The first female detective in her own television series: Anne Francis. Although the series lasted just 30 episodes (1965-66), she broke a barrier. There was much more to Anne Francis than just a pretty face, she carved out a respective and successful career as an actress.
Anne Francis could do it all, drama, comedy, strong, vulnerable, sexy, professional. She moved back and forth between film and television in her nearly 60 year acting career.
She arrived post WWII when audience tastes were changing and pretty, shapely women who photographed well were in demand. That may have helped her get noticed, but girls who looked good but couldn’t act didn’t stay around long.
She was a child model and even acted on Broadway as a teenager. She started in small film parts in the late 1940s and moved into the early days of television. In the 1950s she co-starred in numerous films with some of Hollywood’s heavyweights, but she got her scenes that allowed her to be noticed.
Notable early films:
The Crowded Sky (1960)
The Hired Gun (1957)
The Rack (1956)
Forbidden Planet (1956)
Blackboard Jungle (1955)
Battle Cry (1955)
Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
Susan Slept Here (1954)
After the 1950s, film roles were fewer and she moved into episodic television, and worked there mainly until the mid 1960s. Television was good for her, she worked a lot. Name a series and she was on it.
Honey West came along when she was 35 year old. Remember, this was the 1960s, if a woman wasn’t a big star by this age, she wasn’t going to be one. A man still had time to grow his career, women didn’t. Women still don’t, and have to fight for roles as they age.
Honey West was on the ABC network, not exactly the Yellow Brick Road in those days. The lead character in the series was envisioned as a cross between Marilyn Monroe and Mike Hammer. Honey West carried a gun and was well versed in the martial arts. Sex appeal but no pushover. In a sense, Honey West was to be like Mrs. Peel from The Avengers, which was popular at the time.
Francis won a Golden Globe for the role and was nominated for an Emmy, but it wasn’t enough to gain viewers and the show was canceled after one season. Francis played the role for as much as she could in a sea of mainly male detective shows from the mid 1950s to the mid 1960s when the genre seemed to fade away. A few years earlier and the series might have caught the wave.
After Honey West, a few film roles came her way in addition to the steady stream of television guest shots. That series and some of her previous films may have typecast her, and while she might have been considered over-the-hill by some producers, she entered a very productive stage of her career. She was not the ingenue now, but a mature and versatile actress. She had been around the block and this played in her favor. While she had small parts in big films and big parts in small films, she kept working.
In the 1970s, and for the remainder of her career she worked mostly on television. She co-starred in two episodes of Columbo, and stole both episodes from bigger stars. It was episodic television that paid the bills, from Charlie’s Angels to Love Boat to Fantasy Island to Murder She Wrote, she was everywhere.
In her later years, Anne Francis turned to writing, several books and on her website. She chronicled the first of her two cancer fights, the second one taking her life. She passed away at age 80.
She was blonde, blue-eyed, had a mole close to her mouth and maintained a nice figure. Beyond that, she was a fine actress and a survivor in the business that is not kind to women who looked like her. But then, she was Honey West.