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Honey's Back in Town : The Book Is Not Yet Closed on the 'Sexiest Private Eye' Ever to Grace a Cover

December 17, 1986|DENNIS McLELLAN | Times Staff Writer

During her heyday in the '50s and '60s when she appeared in a series of paperback mysteries and a hit TV show, she was breathlessly billed as "the sexiest private eye ever to pull a trigger!"

On the cover of "Kiss for a Killer," in which she reveals she is "up to my navel in trouble again," Honey West is described as having taffy-colored hair, blue eyes, a "baby-bottom complexion" and a 38-22-36 figure. For protection, she packs a tiny, pearl-handled .22 which she (miraculously, it seems) keeps hidden in a silk garter holster.

On TV's "Honey West" series in the mid-'60s, Anne Francis played a sexually toned down but no less glamorous Honey, complete with bejeweled handcuffs, a transistorized lipstick, that doubled as a two-way radio and--most memorably--a pet ocelot.

The cult classic, starring the still-active Anne Francis, is now being rerun on more than a dozen TV stations around the country, including KDOC-TV in Anaheim, which airs "Honey West" Sunday nights at 10:30 on Channel 56.

"People remember it," said Claudia Draeger, KDOC program director, noting that a lot of viewers have called to thank the station for airing the old show. "Right now it's real camp."

But can "the world's sexiest girl detective" of the '50s and '60s make it in the liberated '80s?

G.G. Fickling thinks so.

G.G. Fickling is the pseudonym for Skip and Gloria Fickling of Laguna Beach, who created the character Honey West years ago for the series of paperback mysteries for Pyramid Books.

"I'd say she could make it even more so in the '80s than in the '60s," says Skip Fickling, who actually wrote the 11 Honey West novels with his wife, Gloria, serving as consultant and "executive editor."

"Just look at what Joan Collins and women of that ilk are doing," observes Gloria Fickling. "Aren't they going over real strong, and doesn't the public go crazy over them? I think the sex appeal factor, in spite of women's lib, is stronger than ever."

The Honey West books have sold about 7 million copies worldwide, according to the Ficklings, and during the peak of Honey West's popularity in 1966, Encyclopedia Britannica deemed her "the leading female fictional character in the world."

But it has been 20 years since "TV's private eyeful" took a powder from prime time and 15 years since the last Honey West book was published.

Spurred on by the renewed popularity of mysteries, however, the Ficklings believe the time is right for Honey to pack up that pearl-handled pistol of hers and hit the comeback trail.

Skip Fickling currently is ensconced in his book-lined home office writing a new Honey West novel, an as yet-untitled mystery involving several murders set in Laguna Beach.

In her '80s reincarnation, "the world's sexiest girl detective" will not have been immune to the passage of time.

The "new" Honey West, according to Fickling, "has gone from being 25 to 45. She's still as sexy as ever but has a little bit more, shall we say, sexual maturity."

Fickling promises, however, that "she'll still be the same old Honey West. She's still got the same vibrant philosophies, the same drive and determination and the same wonderment for life that she always had."

A Cliff-Hanger

The Ficklings, who publish Play magazine, a southern Orange County guide to restaurants, resorts and the arts, live in a cliff-hanging, four-level home. It is, as they aptly inscribed on a slab of wet cement out front after signing with Pyramid Books, "the house that Honey West built."

The saga of Honey West began in 1956 when Fickling was talking to his friend, mystery writer Richard Prather, who had created a successful mystery series based on a private detective named Shell Scott.

"One day," Fickling recalls, "I said, 'Why don't you do a female private detective?' He said, 'I'm too busy. Why don't you try it?' "

It was a reasonable suggestion. Fickling was no stranger to writing.

At age 12, the Lynwood native was writing and selling the advertising for three pocket-size magazines--Pocket Mystery, Pocket Sea Stories and Pocket Aviation--which he sold for two cents a copy at local drugstores. His enterprise, he said, earned him the title of "Youngest Most Successful Magazine Publisher in the United States" in a Life magazine rundown of outstanding Americans in the late '30s. After serving as a gunner aboard a B-17 during World War II, Fickling wrote several mainstream novels and numerous mystery short stories.

Mike and Marilyn

Gloria, who had worked as an associate editor at Look magazine, was a fashion writer for Women's Wear Daily and served as a newspaper stringer for Fairchild Publications.

Heeding Prather's suggestion to write a female private detective himself, Fickling didn't take long to develop the Honey West character.

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