Anne Francis, best known for her starring role in the 1956 science fiction film “Forbidden Planet,” has died of complications from pancreatic cancer at the age of 80. Francis was also known as 1960s TV’s Honey West.
While Francis, a heartbreakingly beautiful blond woman, worked in a myriad of guest and supporting roles on TV and in the movies over five decades, she will be best known as the daughter of a scientist named Dr. Morbius, played by Walter Pidgeon, named Altaira in one of the most intelligent science fiction movies produced of all of time.
“Forbidden Planet,” which was based loosely on Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” concerned a star ship crew, led by Commander J.J. Adams, played by Leslie Nielsen, investigating a lost expedition on a planet orbiting Altair. The sole survivors of the expedition were a scientist, Dr. Morbius, and his daughter Altaira, raised entirely on the planet by her father and a robot named Robbie.
Anne Francis’ Altaira was as innocent and guileless as she was beautiful, which had the obvious effect on the all-male star ship crew who had been voyaging through interstellar space for over a year. (This was before “Star Trek’s” USS Enterprise voyaged between the stars with female crew members.) She certainly had an effect on generations of young males who watched the movie with great interest.
Altaira, obviously, was the Ariel of the movie, somewhat spritely in various senses of the word. Ironically, Leslie Nielsen, for whom the star ship commander was one of his earlier, more serious roles, also passed away recently.
Anne Francis was also TV’s Honey West, a private eye character based on a serious of novels written in the 1950s and 1960s. Honey West was known as much for her sex appeal as for her investigative skills, both of which were formidable. The name on her door was “H. West” for two reasons. First, it was because her father, the previous owner of the detective agency, was “Harry West.” Second, it was because she did not want her potential clients to know her gender until their first meeting.
As it was broadcast in the mid 1960s, “Honey West” the series would seem quaint to modern sensibilities, with somewhat lame humor and period gender problems. But Honey West was the first of many female detectives to appear on TV. The modern day Kate Beckett, Zva David, Dana Scully, and Veronica Mars are just a few TV detectives who owe Honey West.
Sources: ‘Forbidden Planet’ star Anne Francis dies at 80, Bob Thomas, AP, January 3rd, 2011
Leslie Nielsen of ‘Forbidden Planet’, ‘The Naked Gun,’ ‘Airplane!’ Passes Away, Mark R. Whittington, Associated Content, November 29th, 2011