Thursday, June 24, 2010

One Honey of an Anne Francis Interview

"One Honey of an Anne Francis Interview"

Terry Blass

“You’ve got a lot of guts to tell me what to do…Sure, I’m a woman! I act like a woman, think like a woman, look like a woman, but I’m mixed up in a rotten dirty business that men think they own by conquest! But…half the crimes in the United States today are committed by women, and half of those committed by men are provoked by women. So where does that leave you? In a business operated 75% by females!”
-- Honey West, This Girl For Hire, by G. G. Fickling

“If I hadn’t known better I would believe this was a script from a melodrama starring the ghosts of Karloff and Lugosi, filmed in garish color by American-International.”
-- Honey, Honey On Her Tail, Fickling

“She saw me sitting there…decided I could afford a wet evening for two and walked over with her hips waving hello.”
-- Mickey Spillane, The Big Kill

“You’re some kind of doll, Miss West. You make a guy feel like he walked into a propeller.”
-- Mickey Spillane agun

“As a woman, he wanted to sleep with her, but only when the job had been done.”
-- Ian Fleming

“Id, Id, Id!” -– Professor Morbius in FORBIDDEN PLANET, trying to prove there’s no monster of which he’s a-Freud!

We were starwatchers, we children of the nifty ‘50’s, baby ba-doomers destined to space out like we had a Rocky Jones for it. We kept watching the skies of the Hollywood firmament, and one of our favorite heavenly bodies to get our rockets racing with dreams of thrusters lusting was Anne Francis. She was our bridge of sighs in the skies to another century as Altaira, the innocent space maiden of 1956’s FORBIDDEN PLANET. To many sky-fi fans PLANET shall always be THE sense of wonder movie of all time. It set the stage for STAR TREK the next decade, from its transporter devices to its warm, friendly green skies. It had the most commercial Hollywood hunk of spare parts of his day, Robby The Robot, who should yet get his star on HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD. But most of all it had Anne Francis…even though she stayed pretty much the space dear throughout, you could just tell that if she wanted to, she could really kick ro-butt!

As if pop icons like FORBIDDEN PLANET and THE BLACKBOARD JUNGLE weren’t enough, Anne Francis also has a huge body of work which includes A LION IS IN THE STREETS, BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK, BATTLE CRY, HAUNTS OF THE VERY RICH, along with a ghost, er, host of others. She can be a very good or a very bad girl, or better yet, a very good bad girl! And then there was HONEY WEST, a very bad good girl, TV’s first reel private dickette.

Honey began life in a series of paperback originals in the late 50’s. The husband and wife team of Gloria & Forrest E. Fickling became “G. G. Fickling,” and you should see what the word-correct comes up with with THAT one. Fickling’s Honey was a pretty, cool cross between Spillane’s Mike Hammer & Richard S. Prather’s Shell Scott. Her adventures involved flying saucer conventions, horror movie producers who stage King Kong at parties, killer g-strings, and nude sunbathers who kill for a solark, all told in a flip feminine style. Somebody must have liked Fickling’s Spelling, because Anne Francis and Honey became a match made in heroine heaven. (Even when telling of Honey’s T.V. demise Ms. Francis remains a-Peeling)

Come with me now to a conversation in which Ms. Francis lupines for men like Lon Chaney Jr., reveals all about the swimming scene in FORBIDDEN PLANET, and debates the true meaning of “The Tempest” with my dear old Aunt Ennie. Ladies, gentlemen who want to get their robutts kicked, I give you now Anne Francis, Everyone’s Favorite Altaira-Girl…

TERRY BLASS: Miss Francis, of all the scream queens, you’re the one who had the best robot. With you and Robby it was like you were born to be his kind of coil. Uh, goil. When you first saw Robby on the set of FORBIDDEN PLANET, was it a case of love at first sight, or lube at first fright?

ANNE FRANCIS: Robby of course was the first robot I had ever seen, so I was curious about how he was put together, and found out that they had to have a rather short actor manipulate Robby from inside. So Robby was a very special actor on the stage. He cost a million dollars to build. In those days that was a huge sum of money.

TB: (Laughter) It still is!

AF: He was the most valuable performer in the whole picture, so everyone had to treat him with tremendous respect.

TB: I read that it was Kodak that built the body.

AF: I don’t know…if you look at it…

TB: If you look at it, the sheen or his finish, it kinda looks like a camera of that time.

AF: Yeah, that’s true.

TB: Did you know that in Gerald’s Game, Stephen King described an eclipse as looking like your mole?

AF: No!

TB: That’s what someone just told me. I went okay…

AF: (Laughter) I have to read that. Gerald’s Game. I also have been mentioned in Howard Stern’s book.

TB: (Laughter) Say no more!

AF: …but not in such sweet terms. (Laughter)

TB: I can imagine! Were you a tomboy kinda girl?

AF: No, not really. I started working in New York City when I was 5, 6 years old, working as a model. I was put in little black patent leather shoes early in life and taught to please the camera.

TB: When we were kids we thought of you as our tuff little sister…

AF: As Honey, you mean?

TB: No, actually in FORBIDDEN PLANET and other ‘50s movies.

AF: No, because actually Altaira was a rather fragile creature compared to Honey.

TB: Yeah, she’s an innocent.

AF: Honey had a lot more strength and assurance than you would say about Altaira.

TB: You were in the first rock ‘n’ roll picture, THE BLACKBOARD JUNGLE.

AF: With Haley, yeah.

TB: Did you have any idea it was going to cause the whole world to shake, rattle and roll?

AF: No, I actually didn’t realize it was going to turn into quite a political vehicle. MGM was not allowed to send BLACKBOARD JUNGLE over to Europe for the festivals, because the government felt that…

TB: Because Bill Haley toured Europe and they were ripping up the seats?

AF: No, it wasn’t just that. They felt that they didn’t want Russia to see such unrest in our country. That was the main reason. They thought Dore Schary had opened up a whole political upset by showing this, and it was undermining America by showing these kids in the schools behaving badly.

TB: I remember it was on all newscasts, Bill Haley was causing riots, and it was like the world was supposed to end!

AF: (Laughter)

TB: Do you think kids doing music today, talking about today’s world, are they getting a bad rap?

AF: You mean are the rappers getting a bad rap? (Laughter) I think that any lyrics that are suggesting you go out and kill someone, it’s right on the line, it’s questionable.

TB: BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK was a honey of a wild Western. Were you ever intimidated working with Lee Marvin, or did Spencer Tracy make you want to run and Hyde?

AF: BAD DAY, I was the only woman on the show. No, I didn’t feel intimidated. They were all good friends. John Ericson was great. He’s living in Santa Fe and painting, he’s wonderful, I just saw him recently. Lee Marvin I adored, he was so much fun, he was like a big brother to me. I was very, very pleased to have the opportunity to work with such talented men.

TB: A LION IS IN THE STREETS, about the corruption of a Southern politician, was Long on drama and short on Hollywood Huey. Was Cagney as vivacious in real life?

AF: Jimmy was. He was very fascinating. Between scenes he would go into a sort of slumped position in his chair and close his eyes. At one point he grabbed me and said, “Hey, kid, siddown! Be quiet. Close your eyes, rest so that you have enough energy for the next scene.” And he went into what you today would call a meditative state. As soon as he was called he was up on his feet (snaps fingers) and in there like nothing had happened!

TB: Before people DID meditative states.

AF: Yeah, before many people were aware of such a thing.

TB: Cagney in there, his character says, “With them long legs and that long neck, she’s like a wild flamingo,” about your character.

AF: That was why they called her Flamingo.

TB: In that film you played the daughter of Lon Chaney, Jr. “Daughter of Lon Chaney” sounds like a horror movie right there!

AF: (Laughter)

TB: Was Lon Chaney, Jr., really a mice, uh, nice guy?

AF: A very, very sweet, gentle man. He was of the old school, as was Jimmy Cagney. He was gentle and strong. I LOVED those men.

TB: You realize that this is for a horror magazine that wants to hear that Lon Chaney, Jr. was a real wolf, man!

AF: Nah!

TB: One of my favorite of your movies was THE ROCKET MAN.

AF: You’re kidding me!

TB: No, I’m not. Didn’t you like that one?

AF: I don’t even REMEMBER it. All I remember is that Lenny Bruce wrote it, and I loved Lenny.

TB: Yeah, me too, I’m a big Lenny Bruce fan.

AF: I’ve no recollection at all of the story.

TB: The story is that the kid finds this alien zapper and anybody he shines it on has to tell the truth. He finds out everybody in his town is corrupt, lying to him all down the line. It fits with what Lenny said, that children should be taught what IS, they’ll figure out themselves what SHOULD be.

AF: (Laughter)

TB: Was it difficult shooting with Robby The Robot? What voice did he have?

AF: The voice used was the script person off camera who would speak for him. But the man who did the final speaking was Marvin Miller.

TB: Everything in that was designed to be so far ahead, futuristic, nothing would look ordinary of its time, contemporary. Was that unsettling? How was it walking onto the set?

AF: It was wonderful. All the great colors, green skies and orange, it was fabulous!

TB: Did you have any idea that the script was supposedly based on “The Tempest”?

AF: I don’t know, many people say it was based on “The Tempest.” I don’t know if it necessarily was or not. Do YOU think it was?

TB: I figured it out years later, because every time it came on T.V. my reception went screwy and I had to run out and adjust the Ariel…

AF: Oh, that’s very naughty of you! Shame on you! (Laughter) Very, very bad!

TB: Throw me a judo flip over your shoulder later. FORBIDDEN PLANET set the stage for STAR TREK so much that the first TREKS looked like FORBIDDEN PLANET. Yet even STAR TREK in its first days wasn’t that successful. PLANET wasn’t too successful either. Influential…

AF: No, I don’t think many people were as tuned in to the metaphysical implications of FORBIDDEN PLANET at the time it came out as there are people today, where they’re conscious of the power to create evil and the monsters we imagine.

TB: You did a bit that became a STAR TREK routine, the Earthmen trying to seduce the naive spacegirl. It became STAR TREK every other week, Kirk describing the moon to the girl. “Moon? What moon?” Then he’d say, “Well, that’s what on Earth we use to kiss.” Then she’d say, “Kiss? What kiss?” Next thing you knew, she’d be saying, “Kirk, do it again!”

AF: (Laughter)

TB: And you were the first one to do that! I’m sorry, all the guys asked me to ask you, what were you wearing during the nude swim scene? Feel free to tell them to learn how to use the slow-mo button, or get a wife!

AF: (Laughter) I was wearing a nude undergarment. One did not swim in the nude in those days.

TB: It was pretty risqué at the time.

AF: It was risqué if you didn’t know that I was wearing a nude undergarment. But I think you could SEE that I was. You could tell. They made SURE that you could tell!

TB: Did you regret that they didn’t use the wedding scene?

AF: No, I think it would have been callous to use the wedding scene. Leslie and I both disagreed with that scene, because two seconds before I’ve watched the planet blow up with my father on it and then to turn right around and smile and cut a wedding cake?

TB: It’s the old sky-fi thing or the Bond villain thing where they have a super complex, futuristic thing that can do ANYthing, they don’t try to use it later, they blow it up. Did you ever worry with the scoops on the guy’s hats in that picture, that when they tried to kiss you your forehead didn’t get taken off?

AF: (Laughter) No, I never got too close. He had the hat off, he didn’t have the hat on. That’s how you knew a love scene was coming on, he’d take off his hat!

TB: Like decent men of the time! Did you have any trouble with the tiger?

AF: No. As a matter of fact, I LOVE big cats. I did a number of things with cats. I did a layout with a couple of Bengals once, and one of them turned on me when I turned my back. I was told from then on never to turn my back on a large tiger. The trainer came in and got rid of him. Didn’t kill him, removed him. Three weeks later, I was at MGM to a great, big gala, a luncheon for all the affiliates from around the world. And they were all having their pictures taken with the new Leo the Lion. So I was very cocky about it all. I was strong to walk in and have MY picture taken with Leo. Dore Schary walked in and said, “Don’t you DARE do that!” And when Dore disappeared, you know what I did…

TB: You did it!

AF: I did it! I went in and sat down. Leo was getting rather annoyed with the whole scene, he was getting tired of having his picture taken. So he grabbed the top of my head with his teeth. A whole bunch of camera guys stopped clicking their cameras, and I sat there with this foul lion breath yuck and hearing the trainer in the background saying, “Nice boy, nice boy, let go!” So very, very slowly he let go of my hair. I found out afterward, when the cameras finally started rolling again, that he was down to my ear just nibbling, and I was smiling! They used the picture for MGM, saying Leo confides to Anne Francis about the pictures that are coming up. That was quite an experience! (Laughter)

TB: One experience: when I first saw FORBIDDEN PLANET, I tell ya, it’s the truth, you’re up there with the space deer, and I can still hear it. This little girl in the theatre cries out, “Look, Mommy, a little deer!” And this redneck yells, “Which one?”

AF: (Laughter) Ah, that’s funny!

TB: I’m serious. You played with Robby on Perry Como?

AF: It was a guest appearance, a couple of comedy skits, Robby and me.

TB: Do you remember a Quaker Oats commercial I believe Robby did? No? Okay, way I remember it – 50’s family at the breakfast table, kid says, “Mommy, this cereal’s dull!” Other kid, “Yeah, can’t we have something else?” Next thing, the walls tremble, Robby crashes through the kitchen wall - BOOM! - with Quaker Oats in his metal mitt. “Here, kids, try this!”

AF: Great idea!

TB: And what do they do? They SIT there with their kitchen demolished and try it! “Yumm, great!” “Yeah, Mom, get Quaker Oats next time!” Now that’s one FLAKEY family.

AF: Gross! That’s a great commercial, though, the fact that they don’t do anything about the place being smashed, great idea!

TB: It’s amazing. Honey West began in 1957 in paperback originals as more or letch a female Mike Hammer. She was too early a girly gumshoe for movies or T.V., it took awhile. It’s been said of the T.V. p.i. show, PETER GUNN, that he was the bridge between the tough Hammer type and the cool Bond type. Now, my theory (Ahem!), is that the bridge is Amos Burke, because Burke is the p.i. with all the trappings of Bond before Bond is popular yet. He has the girls, the gadgets, the cars.

AF: Right.

TB: The Honey books were selling as hot reads then, and you end up as Honey in a guest shot on BURKE'S LAW. How did that come about?

AF: I was having lunch one day with my agent and just casually he said, “I know you’ve never been interested in doing a series, but if you did, what kind of show would you like to do?” I said if I’d do one I’d want an adventure show, a lot of action. Tongue in cheek, I said, kind of like a female Amos Burke. We were having lunch at the Derby. The next day my agent called and said, “What’s this game you and Aaron Spelling are playing with me?” I said, “What are you talking about? You’re putting me on, aren’t you? I don’t even KNOW Aaron Spelling!” He said, “Aaron called and said he had a project he thought would be perfect for you. He said he saw you yesterday at the Derby and his character was like a female Amos Burke.” I said, “Super, wonderful.” Read the script and did it.

TB: The character even had a mole on the cheek…

AF: Not in the books?

TB: Oh yes, she did, I just read eleven of them before I came here.

AF: You’re kidding!

TB: No, but my brain is aswirl with g-strings.

AF: That’s strange. I read two of them for a recording group. They didn’t have anything in there mentioning the mole. I never read the other books, because the character that I did was kind of a different Honey than the one in the books, who was coarser.

TB: Yeah, they took place in strip clubs, gay bars. There was so much repartee. She was always the tease, you’d never know if anything happened, at least until the later books. In A Gun for Honey a guy tells her, “You’re beautiful, Honey. You’ve got more cleavage than the Suez Canal!” Was there any better way in the 50’s to tell a gal she’s ship shape?

AF: Well, that sounds a little stilted to me. Actually, they wanted to keep the flavor of the show, so they edited before I came in.

TB: For instance, in A Gun for Honey one guy tells Honey “You know what artists’ balls are like,“ and she says, “I can imagine.”

AF: And that’s it?

TB: Yeah, but even that you couldn’t have got away with on T.V. I had a Honey book with me at my eye exam recently and my woman doctor went, “Wow, I had the Honey West doll when I was a little girl!” I told her she probably went around the house with it making a spectacle of herself, and she said no, but Honey inspired her to do what she wanted to when she grew up, and now she’s making an opti-killing!

AF: Oh… (Laughter)

TB: Yeah, she got right back at me.

AF: I’ve had a lot of women come up to me about Honey, including today a girl stopped me to say I was her role model.

TB: The character was radical…you’re tossing guys right and left. At the time that stuff was so new I believe the joke Woody Allen was telling was judo was what you get at a Hebrew bakery.

AF: (Laughter)

TB: I thought years later, much as I love Diana Rigg in THE AVENGERS, she & Our Gal Honey in a match…you would have left Emma in a Limey-colored puddle. In those days, it would have been MOD wrestling. Today we know what it would be…mud wrestling.

AF: No, it wouldn’t be mud wrestling!

TB: I just did that cheap joke.

AF: I know, but that’s not true. The first thing, it wasn’t judo, it wasn’t wrestling, it was karate. So there wasn’t that grunting and groaning and holding onto each other.

TB: How much training was involved?

AF: I worked out for a couple of months every day with an instructor who taught Okinawa-Te karate. It was more feminine-looking, I think, than the harder styles.

TB: It’s interesting. You objected to that, but probably if they did Honey today she’d almost be going back to her roots, because she’d be, say, stripping undercover. Did that come out right?

AF: I don’t really know what they’d do with Honey. I’d hate to think…

TB: I hate to, too.

AF: Well, they’re going to do it. Danny DeVito owns the property. From what I understand they have it as a work in progress. I think two or three different scripts have been written, but none have completely taken yet. I don’t know what he’s planning with it.

TB: It kinda scares me. It’s like when they talk about Quentin Tarantino doing THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. It makes me grit my teeth.

AF: Yeah, I don’t think it really works.

TB: John Ericson’s character, Sam, didn’t exist in the books. It’s like somebody figured she’s an independent lady, but she’s a little bit MUCH. You had Sam, April Dancer had Mark Slate, Modesty Blaise has Garvin. Why was that? Did they figure the female audience needed somebody?

AF: When I saw MOONLIGHTING, I thought, “Oh my gosh, that’s what WE did.” Those characters in MOONLIGHTING were to me very much like Honey and Sam. He was always angry with what she was getting him into and the scenes moved very quickly, you didn’t have much time to rest on what was being said. It was flip and quick and moving.

TB: There was a similar character in the books, Mark Storm, the police detective. He was more of a foil. Honey just barged out, did her thing, and he was helpless about it. Do you think the show suffered because you didn’t hit the Bond wave? You missed it.

AF: What happened was ABC could buy THE AVENGERS for less than it cost to do HONEY for another season, so that’s why they knocked off HONEY.

TB: But still, you went on to do two U.N.C.L.E.’s as the same villainess.

AF: True, but that had nothing to do with HONEY. It was a matter of finances. That’s showbiz! (Laughter)

TB: Oddly enough, Amos Burke, where you began as Honey, became a secret agent for his last season. Which violated the character and the show was cancelled. Same thing happened to Honey in the last few novels. What was THE DOUBLE-O KID, he asked with Bondless enthusiasm…

AF: What was THE DOUBLE-O KID? That’s right, I was in that. It was…a MOVIE! (Laughter)

TB: I shoulda guessed! (Laughter) You got to pass the Honey torch in the ‘70s in a CHARLIE’S ANDROIDS, uh, ANGELS, a semi-horror episode with everyone’s favorite private dickettes called “Pom-Pom Angels.”

AF: Same producer. Aaron knew that Honey worked, so if he got 3 of them it would do even better. I did a couple of those.

TB: Watching “Pom-Pom Angels” recently I kept waiting for a scene that never happened, and then people threw things at me when I mentioned it to them. You were there with four girls about to be sacrificed and I kept waiting for Robby The Robot to crash through the wall like through that kitchen, and you’d motion to Robby, point to one of the girls, and you’d say, “Put her over there on Altair 4!”

AF: And do what?

TB: Put her over there on altar 4.

AF: And all do what?

TB: (Laughter) We’ll try again. “Put her over there on altar 4.” To sacrifice her.

AF: Altar 4…okay. A-L-T-A-R?

TB: I’m afraid, yeah. When you gotta explain a joke, it’s time to shoot the joke.

AF: No, no, no! (Laughter) It doesn’t work!

TB: You're right! This is where Robby should bust through the wall and choke ME. You did a GOLDEN GIRLS episode, something about a tennis match?

AF: Yeah.

TB: I bet you wish you had a piece of the net. And you did an BURKE'S LAW reunion episode with a lot of different detective characters?

AF: Yeah, a whole bunch of them. Burke, Barnaby Jones…

TB: What’s your favorite of your works?

AF: A movie called GIRL OF THE NIGHT, that I did with John Kerr and Lloyd Nolan. It’s the story of a prostitute under analysis and it was very, very demanding. We did it all over New York.

TB: That’s one people wouldn’t have expected.

AF: No. That’s the role that was the most challenging.

TB: Thank you, Miss Francis, for a Honey of an interview, and thanks from my generation who look to ya as our tuff little sister. You’ll always be like the paperback jackets said, our guys’ private eyeful.

AF: Why, thank you. That was very well-written.

TB: Why, thank you.

AF: EXCEPT Altar 4! (Laughter)

TB: D’oh!

(Interview conducted in April 1996)


Anonymous said...

You were beautiful then and even more beautiful now. Rest in peace Honey West......

Anonymous said...

One classy woman. She will be sorely missed!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for doing and posting this interview. I have always loved her on FP, but have recently seen some of her fine movies. What an inspiration.

Anonymous said...

She was so great,and sexy in everything she did! Great body of work! Also great body too! Next costume party or Halloween I'm dressing my boyfriend as " Honey West"!He kinda of looks like her too? Renee Z.

Anonymous said...

What talented pretty woman she will be missed!

Anonymous said...

A wonderful actress,Anne will surely be missed. The interviewer's comment,"you(Honey West) would leave Emma(Peel) in a limey-colored puddle" is interesting and amusing. Let's just say Honey would have proved a tougher woman than Emma and left her crying in a.....nevermind, let's leave it at that.