Honey West: Quality Over Quantity

As we look back at some favorite crime dramas, this week we are traveling back sixty years. From 1965-1966, Honey West appeared in our living rooms. Only thirty episodes were produced, but the show was respected and worth remembering.

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The show was based on a novel series. Married couple, Gloria and Forrest “Skip” Fickling wrote the books. Skip had been a gunner in the US Army Air Force. According to Skip, they combined Marilyn Monroe and Mike Hammer for the character of Honey West. The novels were published from the late fifties to 1971, with eleven total.

West was one of the first female private eyes on tv. In an episode of Burke’s Law, Ann Francis showed up as Honey West which led to a spin-off. The series was developed by Gwen Bagni and Paul Dubov, writers on Burke’s Law. Aaron Spelling was listed as the producer.

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West has a partner Sam Bolt (John Ericson). Ericson never received another starring role in a series, but he was a successful actor, amassing 105 acting credits.

Honey is an interesting character. She has a hidden radio in her lipstick case, has a pet ocelot named Bruce, a colorful animal-print wardrobe, and a Cobra convertible. She shares an apartment with her Aunt Meg (Irene Hervey) who shows up in about half of the episodes.

West owns her own investigation firm which she inherited from her father. Her base of operations was behind a fake wall in her living room. She’s very smart and experienced in electronic surveillance. Bolt creates many of the gadgets she uses. They go undercover in a specially equipped van which had a sign “H.W. Bolt & Co., TV Service.” She and Sam could be the inspiration behind Maddie and David from Moonlighting.

Like James Bond, or Max Smart, she uses a number of high-tech instruments: an exploding compact, a garter belt gas mask, tear gas earrings. You don’t have to worry about Honey’s safety. Sam is an ex-Marine, and Honey attained a black belt in judo.

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Several of the episodes were written by Richard Levinson and William Link who would go on to write for Columbo and Murder, She Wrote.

The show was canceled after the first year for two primary reasons, one understandable and one which makes me shake my head. I understand that the network determined that it would be cheaper to import The Avengers and show it in the time slot. The second reason is a bit harder to understand: the show was in competition with Gomer Pyle USMC and could not hold its own in the ratings war. I say this with great respect to Jim Nabors whom I love and while Gomer Pyle was an ok show, it’s hard for me to picture it as a show that would draw more viewers than a crime drama.

Francis did receive Golden Globe and Best Actress Emmy nominations that year. She was beat out by Barbara Stanwyck for The Big Valley. The show was described as “sexy, sophisticated and delightfully funny.” According to most of the reviews of the DVDs, it holds up very well after sixty years and is still fun to watch.

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They had some clever details in the show. There is often at least one instance when the last word of a sentence leads into a funny new scene. The actors often discuss television shows, wondering about their ratings. Honey pulls down an imaginary shade, so viewers won’t watch her sleep. It also had a jazzy theme written by Joseph Mullendore. He had created a lot of the music for Burke’s Law and would go on to provide music for other series, including Land of the Giants and Daniel Boone.

There were several drawbacks mentioned, most notably the lack of color. Not only was color becoming the norm by this time, but Honey West was a show that would have been enhanced by color. It was also criticized for being a 30-minute show. There was not enough time to truly develop both the plot and the characters’ relationships in such a short time.

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This show reminds me a bit of Barbara Eden’s show How to Marry a Millionaire and Bachelor Father, starring John Forsythe, in that both debuted in 1957; two series that I thought had clever writing, fun characters, witty dialogue, and elegant interiors. On one hand, it is sad it wasn’t given more of a chance to get established with viewers. On the other hand, it sounds like it has thirty mostly great episodes to watch. Maybe an early cancellation allowed the best shows to be saved. I think about I Dream of Jeannie which was released the same year as Honey West. The shows from the first year are fun to watch. Jeanne is witty, clever, mischievous, and smarter than she lets on. During the following years, the episodes were average at best and often sub-par. If I only had the first year’s episodes to watch, I would not feel like I was missing anything.

For less than $20, you can buy the entire DVD season of Honey West. And if it makes you want to go out and get a pet ocelot, who am I to judge?