OBITUARY: Anne Francis (1930-2011)

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Anne Francis, the star of “Forbidden Planet” has died. She was eighty years old.

Born during the great depression, she started on Broadway as a little girl, and had her first movie role just six years later. The first started attracting attention as the stunningly beautiful brunette girl with a secret in “Bad Day at Black Rock” (It was a wig) and the lead in “Blackboard Jungle.” Of course to geeks like ourselves, she’s best known as “Altaira” (“Alta” to her friends) from the seminal Science Fiction film, “Forbidden Planet” the next year. She stared opposite Leslie Nielsen, who sadly and coincidentally died just two months ago. In the mundane world, she’s best known as “Honey West” from the first-ever American series about a female detective

She’s also remembered from her part in the Barbara Streisand movie, “Funny Girl”

While best - and most deservedly - known for Forbidden Planet, she had a host of other genre credits, including “The Rocket Man,” a stupid SF/Adventure Comedy that came out two years prior; and “The Satan Bug,” a mid-sixties Germ Warfare cautionary tale. She also had prominent guest starring parts in The Twilight Zone, The Invaders, and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Though it’s really more of a murder/horror film, her last acting role vaguely related to the genre was 1982’s “Mazes and Monsters,” opposite Tom Hanks. That was a TV movie capitalizing on the then-trendy parental fear of Dungeons and Dragons.

A stunning beauty and a pretty good actress as well, her star never really fully rose despite some high-profile roles in a number of prominent films, and she spent the bulk of her career in character roles. She married and divorced twice, remaining single from 1964 until her death. She had one child from her second marriage, and adopted a second daughter in 1970, in what was very nearly a test-case for single-parent adoptions in California at the time. She continued to work steadily in TV until 2004, when age and declining health began to take its toll. In 2007 she was diagnosed with lung cancer, to which she ultimately succumbed. Although it’s over its bandwidth limit, you can check out her official site here

For me, personally, the thing that made her so phenomenal wasn’t her looks, though they were pretty amazing. The thing that put her over the top was how completely unselfconscious she was. By the standards of the time, she was wearing unbelievably revealing clothes in a very stagey, completely artificial movie. Yet she glides around in those REALLY short skirts, generally without shoes, as though she’d dressed like that her entire life, she skinnydips, and doesn’t give it a second thought. She runs around as calm and self-possessed, and athletic, innocent and girly. And when she gets happy, she skips. She oozes sex appeal, but seems basically unaware of what sex appeal even is. On top of that, she managed to come across as surprisingly smart in a role that, let’s face it, would have been painfully easy to blow. So: Smart, gorgeous, unselfconscious, and no shrinking violet, either. She was, in a lot of ways, the science fiction heroine ideal. She was unusually tall for actresses of the time as well - five foot eight - Arguably, she was the only blonde actress I ever loved (Though I do think she looked better in Black Rock with that wig on).

She died just one day after my youngest son watched “Forbidden Planet” for the first time, and professed his love for her.

Our prayers go out for her soul, and for her children and their families in this time of loss.