"Anne Francis: Passing of a Glamorous Pioneer"
January 12th, 2011
I don't send Christmas cards just to get them in return, but, when an
aging friend who always reciprocates suddenly fails to mail a greeting, it's
natural to pick up the phone and make sure he or she is alright. That's what
I was about to do last week after not having heard from one of my friends.
Sadly, before I could make that call, news came across the internet that
Anne Francis had died.
I first met Anne while moderating an event for the Television Academy back
in November of 2000. That night, we saluted "Women in Drama", and my panel
featured eight TV luminaries, including Tyne Daly, Sela Ward, and Kathleen
Quinlan. At the end of the evening, I called Anne up to the stage, and we
honored her as a pioneer for women in dramatic television. The actresses on
stage, all of them big stars, were like school girls around Anne. The
respect and admiration for her showed on their faces. They knew that Anne had
blazed a trail for them with her starring role in 1965's "Honey West", an
Aaron Spelling production which was the first network drama to feature a
woman in the title role, and the first to focus on a female private eye.
Stefanie Powers, star of "The Girl From Uncle" and "Hart to Hart", told
me, "Anne was such a lovely person with a great sense of humor. Whenever I
was in her company, she was warm and accessible. "Honey West" broke new
ground for women in TV, and we have Anne Francis to thank for that, and for
setting the bar high".
Actually Anne had been setting the bar high for many years prior to "Honey
West", starring in stage plays, and in films, such as "Bad Day at Black
Rock", and the cult favorite "Forbidden Planet". Later on, she also appeared
in two films with my boyhood hero Clint Walker, himself a television
pioneer. I asked Clint to comment on Anne's passing. "I was stunned. Annie was a
wonderful lady and a fine actress. She was a role model, very professional.
Every time I worked with her, I knew it would be a pleasant experience. We
never had to wait on Annie. She was not a prima donna. She was one of the
nicest ladies in Hollywood".
And while her film work was always memorable, Anne found a home on the
small screen. In the early days of television she appeared on programs like
"Playhouse 90", "Studio One", and "The Twilight Zone". In 1961 she did a turn
on an episode of "Route 66", and, in the process, had a tremendous impact
on a young Patrick Duffy. Patrick recalled the encounter to me, "She was
filming a segment in Montana at Georgetown Lake, I believe. George Maharis
and Anne had a romantic scene in that location. I happened to be staying with
a cousin, and made myself a pest on the set. I actually remember George
and Anne in a boat at the dock. That image forever locked in my mind, and
added to the gravity that pulled me into the same profession".
In an amazing example of Hollywood kismet, the associate producer of that
boat dock scene was none other than Leonard Katzman, who, twenty years
later would be the producer of mega hit "Dallas". He was at the helm in 1981
when Anne did a guest shot along side the young man whose career she had
influenced. Said Patrick, "I have loved Anne and lusted after her from "Bad Day
at Black Rock" to "Honey West", and then to "Dallas". Another great loss
for our industry".
After "Dallas", Anne continued to appear in one prime time show after
another, including "Murder She Wrote" and "The Love Boat". I caught up with
both Angela Lansbury and Gavin MacLeod, and asked them to talk about Anne.
Said Gavin, "I had always been a big fan of Anne Francis. Consequently it was
a thrill for me to work with her on "The Love Boat" special, and especially
to play her husband on an episode of "Murder She Wrote". She brought great
honesty, creativity, and fun to the experience. She was a real pro". Added
Lansbury, "I enjoyed working with her every time she appeared on "Murder
She Wrote". Anne was a dedicated and accomplished actress, and a lovely
That "lovely woman" won the admiration of everyone who knew her. She even
won a bout with lung cancer back in 2007. But she couldn't beat the
pancreatic cancer which took her life on January 2. Anne was 80 years young.
Fortunately she left behind an impressive body of work for us to remember, most
of which is available on DVD. But I will remember most her warmth and
humility. Anne really didn't know how talented and beautiful she was, and that
was part of her charm. Patrick Duffy said the image of Anne Francis is
forever locked in his mind. I know how he feels.
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