HONEY WEST: A FRESH LOOK, by Gary Warren Niebuhr
While I started this project with great enthusiasm, I must confess up front that I finished it with reluctance. Somehow my former enjoyment of these books has waned, so here is the warning: beyond here lie dragons.
The Honey West novels were the creation of Forrest E. “Skip” Fickling and his wife Gloria (Gautraud) Fickling. Skip was born on April 16, 1925 in Long Beach, CA. He was the son of Donald Forrest Fickling, a lumberman, and Margaret (Becker) Fickling. Skip went to Washington State College (1944) and Compton College (1946) before earning a B.A. from the University of Southern California in 1949.
Skip was in the U. S. Army Air Force from 1943 to 1945 where he rose to the rank of staff sergeant. He received the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters and the European Theatre Medal with three stars. Skip was a member of the U. S. Marine Corps from 1945 to 1951, and he served in the Korean Campaign.
After the war, he went to work for Baxter Laboratories in Glendale, CA, as their advertising director, in 1950. He was publicity director for Western Advertising in Los Angeles in 1952. By 1952 he was also editor for their Fickling Publications and by 1955 he listed himself as President of Glory-Us Productions.
Skip married Gloria on May 21, 1949. They had three boys named Michael, Christopher and Jeffry. According to Contemporary Authors, she listed her occupation as writer. However, that is the only mention of her in the entry. This hardly seems fair, as in a recent Mystery Scene article, Gloria mentioned that she wrote for Women’s Wear and Look Magazine. While most sources clearly indicate that the G. G. Fickling novels were a cooperative effort, Gloria tells us that “every book was his totally.”
According to the New York Times obituary for Skip, Honey came about when he “thought of Marilyn Monroe,” Gloria said, “and then I thought of the fictional detective Mike Hammer and decided to put the two together. We thought the most-used name for someone you really like is Honey. And she lives in the West, so there was her name. I was more the sounding board and the technical advisor.” She does not deny that Honey was modeled after her.
The last book in the Honey West series contains a picture of the happy couple and the information that they lived in a cliff hanging four-story house in Laguna Beach, California. Besides the Honey West series, they also wrote a series about a corporate consultant named Erik March, but the house was probably paid for by the profits from the Honey West television series created by Four Star Productions (executive producer, Aaron Spelling). After making a guest appearance on Burke’s Law, the Honey West character, with Anne Francis as the P.I., got thirty episodes on ABC during 1965 and 1966. The series did not survive, but it did win a Golden Globe Award.
Skip died from a brain tumor on April 3, 1998, in Laguna Hills, CA, just thirteen days short of his seventy-third birthday. Gloria is still living.
Sources: Most of the biographical information in this article came from Contemporary Authors (including some confusing dates) and “Eye Witness Double Trouble: Honey West & Her Stylish Creator,” Gloria Fickling interviewed by Kevin Burton Smith for Mystery Scene magazine (Fall Issue, Number 86, 2004, pg. 46-48).
The Honey West novels are:
Some of the factual information about Honey’s life is not consistently explained in the text:
Honey West was born in Bellflower, California. Her mother was a dancer at The Casino on Catalina Island who acted in B-movies. Honey’s mother died at Honey’s birth. Honey’s father, Hank West, a private detective, was murdered six years prior to #1 (five years prior to #6, four years prior to #8) when he was shot in the back of his head in an alley behind the Paramount Theater. In #9, Honey reveals that she was a witness to his death. This is the most pivotal event in Honey’s life, and what sets her down the path to be a private investigator like her father. At times in the novels she toys with the idea of finding her father’s killer, but any attempts to really plumb the depths of her emotional soul is lost by the authors.
Honey’s first kiss was from Pete Freckle, a childhood boyfriend who reappears as a character in #7. She went to Long Beach Poly High School with Dick Devil, a character from #11. Honey attended Long Beach City Junior College, except in #9 she says she has a M.A. in letters in arts and science from the University of Southern California.
When Honey decides her destiny is to replicate her father, she moves right into his office and sits at her father’s roll top desk. Honey’s office is on the third floor, room #304, of the Wilks Building on Anaheim Street and Third in Long Beach. She has a view of the alley. It says, “H. West, Private Investigator,” (“Investigations” in #8) on the frosted glass of her door, a holdover from her father’s day. Honey carries a .32 revolver (#1) and has a pearl handled Hi-standard .22 revolver in her garter in #3. She knows judo.
In #1-3 and 9, Honey is 28. Considering all the action that takes place, it is hard to see that this all takes place in the same year, so it is probably best to just forget about her age.
When we first meet Honey, she lives in a Long Beach second story apartment near Alamitos Bay. In #9, she says she lives in an apartment in Belmont Shores, CA. By #10, she is living in a leased penthouse in New York on West 77th Street that is twenty-seven floors up with a view of the Hudson River. In #11, she now has a passionate pink penthouse along Alamitos Bay.
The obvious major attribute for this character is her good looks. Everyone notices, everyone comments, and everyone desires her. Honey is 38-22-36, 5’ 5” tall, 120 lbs., blue eyes, with taffy colored hair. She has a heart-shaped birthmark on the inside of her right thigh and a small mole on her left cheek above her mouth. There are a number of men who are important in her life besides her father’s memory. One is Charley April, who manages her answering service and who is also a bookie. The other is her newspaper contact Fred Sims, a reporter for the Long Beach Press-Telegram.
When it comes to sex, she has an on-again, off-again relationship with Lt. Mark Storm of the Sheriff’s office. He is a homicide investigator and stands 6’ 5” tall. I believe it is implied that Lt. Storm gets laid by Honey at the end of #6. However, he is not the only man in her life. Honey confesses to have dated Rip Spensor, quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams football team. In #9, she makes love to Johnny “Doom” Dombella, a bounty hunter who she allies with on this adventure.
There is a seven-year gap in the publishing life of Honey West. When she re-appears in #10, she is now known as an “international eye-spy.” She is now an “illegal” operating with both the C.I.A. and the F.B.I. She has just returned from a mission in Europe. Honey has a relationship with Bill Arno, who is another illegal, but who is murdered on one of their cases. She also sleeps with motion picture director Jacques Auberge. Because of his continuing interest in Honey, Mark Storm has now join Interpol so he can continue to be her guardian. Honey also finds her ally Johnny Doom is another illegal.
In This Girl For Hire, Herb Nelson once was a big star, but now the down-on-his luck star is happy with a bit part on the Bob Swanson TV show. He hires Honey for protection when he feels threatened after a fight on the set but is beaten to death anyway. Then Swanson’s producer Sam Aces also hires Honey because he fears for his life, and Sam is able to get Honey on the set of the show by rigging a beauty contest. When the cast sets off for Catalina, a wild shipboard party accompanied by a storm leaves Honey with innumerable suspects and targets.
More deaths follow until we have eight corpses and ultimately an explanation for the murders that takes about thirty pages to complete. This book has all the weaknesses of this period: goofy characters, overly sexed women, snappy patter and weak plots. Some of the books pull it off, but the best this effort can be rated is a weak average recommendation because of the unique female first person narration.
Honey is invited to the wild New Year’s Eve party at horror film director Rote Collier’s house in A Gun For Honey. Collier lives in Shark Beach where lately two women have been suffocated to death by the “Kissing Killer.” When Collier’s wife Helen ends up a real corpse in a fake coffin, Sheriff Mark Storm suspects Marine pilot Reed Walker because his wings were located under the dead body. Eventually, Mark arrests Dr. Erik Ford for the deed, but Honey is not satisfied that he is the killer.
That is probably because Honey is witness to the biggest bunch of rambling pseudo-confessions and fake alibis ever assembled. These plot gymnastics, combined with everyone’s fascination with Honey’s breasts, make this all rather silly. It’s a little sad that these male juvenile fantasies were passed off as detective fiction, and one can only wonder what Gloria Fickling’s contribution could have been to these efforts. Yet is seems all the clues are here for puzzle solvers, and occasionally these can be funny.
In Girl On the Loose, Honey is kidnapped and dressed to look like an AWOL Marine named Sylvia Verse, only to have her kidnapper killed in a hail of bullets intended for Honey. Rescued by Lt. Mark Storm, she is informed that on the same night an old friend from Junior College was smothered to death shortly after giving birth. Meanwhile, in the same hospital, someone who matches Honey’s description kidnaps a millionaire’s new baby.
Three strange occurrences like this need a talented author to handle a well-crafted plot and some believable characters to carry the ball. Unfortunately, the Ficklings were trapped in that goofy 1950s style where characters were cartoons and the plots could weave wildly around the facts without regard to reality. Bodies fall everywhere as guns become the means to settle all scores, but typically our heroine manages to dodge all the lead. There is little magic here but enough to raise this above an average attempt.
Mawson Lawrence, producer of the Miss Twentieth Century Pageant, has eighty of the world’s most beautiful woman in his contest until Miss California goes missing. After a body is pulled from the Long Beach harbor, Honey is hired to determine if the mutilated corpse is the missing beauty in Honey in the Flesh. While she successfully identifies the corpse as the missing Josephine Keller, a second woman with that name shows up at the contest claiming to be the real Miss California. A second contestant dies and West begins to investigate in both Long Beach and Tijuana with her suspicions focused on Lawrence. As always, she battles with Lt. Mark Storm during the investigation. Better focused then the first three titles in this series, the book still suffers from excesses that keep a modern reader from ultimately feeling satisfied.
“Can I help it if I’m always losing clothes?” asks P. I. Honey West in Girl On the Prowl. Evidently not because it happens a lot to this female investigator during the course of this case. Jewel Tempest is a successful stripper who always appears behind a mask because of a bad burn. She lives on Malibu Beach with her twin brothers, Kirk and Kirq. Honey meets Kirk by accident and then witnesses his death when he is impaled on a fishing spear left in Jewel’s pool.
Despite Honey’s testimony, Jewel is convinced that “Q” killed “K” and she want Honey to investigate. Then Jewel disappears so Honey is forced to replace her behind the mask on a live TV broadcast where a monster attacks her, someone tries to steal her G-string, and someone takes a pot shot at her! Meanwhile, “Q,” Jewel, and a woman named Ruth Smith are all trading places, masquerading, lying, and seducing each other while more people die.
With hints of homosexuality, bi-sexuality, and transgenderism, these characters are supposed to be mysterious sexual beings. Instead, the book is pretty silly, if not prejudicial to gay folks. There are so many deaths and explanations for them that I just quit trying to keep it all straight. Not recommended.
Kiss For a Killer finds Rip Spensor, quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams football team, squashed by a steamroller after a game against San Francisco. Honey, who had dated the sports hero, tries to rush to his house when she hears of his death, but her car has been filled with poisonous trap-door spiders and she is bitten. Recovered and warned off the case by Lt. Mark Storm, Honey takes off for the San Bernardino Mountains to investigate a health cult run by Thor Tunny. Before she gets to Anaheim, Honey is run off the road by a naked driver named Adam Jason, who is a Sun Soul disciple in the cult.
Then a naked Italian actress named Angela Scali tries to kill Honey while under the influence of a hypnotic trance, which explains where Angela has been the last seven months since she disappeared after accepting her Academy Award. Whew – all of this in the first thirty pages!
Like all of the books in the series, this one careens from one wild improbable scene to another with weak dialog and bizarre characters. Here is a sample: “Angela climbed from the car and stood beside me. She was a tall, graceful woman, and well built. Obviously Italy’s plentiful post-war years had been good to her.”
Why not damn with faint praise? For about three-fourths of this book, this one might be the best in the series so far! Its downfall is a reliance on hypnotism and a failure to develop the cult as a real threat. This can only be rated average when compared to how Ross Macdonald handles the same subject in a book like The Moving Target.
In Dig a Dead Doll, Pete Freckle is an American bullfighter who asks Honey to attend his fight in Tijuana. When he appears to stumble just before being gored to death by a bull, Honey wants to view his corpse to determine why. However, Pete’s corpse disappears in gruesome slaughterhouse full of dead bulls, and the reason appears to be the maneuverings of the master Mexican criminal Zingo.
As she chases Zingo, Honey is strung naked from a tree and left for dead. This leads her longtime nemesis Lt. Storm to say, “You seem to be naked more time then you’re clothed.” On the rebound, Honey keeps pushing despite being machine-gunned by a plane while she is at sea, set up on a phony heroin smuggling rap and accused of murdering one of a pair of lesbian strippers. Oh, yeah – and her clothes keep falling off.
Less offensive then the last title, this book still deals with homosexuals in an odd way, and it probably sets back Mexican-American race relations back about two hundred years. The authors tried very hard to insert two major surprises into the text, but because their literary skills are so lacking, no suspense is actually generated.
Old family friend Vic Kendall is producing a musical on Broadway based on Honey called Eyeful in Blood and Honey. Vic wants Honey to come to New York City as a consultant, and her first night in town is spent dodging bullets. Others associated with Vic have also had trouble and the reason may be that Vic’s last two shows were flops.
Personal relationships are strained between actors, songwriters, producers and director that results in Tina Kendall, Vic’s wife, being found electrocuted in Honey’s hotel bathroom. More deaths follow despite Honey receiving help from Lt. Mark Storm (on leave) and reporter Fred Sims (on assignment). The climax takes place on a sinking ship in the New York harbor with a surprise suspect the cause of all this havoc. This novel attempts to be a play-fair mystery, but it is mostly harmed by its improbable dialogue.
In Bombshell, Honey drives from Long Beach to Moro, FL, when her commercial fisherman friend Raven McCormick sends a cryptic letter about ominous happenings. She is not in town five minutes before she discovers uniformed Nazis who have terrorized the local residents have overrun the town. This is because they have hijacked a nuclear submarine and are going to launch missiles at the entire world in order to put Hitler (yes, he lives! – sort of) back into power.
But do not worry for Honey has an ally in bounty hunter Johnny Doom. Honey herself puts it best when she says, “I realize the whole things sounds rather muddled and straight out of a dime novel.” Unfortunately for the reader, she has written her own review for this novel. The entire novel has the feeling of having been written over a weekend, with such marvelous sentences like, “His glasses fell to the bed, revealing two bulging bloodshot mounds of horror that looked down to an arm wearing a Nazi swastika in awed disbelief.”
This may be the worse novel in the series and could be redeemed if the fascination with Honey’s breasts were properly handled, but even Honey’s descriptions are ruined by words like “you’re beautiful – like some intrinsic nymph right out of the waters of hell.”
The authors gave the tag line for this effort to us when they wrote “a bounty hunter and a female private investigator swapping lies and swatting flies in the middle of a swamp with bullets flying all around. Who would believe it? Who would possibly believe it?” Indeed.
By the time we get to Honey On Her Tail, there has been a seven-year absence and while she was away, Honey has become an “international eye-spy” known as an “illegal,” or someone who works for both the C.I.A. and the F.B.I. in a black ops program run from the U.S. After spending two months in Europe trying to find The Black Widow, Honey is returning to the U.S. when another illegal, Bill Arno, is murdered on her plane.
The threat is from MAD (Mord Aterrorizer Dominar), and Honey aligns herself with French sex film director Jacques Auberge, an agent for DOMINO (Defense of Mid-International Nations). It is pretty obvious that the Ficklings have fallen under the influence of Ian Fleming. Add in micro-sized hydrogen bombs, invisible agents, and a medieval French castle and you will understand why eventually Honey says “if I hadn’t known better I would believe this was a script for a mad melodrama.” Mad, or bad?
Receiving help initially from Johnny Doom (a fellow illegal), she discovers Mark Storm (now of Interpol) riding to her rescue at the end of the novel. With wild abandon, this book hops from one ineptly created scene to the next ludicrous episode. Hard to understand who would buy and read these ridiculous adventures. This novel, while not the worst, is getting pretty near the bottom.
Sindy Stewart, a Honey West look-alike, is making the fourth television episode of “This Girl For Hire,” a show based on Honey West in Stiff As a Broad. When Sindy is assassinated, Homer House, publisher of Skin, Sin and She magazine, sends two frogmen to kidnap Honey. The next issue of Homer’s magazine was going to expose to the world that Sindy was actually Sonya Nostrum, an escaped princess from a Norwegian principality.
Before Homer can persuade Honey to help, the same assassin takes a shot at Homer but misses. A big question becomes was Honey the target instead of Homer? Then, into Honey’s life walks Erik March, a corporate consultant who is another series character created by the Ficklings.
Erik is a swinging playboy not unlike Richard Prather’s Shell Scott. The secret here appears to be three maps (San Diego, San Francisco, Las Vegas) with some red dots and cryptic writing which Erik and Honey manage to lose as fast as they acquired them. On a side trip to Las Vegas, another assassination attempt occurs, but all of the drama in these scenes is lost die to the laughably bad dialogue and the unbelievable actions of the characters. Mix in weird names for the characters, a bizarre story about one character’s nipples, and a poorly related LSD experience to make this novel laughable and not worth recommending.
I warned you. These novels were a big disappointment to me and there is little to find to praise. Talk on the Internet involves making a feature length film from Honey’s stories, but this may be one of the few times where the film would be better than the book.
HONEY WEST ON TV [Primary Source: Internet Movie Data Base]
Burke’s Law: Who Killed the Jackpot? (Pilot for "Honey West") 21 April 65
Anne Francis, John Ericson, Jan Sterling, Steve Forrest, Louis Hayward, Nancy Gates.
Honey West (the series). ABC, Friday nights, 9-10 pm (ET). Black and white.
Anne Francis .... Honey West
John Ericson .... Sam Bolt
Irene Hervey .... Aunt Meg
Bruce .... Himself
Ken Lynch .... Lieutenant Barney / Lieutenant Barry (6 episodes)
Peter Leeds .... Police Lieutenant / Lieutenant Coombs (3 episodes)
17 Sept 1965 The Swingin’ Mrs. Jones (with Ray Danton)
24 Sept 1965 The Owl and the Eye (with Lloyd Bochner, Herschel Bernardi)
1 Oct 1965 The Abominable Snowman (with Henry Jones)
8 Oct 1965 A Matter of Wife and Death (with Dianne Foster, James Best)
15 Oct 1965 Live a Little – Kill a Little (with Warren Stevens, Herb Edelman)
22 Oct 1965 Whatever Lola Wants (with Audrey Christie)
29 Oct 1965 The Princess and the Paupers (with Michael J. Pollard)
5 Nov 1965 In the Bag (with Everett Sloane, Maureen McCormick)
12 Nov 1965 The Flame and the Pussycat (with Harry Basch, Ken Lynch)
19 Nov 1965 A Neat Little Package (with J. Pat O’Malley, Arthur Batanides)
26 Nov 1965 A Stitch in Crime (with Laurie Main, Charlene Holt, James Sikking)
3 Dec 1965 A Million Bucks in Anybody’s Language (with Steve Ihnat, Ken Lynch)
10 Dec 1965 The Grey Lady [series pilot] (with Kevin McCarthy, Nancy Kovack)
17 Dec 1965 Invitation to Limbo (with Louise Troy, Peter Leeds, Wayne Rogers, Stacy Harris )
24 Dec 1965 Rockabye the Hard Way (with Vincent Beck, Joe Don Baker)
31 Dec 1965 A Nice Little Till to Tap (with Anthony Eisley, Howard McNear, Peter Leeds)
7 Jan 1966 How Brillig, O, Beamish Boy (directed by Ida Lupino; with John McGiver, Monte Hale)
14 Jan 1966 King of the Mountain (with David Opatoshu)
21 Jan 1966 It’s Earlier Than You Think (with James Griffith, Ken Lynch)
28 Jan 1966 The Perfect Un-Crime (with David Brian)
4 Feb 1966 Like Visions and Omens...and All That Jazz (with Nehemiah Persoff, June Vincent)
11 Feb 1966 Don't Look Now, But Isn’ t That Me (with Alan Reed, Monica Keating)
18 Feb 1966 Come to Me, My Litigation Baby (with James Brown, Ellen Corby)
25 Feb 1966 Slay, Gypsy, Slay (with Michael Pate)
4 Mar 1966 The Fun-Fun Killer (with Marvin Kaplan, Ken Lynch)
11 Mar 1966 Pop Goes the Easel (with Robert Strauss, Bill Quinn)
18 Mar 1966 Little Green Robin Hood (with Edd Byrnes, Allen Jenkins, Peter Leeds)
25 Mar 1966 Just The Bear Facts, Ma’am (with Richard Carlyle, Frank Wilcox)
1 Apr 1966 There's a Long, Long, Fuse A’Burning (with Dick Clark, Paul Dubov)
8 Apr 1966 An Eerie, Airy, Thing (with Lisa Seagram, Adam Williams, Lou Krugman)
In her role as Honey West, Anne Francis won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Emmy. From an interview on the Internet at http://weeklywire.com: “It was shot in black-and-white and we were planning to go to color the following season. But ABC [the network] and Four Star [the production company] disagreed and ABC said, We can buy The Avengers cheaper than we can make Honey West. And that's exactly what happened.”
The photo to the left shows Miss Francis in “undercover” attire, using a fake lipstick as a microphone.
Bibliographic information compiled by Steve Lewis.
Honey West merchandise
Doll and accessories:
One-shot comic book:
PostScript: To the left is the cover of the newly reprinted trade paperback of the first Honey West novel, Overlook Press, October 2005. Whether they will be doing the others remains to be seen.
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