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Anne Francis - 8/29
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Anne Francis - 8/29

Anne Francis was born on September 16, 1930 in Ossining, New York to Phillip and Edith Francis. When she was seven, she moved to New York City and became a John Robert Powers model. She also became a child actress, both on radio, in shows like Let's Pretend and Coast-to-Coast on a Bus, and pre-World War II television shows for the Farnsworth Network. Eventually, she would appear on over 2,000 programs. In 1941, at the age of 11, Francis acted on Broadway, playing Gertrude Lawrence as a child in Lady in the Dark. Of that time, she said, "Those were the high points. Then I hit the awkward teens and nobody would hire me. The lows. After that, it was a contract at 20th Century-Fox, more television, and then a contract at MGM. Along the way, there were peaks and valleys. The problem with being an actress is that the highs are so high, and the lows are very low. Only now I'm [not] afraid of the downs anymore."

Francis went to MGM in 1946 where she did bit parts, including a tiny role in a Mickey Rooney film called Summer Holiday (1948). She went back to New York and television and a film called So Young, So Bad (1950), where she played a juvenile delinquent. It got her back to Hollywood, this time with a contract at 20th Century-Fox, where she made several films. Ironically, they were nothing like the tough girl role of So Young, So Bad, but rather more of what she called "Clifton Webb's intellectual daughter" roles, like in Elopement (1951) and Dreamboat (1952). Francis went to the head of Fox, Darryl F. Zanuck, and told him she wanted better parts. "Mr. Zanuck admitted that I was a good actress. But he told me frankly that I didn't come across sexy on the screen. So the studio let me go." Francis went to RKO for Susan Slept Here (1954) and MGM for Rogue Cop (1954), playing sexy women and gun molls. Despite what Darryl Zanuck thought, "When I auditioned for the roles, both studios labeled me as the sexy type."

The mid-1950s would be Anne Francis' most rewarding time in film. In 1955 she made two classics, Blackboard Jungle and Bad Day at Black Rock, and the following year, the film for which she is best remembered, Forbidden Planet (1956). A sci-fi version of Shakespeare's The Tempest, the film co-starred Walter Pidgeon and Leslie Nielsen. "I got that part because I was under contract to MGM and I had good legs," Francis said. "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, 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. Before filming began, the actors got together and decided that they would try "to be as serious about this film as we could be. We could have hammed it up, but we wanted to be as sincere as we could."

Anne Francis moved between film and television in the 1960s. Her appearance on Burke's Law led to her winning her most famous role, the karate-chopping, high-fashion-wearing, ocelot-owning Honey West, which ran for only 30 episodes from 1965-66, but earned Francis a Golden Globe and an Emmy nomination. "She was probably the forerunner of what we would call the good aspects of female independence," Francis later said, "Producers and writers I work with, young women in their 30s and 40s, tell me all the time, 'You have no idea what an influence you had on me with Honey West. You showed that I could do something unusual with my life, that I could have my freedom and not be dependent on another human being for my livelihood.'" The show was successful but the network found that they could buy episodes of The Avengers for much cheaper than producing Honey West where the furs and costumes cost over $125,000. Francis found herself back guest-starring on television and the occasional film. In 1968, it looked like she'd picked a plum role as Barbra Streisand's Ziegfeld Follies pal in Funny Girl (1968).

Before filming began, she told a reporter, "Ray Stark [the producer] has discovered my body, and decided to put me into some very revealing gowns for this picture. In one scene, I appear in pasties, a G-string and hardly anything else. But beads and bangles and other things cover the rest of me up pretty well. It may be a little uncomfortable working under those conditions, but I'm not complaining. Overall, I've worked consistently in movies and television - although I prefer pictures because they have bigger budgets and are more important than TV. As of now, I'm in one of my high cycles. And I hope to stay that way for a while." The part was supposed to be a co-starring role, but Francis found it cut to shreds in the editing room, for which she sued the studio, requesting that her name be taken off the film. Francis ended the 1960s co-starring with Jerry Lewis in Hook, Line and Sinker (1969) and Don Knotts in The Love God? (1969). She turned down many roles because she was asked to take her clothes off. "I'd really like to sink my teeth into a strong feminine role but they aren't writing that kind of script anymore unless there's nudity or vulgarity involved. Maybe the writers and producers will change their minds when they get tired of filming pornography. Maybe some people are endurance runners. Perhaps, I'm one of those. If so, I hope to be playing parts without nude scenes. I haven't done any so far, and I have no intention of doing them in the future. It would have been a good check, but I said no. I couldn't have looked my little girl in the eye if I did it."

From the 1970s to the 1990s, Francis was constantly on television, both in TV movies and guest-starring on shows like Murder, She Wrote, The New Fantasy Island, The Drew Carey Show, Dallas, Riptide and Without a Trace. She also returned to the stage with Steel Magnolias, Love Letters and Cactus Flower. In the late 1970s, Francis moved to Montecito, near Santa Barbara and became more involved in spiritual organizations, becoming president of the Inner Space Foundation, studying metaphysics, religion, and science. Anne Francis died of cancer on January 2, 2011 at the age of 80. She was survived by her two daughters and a grandson.

* Films in Bold will Air on TCM in August

by Lorraine LoBianco

SOURCES:
"Anne Francis Finally Gets 'Sexy' Film Role" Sarasota Herald-Tribune 30 May 54
Byrge, Duane "Forbidden Planet Star Anne Francis Dies at 80" Hollywood Reporter 3 Jan 11
Hopper, Hedda "Anne Francis Sheds Hubby, Gains TV Show" The News and Courier 6 Jan 66
Kleiner, Dick "No Fooling - Don Knotts Does Bedroom Scene with Anne Francis" Palm Beach Post 28 Nov 68
McLellan, Dennis "Anne Francis Dies at 80; Co-Starred in the 1950s Science-Fiction Classic 'Forbidden Planet'" Los Angeles Times 3 Jan 11
Scott, Vernon "'Honey West Now in 'Funny Girl'" The News-Dispatch 25 Aug 67
Scott, Vernon "Scott's World - Anne Francis Moves on a Different Plane" Ellensburg Daily Record 11 Jan 78
Scott, Vernon "Anne Francis Remains While Others Vanish" Lodi News-Sentinel 1 Feb 71
Thomas, Bob "Swingingest Woman in Television" Prescott Evening Courier 1 Nov 65

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