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Anne Francis, who was nominated for an Emmy for her title role on Honey West and starred in movies including the sci-fi movie classic Forbidden Planet, died Jan. 2 of pancreatic cancer at a retirement home in Santa Barbara. She was 80.
Her daughter, Jae Uemura, said Francis was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2007.
Francis’ leggy beauty and model’s figure was generously highlighted in Honey West, on which she was billed as a Private Eyeful. The character was introduced in a 1965 episode of Burke’s Law, in which she outfoxed the dapper P.I. played by Gene Barry.
Although Honey West lasted only one 30-episode season, Francis made a sizzling impression in her sexy attire and athletic moves. In that pre-feminist time, her karate kicks were in step with the leading female detective at the time, Emma Peel of The Avengers.
A striking blonde with a signature mole near her lips, she began as a child model and then made her way through ranks of children’s radio to stage, film and TV.
On the big screen, Francis starred opposite a number of Hollywood’s leading men: Spencer Tracy in Bad Day at Black Rock” (1955), Glenn Ford in Blackboard Jungle (1955) and Leslie Nielsen Forbidden Planet with (1956). The latter role as Altaira, Walter Pidgeon’s teenage daughter who sashayed around in miniskirts and mini-dresses a decade before they became popular, won the ardent attention of baby-boomer, sci-fi buffs. Essentially, a futuristic version of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, her performance lived on in the lyrics of “Science Fiction/Double Feature,” the opening song in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Other noteworthy film credits include Susan Slept Here (1954), The Satan Bug (1965), and The Crowded Sky (1960). She performed in Funny Girl (1968), but her co-starring role was cut to a cameo; she subsequently sued Columbia.
Francis also starred opposite some of the leading comics of the era including Jerry Lewis in Hook, Line and Sinker (1969) and Don Knotts in The Love God? (1969).
During a career that spanned more than five decades, her guest-star credits were voluminous. Francis starred in many movies of the week and guest-starred on a multitude of sitcoms, beginning with live TV in 1949, when she hosted the NBC show Versatile Varieties. She was an active player in the days of live TV during the ’50s include Kraft Theatre, The Ford Television Theatre, Lux Video Theatre, Studio One in Hollywood, Climax! and others. She also guest-starred on such weekly programs as The David Niven Show, Adventures in Paradise and Rawhide.
She also was a mainstay on TV during the ’70s, appearing in many TV movies, as well as playing Mama Jo on the 1984-86 detective series Riptide. She also recurred as Arliss Cooper on the hit TV series Dallas during the 1981-82 season.
Francis more recently appeared on such programs as The Drew Carey Show and the last segment of the “new” Fantasy Island. In 2004, she appeared in an episode of Without a Trace.
On stage she performed in such fare as Cactus Flower, Steel Magnolias and Love Letters, among others.
Born Ann Marvak on Sept. 16, 1930, in Ossining, N.Y., she began working as a child model for John Powers at age 5 during the Depression to help her family make ends meet. She made her Broadway debut at age 11 in Lady in the Dark, playing a young Gertrude Lawrence. As a teen, Francis voiced a number for radio soap operas and won a one-year contract with MGM. Her first credited film was Summer Holiday.
A sizzling performance as a prostitute in a low-budget film So Young So Bad won the notice of Fox’s Darryl F. Zanuck, and she was signed to a three-year deal after her MGM contract expired. Her early roles from 1950-52 were blond ingenues in Elopement, Lydia Bailey and Dreamboat.
Francis was married twice, to Bamlet Price Jr. from 1952-55 and to Robert Abeloff from 1960-64. Most recently, she made her home in Santa Barbara.
She is survived by two daughters and a grandson.
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