HONEY WEST

U.S. Detective Program

Honey West is significant as the first woman detective to appear as the central character an American network television series. While women had portrayed investigators, police reporters, FBI agents and undercover operatives in crime drama formats from the earliest days of television, they typically shared billing as sidekick characters, worked at occupations more commonplace than detective or were cast in secondary roles. Examples would include, among others, journalist Lorelei Kilbourne in the series Big Town (1950-56), international art gallery owner turned sleuth, Mme. Lui-Tsong, in The Gallery of Mme. Lui-Tsong (1951) and girl Friday Maggie Peters in The Investigators (1961). Honey West took this activity to another level. Her principal work was operating a detective agency and, unquestionably, she was the star of her show. Featuring actress Anne Francis in the title role, the ABC series was broadcast for one season (1965-66) and broke ground for other female detective/spy programs to follow, such as The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.(1966-67), Get Christie Love (1974-75) and Police Woman (1974-78).

The character of Honey West was created by husband and wife writing team Skip and Gloria Fickling (a.k.a. G. G. Fickling) in a series of novels published in the late 1950s to early 1960s. On 21 April 1965 the character was introduced to television audiences in a Burke's Law episode, "Who Killed the Jackpot?" and true to form, Honey outwitted the dapper detective played by Gene Barry. Producer Aaron Spelling spun the character off into a separate thirty-minute series which premiered 17 September 1965.

Operating her late father's detective agency, Honey West brought many talents to bear in her fight against crime. She was expert at judo and held a black belt in karate. Beautiful and shapely, her feminine wiles were accentuated by form-fitting black leather jump suits, a sexy mole on her right cheek, tiger coats and "Jackie O" sunglasses. A la James Bond, she also owned an arsenal of weapons filled with "scientific" gadgets including a specially modified lipstick tube and martini olives that camouflaged her radio transmitters.

For undercover work, Honey and her admiring partner, Sam Bolt (John Ericson), drove a specially equipped van labeled "H. W. Bolt & Co., TV Service." Her principal base of operation was her Los Angeles apartment complete with secret office behind a fake living room wall. Bruce, her pet ocelot, and Meg West (Irene Hervey), her sophisticated aunt, also lent assistance and comfort as necessary.

Honey West premiered to reasonably good reviews. Citing the show's sensual aspects, smooth production values and Honey's ability to bounce Muscle Beach types off the wall with predictable regularity, Variety's 1965 evaluation predicted some success "as a short subject warm up to The Man from U.N.C.L.E." Season opening Nielsen ratings ranked the show in a tie for nineteenth place but this proved short-lived as her CBS competition, Gomer Pyle, knocked her quickly out of the top forty.

Contrasted with Variety's review, Jon Lewis and Penny Stempel note that while the "Honey West concept was good and the character deserves credit for working in a man's world, the series suffered from unimaginative plots and poor production quality." In fact, say Lewis and Stempel, Honey West is "mostly memorable for the fight scenes in which a man with a blonde wig was quite obviously wheeled in to do the stunts."

Often compared to Emma Peel in the British series The Avengers (U.S., 1966-69), Honey West simply did not have Miss Peel's style or longevity and lasted a total of thirty episodes. Providing a notable change to the male dominated detective genre so prevalent from the earliest days of network television, Honey West broadcast her last original show on 8 April 1966.

-Joel Sternberg

 


Honey West

CAST

Honey West ........................................Anne Francis Sam Holt............................................. John Ericson Aunt Meg.............................................. Irene Hervey

PRODUCERS Jules Levy, Arthur Gardner, Arnold Laven, Alfred Perry, Richard Newton, Mort Warner, William Harbach

PROGRAMMING HISTORY 30 Episodes

ABC
September 1965-September 1966       Friday 9:00-9:30

FURTHER READING

Brooks, Tim, and Earl Marsh. The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network TV Shows 1946-Present. New York: Ballantine, 1992.

Fickling, Skip. "Take It Seriesly!" The Writer (Boston), May 1966.

Finnegan, Maggie. "From Spurs to Silk Stockings: Women in Prime-Time Television, 1950-1965." UCLA Historical Journal (Los Angeles), 1991.

Gianakos, Larry James. Television Drama Series Programming: A Comprehensive Chronicle, 1959-1975. Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow, 1978.

"Honey West." Variety (Los Angeles), 22 September 1965.

Lewis, Jon E., and Penny Stempel. Cult TV: The Essential Critical Guide. London: Pavilion, 1993.

Marc, David and Robert J. Thompson. Prime Time, Prime Movers: From "I Love Lucy" To "L.A. Law"--America's Greatest TV Shows And The People Who Created Them. Boston: Little, Brown, 1992.

Nelson, Craig. The Very Best Of The Very Worst Bad TV. New York: Delta, 1995.

"Preem MNA Nielsen Top 10." Variety (Los Angeles), 29 September 1965.

"Spelling, Aaron." Current Biography Yearbook 1986. New York: Wilson, 1987.

Terrace, Vincent. The Complete Encyclopedia Of Television Programs 1947-1979, Volume 1, A-Z. New York: Barnes, 1979.

Terrace, Vincent. Television Character And Story Facts: Over 10,000 Details From 1,008 Shows, 1945-1992. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 1993.