Actress Anne Francis, probably best known for playing the vivacious, innocent interstellar blonde romanced by the late Leslie Nielsen in Forbidden Planet, has died of complications from pancreatic cancer. She was 80.
Francis was a former model and Broadway actress who broke into films in the late 1940s, turning up in the Mickey Rooney musical Summer Holiday, as the rival to a teenaged Debbie Reynolds in 1954’s Susan Slept Here, and in 1955’s Bad Day At Black Rock, where she played seemingly the only character who doesn’t have it in for Spencer Tracy.
That same year, Francis was top billed in Blackboard Jungle, playing the pregnant wife to Glenn Ford’s teacher as he tries to deal with his new class of rock ’n’ roll hooligans, and who is somehow scared into delivering prematurely after receiving hostile letters from Vic Morrow. It was a silly, pious bit of melodrama, but thanks to the Bill Haley And His Comets title song—and an arresting performance from Sidney Poitier—it became a huge hit and remains a cult curio.
Forbidden Planet had a similarly groundbreaking score and boasted one of the most memorable robots in film history, but the film’s heart was the burgeoning romance between Nielsen’s starship captain and Francis as the virginal Altaira, whose defiant love for Nielsen (the only man besides her father that she’s ever met) ultimately leads to the movie’s explosive climax.
In 1965, Francis had another career-defining role in the short-lived Honey West, a Burke’s Law spin-off that found Francis playing one of the first female private detectives on television. As West, Francis wore a lot of slinky animal-print clothing and bodystockings, and spent much of her time carrying on conversations with her pet ocelot ("Bruce") as well as her male partner via a radio secreted in a lipstick case. She also tended to go undercover in increasingly revealing outfits and save the day with gimmicks such as earrings that emitted tear gas; did we mention this was an Aaron Spelling production? Surprisingly, although Francis received an Emmy nomination for her performance, the show lasted only a single season, although Francis later reprised the role in the equally short-lived 1994 revival of Burke’s Law.
Francis had many other TV credits, including episodes of The Twilight Zone, The Virginian, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Fugitive, My Three Sons, and Murder She Wrote, and had small recurring roles on both Dallas and Riptide in the ’80s. Her other major film appearances included starring in 1968’s Funny Girl, playing troubled Ziegfeld chorus girl Georgia James, but unfortunately for Francis, many of her scenes ended up being cut in the final print.
The decision actually led to one of the most infamous, pervasive rumors about Streisand, after Francis’ publicist said that she believed Streisand had demanded the other girls’ scenes be deleted, thus giving rise to the oft-floated, completely wacky theory that Streisand is a controlling diva who can’t stand to share the screen. However, Francis herself long refuted her publicist’s statement, and in 2002—after Streisand herself remarked on it again in an interview—she sought to clear the air with an open letter to Streisand on her website. (You can see stills from Francis’ cut scenes here, including one where she flashes an old man.)
Francis continued to work steadily in guest starring roles on shows like Matlock, The Golden Girls, Home Improvement, and The Drew Carey Show. Her last on-screen appearance was in a 2004 episode of Without A Trace.