Monday, April 6, 2020

The Late Great Honor Blackman

Honor Blackman, best known for her roles as Cathy Gale on The Avengers and Pussy Galore in the James Bond film Goldfinger (1964), died yesterday at the age of 94. She numbers among those actors who have never known life without. Indeed, she played the goddess Hera in the very first movie I can remember watching all the way through, Jason and the Argonauts (1963). Later I encountered her in Goldfinger when it debuted on The ABC Sunday Night Movie. Still later I would see her in such films as A Night to Remember (1958) and The Secret of My Success (1965). While I was aware that she played John Steed's partner on The Avengers before Diana Rigg joined the show as Emma Peel, with the first three series of The Avengers unavailable in the United States, I would be an adult before I finally got to see Honor Blackman as Cathy Gale. Once I did, Cathy Gale became one of my favourite television characters and the role that will forever come to my mind when I think of Honor Blackman. Miss Blackman was an incredible actress, elegant, intelligent, and powerful. She was perfect for such empowered characters as Cathy Gale, Hera, and Pussy Galore.

Honor Blackman was born on August 22 1925 in Plaistow, Essex. She attended North Ealing Primary School and Ealing County Grammar School for Girls. For her fifteenth birthday her parents gave her elocution lessons. She began her training as an actor at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 1940. She made her film debut in an uncredited role in Fame is the Spur in 1947. In the late Forties she appeared in the films Daughter of Darkness (1948), Quartet (1948), A Boy, a Girl and a Bike (1949), Conspirator (1949), Diamond City (1949), and So Long at the Fair (1950).

Miss Blackman made her television debut in 1951 in the BBC production Joseph Proctor's Money in 1951. In the Fifties she had recurring roles on the TV shows Probation Officer and The Four Just Men. She guest starred on the shows Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Presents, I tre moschettieri, Boyd Q.C., The New Adventures of Charlie Chan, Hour of Mystery, The Invisible Man, African Patrol, The Vise, Suspense, The Third Man, and Danger Man. She appeared in the movies Green Grow the Rushes (1951), Manchas de sangre en la luna (1952), The Rainbow Jacket (1954), Diplomatic Passport (1954), The Devaline Affair (1955), The Glass Cage (1955), Breakaway (1956), You Pay Your Money (1957), Suspended Alibi (1957), Account Rendered (1957), A Night to Remember (1958), and The Square Peg (1958).

It was in 1962 that Honor Blackman began playing one of her best known roles, that of  Catherine Gale on The Avengers. Cathy Gales was one of two replacements introduced in the second season for John Steed's original partner, Dr. David Keel. In the second season Cathy Gale rotated episodes with Steed's other partner, nightclub singer Venus Smith, but it was Mrs. Gale who proved to be the most popular of the two. While Venus was a more traditional female character, Cathy Gales was a woman as television had never seen before. Cathy Gale was an anthropologist with a doctorate in anthropology. Not only was she self-assured and assertive, but she was a skilled combatant as well. Clad in leather, Mrs. Gale regularly dispatched opponents using judo. Popular in its first season, the presence of Cathy Gale on The Avengers turned the show into a sensation in the United Kingdom. For the show's third series, Cathy Gale was Steed's only partner. It was following the third season of The Avengers that Honor Blackman left the show to take the role of Pussy Galore in The Avengers.

In the Sixties, prior to her role in The Avengers, Honor Blackman guest starred on the shows Knight Errant Limited, Bootsie and Snudge Kraft Mystery Theatre, Top Secret, The Pursuers, Ghost Squad, and The Saint. Following The Avengers she guest starred on ITV Play of the Week, ABC Stage 67, Armchair Theatre, ITV Playhouse, The Name of the Game and ITV Saturday Night Theatre. Arguably the Sixties marked the height of Honor Blackman's film career. In addition to playing Hera in Jason and the Argonauts and Pussy Galore in Golfinger, she also played Lily, Baroness von Lukenberg in The Secret of My Success (1965), Norah Hauxley in Life at the Top (1965), and Lady Daggett in Shakalo (1968). She also appeared in the movies A Matter of WHO (1961), Serena (1962), Moment to Moment (1966), A Twist of Sand (1968), Kampf um Rom I (1968), Twinky (1970), The Last Grenade (1970), and The Virgin and the Gypsy (1970).

In the Seventies Miss Blackman appeared in the movies Fright (1971), Something Big (1971), To the Devil a Daughter (1976), Age of Innocence (1978), and The Cat and the Canary (1978). She guest starred on the shows Boney, Columbo, Jubilee, Robin's Nest, and Crown Court. She played Margaret Stevenson in the mini-series The Lives of Benjamin Franklin.

In the Eighties Honor Blackman had the regular role of Veronica Barton on the TV show Never the Twain, Later in the decade she began playing Laura West in the long-running sitcom The Upper Hand. She guest starred on the shows Holding the Fort, In Performance, Minder, Doctor Who, and Crossbow.

In the Nineties she continued to star on The Upper Hand. She guest starred on The ABC Weekend Specials and Doctors. She appeared in the movies Tales of the Mummy (1998) and To Walk with Lions (1999). In the Naughts she appeared in the movies Bridget Jones' Diary (2001), Jack Brown and the Curse of the Crown (2004), Colour Me Kubrick: A True...ish Story (2005), and Reuniting the Rubins (2010). She guest starred on the television shows The American Embassy, Midsomer Murders, The Royal, Revolver, Coronation Street, New Tricks, and Hotel Babylon.

In the Teens she guest starred on Casualty, and You, Me & Them. She appeared in the mini-series By Any Means.She appeared in the movies I, Anna (2012) and Cockneys vs. Zombies (2012).

Honor Blackman also had a considerable stage career, appearing in such productions as Mr. & Mrs.; Move Over, Mrs Markham; Night and Day, The Sound of Music; My Fair Lady; and Cabaret. More recently she toured in her own showy Honor Blackman as Herself, a look back at her life and career.

Chances are good that Honor Blackman will always be remembered as Cathy Gale and Pussy Galore, but she played a variety of roles throughout her long career. In Britain Miss Blackman will also be remembered as Laura West on The Upper Hand, lead character Caroline Wheatley's glamorous mother who dates a succession of men. In the Danger Man episode "Colonel Rodriguez," she played the wife of an American journalist arrested on a small island nation. She made one of her best known guest appearances on television in the Columbo episode "Dagger of the Mind." She played Shakespearean actress Lillian Stanhope, who proves to be a worthy opponent to Lt. Columbo.

The fact is that Honor Blackman was an enormous talent. What she brought to her many roles was more than beauty and elegance, but also intelligence, determination, professionalism, and, when the role called for it, even physical prowess. Much like Cathy Gale and Pussy Galore, Honor Blackman was a remarkable woman in real life, well known for her political activism. Honor Blackman wasn't simply a talented actress, but she was also a lady through and through.

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