Anne Francis: Actress who starred alongside Leslie Nielsen in the cult sci-fi film 'Forbidden Planet'

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The Independent Online

Anne Francis was best known for playing an intergalactic Miranda in Forbidden Planet, the cult sci-fi updating of The Tempest, but her work in both film and television was more wide-ranging, including the award-winning role of sexy private detective Honey West.

Born during the Depression, the six-year-old Francis became a child model at the suggestion of a friend of her parents. That led to her being in the chorus in the musical White Horse Inn and to a part in the short-lived play Everywhere I Roam. After children's radio, she returned to Broadway as an 11-year-old veteran under the name of Anne Bracken, appearing alongside Danny Kaye in Kurt Weill's Lady in the Dark.

As a teenager she had a one-year contract with MGM, though it only amounted to bit parts in three films: two musicals, This Time for Keeps (1947) and Summer Holiday (1948) – her first credit – and, in the same year, the fantasy Portrait of Jennie.

She had better luck with United Artists. Given its title and a girl's reform-school setting, So Young, So Bad (1950) sounds like schlocky exploitation, but it tried to escape its low-budget, with Paul Henreid as the psychiatrist after whom Francis's teenaged mother lusts.

It earned Francis a contract at 20th Century Fox, where she regularly took the lead. In Elopement (1951) she played the daughter of a pushy father, and the following year she played the titular Lydia Bailey in the film based on Kenneth Roberts' romantic novel set in revolutionary Haiti. She held her own against a whirlwind Jimmy Cagney in A Lion Is in the Streets (1953), as Flamingo McManamee, a would–be child-bride who tries to oust her rival by tipping her into a pool of alligators.

Her first significant role in a decent film was in Bad Day at Black Rock (1955), where she played Liz Wirth, the only woman in the cast and the only person in town willing to help Spencer Tracy even a little, though she ends up dead.

Blackboard Jungle (1955), set in a tough inner-city school filled with sullen, testosterone-driven students and racial divisions, returned to the theme of teenage delinquency. When the recently demobbed new teacher, Glenn Ford, disagrees with the school's slack discipline, one student tries to intimidate his pregnant wife, played by Francis.

1956 brought Francis's signature role in Forbidden Planet, a futuristic version of The Tempest set on the planet Altair 5. Francis played the cutely-moled and provocatively mini-skirted Altaira, whose first encounter with anyone other than her father, Dr Morbius, and their robot-servant, Robbie, is a space mission led by a pre-spoof Leslie Nielsen. The curvy, blue-eyed blonde Francis brought a light, innocent sexiness to the part, reinforcing her regular spots in the Hollywood gossip mags – especially in the wake of her first divorce.

Two more significant leads followed, with performances to match. Francis played a war widow in The Rack (1956) and, the following year, a woman sentenced to be hanged for the murder of her husband in The Hired Gun.

Dissatisfied at MGM, Francis sidestepped into television, but at that time it was harder to maintain a career in both media. The rest of her career was largely in television, embracing many of the major series. Notable credits included The Twilight Zone and Hooked (1960), an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, in which – aged 30 – she played a college student who plans to kill Ray Milland's wife and elope with him.

One of her few cinema appearances at this time was in Girl of the Night (1960), a strikingly noir-ish film about a prostitute abused by both her madam and her pimp, but who finds respite in psychotherapy. Francis was in analysis herself at the time and brought a deep understanding to the role, which she considered her best.

In an April 1965 episode of Burke's Law, Francis played the tough but sexy rival private detective Honey West, imported from G G Fickling's series of mystery novels. By September of that year, Francis was playing Honey in her own series, co-starring John Ericson and Honey's pet ocelot, Bruce. The 30 episodes won Francis a Golden Globe and an Emmy nomination.

In 1968 Francis returned to the cinema as Fanny Brice's friend in Funny Girl, but it was an unhappy experience as star Barbra Streisand had so many of Francis's scenes cut. Francis unsuccessfully sued to have her name removed from the credits. More happily that year, she wrote, directed and produced Gemini Rising, a film about rodeo.

In 1970 she became the first single person in California to be allowed to adopt a child.

From the 1970s on, Francis appeared in many of the biggest TV series, such as Dallas, Charlie's Angels and The Golden Girls, sometimes in recurring roles. In 1994 she reprised Honey West in a new episode of Burke's Law. Her last screen appearance was in a 2004 episode of Without a Trace.

John Riley

Anne Lloyd Francis, actress: born Ossining, New York 16 September 1930; married first 1952 Bamlet Lawrence Price Junior (divorced 1955); second 1960 Robert Abelhoff (divorced 1964, one daughter); adopted a daughter, 1970; died Santa Barbara, California 2 January 2011.