Francine York, the statuesque actress who showed off her sexuality as The Bookworm’s moll on Batman and in such films as It’s Only Money, Cannon for Cordoba and The Doll Squad, has died. She was 80.
York died Friday morning at Valley Presbyterian Hospital in Van Nuys, Calif., after a battle with cancer, her friend, television producer Pepper Jay, told The Hollywood Reporter.
A native of Aurora, Minn., York appeared in scores of TV shows, from Rescue 8 in 1959 to The Mindy Project in 2015. She played a seductive Venus de Milo on an episode of Bewitched, a bake-off contestant on The Odd Couple and an ex-prostitute/blackmailer on Days of Our Lives. She also appeared in five different roles on Burke’s Law, a series renown for featuring gorgeous guest-stars.
York was memorable as the willowy Lydia Limpet, the henchwoman of The Bookworm (Roddy McDowall), in a first-season installment of ABC’s Batman in 1966. She uses a boring book to lure Robin to sleep and gets to ride in the Batmobile.
“Everybody wanted to work on Batman and ride in that car,” she told Tom Lisanti in his book Fantasy Femmes of Sixties Cinema.
She played a sexpot for Jerry Lewis in It’s Only Money (1962), and In Cannon for Cordoba (1970), starring George Peppard, she did a nude scene and a belly dance. The Doll Squad (1973) saw her fronting a team of gorgeous female assassins aiming to stop a megalomaniac (Michael Ansara) from destroying the world. Many see that movie as the precursor to Charlie’s Angels.
York’s other notable film appearances include Bedtime Story (1964), opposite Marlon Brando and David Niven, and Elvis Presley’s Tickle Me (1965). She turned in a well-received performance as Marilyn Monroe in Marilyn: Alive and Behind Bars (1992) and played Nicolas Cage’s mother-in-law in The Family Man (2000).
In 1961, York portrayed a princess opposite her childhood idol Shirley Temple in Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid for the NBC kids anthology series Shirley Temple’s Storybook.
At age 17, the 5-foot-8 York was runner-up in the Miss Minnesota beauty pageant. She toured the U.S. modeling in department stores and landed in Northern California, where she finished second in the Miss San Francisco contest.
York was working as a showgirl at the popular Moulin Rouge nightclub on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood when she decided to purse acting. She studied under Jeff Corey and Jack Kosslyn and spotted by a producer who cast her as a duplicitous magazine editor in her film debut, Secret File: Hollywood (1962).
York attracted the attention of Lewis, who put her in It’s Only Money (1962) and then in small roles in his films The Nutty Professor (1963), The Patsy (1964), The Disorderly Orderly (1964), The Family Jewels (1965) and Cracking Up (1983), in which she played a 15th century noblewoman.
Her film résumé also includes the 1965 sci-fi releases Mutiny From Outer Space and, playing the world’s first female astronaut, Space Probe Taurus.
She played Richard Crenna’s secretary on the second season of the CBS dramatic anthology series Slattery’s People in 1965, and she also appeared on TV in Route 66; Hawaiian Eye; 77 Sunset Strip; My Favorite Martian; Death Valley Days; Perry Mason; Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.; Lost in Space; Green Acres; The Wild, Wild West; Ironside; I Dream of Jeannie; Love, American Style; Mannix; Mission: Impossible; Kojak; Columbo; Matlock; The King of Queens; and Hot in Cleveland.
York also was known as a gourmet cook and fitness and nutrition expert who hosted lavish parties in Hollywood. She was the decade-long companion of director Vincent Sherman (The Young Philadelphians) until his death in 2006.
Never married, she is survived by her nieces Delinda, Gina and Ava and nephew Dominic; grandnieces Ashley, Candice, Holly, Daliss and Isabella Negrete; and grandnephew Franklin.
York was polishing off her autobiography at the time of her death.
A memorial celebration (and a screening of The Doll Squad) is set for 2 p.m. on April 23 at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood.