Anne Francis is perhaps
best known for her roles as the luminous Altaira in the classic
science-fiction film, Forbidden Planet (1956), and as
television's smart and sexy private eye, Honey West
(1965-66). During a recent telephone interview, Ms. Francis, who
will be appearing this week at the Memphis Film Festival,
reflected upon her life in the public eye:
Flyer: Your career spans the
history of modern entertainment, from stage to radio to movies to
no one really remembers the Golden Age of Radio and the early
days of television. How I got my start was by pure accident. I
didn't come from a show-business family; neither of my parents
were involved in it. Actually, someone said to my mom that they
thought I'd make a good child model, so she took me up to the
John Robert Powers modeling agency, which was the top one in New
York City at that time. We were sitting in the outer office with
a lot of other folks and Mr. Powers himself came out of his
office door, looked around the corner, pointed at me, and said,
"I'll take that one!" And that's how it all started,
when I was just 6 years old.
Flyer: Over the years, you've had
the opportunity to work with some of Hollywood's finest
practitioners -- both actors (James Cagney, Spencer Tracy, Paul
Newman) and directors (Raoul Walsh, John Sturges, Robert Wise).
Any particular influences?
Francis: I was so fortunate to
work with some of the best from the "old school." No
one in particular guided me, but I learned something from every
one of them. I think that's pretty much what happens in our
lives. Our experiences are our teachers. Each one was important
Flyer: Don't you find it
frustrating that the entertainment industry has always been a
very youth-oriented business, which unceremoniously puts its best
practitioners out to pasture at the top of their game?
Francis: It's always been that
way, unless you move on to being a very strong character actor,
which used to happen. But there really isn't a place today for
good character actors. They were stars too, and today we don't
Flyer: Did you do any other
science-fiction films after Forbidden Planet?
Francis: Surprisingly enough, I
didn't. But part of the allure of Forbidden Planet is that
it's a classic that still holds up, which I think is fun. Because
a lot of times, films from previous decades don't hold up very
well for today's audiences. But I've been fortunate enough to be
in three true cinema classics -- Bad Day At Black Rock
, Blackboard Jungle , and Forbidden Planet
. Each one is a riveting, tight piece of entertainment and
I'm proud to have been involved in each of them.
Flyer: You also tackled some
unusual roles that got overlooked, particularly your very intense
performance as a prostitute in the gritty and grim Girl Of The
Night (1960), co-starring Lloyd Nolan as a psychoanalyst.
Francis: Girl Of The Night
is the one I'm most proud of, as far as the work I did on it. I
was going through analysis at the same time I was playing going
through analysis on that film. It was quite a workout, and it
really beat me up.
Flyer: Any roles you wanted to
play that didn't materialize?
Francis: I would have liked to
have done the lead character in Elia Kazan's film version of
Tennessee Williams' Baby Doll [subsequently made in 1956
with Carroll Baker in the title role]. I was supposed to do that,
and some things went on with Mr. Kazan. I said, "No, thank
you," and I was not in it.
Flyer: You must have appeared in
literally hundreds of hours of episodic television. Did you enjoy
working in that medium?
Francis: I had grown up working
in television and I had reached the end of my rope as a contract
player at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. They were always looking for a new
face, so I thought, forget it, I want to go back and do
television. In those days, that was the death knell for an actor.
You worked television, you didn't do film. Of course, they cross
over all the time today.
Flyer: The TV series you starred
in on ABC, Honey West, was somewhat ahead of its time,
with clever film techniques, overlapping dialogue, and stop-frame
editing. The original source material was somewhat tawdry
(original paperback novels by the husband-and-wife team of Gloria
and Skip Fickling under the pen name of G.G. Fickling), but that
didn't stop it from being quite popular during its short run,
spawning now-hard-to-find Honey West merchandise (board
game, one-shot comic book, soundtrack album, doll and
Francis: Honey West was
grueling for me, very long and arduous during shooting. But I won
a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Emmy. It was shot in
black-and-white and we were planning to go to color the following
season. But ABC [the network] and Four Star [the production
company] disagreed and ABC said, We can buy The Avengers
cheaper than we can make Honey West. And that's exactly
what happened. We were certainly on to something. When I looked
at Moonlighting many years later with Cybill Shepherd and
Bruce Willis, I thought, "Oh, my gosh! There we are
again!" You know, the blonde detective racing around
flirting and carrying on and the recalcitrant boyfriend who was
always angry with the girl for getting into trouble.
Flyer: Apparently, Honey West
created some sexual stirring among prepubescent males in the
1960s, as did Elizabeth Montgomery on Bewitched (as
Samantha) and Yvonne Craig on Batman (as Batgirl).
Francis: I had an appointment
with Oliver Stone a couple of years ago. When I walked in, he
threw his arms out with this big grin on his face and said,
"Honey West!" As he hugged me, I thought, well, I guess
he was at that impressionable age when Honey West was
Flyer: Most people probably don't
realize that you also directed your own documentary on rodeo
riders that was shown on PBS, Gemini Rising (1970).
Francis: Most young blondes in
those days were not taken too seriously. I had wanted to work on
a project all my own from beginning to end for many years. Of
course, in those days, I had managers who said, "Look,
you're an actress. You're not supposed to do this other
business." And now I look at all the women today who are
doing it, and no one's batting an eyelash. But at that time, it
was considered just a whim.
Flyer: You also wrote a book in
1982 titled Voices From Home -- An Inner Journey, which
can be best described as New Age before it was cool.
Francis: It was mainly sharing
experiences that I have had that I was sure that other people
had, but were afraid to discuss with others. I just thought it
would be a nice way of saying, "Hey, you're not alone, there
are others out here too who have experienced certain phenomena in
our lives and realize that there's a lot more than meets the eye,
as far as our trip here on the planet is concerned." That
was my main reason for writing it and sharing it.
Flyer: We didn't see much of Anne
Francis in the late 1970s and most of the 1980s. Any particular
reason for your low profile during those years?
Francis: My children grew up and
I was at a point where I was not responsible for anyone or
anything but myself for the first time in my life. It's kind of
nice to just go do what I want to do when I want to do it, and
unless it's something that really is exciting to me, I just don't
care. So it's kind of fun just learning to take care of myself.
That in itself is a full-time project -- taking care as far as
physically, mentally, emotionally, all of those things. I've been
in a business that has been a very battering business, a tough
one in many ways.
Flyer: However, you've been back
in the limelight recently.
Francis: Yes, I appeared on an
episode of Home Improvement. I had to turn down a role in
the upcoming syndicated Conan The Barbarian series because
I thought I had been exposed to chicken pox. I didn't want to end
up in Mexico with pink spots!
Flyer: Have you ever been to any
film conventions before this one?
Francis: The only one I've ever
been to is the one in Lone Pine, California, that features
Westerns shot there. I wanted to attend the Memphis Film Festival
for a number of reasons -- to find out about old and new fans and
to visit again with friends who will be there. I worked with
Kevin McCarthy on Honey West and Dale Robertson on Lydia
Bailey , and I haven't seen Debra Paget in ages. James
MacArthur [Hawaii Five-0] and I will probably wind up on
the same plane together, as we live in the same desert in
Flyer: It must be unusual to have
a new generation of fans who know your name through the
midnight-movie audience-participation film, The Rocky Horror
Picture Show (1975), as the line "Anne Francis stars in Forbidden
Planet" is prominently featured in the song,
"Science Fiction/Double Feature."
Francis: You know, I still
haven't seen that thing, but my immortality is assured [laughs].
Isn't that wonderful? You know, my star on the Hollywood Walk of
Fame is smack right in front of the Jimmy Doolittle Theater. I
always think that one of these days, some producers are going to
be standing there chatting, and they'll look down and see my
name, and say, "Oh, God, she'd be perfect for this!"