Monday, January 03, 2011

Anne Francis Dies

Note: This is a true story.

It has been my custom in recent years to watch the Twilight Zone New Year's marathon on the Syfy Channel. The marathon usually airs on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day so one of my pleasures on those days is to bounce from Syfy to the bowl games.

This year, that practice produced an eerie sensation.

One of the Twilight Zone episodes that is always shown during these marathons is an episode from 1960 called "The After Hours." Personally, I've never been too fond of it, but, for some reason, when it came on this time, I watched it all the way through.

I didn't care much for the story, but I watched anyway, and I marveled at how beautiful Anne Francis was, at her steel–belted porcelain features.

She was delicate yet tough. For many boys who came along before I did, she was the personification of simmering sex appeal as the love interest in "Forbidden Planet," which she made when she was in her mid–20s.

"Forbidden Planet" was before my time, but I have a tape of it and I (inexplicably, at the time) felt compelled to watch it after the end of the Twilight Zone episode. Now, the episode came on late Saturday night. It was a little too late to start watching a movie so I got out the tape and resolved to watch the movie sometime on Sunday.

I had every intention of doing so, but I didn't. I even had the opportunity to watch the movie on Turner Classic Movies, which was scheduled to show it late yesterday afternoon.

But I was caught up in the football games.

And then, today I learned that Anne Francis died yesterday at the age of 80. I expect to watch that tape sometime in the next few days — even though I have seen it several times already.

It wasn't groundbreaking in its special effects. In fact, I suspect that modern viewers would think it was rather tawdry. But it is the great demarcation point for the science fiction genre.

All science fiction films that came before, including the ones that rose above the level of "Plan 9 From Outer Space," seem to lead directly to "Forbidden Planet," and all the ones that followed seem to flow directly from it.

The Internet Movie DataBase described Francis as "[o]ne tall, cool drink of water." Hal Erickson observed, for, that, "in the days of publicity–agent pigeonholing, [she] was dubbed variously as 'The Fragile Blonde with the Mona Lisa Smile' and 'The Palomino Blonde.' "

Perhaps no one else could have been as convincing in the role of Alta. Perhaps the role required those qualities.

Most of Francis' career was spent on the small screen. She is remembered by some as Honey West (a detective who had an ocelot for a pet in an Aaron Spelling production), by others for her guest appearances on some of the most popular TV series of the 1960s, 1970s and even 1980s.

She was remarkable for reasons that went beyond her acting career. Married and divorced twice before she was 35, Francis had a daughter with her second husband, then made history as one of the first unmarried people to be granted an adoption in the state of California in 1970.

She was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2007. Pancreatic cancer has been given as the cause of her death.