Saturday, January 7, 2017

Godspeed Francine York

If you grew up watching television shows in the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies or reruns thereof, there was no escaping Francine York. She was a frequent guest star on television shows in those decades, everything from dramas such as Perry Mason to comedies such as Batman. She was a favourite of Jerry Lewis and appeared in six of his films. She also starred in a number of B movies, including Space Probe Taurus (1965), Mutiny in Outer Space (1965), and, what may have been her most famous film, The Doll Squad (1973). Like many boys growing up in the Seventies I had a bit of a crush on Francine York. And like many boys who grew up in the Seventies, I never quite got over it. Sadly, Francine York died yesterday, January 6 2017, at the age of 80. The cause was cancer.

Francine York was born  Francine Yerich in Aurora, Minnesota. In 1941 her family moved to Cleveland, Ohio. She was creative even as a little girl. She wrote short stories, and when she was nine years old she played one of the wicked stepsisters in Hodge Grammar School's production of Cinderella. It was that experience that convinced her that she wanted to be an actress. When her family moved back to Aurora, Minnesota she continued to act in school plays.While still a child she even wrote, directed, acted in, and produced her own play there. She was also the feature editor of her school paper.

When Miss York was 17 she won the Miss Eveleth beauty pageant (Eveleth being a neighbouring town to Aurora) and was a runner-up for Miss Minnesota. After high school she moved to Minneapolis where she got a job modelling sweaters for New York company Jane Richards Sportswear. The job took her all over the United States and eventually she found herself in San Francisco. It was there that she competed in the Miss San Francisco beauty pageant. She won first runner-up, but had to take over the title when the winner became ill. In San Francisco she took a job as a showgirl at the nightclub Bimbo's. The nighclub's headliner, Mary Meade French, got Francine York signed with a Hollywood agent.

In Hollywood Miss York got a job as a showgirl at the nightclub Moulin Rouge. Eventually she began studying acting with acting teacher and actor Jeff Corey. It was while she was studying acting with Mr. Corey that she was spotted by a theatrical producer and cast in the production Whisper In God's Ear at the Circle Theatre. Miss York made her television debut in an episode of Rescue 8 in 1959. She made her film debut in an uncredited role in The Right Approach in 1961. In the early Sixties she appeared in bit parts on such TV shows as Bringing Up Buddy, Route 66, Shirley Temple's Storybook, and Surfside Six. She appeared in such films as The Sergeant Was a Lady (1961), Secret File: Hollywood (1962), Wild Ones on Wheels (1962), and The Interns (1962).

Francine York got her big break in film with a small part in Jerry Lewis's film It's Only Money in 1962. Miss York proved to be a favourite of Mr. Lewis and appeared in five more of his films: The Nutty Professor (1963), The Patsy (1964), The Disorderly Orderly (1964), The Family Jewels (1965), and Cracking Up (1983--AKA Smorgasbord). Miss York had starring roles in the sci-fi B movies Space Probe Taurus (1965) and Mutiny in Outer Space (1965), as well as the 1966 TV movie Curse of the Swamp Creature. She also appeared in the films A New Kind of Love (1963), Bedtime Story (1964), Tickle Me (1965), Ride to Hangman's Tree (1967), and Cannon for Cordoba (1970).

Francine York appeared frequently on television in guest appearances on shows in the Sixties. Perhaps her best remembered guest appearance today is as The Bookworm's moll Lydia Limpet in the Batman episodes "The Bookworm Turns" and "While Gotham City Burns". She guest starred on Perry Mason twice, even playing one of Perry's clients in the episode "The Case of the Sausalito Sunrise". She played a sexy agricultural college student on Green Acres and a physician running a prison infirmary on The Wild Wild West. Francine York guest starred on Burke's Law five times alone, playing a different character each time. She also guest starred on such shows as 77 Sunset Strip, The Dick Powell Theatre, The Untouchables, Dr. Kildare, My Favourite Martian, The Smothers Brothers Show, Death Valley Days, Gomer Pyle: USMC, The Red Skelton Hour, Lost in Space, Run for Your Life, The Name of the Game, The F.B.I., I Dream of Jeannie, The Courtship of Eddie's Father, Land of the Giants, and Family Affair. She appeared in such TV movies as City Beneath the Sea (1969), Any Second Now (1969), and Pioneer Spirit (1969).

It was in the Seventies that she appeared in what may be her best known film in which she had a starring role, The Doll Squad (1973). The film was made for only $256,000 and centred on a squad of female superspies led by Sabrina Kincaid (Francine York). Although not particularly respected critically, it has become something of a cult film. During the Seventies she also appeared in the films Welcome Home, Soldier Boys (1971), The Centerfold Girls (1974), Half a House (1975), and Zero to Sixty (1978). She guest starred on several TV shows during the decade, including such shows as The Odd Couple; Mannix; Bewitched; The Chicago Teddy Bears; Adam-12; Emergency!; Mission: Impossible; Love, American Style; Hec Ramsey; Dirty Sally; Columbo; Petrocelli; and Jason of Star Command. She had a recurring role on the soap opera Days of Our Lives in 1978. She appeared in several TV movies during the decade, including I Love a Mystery (made in 1967 but not aired until 1973), They Only Come Out at Night (1975), and Time Travellers (1976).

In the Eighties Miss York guest starred on such shows as Masquerade, Berrengers, Riptide, Brothers, Mama's Family, and Mr. Belvedere. In 1982 she had a recurring role on the soap opera General Hospital. She appeared in the film The Under Achievers (1987). In the Nineties she starred in the title role in the film Marilyn Alive and Behind Bars (1992). She also appeared in the films The Big Tease (1999) and The Family Man (2000). She guest starred on the shows Matlock, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Beverly Hills 90210, and Burke's Law.

In the Naughts she guest starred on Even Stevens, The King of Queens, and Las Vegas. She appeared in the films Hercules in Hollywood (2005), Miracle at Sage Creek (2005), and Astro Zombies: M3 - Cloned (2010). In the Teens Miss York guest starred on such shows as Hot in Cleveland, The Mindy Project, and Where the Bears Are.

Francine York was known for her cooking. She appeared on various cooking shows throughout the years, and also wrote recipes and fitness programmes for various national magazines.

Francine York was well known for starring in many B movies. That having been said, one should not jump to conclusions about her acting ability based on many of the low budget films in which she starred. While the movies Miss York made were sometimes bad, she was always quite good. Francine York was certainly beautiful, but she was also talented as an actress, talented enough that she turne in a good performance even when the material was not particularly good. That Francine York was a very good actress can be seen in her many guest appearances on television shows. While many starlets of the Sixties were stuck playing the love interest of any given week, Miss York actually played a variety of roles in her many guest spots on TV shows. She played Lillie Langtry on Death Valley Days, the leader of an alien invasion force on Lost in Space, a statue of the goddess Venus come to life on Bewitched, and a police sergeant on Columbo. While Francine York had the looks to play the love interest or sexpot, she had the talent to play nearly any role she pleased, from physicians to police officers. What is more, she always gave a good performance, regardless of the show or film.

Not only was Francine York a talented actress, but she was also a genuinely nice person. I never had the honour of meeting her, but I have known those who have. She always appreciated her fans and enjoyed spending time with them. She was a sweet and gracious woman who did truly care about people. Francine York may have played many sex sirens in films and on television, but in real life she was simply an incredibly good person. Ultimately Francine York wasn't just a beautiful on the outside. She was beautiful in spirit as well.

1 comment:

Caftan Woman said...

Many fond memories are related to Francine York. Very sad to hear of her passing and enjoyed your eulogy.