Happy birthday, Mariska Hargitay! The Law & Order: SVU star and daughter of '50s sex symbol Jayne Mansfield turns 49 today. As a huge crime-drama junkie, I've been watching Mariska play her onscreen alter ego Detective Olivia Benson since she began the role in 1999. My TiVo is always filled with the murder mysteries and courtroom dramas that are aplenty on TV these days, and I'm especially happy to see so many women in the leading roles.
Many of us grew up reading and watching smart, tough female detectives like Nancy Drew, Miss Marple, and Jessica Fletcher, and there's also a new lady to add to the bunch: Sherlock Holmes's sidekick, Dr. Joan Watson (played by Lucy Liu), on Elementary. The show is currently in its first season, and we're loving the female version of the iconic detective doc!
These women prove that having brains can be sexy — no push-up bra required. So let's take a look back at the crime-solving characters who've paved the way for today's female detectives, and see what makes them all — the old and the new — great role models.