novels, and I still do. And now that is au courant, which is great.
Are you working on anything now that you can tell us about?
STEVENSON: I'm working on a couple of things. Probably the only thing I can talk about is my photography, which really matters to me. You can see it at parkerstevensonshadowworks.com. The truth is, if someone wants to know me, look at my photography. Because my acting work is always a product of a writer and a director and a studio and all these other influences. But my photography is just me — beginning, middle, and end.
CASSIDY: I'm still at Universal and happy to be there. One of the best parts of having done this a little bit is you get to work with other writers. So, I get to develop with young writers, different voices, people with different experiences than my own and learn from them. I'm overseeing a couple of projects that other writers are writing and I'm writing one of my own, and maybe it's a mystery — but I'll never tell.
Select episodes of The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries are streaming on Peacock.
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