Created by G.G. Fickling (pseud. 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 a series was a bimbo! Or at least frequently clothing-challenged and none-too-swift.
Evidence? Typical exclamation from her occasional rescuer and boyfriend, Johnny Doom: "Honey! Where are your clothes?"
Still, considering the decidedly pre-feminist times, HONEY WEST was, according to her co-creator Gloria Fickling, a "beautiful, brainy and very much determined, sensual female."
Actually, Honey was the creation of fashion writer Gloria and her husband, sportswriter Forest Fickling, who were friends of Shell Scott's 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, 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.
Television's Honey 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 show) 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. She now carried a .38 in her purse, a derringer somewhere else (wink, wink) 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).
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 played Pussy Galore in the 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 been 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.
What the hell's a spy-queen?
GET MORE HONEY IN YOUR LIFE
A pastiche from Moonstone Comics that teamed up Honey with TV's Thomas Hewitt Edward Cat (aka T.H.E. Cat)
Moonstone continues 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.
Collects the first three novels: This Girl for Hire, A Gun for Honey and Girl on the Loose.
Honey first appeared in an episode of Burke's Law, where she even managed to outwit the wily millionaire Chief of Police. She tested well, and was soon starring in her own show.
Moonstone, who've reincarnated many a formerly licenced property, aren't afraid of reinventing a character to appeal to their fan base, in sometimes rather 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 or, in later mini-series, teaming her up with other once beloved characters they also happen to own the rights to, such as Kolchak the Nightstalker and T.H.E. Cat.
No, really. This is a 2005 CD reissue of the original 60s soundtrack, featuring the "brash and brassy score" by Joseph Mullendore.
ALSO OF INTEREST
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.
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