A friend recently told me how much of a positive impact the Honey West television series had on her while she was growing up. Clearly the television series with Anne Francis’ sultry performance as Honey West has had a much more lasting impression than the books on which the series is based. That said, despite the claims of fans about Sharon McCone, Kinsey Millhone, and V. I. Warshawski, Honey West beat them all to the punch as the first significant female private eye in on the mystery genre’s literary landscape.
As creators Forrest E. “Skip” Fickling and his wife Gloria (Gautraud) Fickling have stated, their idea was to put Mike Hammer in Marilyn Monroe’s body. And while the books have not worn as well as some of their contemporaries – sometimes it seemed the whole point of the stories was for Honey to continually lose her clothes – there is still a certain charm and readability to the tales.
I have a notion there is a reason Honey West is not given the respect she is due in the pantheon of female private eyes. While the husband and wife Ficklings are both credited with Honey’s creation, the accepted perception is Skip Fickling did all the writing while Gloria was less involved. I have no idea if this perception is true, but the fact remains that the Honey West books have received the rap of being nothing more than male fantasies by the female readers who drive the mystery genre. Clearly, this readership much prefers the female empowerment fantasies presented by the holy trinity of Millhone, McCone, and Warshawski (and their strictly female creators) to Honey’s harsher, Mike Hammer in drag, appearance.
This Girl For Hire, the first book in the series, gets Honey involved in the protection of Herb Nelson, a faded Hollywood star trying for a TV comeback. Unfortunately for Honey, Nelson ends up beaten to death. Despite this, Honey is hired by producer Sam Acres who fears the same fate may befall him. Accompanying Acres and the cast of his show on a boat to Catalina, Honey finds herself in the middle of a wild party and an even wilder storm, leaving her with suspects galore.
All of this is fairly mundane and has had critics pulling their hair out regarding the first person female narrative – which is pretty standard today – the rambling plots, confessions for no reason, and the fulfillment of male juvenile fantasies, as if these are bad things and not just the trappings of the genre during the period the books were written.
In actuality, it might have been best when the television show premiered to write new novels, encompassing all of the show’s coolness and differences from the original books, instead of simply reprinting the original – already dated – stories with TV tie-in covers.
Moonstone Books appears to have bought into this idea all these years later with their new line of Honey West comic books – a far superior product in art and content from the original Dell tie-in comics.
The character of Honey West continues to evolve. From her roots in ‘50s paperback originals, to her cameo appearance on Burke’s Law, through the 30 episodes of her own television show, to her current incarnation in today’s comics and graphic novels, Honey is still kicking butt and taking names.
Honey West is an iconic character who deserves respect, whether for her television status or for her (at the time) hardboiled literary innovation. After all, what’s so bad about Honey continually losing her clothes?
THE HONEY WEST NOVELS
This Girl For Hire (1957)
A Gun For Honey (1958)
Girl On The loose (1958)
Honey in the Flesh (1959)
Girl on the Prowl (1959)
Kiss for a Killer (1960)
Dig a Dead Doll (1960)
Blood and Honey (1961)
Stiff As a Broad (1971)
Honey on Her Tail (1971)