Created by Skip and Gloria Fickling (novel)
Adapted for TV by Gwen Bagni and Paul Dubov
Starring Anne Francis, John Ericson
In the 50s and 60s, the private eye show was nearly as successful a genre as westerns. You could set up a quirky character and then throw a mystery and voila – a concept that could run for years. Honey West’s gimmick was one that seemed pretty novel in 1965: it featured a female private eye (with an ocelot).
The show was based upon a series of novels from a few years before. Honey West (Anne Francis) would take on cases and with the help of her assistant Sam Bolt (John Ericson) would solve them all. The character was introduced originally in an episode of Burke’s Law, and was successful enough to spin off to a weekly 30-minute series.
West was clearly in charge. She ran the agency. Sam did the legwork and sometimes be the muscle, though Honey could more than take care of herself with judo moves similar to Mrs. Peel in the Avengers.* Sam was the one who gathered information for Honey to use.
Anne Francis** had a sultry yet playful air and often dressed in animal print clothes. She had a pet ocelot named Bruce, who didn’t really figure much in the stories, but gave her an exotic air. She also had a “beauty mark”*** in the corner of her mouth that made her look more interesting. This doesn’t mean she wasn’t a fine actress in the part, which portrayed her as smart as well as sexy. She won a Golden Globe for the role.****
The show had trouble in the ratings, going up against Gomer Pyle, USMC, and was cancelled after one season.
Anne Francis was active in TV for many years, and reprised her role as Honey West in the forgotten 90s revival of Burke’s Law, but never got the chance to star again.
*This was probably deliberate. Spelling knew about the British series and even asked Honor Blackman – Diana Rigg’s predecessor on the show – to play the lead.
**Probably best known today as Altaira in the classic SF movie Forbidden Planet.
*** What elsewhere would be called a mole. Nowadays, it would have been removed or photoshopped away. Too bad.
****Of course, the Golden Globes didn’t count for much back then.