R.I.P. Anne Francis
Here's a sad way to start the new year. Anne Francis, who helped usher in the era of the smart, sexy, highly capable female operative on television with her Emmy-nominated portrayal of private eye Honey West in the 1960s, has died at the age of 80 from pancreatic cancer, according to the BBC.
Aaron Spelling created the television version of G.G. Fickling's sexy detective Honey West as an American answer to the Honor Blackman Avengers. Supposedly, he first offered the role to Blackman, who turned it down, but found a more than capable substitute in the very talented Francis. Francis imbued Honey with a razor-sharp wit, equally sharp wits, and toughness and fighting skills not regularly found in women on American television at the time. Honey West may have been a detective show, but in spirit (and often in content as well), it was kin to The Avengers and all the other spy shows popping up all over the airwaves in the mid-Sixties. It's essential viewing for Sixties spy fans largely thanks to Francis's awesome central performance. (For more info on the series and Francis, be sure to check out John C. Fredricksen's comprehensive guide to the subject, Honey West.)
Considering her Honey West image, it's surprising that Anne Francis didn't go on to more spy roles on the big screen, but excepting The Double O Kid, her feature spy career was limited to a disappointing and decidedly un-Honey-like damsel in distress role in The Satan Bug (1965). However, she did contribute more to the genre on TV, appearing in spy roles on Assignment: Vienna (opposite Robert Conrad), The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (as the delectable, scene-stealing vilainess Gervaise Ravel) and Mission: Impossible. The latter was a wonderful guest spot in Season 4's "The Double Circle," when the show's producers were cycling in different female guest stars each week in an attempt to replace Barbara Bain. Francis was by far my favorite of these fill-ins, and I've always lamented that she wasn't hired on as a full-time cast member.
Anne Francis was an actress who lit up any role she played, even bland ones like that in The Satan Bug. But she truly shone in the right part, and the right part was Honey West. Francis's Honey will live on forever in the annals of television history, as a sex symbol, an icon, and a trailblazer who paved the way for smart, capable, sexy female action heroines like Sydney Bristow and Nikita. In every new spy series with such a lead, Anne Francis's legacy will live on forever.