Anne Francis; at 80; actress was television's 'Honey West'

Anne Francis with Robby the Robot in 1998. The two starred in the science fiction thriller “Forbidden Planet’’ (1956). Anne Francis with Robby the Robot in 1998. The two starred in the science fiction thriller “Forbidden Planet’’ (1956). (John Hayes/Associated Press)
By Bob Thomas
Associated Press / January 7, 2011

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LOS ANGELES — Actress Anne Francis, who was the love interest in the 1950s science-fiction classic “Forbidden Planet’’ and later was a sexy private eye in “Honey West’’ on television, has died at age 80.

Ms. Francis died Sunday at a Santa Barbara nursing home, said Bill Guntle, a funeral director at McDermott-Crockett & Associates Mortuary in Santa Barbara.

Ms. Francis, who had surgery and chemotherapy after being diagnosed with lung cancer in 2007, died of complications of pancreatic cancer, her daughter, Jane Uemura, told the Los Angeles Times.

Ms. Francis, a stunningly beautiful blonde with a prominent beauty mark, appeared opposite such stars as Spencer Tracy, Paul Newman, Robert Taylor, and Glenn Ford in some of the most popular films of the 1950s. But “Forbidden Planet’’ and “Honey West’’ made her reputation.

“Forbidden Planet’’ was hailed in Leonard Maltin’s “2006 Movie Guide’’ as “one of the most ambitious and intelligent films of its genre.’’

A science-fiction retelling of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,’’ the 1956 film had Leslie Nielsen and other space travelers visiting a planet where expatriate scientist Walter Pidgeon, his daughter (Ms. Francis), and their helper, Robby the Robot, built a settlement.

Before filming began, the actors held a meeting and agreed “to be as serious about this film as we could be,’’ Ms. Francis said in a 1999 interview.

“We could have hammed it up, but we wanted to be as sincere as we could,’’ she said.

In “Honey West,’’ which aired from 1965 to 1966, Ms. Francis’s private detective character, who kept a pet ocelot, was a female James Bond: sexy, stylish, and as good with martial arts as she was with a gun.

She was nominated for an Emmy for the role, which lasted 30 episodes.

“A lot of people speak to me about Honey West,’’ Ms. Francis recalled. “The character made young women think there was more they could reach for. It encouraged a lot of people.’’

After a childhood career in New York radio and television and on the Broadway stage, Ms. Francis arrived in Hollywood when she landed a movie contract at MGM. She later went to 20th Century-Fox, then returned to MGM, and the studios afforded her the chance to act opposite the biggest male stars of the day.

In “Blackboard Jungle,’’ the landmark 1955 film about an idealistic teacher (Ford) in a violent city school, Ms. Francis played his pregnant wife, who is targeted for harassment by one of his students.

Among her other films: “Bad Day at Black Rock’’ with Tracy and Robert Ryan, “Rogue Cop’’ with Taylor, “The Rack’’ with Newman, “A Lion Is in the Streets’’ with James Cagney, and “Hook, Line and Sinker’’ opposite Jerry Lewis.

When her movie career declined, Ms. Francis became active in television, appearing in dozens of series, including “Mission Impossible,’’ “The Virginian,’’ “My Three Sons,’’ “Ironside,’’ “Gunsmoke,’’ “The Twilight Zone,’’ “Charlie’s Angels,’’ “The Golden Girls,’’ “Home Improvement,’’ and “Nash Bridges.’’

Her name was Ann Marvak when born in Ossining, N.Y.

By age 5 she was working as a model, and by 11 she appeared on daytime radio serials, winning the nickname the Little Queen of Soap Operas. She also had some small roles on Broadway.

After her first MGM contract — during which she attended studio school with Elizabeth Taylor, Jane Powell, and Natalie Wood — she returned to New York. There, she took part in television’s Golden Age, acting in such acclaimed dramatic series as “Studio One’’ and “US Steel Hour’’ before returning to Hollywood.

Ms. Francis’ early marriage to actor Bam Price ended in divorce.

In addition to Jane, Ms. Francis and her second husband, Robert Abeloff, had another daughter, Maggie, before divorcing. She also leaves a grandson.