I’m swamped with work and horrified by the murders and assassination attempt in Arizona so what better time to stop and remember a unique actress who died last week: beautiful Anne Francis. (Forgive me, but am I the only one who thinks Gabrielle Giffords looks just a bit like Anne Francis? It’s already weird that apparently Gwyneth Paltrow is Giffords’ cousin.)
Anne Francis had a long career from her memorable role as Altaira in the beloved “Forbidden Planet” to sassy appearances in many films including “Bad Day at Black Rock” and “The Blackboard Jungle” to a million guest star roles on television. But let’s talk about that sexy private eye that every boy in the mid-1960s was hopelessly in love with: the scorching Honey West.
To be honest, you had to fight to watch “Honey West” in our house. It was on directly opposite “Gomer Pyle, USMC” and because my father’s best friend, Sam Bobrick, was one of the writers on that show, we were duty bound to follow Gomer’s adventures. I liked the show but its cornpone humor was no match for the sophisticated James Bond-like machinations of Francis’s Honey West, the first female private eye on TV and certainly the hottest.
Anne Francis made facial moles the must-have beauty accessory of the 1960s. During a time when loyal housewives and pie-baking moms occupied our TV screens, Honey West broke all sorts of new ground. From her snazzy Cobra convertible and pet ocelot named Bruce to her skintight black bodystocking and animal print get-ups to her exploding compact, gas mask garter belt, and tear gas-emitting earrings, this dame was all about independence. She was clearly the one in charge, not her hunky partner, Sam (played by John Ericson). Honey was our own Emma Peel. The ABC censors were all over the show which Francis hated but she still found a way to ooze more sexuality than any TV character up to that time (until Julie Newmar donned her Catwoman outfit the following year).
In 1966 Anne Francis was nominated for an Emmy for “Honey West.” She lost to Barbara Stanwyck but sore loser and mega-biatch Barbara Parkins from “Peyton Place” pulled a Kanye West that night to a reporter: “I was hurt, but if I had to lose I’m glad it was to Barbara Stanwyck, who is a grand lady and a fine actress. I would have hated to have lost to Anne Francis. I don’t care much for her work. A woman should be feminine and not go around hitting people with judo chops the way she does on that ‘Honey West’ show.” Meow. Anne Francis not feminine? In your dreams, Parkins. How did you feel when Francis won the Golden Globe that year? For the record, Honey West can hit me with a judo chop any day.
I think we had the Honey West board game at one point, and possibly the Honey West action figure, seen here with her friends Illya Kuryakin from “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” and fictional astronaut Moon McDare. I found an ad from February 1966 announcing Anne Francis’s appearance at the May Company on Wilshire Boulevard WITH her live ocelot (oy!) to autograph her action figures. “Television’s first girl private eye will be at our toy department with her pet ocelot from 12:00 to 3:00. She’ll autograph the new Honey West action figure. The 11-inch doll is dressed in black leotards, boots, and holster belt…movable arms and legs adjust to any position.” Just checked eBay and those dolls are now going for about $300.
Despite the huge popularity of the show and the plans to switch to color the following season, ABC management was going through major upheavals at the time and the show was cancelled after only 30 episodes. ABC decided it was cheaper for them to import “The Avengers” with Diana Rigg’s Emma Peel instead of paying for their own version. Gloria and Skip Fickling, who created the character in a series of books, tried to revive “Honey West” in later years and briefly opened a Honey West teen-age nightclub in Laguna Beach decorated with stills from the TV show. I’m amazed that no one is working on a Honey West movie. It could be done in a great retro style and would be a fantastic part for any actress (are you listening Kate Winslet? Halle Berry? Nicole Kidman?).
Following the disappointing end to her show, Anne Francis signed to appear with Barbra Streisand in the film version of “Funny Girl.” Her character, boozing Ziegfeld Girl Georgia James, was famously pared down from the second female lead to barely a cameo. For decades the scuttlebutt was that Streisand herself had ordered the cuts because Francis was so good in her scenes and Babs was worried that she’d steal the picture. The Anne Francis accusation was always used when anyone wanted to diss Barbra and her control-freak ways. Finally, a few years ago, Francis posted an open letter to Barbra Streisand on her website:
It has gnawed at me for years that you have believed that I blamed you for cutting most of my scenes from “Funny Girl.” I felt the sadness of the misunderstanding all over again when I read a supposed quote of yours last year saying that you had heard me blame you on a TV talk show. The only talk show I did on the subject was on Johnny Carson, and Joey Bishop was subbing that night. I tried to make it plain that I did not blame you, and had no idea why I was cut from the film. To this day, I don’t know the circumstances that caused the decision, but I am lead to believe it probably had to do with the length of the film. The sub plot of Georgia’s histrionics with Florenz Ziegfeld was really not necessary to the story about Fanny Brice.
In all fairness, I understand that the press believed that I felt that way because my public relations person, who was also a very dear friend, did believe it, and she made the statements that were attributed to me. I was caught in the middle, and rather than point a finger at her, I did the best I could to refute the story whenever confronted by an interviewer. The whole thing was messy and painful. I had never been embroiled in that sort of ruckus before. I know you were going through a lot of flack as well during those stormy days when first you hit Hollywood (or It hit you!). I had hoped then that it would all blow over quickly, but when I saw the quote you allegedly made recently, I felt awful once more.
At the age of thirty-five (over the hill in those days!), the role of Georgia was a great gem for me, and I had high hopes (I had just come off of “Honey West”) that it would do a lot for my “career.” The flashy role, along with the drunk scene (which hit the editor’s floor) pretty much cinched the prospect of a supporting nomination with the Academy that year. So, you can understand the humiliation when each day a note would be slipped under my dressing room door, “omit scene so and so.” The scene named would always be the one I had been called in to do that day. I am not whining, dear lady. We’ve all taken our lumps in this “Business.” I’m just sharing with you what was going on at that time with me. You had your own problems. I marveled at how you handled yourself on your first encounter with the alien world of the film industry.
I have had the greatest respect for your talent and for what you have made of yourself, Barbra. You are a brilliant woman and I have always wished you the very best. One more time, it is important for me before I leave this planet to say, I have never accused you of having the role of Georgia cut to the quick.
Classy dame. I hope Streisand responded. The night Francis died, I was at my mother-in-law's house for a birthday party for her friend, actress Barbara Rush. There were several other actresses there and all of them knew and had worked with Anne Francis back in the day. The women had nothing but praise and admiration for the star. Maybe she didn't wear tear-gas earrings, but the real-life Anne Francis was every bit as fun and likable as Honey West.