Remembering Anne Francis

I’m not sure I ever watched an episode of Honey West until I found clips on YouTube. But on my wall, I had a poster of Anne Francis, in character, with the pet ocelot she had on the show. When I heard that she died Sunday, I had to find that picture.

Me — a lesbian? No way. Ahem.

Francis started out as a child model – at age six – and was on Broadway by the time she was 11. By her teens, she had a film career. If you are a classic movie fan, you’ve probably seen her in The Blackboard Jungle as the wife of Glenn Ford’s character.

But her best-known film role is the fabulous sci-fi thriller Forbidden Planet, with the pre-Drebin Leslie Nielsen.

OK, it’s not all that scary these days, but Forbidden Planet was truly ahead of its time (1956) in terms of high-concept plot and special effects. And the movie introduced Robbie the Robot — a sci-fi icon.

Francis’ TV career was defined by Honey West, one of the first female PIs on U.S. television and the first to have a show named after her. The opening credits give you a feel for the series.

Honey wore a lot of skin-tight clothes and animal prints and seemed to always go undercover without much, um, cover. She and her partner Sam had no shortage of sexual tension, but Honey preferred the company of her “cat” Bruce. And Francis played her with enough attitude and camp to make the show sexy without being sexist.

Although Honey West only lasted a season, Francis got an Emmy nomination for the role, and it set the stage for shows like Charlie’s Angels (both shows were produced by Aaron Spelling) and, eventually, series with women detectives who used their brains more than their bodies to solve crimes.

Anne Francis outlasted Honey by decades and appeared in TV shows and movies all the way through 2004. And she still looked amazing – at 74.

The closest Francis ever came to playing a lesbian was as a young innocent in the women’s prison movie So Young So Bad, but as women who love women, we owe her a debt of gratitude. If not for her, we might be stuck watching Joe Friday wannabes instead of Jane Rizzoli.

Join me in wishing her family many happy memories — and peace.

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