Monday, 3 January 2011

The Late Great Anne Francis

Actress Anne Francis, perhaps best known as the lead actress in Forbidden Planet (1956) and as high tech detective Honey West in the TV series of the same name, passed yesterday at the age of 80. The cause was complications from pancreatic cancer.

Anne Francis was born on September 16, 1930 in Ossining, New York. Her family moved to New York City, after which she was signed by the John Roberts Powers Agency as a child model. At age 6 she appeared on Broadway in a singing ensemble in White Horse Inn. At age 8 she appeared in a bit part in Everywhere I Roam on Broadway. As a child she also acted on radio shows, beginning with the children's shows Let's Pretend and Coast to Coast on a Bus. She later worked in radio on soap operas.

In 1946, when Miss Francis was 16, she went to Hollywood, where she was signed by MGM. Unfortunately, very little came of her grooming at the hands of the studio. She appeared in bit parts in This Time for Keeps (1947) and Portrait of Jennie (1948). She had a more substantial role in Summer Holiday (1948). Released from her contract with MGM, Anne Francis went back to New York. There she appeared in many early television shows, including Suspense, Believe It Or Not, Lights Out, and Kraft Theatre. It was following her performance in So Young So Bad in 1950 that Miss Francis was signed to a contract with 20 Century Fox. She stayed with 20th Century Fox for three years, making such movies as The Whistle at Eaton Falls (1951), Elopement (1951), Dreamboat (1952), and Rocket Man (1954). She appeared in Susan Slept Here (1954) for RKO and in the TV shows Ford Television Theatre and Lux Televison Theatre.

Signed to MGM once more, Anne Francis entered what may have been the height of her career. She appeared in the films Bad Day at Black Rock (1955), Battle Cry (1955), and The Blackboard JungleG (1955). It was in 1956 that Anne Francies appeared in what may be her most famous movie role, as Altaira Morbius, daughter of scientist Dr. Moribius, in the science fiction classic Forbidden Planet. Not only does the film continue to have a huge following, but it also remains one of the most respected adaptations of Shakespeare's The Tempest. Following Forbidden Planet, Miss Francis appeared in such films as The Rack (1956), Don't Go Near the Water (1957), The Crowded Sky (1960), and Girl of the Night (1960). She appeared in such TV shows as Studio One, Climax, Rawhide, and The Untouchables.

In the Sixties Anne Francis acted primarily on television. She appeared on such shows as The United States Steel Hour. Route 66, Dr. Kildare, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Twilight Zone, Arrest and Trial, Death Valley Days, Ben Casey, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Fugitive, The Invaders, Mission Impossible, and The Name of the Game.It was a guest appearance on Burke's Law as detective Honey West that would lead to the series of the same name. The television character of Honey West was based on a character in a series of novels by G.G. Fickling. While the character in the novels owed more to the hard boiled school in the Fifties, the television version of Honey West seems most likely inspired by Cathy Gale of The Avengers. On the TV show Honey West was a detective who used high tech devices usually reserved for spies and was skilled in karate. Honey West was historic as the first American action series to feature a woman in a lead role. The show won Anne Francis both an Emmy and a Golden Globe. While the series received good ratings, it was cancelled after ABC bought the right to broadcast episodes of the Emma Peel run of The Avengers. Apparently the network felt one female crime fighter was enough. Anne Francis also appeared in films in the Sixties, including The Satan Bug (1965), Brainstorm (1965), Funny Girl (1968), Impasse (1969), and The Love God? (1969).

In the Seventies Miss Francis' career was also primarily on television. She appeared on the shows Gunsmoke, Search, Columbo, Cannon, Ironside, Kung Fu, Ellery Queen, Barnaby Jones, Wonder Woman, Black Sheep Squadron, Hawaii Five-O, and Charlie's Angels.  She appeared in the movies Vendetta (1972), Survival (1976), and Born Again (1978). In the Eighties she appeared on such shows as Dallas, Simon & Simon, Trapper John M.D., Crazy Like a Fox, Matlock, and The Golden Girls. Anne Francis appeared in the films Return (1985) and Little Vegas (1990). From the Ninties into the Naughts, Miss Francis appeared in such shows as Murder She Wrote, the Nineties revival of Burke's Law (reprising her role as Honey West), Fortune Hunter, Wings, Home Improvement, Nash Bridges, and The Drew Carey Show,. Her last appearance on screen was in Without a Trace in 2004.

Anne Francis was a very remarkable actress. While her role in Forbidden Planet was not particularly demanding, as Honey West she played what may have been the first liberated woman on American television. She also played a wide variety of other roles. She played the murderous Gervaise Ravel in two episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., but years later she played Zipporah, the wife of Moses, in episodes of the TV series Greatest Heroes of the Bible. Although well known for her beauty and her curves, Anne Francis was much more than that. She was a very talented actress who made a lasting impact in television and film.

1 comment:

Toby O'B said...

I liked her in everything she did, especially that episode of 'Twilight Zone' and the 2 episodes of 'Columbo'. I picked up the 'Honey West' series recently and will begin watching it soon.....

May she rest in peace.