“You’re a good man, sister”

Stand-up Secretaries & The Eyes Lucky Enough to Have Them

“You’re a damned good man, sister”
– Sam Spade to Effie Perine in The Maltese Falcon

Yeah, yeah, I know… amanuensises, administrative assistants, office managers, workflow technicians… whatever…

  • Effie Perine
    She manned the offices of Spade and Archer, lighting Sam’s smokes, and maybe a whole lot more. The “prototype of all private eyes’ secretaries,” according to Bill Pronzini.
  • Kathleen
    Lucille Ball (pre-I Love Lucy) played a fiercely loyal, strong-willed secretary who stood by her man, private eye Bradford Galt, in the almost-classic noir, The Dark Corner.
  • Della Street
    Perry Mason‘s better half, in the office, and possibly elsewhere. Perry proposed about a half-dozen times, but Della always turned him down. Seems Perry wouldn’t want a working wife, and, well, dammit, Della wouldn’t want to miss out on the action…
  • Lucy Hamilton
    When his young wife, Phyllis Brighton, was killed, Mike Shayne got himself a secretary, and started a long, long relationship. I guess Mike learned his lesson, though–somehow Lucy and he never quite got married.
  • Sandra Hollis
    Served as Jim Bennett‘s sounding board, professionally and personally, at times. Ignoring the example set by Mike Shayne, Jim and Sandy eventually did get married near the end of the series, and presumably lived happily ever after.
  • Velda
    Mike Hammer‘s beloved Velda, the only woman he could ever love. Her disappearance in the middle of a case prompted Mike’s disappearance into a bottle, and when she returned years later, she was almost as hard as Hammer himself…
  • Bix
    Before anyone had ever heard of 77 Sunset Strip, Los Angeles private dick Stuart Bailey had a spunky, wise-cracking, motor mouth Gal Friday, who went by the name of Bix, in the 1945 film I Love Trouble, based on Roy Huggins’ 1946 novel, The Double Take.
  • Sam
    One of the most memorable secretaries on the tube was Richard Diamond‘s Sam, played by Mary Tyler Moore (before she could turn the world on with her smile, she had to make do with over the shoulder shots, silhouettes, and her legs (she sure knew how to use them…).
  • Miranda Foxworth
    Elderly, crotchety, nagging, half-mother hen, half-secretary, she watched over private richard Pete Chambers, and couldn’t help but worry about him…
  • Mary Huston
    Secretary at the Morgan & Company Detective Agency. She often aided and abetted, and eventually married reporter and sometime private eye Robin Bishop.
  • Peggy Fair
    The widow of a slain police officer and mother of a young son, Peggy had to get a job. She went to work for rough and tough TV private eye Joe Mannix, and the boob tube was never the same. Not only was Peggy no ditz, but, even more importantly, she was black. In fact, more than one wag has suggested that when the cameras weren’t rolling, Joe and Peggy were going at it hot and heavy, but the network just didn’t have the guts to show an inter-racial affair.
  • Pamela Gardner
    Private eye Neal Fargo’s secretary is totally loyal–to the point she takes physical abuse from Gus Rizzato, a kind of Canino clone, but wants to stay and continue working, in Joe Gores’ classic Interface.
  • Peggy Nettleton
    There hadn’t been a secretary working for a private eye for years, when Peggy went to work for John Marshall Tanner in Grave Error in 1979, but she served him faithfully and loyally until 1987’s Toll Call, when their mutual attraction and a particularly nasty case with some sexual overtones drove a rather large wedge into their relationship.
  • Kitty Pangborn
    A deliberate throwback to the secretaries of the past, Linda Richards’ Depression-set series added some not-so-1930s cheekiness to the mix. Sure, her P.I. boss Dex is a mess, but Kitty confesses that he’s also “the kind that can get your lipstick melting.”
  • Robin Ellacott
    The last great secretary? Sharp, idealistic young temp dispatched to handle Cormoran Strike‘s secretarial needs was a cool, retro breeze blowing across the genre, rooting the first PI. effort of Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling) firmly in tradition, but giving Robin enough modern girl smarts to raise it several notches above a mere reheated trope.


List respectfully compiled by Kevin Burton Smith and Jeff Schofield. Further suggestions welcome.

Leave a Reply