Anne Francis, best known for sporting a futuristic mini-skirt in Fred M. Wilcox's classic sci-fier Forbidden Planet (1956, right with Robby the Robot) and for her tough, smart and sexy private detective in the 1960s television series Honey West, died Sunday, Jan. 2, at a retirement home in Santa Barbara, about 150kms northwest of Los Angeles. Francis (born Sept. 16, 1930, in Ossining, N.Y.) had previously undergone an operation for lung cancer, though the official cause of death was pancreatic cancer. She was 80.
Anne Francis' filmography is quite short. Thirty-six film appearances during the course of nearly half a century. Her career as a leading lady was even briefer; in fact, it was surprisingly brief, spanning from 1951 to 1957 – a period during which she usually alternated leads in programmers with supporting roles in major releases. That's it.
Yet, during that seven-year period in the '50s, Francis played opposite the likes of Clifton Webb (Elopement, Dreamboat), James Cagney (A Lion is in the Streets), Cornel Wilde (The Scarlet Coat), Glenn Ford (Blackboard Jungle, Don't Go Near the Water), Spencer Tracy (Bad Day at Black Rock), Paul Newman (The Rack), Walter Pidgeon, and the recently deceased Leslie Nielsen (the last two were her Forbidden Planet co-stars). Her directors included John Sturges, Richard Brooks, Raoul Walsh, Frank Tashlin, and Charles Walters.
As mentioned above, most of the movies in which Anne Francis had sizable roles were themselves minor efforts. Even so, Francis displayed an unmistakable screen presence – a mix of sensuality, vulnerability, intelligence, with the added bonus of a prominent beauty mark near her lower lip – that back in the '20s, '30s, or '40s, when studios groomed their contract players, might have turned her into a star.
In addition to Forbidden Planet, in which she plays mentally unbalanced scientist Walter Pidgeon's daughter Altaira, Francis' other important movies were John Sturges' Western Bad Day at Black Rock (1955), in which she had a small role as John Ericson's sister (Ericson would later play her father in Honey West); Richard Brooks' Blackboard Jungle (1955), as Glenn Ford's pregnant wife; and Charles Walters' Don't Go Near the Water (1957), as a Navy officer in this popular comedy starring Ford and Gia Scala.
In the '60s, Francis had one of the leads in John Sturges' The Satan Bug (1965), a sci-fier about germs destroying humankind, and supported the likes of Barbra Streisand (Funny Girl), Burt Reynolds (Impasse), and Jerry Lewis (Hook, Line and Sinker).
Francis had better luck on television. In addition to Honey West (right, with man-hating pet ocelot Bruce Biteabit), which she described as “a tongue-in-cheek, female James Bond,” she appeared in 130 TV productions, ranging from several episodes for the Kraft Theatre in 1950 to guest roles in Nash Bridges and The Drew Carey Show in the late '90s. In one episode of The Twilight Zone, she played a department store mannequin who comes to life at night.
Francis would later remark that her shapely legs and her MGM contract landed her the role of Altaira in Forbidden Planet.
“I don't think that any of us really were aware of the fact that it was going to turn into a longtime cult film,” Francis said at the time. “Probably much, much stronger today than it was then. … Forbidden Planet just had a life of its own, something that none of us was aware was going to happen.”
Anne Francis' is the latest film obit to be picked up by media worldwide. British actor Pete Postlethwaite also died on Sunday, while veteran Swedish actor Per Oscarsson is presumed dead following a house fire on Dec. 31. Additionally, Japanese actress Hideko Takamine died Dec. 28.
Elopement photo: Doctor Macro