Of the many characters that enrich Laguna Beach, Gloria Fickling, “Glori” to her countless friends, captures her own special place in town. Ever present at First Thursday Art Walk, art openings and places where the fun-loving gather, she’ll be the first to kick up her heels to music.
Last Friday, the community helped Fickling celebrate her 92nd birthday as well as a milestone few former novelists see in their lifetime.
Wearing a white wide-brimmed hat embellished by a happy birthday tiara and clutching a long-stemmed red rose, Fickling mingled with a crowd of roughly 250 who came to fete her at the Seven Degrees event center. They also are among the first to see the screening of a half-hour documentary movie about her life as an author, editor and half of the pseudo-named writing team of G.G Fickling, which created the Honey West series of novels that began with “Girl For Hire” in 1957. With her husband of 50 years, Forrest E. “Skip” Fickling, making up the other half, their books were the basis of the 1965 television series “Honey West.”
“Gloria created the first female detective to empower women. She had it then and has it now, as vibrant as ever,” said Sande St. John, the party’s organizer.
Skip Fickling envisioned the voluptuous Ms. West as a cross between Marilyn Monroe and fictional detective Mike Hammer. Gloria inspired the character’s over the top wardrobe and glamorous surroundings that included a pet ocelot. Honey was armed and possessing martial arts skills along with a fierce determination to crack cases with scant male interference. “We named her ‘Honey’ because it’s a magic name and ‘West’ because she lived in the West,” explained Fickling, an erstwhile fashion writer and editor as well as later food columnist. She did the editing while leaving most of the writing to her late husband.
Produced by Aaron Spelling, the show lasted just one season and was replaced by the less expensive British series “The Avengers.” Anne Francis, who portrayed the title character, earned a Golden Globe and Emmy nomination in the role. “The character made young women think there was more they could reach for. It encouraged a lot of people,” Francis reportedly said at the time.
However short-lived, the series begat the Honey West action/fashion doll as the first of its kind and inspired later female-driven detective shows like “Cagney & Lacey.”
Lynda De La Viña, Ph.D, and Nick Jerge, co-founders of both Honey West Entertainment and Vinjer Productions, produced the short documentary titled “Honey West: The Gloria Fickling Story.”
With Laura Varela directing, they plan to expand it into a full-length feature. “We want to fill in the gap and let the public know who Honey West is. Nothing has been written lately about the first female private detective in television,” she said.
Regarding Honey as a pre-feminist movement role model for today’s young women, they also plan to revive the books in a film franchise. De La Viña said that she had met Fickling several years ago and teamed up with Jerge to develop a company that would produce feature films based on the Ficklings’ novels. “We have been so impressed with Gloria’s energy, outlook on life and ability to overcome difficulties. It became clear to me that she would be the basis for the Honey West character,” said De La Viña, who also teaches entrepreneurship courses at the University of Texas at San Antonio and served as deputy assistant secretary of economic policy during the Clinton administration.
The documentary is an homage to Fickling and a relevant role model for today’s women, who still struggle for equal treatment in the workplace, De La Viña said.
“Often times the younger generations may not have appreciated the struggles women went through during the 1950s and ‘60s and how those rights are in jeopardy again. Honey West is about the empowerment of women, the embodiment of what women aspired to, to have control of their own lives and to have successful careers,” she said.
Several film studios had optioned the Honey West novels over time, but to no avail, De La Viña said. Today, Honey West Entertainment owns the rights to the character.
“What is fascinating is that you see all those action oriented movies catering to youthful demographics, but there is an increasing outcry for strong female leads,” said Jerge, noting a lack of action-film content directed at little girls. “Time is finally changing and perfect to get a Honey West film done. Her bravado is something young girls can look up to: I have to be strong, make my own way, no one, male or female, is going to tell me what to do,” he said.
Laguna Beach Mayor Toni Iseman can foresee its success. “I know there will be Honey West movies and I can just see Glori getting out of a limo in one of her hats and jewelry, being taken to the premiere,” she said.