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Wednesday, February 21, 2024
Feb. 21, 2024

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TV Questions: Recounting career of actress Anne Francis


You have questions. I have some answers after several trips into the TV vault.

I recently watched episodes of a 1960s detective show called “Honey West,” which starred Anne Francis. I know that she had a long career on TV, but could you give me some more information about her life?

The smart and beautiful Anne Francis, source of a boyhood crush for this writer, indeed starred in the 1965-66 series about a woman detective, which was spun from an episode of the series “Burke’s Law.” Born in Ossining, N.Y., in 1930, she was a radio star known as “The Little Queen of Soap Opera” and later a movie actress in notable films such as “Bad Day at Black Rock” and “Blackboard Jungle,” both in 1955, and “Forbidden Planet” the following year. Ephraim Katz’s “The Film Encyclopedia” dismissively calls her “a leading lady of the second rank” but adds “she did prove herself capable of a wide range of roles, from fragile young things to hardened broads.” It should also be said that her work often showed wit and style across decades and dozens of television performances before her death in 2011. Diane Werts, a TV critic and a friend of Francis, told me, “Even when she was battling the cancer that killed her, she’d call me out of the blue to see how I was doing. A sweetie, a spiritual soul, and ever so smart. I still miss her.”

When you wrote about Robert Conrad, how could you not mention “Baa Baa Black Sheep”? Shame on you.

Regular readers will recall my recent look back at Conrad, the star of ’60s series “The Wild Wild West.” Several wrote in to complain about my omission of “Baa Baa Black Sheep,” a World War II drama series on NBC. It’s an example of how well remembered a show can be for fans, even if it didn’t affect most viewers.

“Black Sheep” had Conrad playing real-life Medal of Honor-winning flying ace Gregory “Pappy” Boyington leading a team of colorful misfits. (There were many complaints about the show’s inaccuracies.) It was canceled after one season in 1976-77, says “The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows.” Then NBC had a disastrous fall 1977, and to fill its schedule the network brought back Conrad’s show with some casting changes and the title “Black Sheep Squadron.” It lasted 13 more episodes before finally ending in 1978. And it has had a TV afterlife, including in DVD sets.

Mailbag follow-up: Some time back I mentioned “Collector’s Call” would be returning on MeTV and now we have an airdate. The fourth season will begin on April 2. Collected items include Van Halen and Monkees memorabilia, pinball machines and horror movie props.