Saturday, 3 May 2014

Save Honey West!

Billed as a cross between Marilyn Monroe and Mike Hammer, female private investigator Honey West appeared in a series of nine novels written by husband and wife team Forest E. (Skip) and Gloria Fickling, under the combined pseudonym G. G. Fickling, between 1957 and 1964. The books are light, entertaining affairs full of tongue-in-cheek humour, inspired by the wisecracking tales of lascivious detective Shell Scott penned by the Ficklings' friend Richard S. Prather (who was not convinced that a feminine counterpart would work)

Skip and Gloria Fickling with Anne Francis

In 1965-1966 the ABC Honey West TV series ran for a single season, starring Anne Francis as the eponymous heroine. Produced by Aaron Spelling the series was a spin-off from the successful Burke's Law, in which Honey had featured as a guest character for a single episode.


After a couple of comeback novels in 1971 and 1972 Honey West drifted off into pop culture limbo until 2007 when there were rumour of a proposed feature film.. Unfortunately this came to nothing, but in 2010 Moonstone Books revived the character in comic book form, launching a series of products that included Volume 1 of The Honey West Files, an omnibus reprint of three original G. G. Fickling novels.


With the publication of A Girl and her Cat, the first Honey West novel for over 40 years, teaming her up with T.H.E. Cat, a popular late 1960's TV hero (whose show was graced with a pre-Mission Impossible Lalo Schifrin score!) and with Honey for Hire, an all-new collection of tales by different authors, in the pipeline, everything appeared to be going well for Honey. That is, until the following announcement recently appeared on Facebook:

MOONSTONE READERS
CALL TO ACTION!

Attention all Moonstone readers, fans, collectors, freelancers, relatives, facebook friends, pets, & all!

If you have enjoyed what we do, and especially our HONEY WEST books, we would so appreciate hearing from you (and your ocelot).

You have probably heard about various TV shows being saved from cancellation by fans writing in: Star Trek being the most famous of the bunch.
This is kind of the same thing concerning HONEY WEST...first female private eye of both literature and TV.

If you would like to see more HONEY WEST, please email us and let us know...feel free to say what you like about what we have done.

Just email us at: contact_us@moonstonebooks.com, tell us what you like, and just give us your name, city, and state.

ALL email addresses will be held by us as confidential.

If we can accumulate enough emails to succeed, we will put all of the emails into a random raffle, and give away cool prizes to the top winners!

Thank you all so much for all of the support over the years! 



So why should Honey West be saved? As the first female Private Eye ever to appear in popular fiction and on the small screen, she is an iconic character.* While she has an annoying tendency in the novels to suffer from wardrobe dysfunctions at inopportune moments (the maximum amount of titillation that allowable in the late 1950s), which detracts somewhat from her value as a feminist role model, this was rectified in the T.V. series. Influenced by The Avengers, the show depicted Honey sensibly-dressed for the purposes of practising martial arts licks against a succession of mainly male villains. Other innovations included her animal companion Bruce the ocelot and male assistant Sam Bolt, who played a distinctly subsidiary role in a relationship that was refreshingly devoid of 'romantic interest'.
 
MAD magazine parody of Honey West T.V. series (1965)
Despite its innovative qualities, the Honey West T.V. show fell victim to changing fashions and only lasted for one season as The Man from U.N.C.L.E. hit the screens and 'private eyes' of either gender suddenly seemed hopelessly dated.** The Ficklings had responded to the spy revolution ushered in by James Bond by enlisting Honey as an espionage agent battling foes such as nuclear submarine-equipped Nazis, but unfortunately Aaron Spelling chose to make this adaptation to Burke's Law instead, the third series of which was rebranded Amos Burke, Secret Agent

Drafted into a secret government agency and bereft of his team of sidekicks, Burke flopped miserably in his new role and the series was prematurely withdrawn after only seventeen episodes. In retrospect, it seems likely that Honey West, Secret Agent would have been a far more successful formula, particularly when one considers the Bond-style gadgetry employed by Honey and Sam and the high-kicking violence they were apt to mete out to their opponents, which could sometimes seem excessive when dealing with non-threatening criminals such as insurance fraudsters. 
 


For the comic series, Moonstone opted to retain aspects of the Anne Francis image, including Bruce the ocelot, but shifted Honey a few more years into the future in order to exploit a kitsch environment of hippies, drug dealers, freaky cults and B movie starlets. The result is a camp, groovy confection that holds great promise. The best story, Murder on Mars (in which Honey goes undercover during the filming of a low-budget sci-fi movie) was made into an award-winning audio-book dramatisation by the AudioComics Company.

Moonstone has a policy of adopting obscure and not-so-obscure pulp icons from the past and combining them into multi-character plots. This has been done to Honey West a few times, arguably detracting from her main standalone series. Personally I found Phases of the Moon, which found her in the company of Moonstone favourites Kolchak the Night Stalker, Sheena the Jungle Princess, Captain Action, The Spider, and Domino Lady to be quite disappointing with its clichéd sub-Lovecraftian plot. Honey's pairing with reformed burglar T. Hewitt Edward Cat made much better sense.



With such an attractive, iconic protagonist and her 1960s Californian setting, there is clearly plenty of scope for exciting plot developments. There is an aspect of Honey's history that has never been fully explored; the tragic murder of her father, from whom she inherited the detective agency. This opens the possibility of a darker, more noir Honey West that might be more in tune with modern sensibilities than the frivolous airport reads in which she first appeared.

Hopefully, Moonstone's appeal to the fans will be successful and the publisher will persevere with Honey West. At the very least, it would be nice to see the full run of G.G. Fickling novels back in print, as the original paperbacks now tend to be highly priced and are too fragile to enjoy reading. The ideal thing would be to see the comics come out as a monthly series, as interest in them inevitably flags when they only appear sporadically.
 


*  I have been corrected on this point - please read the comments.
**Since writing this I have read in Jon C. Fredriksen's excellent book on Honey West that at one stage there were plans for a second series filmed in colour, but this was abandoned for the simple reason that it was cheaper for the network to buy The Avengers  instead. Lukewarm viewing figures for the first season were the result of poor scheduling.

UPDATE (25.08.14):
The Moonstone website has removed all references to Honey West, so it would seem that the character has now been scrapped.