Honey West

 

Created by G.G. Fickling
Pseudonym of Gloria and Forest Fickling

Move over, Kinsey.

Step aside, Sharon.

Someone get the smelling salts for V.I.

Here comes the shocking truth. The first really successful female private eye in her own series of novels was a bimbo! Or at least frequently clothing-challenged and none-too-swift.

Evidence? This exclamation from frequent rescuer and sometime boyfriend, Johnny Doom: “Honey! Where are your clothes?” That was an actual line from one of the books (I forget which one).

Still, considering the decidedly pre-feminist times, HONEY WEST was, according to co-creator Gloria Fickling, a “beautiful, brainy and very much determined, sensual female.” 

So there.

Okay, Honey, she of the 38-22-36 measurements, “taffy-colored hair, big blue eyes and baby bottom complexion,” was often more a male fantasy figure than an icon of female empowerment, and her ditzy charm and the risque humor of the books may have reached their expiration dates decades ago, but let’s not forget that in a time of insipid TV housewives obsessed with ring around the collar and brewing the perfect cup of coffee, Honey was a true breath of fresh air, an honest-to-goodness professional detective running her own business and the star of her own series of books (and later a TV show).

Honey was the creation of fashion writer Gloria and her husband, sportswriter Forest “Skip” Fickling, who were drinking buddies with Shell Scotts creator, Richard Prather.

She first appeared in the 1957 novel, This Girl for Hire, as a very Shell-like P.I., with the same often “zany” blend of humour and sex, although her creators did darken things up a bit by giving her a very personal reason for pursuing the P.I. profession–apparently Honey was searching for the murderer of her beloved father Hank West, also a private eye, who was killed in an alley behind the old Paramount Theatre in Hollywood.

But of course, Honey was a “girl,” so even if she did think of herself as something of a tough cookie (and she was), she was often in need of rescue (of either her life or her “honour”) by her ever-virtuous partner, Johnny. She went on to appear in ten more frothy, light-hearted, innuendo-laden books from 1958 to 1971, and even popped up in a short-lived but memorable television series produced by Aaron Spelling in the mid-sixties, certainly one of the first TV dramas (if you can call then dramas) to feature a female lead–and a rare case of a film or television adaptation bettering its source.

Television’s Honey was nobody’s bimbo– she kept her clothes on, and pretty much everything else was changed or tweaked when her character, after a successful appearance on an episode of Burke’s Law, was spun off into her own show. It was 1965, and the world was going spy crazy. There was James Bond, The Avengers and The Man (and soon, The Girl) From U.N.C.L.E. So now she and Sam Bolt (who was Johnny in the books, but could still be called upon, it seemed, to rescue Honey at least once in every episode) were high-tech private eyes, but the distinction between private investigators and intelligence agents got more than a little blurred at times. They tooled around in a specially-equipped mobile crime lab/spy van with “H.W. Bolt & Co., TV Service” on the side. Honey now carried a .38 in her purse, a derringer somewhere (wink, wink) else, and all sorts of gimmicks: an exploding compact, a garter belt gas mask, teargas earrings and a lipstick microphone. She was also pretty handy with the martial arts, delivering a karate chop here or a judo throw there (Francis took instructions in Okinawa Te under Sensei Gordon Doversola for a few months before shooting began).

But perhaps most memorably for many viewers was Honey’s other co-star. Although Sam constantly pressured Honey to marry him, the love of Honey’s life seemed to be Bruce, her pet ocelot — another contribution from the TV writers.

Gimmicks? What gimmicks?

All in all, though, it was a fun show. Honey was played by Anne Francis, drop dead gorgeous, and a dead ringer for Honor Blackman, the woman who had played Pussy Galore in the 1964 James Bond flick Goldfinger, and provided the much-needed smarts, class and ooomph to the role that the books too often lacked. Francis won a Golden Globe and was also nominated for an Emmy for her efforts, but the show only lasted a year. (See Spelling’s later Charlie’s Angels to see how dreadful it could have become had it lasted a little longer).

But even after the buzz created by the show, Honey’s co-creators seemed to have missed the point. The last two novels (published several years after the show had ended) upped the sex and smirkiness, and tried to recast Honey as a spy. Here’s the blurb from Stiff as a Broad (1971), which had her teaming up with another smirky quasi-eye, high-priced P.I. Erik March, who was actually introduced in a bit part in Honey’s first adventure, This Girl For Hire, way back in 1957.

“Honey’s hard on her feet, soft on her back, a karate-chopping spy-queen who always gets her man — one way or another. This time Honey’s after a woman. Madame Fong, dragon-lady of the Chinese Commies, has plans to send all of Frisco on a no-return Trip via an annihilating dose of lethal nerve gas.

So Honey has to get Madame Fong. But first she has to sidetrack three watchdog studs, challenging their talents in bed and out. That’s how the Commies found out that when Honey West does a job, she gives it all she’s got….”

What the hell’s a spy-queen?

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Forrest “Skip” Fickling had been a United States Army Air Forces Air Gunner during World War II; and enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve after the war, which explains why he was called back to active duty during the Korean War. He created the G.G. Fickling pen name as a tribute to his wife, Gloria Gautraud, whom he had married in 1949, figuring the sex of the author would remain vague (although I don’t think they ever really made an effort to hide their identities.)

Gloria, however, always pointed out that Skip did most of the writing, although had been an assistant fashion editor at Look and a fashion writer for Women’s Wear Daily. According to the Los Angeles Times, she once claimed that “I first thought of Marilyn Monroe, and then I thought of Mike Hammer and decided to put the two together… We thought the most used name for someone you really like is Honey. And she lives in the West, so there was her name.”

TRIVIA

  • Following the original commercial success of the 2001 big screen remake of Charlie’s Angels, there were rumours that actress Reese Witherspoon was all set to star in a film as Honey West, with the team behind her then-current smash Legally Blonde slotted to write and produce. It didn’t happen.
  • Say what? In his authorized/licensed Honey West novel, A Girl and Her Cat (2014),  co-author Win Scott Eckert implies a familial relationship between Honey and James West, the frontier spy from the television show The Wild, Wild West–without specifically naming James West.

UNDER OATH

  • “I really appreciate your write up on the Honey West TV series. No one I know seems to remember the show. I was 7 or 8 when it first aired in prime time, but I was a big fan and it must of left quite an impression and here’s the reason why: I grew up in NYC, East Harlem where even there, most little girls owned Barbie Dolls–except me. A lot of times family funds were so low that my parents could only afford to buy me the cheaper Barbie Wanna-Be dolls.
    Well, I don’t know if I put emotional pressure on my Mom or what because I actually ended up becoming the proud owner of an original Honey West doll! She came with a leopard coat and black leopard trim high heel boots, if I remember right.”
    — Connie

NOVELS

   

HONEY BY OTHER AUTHORS

  • A Girl and Her Cat (2014; Win Scott Eckert & Matthew Baugh) | Buy this book
    A pastiche from Moonstone Comics that teamed up Honey with TV’s Thomas Hewitt Edward Cat (aka T.H.E. Cat)
  • Honey West: Honey for Hire (2014; edited by Nancy Holder & Joe Gentile)
    Moonstone continued to milk the Honey cult with this collection of brand-new short stories by the likes of Ed Gorman, Will Murray, Mel Odom, Trina Robbins, C.J. Henderson, Mike Black, and others. Unfortunately, the project crashed and burned and as far as I know, none of the stories ever surfaced.

SHORT STORIES

  • “The Red Haiting” (June 1965, MSMM)

COLLECTIONS

  • The Honey West Files (2012) | Buy this book
    Collects the first three novels: This Girl for Hire, A Gun for Honey and Girl on the Loose.

TELEVISION

  • BURKE’S LAW
    (1965-66, ABC)
    Created by Frank D. Gilroy
    A Four-Star Production
    Producers: Aaron Spelling, Richard Newton, Shelley Hull
    Starring Gene Barry as Captain Amos Burke
    • “Who Killed the Jackpot?” (April 21, 1965)
      Based on characters created by G.G. Fickling
      Written by Gwen Bagni, Paul Dubov
      Directed by Richard Kinon
      Stsarring Anne Francis as HONEY WEST
      and Gene Barry as Captain Amos Burke
      With John Ericson as Sam Bolt
      Also starring Regis Toomey, Steve Forrest
      Instead of a pilot, Honey first appeared in an episode of Burke’s Law, where she teams up with the millionaire LAPD Homicide Chief of Police (he was chauffered to crime scenes in his 1962 Rolls Royce) to solve the murder of her client, and even manages to outwit him. The show tested well, and she was starring in her own show by the Fall season.
  • HONEY WEST | Buy the complete series on DVD
    (1965-1966, ABC)
    Black and White
    30 30-minute episodes
    Created by G.G. Fickling
    Writers: Gwen Bagni, Paul Dubov
    Developed for television by Gwen Bagni
    Story editor: Bud Kay
    Directed by Thomas Carr, Bill Colleran, John Florea, Murray Golden, James Goldstone, Walter Grauman, Jerry Hopper, Ida Lupino, Sidney Miller, John Peyser, Seymour Robbie, Virgil W. Vogel, Paul Wendkos
    Original music by Josep Mullendore
    Theme: “Wild Honey” by Alfred Perry
    Produced by Don Ingalls (associate), Richard Newton  
    Executive Producer: Aaron Spelling
    A Four Star Production
    Starring Anne Francis as HONEY WEST
    With John Ericson as Sam Bolt
    and Irene Hervey as Aunt Meg
    Guest stars: Louise Arthur, Marvin Brody, Ray Danton, Herschel Bernardi, Lloyd Bochner, William Bramley, Richard Loo, Henry Jones, James Best, Herb Edelman, Bobby Sherman, Maureen McCormick, Harry Basch, J. Pat O’Malley, Kevin McCarthy, Bert Parks, Wayne Rogers, Ellen Corby, Ralph Manza, Larry D. Mann, Frank Wilcox, Adam Williams, James Griffith
    • “The Swingin Mrs. Jones” (September 17, 1965)
    • “The Owl and the Eye” (September 24, 1965)
    • “The Abominable Snowman” (October 1, 1965)
    • “A Matter of Wife and Death” (October 8, 1965)
    • “Live a Little… Kill a Little” (October 15, 1965)
    • “Whatever Lola Wants…” (October 22, 1965)
    • “The Princess and the Paupers” (October 29, 1965)
    • “In the Bag” (November 5, 1965)
    • “The Flame and the Pussycat” (November 12, 1965)
    • “A Neat Little Package” (November 19, 1965)
    • “A Stitch in Crime” (November 26, 1965)
    • “A Million Bucks in Anybody’s Language” (December 3, 1965)
    • “The Gray Lady” (December 10, 1965)
    • “Invitation to Limbo” (December 17, 1965)
    • “Rockabye the Hard Way” (December 24, 1965)
    • “A Nice Little Till to Tap” (December 31, 1965)
    • “How Brillig, O, Beamish Boy?” (January 7, 1966)
    • “King of the Mountain” (January 14, 1966)
    • “The Perfect Un-crime” (January 28, 1966)
    • “Like Visions and Omens… and All That Jazz” (February 4, 1966)
    • “Don’t Look Now, But Isn’t That Me?” (February 11, 1966)
    • “Come to Me, My Litigation Baby” (February 18, 1966)
    • “Slay, Gypsy, Slay” (February 25, 1966)
    • “The Fun-Fun Killer” (March 4, 1966)
    • “Pop Goes the Easel” (March 11, 1966)
    • “Little Green Robin Hood” (March 18, 1966)
    • “Just the Bear Facts Ma’am” (March 25, 1966)
    • “There’s a Long, Long Fuse A’ Burning” (April 1, 1966)
    • “An Eerie, Airy, Thing” (April 8, 1966)
  • BURKE’S LAW
    (1994-95, CBS)
    Created by Frank D. Gilroy
    Developed by James L. Conway
    A Spelling Television Production
    Starring Gene Barry as Captain Amos Burke
    • “Who Killed Nick Hazard?” (April 21, 1965)
      Based on characters created by G.G. Fickling
      Written by Joel J. Feigenbaum
      Directed by Dennis Dugan
      Stsarring Anne Francis as HONEY WEST
      and Gene Barry as Captain Amos Burke
      Also starring James Parker, Buddy Ebsen, Tanya Roberts, Edd Byrnes
      Anne Francis’ last appearance as Honey West was, appropriately enough, in an episode of the 1994-95 revival  of Burke’s Law, where she appeared as, for whatever reason, Honey “Best.” Burke and Honey team up once again, this time to solve a murder at–where else–a convention for Private Investigators. But fans of old TV private eye shows ought to love this episode–it also guest starred  James Parker (from Simon & Simon), Buddy Ebsen (from Barnaby Jones), Tanya Roberts ( from Charlie’s Angels), and Edd Byrnes (from 77 Sunset Strip). Okay, they didn’t reprise their old roles, but as consolation, perhaps, the episode was directed by Dennis Dugan (The Rockford Files and, of course, Richie Brockelman, Private Eye).

GET MORE HONEY IN YOUR LIFE

COMICS

  • HONEY WEST
    (1966, Gold Key)
    Based on characters created by G.G. Fickling
    1 issue, TV tie-in, with photo cover
    Written by Paul S. Newman
    Art by Jack Sparling
    • “The Underwater Raiders” (#1)
    • “The Fall Guy” (#1)
  • HONEY WEST
    (2010-12, Moonstone Comics)
    Based on characters created by G.G. Ficklin
    Writers: Trina Robbins, Elaine Lee
    Artists: Cynthia Martin, Malcolm McClinton
    7 issues
    Moonstone, who’ve reincarnated many a formerly licenced property, aren’t afraid of reinventing a character to appeal to their fan base, in often schlocky ways. And Honey West is no exception. Once they nailed the rights, they seem to have had no idea what to do with her, sending her off to Mars (on a movie set) or, in later mini-series, teaming her up with other once beloved characters whose rights they had lying around, such as Kolchak the Nightstalker, T.H.E. Cat or, uh, Captain Action.
    • “Killer on the Keys, Part 1: Bikini Death” (August 2010; #1)
    • “Killer on the Keys, Part 2: Requiem for a Dressmaker” (November 2010; #2)
    • “Murder on Mars, Part 1” (February 2011, #3)
    • “Murder on Mars, Part 2) (June 2011, #4)
    • “Murder on Mars, Part 3” (April 2012, #5)
    • “Murder, Forsooth, Part 1” (June 2012, #6)
    • “Murder, Forsooth, Part 2” (October 2012, #7)
  • PHASES OF THE MOON
    (2011, Moonstone)
    Six issues
    Writers: Steven L Frank, Paul D. Storrie, C.J. Henderson, Earl Mac RauchArt: Nathan Stockman, Glen Fernandez
    An all-in adventure spread out over six issues, featuring several of Moonstone’s locensed characters. Honey appears alongside Carl Kolchak in “You Oughtta Be in Pictures” in issue #4.
  • HONEY WEST & T.H.E. CAT
    (2013, Moonstone Comics)
    2 issues
    Based on characters created by G.G. Fickling & Harry Julian Fink
    Written by Trina Robbins
    Art by Silvestre Szilagyi
    Featuring Honey and television’s T.H.E. Cat.
  • HONEY WEST & KOLCHAK: HIGH HEELS & HEDONISM
    (2013, Moonstone Comics)
    3 issues
    Based on characters created by G.G. Fickling & Jeff Rice
    Written by Janet L. Hetherington
    Art by Ronn Sutton
    Featuring Honey and television’s Carl Kolchak the Night Stalker.

GRAPHIC NOVELS & COLLECTIONS

  • HONEY WEST: THIS GIRL FOR HIRE  |  Buy this book
    (2013, Moonstone Comics)
    Collects issues 1-7 of the Moonstone series.

SOUNDTRACKS

  • THE HONEY WEST SOUNDTRACK | Buy this CD
    No, really. This is a 2005 CD reissue of the original 60s soundtrack, featuring the “brash and brassy score” by Joseph Mullendore. Meh…

AUDIO

  • MURDER ON MARS|  Buy this audio
    (2011, AudioComics)
    Based on characters created by G.G. Fickling
    and Murder on Mars by Elaine Lee and Ronn Sutton
    Adapted by elaine Lee
    Directed by William Dufris
    Starring Carrington MacDuffie as HONEY WEST
    A full-cast, three-part audio drama, released on compact disc and digital download in April 2012, based on the 2011 Moonstone comic. Honey infiltrates the set of a low budget studio’s science fiction flick, on behalf of her client. Supposedly quite fun, with an “Austin Powers view of the sixties.”

FURTHER INVESTIGATION

  • Honey West (2009; by John Fredericksen) |  Buy this book | Kindle it!
    A heart-felt tribute to the ground-breaking TV cult favourite that at its best– surprise, surprise–actually improved upon the original character, as created by G.G. Fickling, transforming the affable bimbo sleuth into something far more subversive: a lady dick with looks AND brains.
  • You Can’t Keep a Good Gal Down
    An Interview with Gloria Fickling, the Real Honey West
Respectfully filed by Kevin Burton Smith. Thanks to Peter for the scoop on the Honey West flick.

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