Anne Francis, best known to most readers as Altaira ‘Alta’ Morbius in 1956’s SF Classic FORBIDDEN PLANET, passed away Saturday, January 1st 2011. She was 80.
Francis made a good impression with audiences in the role of the intelligent, but naive and innocently sexy castaway, and became of favorite of SF film fans.
Her co-star and love interest in that film, Lesile Nielsen, died November 28th, 2010.
Born Anne Lloyd Francis, she was sometimes billed that way, particularly in later years. A good and popular performer, she appeared in many films and television shows.
In 1965, she appeared on the detective show BURKE’S LAW as HONEY WEST, soon spun off as it’s own ABC series in 1966-67.
Based on a series of novels about a female private detective by Gloria and Forest Fickling (“G.G. Fickling”), the TV version was a kind mix of James Bond and THE AVENGERS’ Emma Peel, dressing up in a black bodysuit for spying and fighting. She also used a number of then borderline science-fictional surveillance devices and weapons.
Only lasting one season of 30 episodes, it nevertheless had it’s own short-lived Gold Key comic book.
Other genere-related appearences include the live TV anthologies SUSPENSE (1949) and LIGHTS OUT, She appeared in the film THE ROCKET MAN (1954), two episodes of THE TWILIGHT ZONE (Jess-Belle and The After Hours), KRAFT SUSPENSE THEATER, two connected episodes of THE MAN FROM UNCLE as a villianess, several ALFRED HITCHCOCK’s, germ warfare thriller THE SATAN BUG (1965), THE INVADERS, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, supernatural TV movie HAUNTS OF THE VERY RICH (1972), KUNG FU, WONDER WOMAN, FANTASY ISLAND (both incarantions) MAZES AND MONSTERS (1982), and even an episode of the CONAN television series.
Read more about Anee Francis’s life and carreer at The L.A. Times.
Born in the North West Territory of Canada, he attended Toronto’s Academy of Radio Arts before moving to New York and joining The Neighborhood Playhouse. Soon he became a regular performer in live television, including a number of science fiction-themed shows.
Among the live performances were OUT THERE (1951), LIGHTS OUT, SUSPENSE, and several episodes of TALES OF TOMORROW (1952-53). In one of the TALES shows, Appointment on Mars, Nielsen’s astronaut character was supposed to shoot another (played by Brian Keith). However, the prop gun refused to fire its blanks during the live program, so he was forced to rush his adversary and strangle him instead.
His powerful voice and leading man looks lent Leslie Nielsen an air of authority, making him a natural for FORBIDDEN PLANET’s serious-minded skipper of the United Planet’s Cruiser C57D. Nielsen invested the stock character with a touch of quiet humor in lighter situations and a sense of at-times barely-controlled fury at the strange predicament that imperils his ship and crew.
For Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, Nielsen played Col. Francis Marion in the eight-part THE SWAMP FOX, based on the historical figure, who was an originator of the use of intelligence-gathering and guerilla tactics during the Revolutionary War.
He appeared in episodes of THRILLER and ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, starred as modern policeman Lt. Price Adams in THE NEW BREED (1961-62).
In 1965, he played 19th century occult detective Brett Kingsford in DARK INTRUDER, originally planned as a supernatural mystery series to be called THE BLACK CLOAK. Not picked up by a network, Universal released it as a feature film.
During the 60’s and 70’s Leslie Nielsen appeared on many TV shows, often playing straightforward or ruthlessly corrupt authority figures. SF/Fantasy shows included VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, WILD WILD WEST, and THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.
TV Movies NIGHT SLAVES, THE AQUARIANS, HAUSER’S MEMORY (all 1970) shared some SF slant. Nielsen guested in two episodes of the supernatural anthology THE EVIL TOUCH (1973-74), played a recurring adversary for Caine in KUNG FU, and faced off against a bear in the ecological SF flick DAY OF THE ANIMALS (1977).
Leslie Nielsen visited FANTASY ISLAND three times (1978-80) before spoofing his screen image in AIRPLANE. He brought a deadpan delivery of nonsensical dialog as Dr. Rumack in the 1980 film, a chance to show off his real-life sense of humor and love of the absurd.
This film would lead to a short-lived TV series POLICE SQUAD! as the disconnected from reality Detective Frank Drebbin, later spun off into the NAKED GUN films, and eventually other thick-headed characters in comedies such as THE CREATURE WASN’T NICE and DRACULA: DEAD AND LOVING IT.
He also appeared in horror movies PROM NIGHT (1980) and CREEPSHOW (1982), and horror spoofs REPOSSESSED (1990), and SCARY MOVIE 3 & 4.
Leslie Nielsen is sure to be missed, by several generations of TV and Movie viewers, and fans of both genre and mainstream entertainment.