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Skip Fickling, Honey West Creator, Dies

Obituary: Veteran and author of detective novels succumbed to brain tumor at age 72. He was a familiar figure in Laguna Beach.

April 11, 1998|DENNIS McLELLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Author Forrest E. "Skip" Fickling of Laguna Beach, who wrote the popular Honey West series of private-eye novels that became a hit TV show in the 1960s, has died of a brain tumor at age 72.

Fickling wrote 16 novels but is best known for his 11 featuring Honey West, considered the first female private detective in fiction. Actress Anne Francis played a toned-down version of the character for television.

During the peak of Honey's popularity in 1966, Encyclopedia Britannica deemed her "the leading female fictional character in the world." The Honey West books sold millions worldwide.

Fickling died April 3 in a Laguna Hills nursing facility with his family at his side. A memorial service with military honors will be held at 4 p.m. Thursday at the veteran's monument in Heisler Park in Laguna Beach. The day would have been Fickling's 73rd birthday.

Fickling was a familiar figure in Laguna Beach, playing leading roles at the old Laguna Beach Playhouse, posing in the Pageant of the Masters--once alongside Edward G. Robinson--and making an unsuccessful run for City Council in the 1970s.

Born in Long Beach, Fickling grew up in Lynwood. He served as a ball turret gunner with the Army Air Corps during World War II and received several military honors, including the British Air Gunner award and the American Air Medal with three oak-leaf clusters. After being recalled to duty as a Marine Reserve during the Korean War, Fickling and his wife moved to Laguna Beach in 1950.

Following the suggestion of a mystery-writer friend, Fickling created Honey West in 1956.

"I first thought of Marilyn Monroe, and then I thought of [fictional detective] Mike Hammer and decided to put the two together," Fickling told The Times in 1986. As for his character's name: "We thought the most used name for someone you really like is Honey. And she lives in the West, so there was her name."

Fickling wrote the novels under the pseudonym G.G. Fickling. (The sex of the author remained purposely vague, so readers wouldn't know that Honey, the novels' first-person narrator, was created by a man.)

In the Golden Globe-winning 1965-66 series, the character was known for her bejeweled handcuffs, a transistorized lipstick that doubled as a two-way radio and, perhaps most memorably, a pet ocelot.

Fickling is survived by his wife of 49 years, Gloria, sons Michael, Christopher and Jeffry and grandson Ariel.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Sutton Foundation, to benefit developmentally disabled children and adults, 1059 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 608, Santa Ana, CA 92705.

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