07 April 2020

RIP: Honor Blackman (1925-2020)

Yesterday, 6 April 2020, British actress Honor Blackman (1925-2020) passed away at the age of 94. She was best known for playing the Bond girl Pussy Galore opposite Sean Connery in Goldfinger (1964). Blackman became a household name in the 1960s as Cathy Gale in The Avengers in which she showed an extraordinary combination of beauty, brains and physical prowess. After a career spanning eight decades, she died of natural causes unrelated to coronavirus.

RIP: Honor Blackman (1925-2020)
British autograph card.

Honor Blackman and Sean Connery in Goldfinger (1964)
Spanish postcard by Postal Oscarcolor, no. 355. Photo: Sean Connery and Honor Blackman in  Goldfinger (Guy Hamilton, 1964).

Leather-clad crimefighter Cathy Gale


Honor Blackman was born one of four children of a middle-class family in London's East End. Her father, Frederick Blackman, was a civil service statistician.

For her 15th birthday, her parents gave her acting lessons and she began her training at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 1940. Blackman received her first acting work on stage in London's West End as an understudy for 'The Guinea Pig'. She continued with roles in 'The Gleam' (1946) and 'The Blind Goddess' (1947), before moving into film.

She debuted with Fame Is the Spur (Roy Boulting, 1947), starring Michael Redgrave. Signed up with the Rank Organisation, Blackman joined several other starlet hopefuls who were being groomed for greater fame.

She played small roles in the anthology film Quartet (Ken Annakin, Arthur Crabtree, Harold French, Ralph Smart, 1948), based on short stories by W. Somerset Maugham, the thriller So Long at the Fair (Terence Fisher, Antony Darnborough,1950), with Dirk Bogarde, and the Titanic drama A Night to Remember (Roy Ward Baker, 1958).

Developing a solid footing, she filmed The Square Peg (John Paddy Carstairs, 1958) with comedian Norman Wisdom and A Matter of WHO (Don Chaffey, 1961) with Terry-Thomas.

On television, she played in the Edgar Wallace vigilante series The Four Just Men (1959-1960). She secured her breakthrough when she was cast in 1962 as the leather-clad crimefighter Cathy Gale in the hit British show The Avengers (1962-1964), alongside Patrick Macnee as the bowler-hatted John Steed. Blackman had to learn judo for the role, and her tough persona allied to then daring costume choices – boots and figure-hugging catsuits – ensured she quickly assumed star status. One of its unlikely results was a hit single, 'Kinky Boots', recorded in 1964 with Macnee, which became a Top 10 hit in the U.K. in 1990.

Blackman’s proficiency in martial arts helped her land what became her signature role, that of Pussy Galore, the glamorous villain assisting in Goldfinger’s plot to rob Fort Knox. Goldfinger (Guy Hamilton, 1964) was the third Bond film and was a global hit. Gary Brumburgh at IMDb: "Blackman went toe to toe with Sean Connery's womanizing "007" and created major sparks on screen, managing to outclass the (wink-wink) double meaning of her character's name."

Gert Fröbe, Honor Blackman, Martin Benson and Sean Connery in Goldfinger (1964)
Dutch postcard by 't Sticht, Utrecht, no. AX 6262. Gert Fröbe, Honor Blackman, Martin Benson and Sean Connery in Goldfinger (Guy Hamilton, 1964).

Sean Connery and Honor Blackman in Goldfinger (1964)
German postcard. Photo: P.A. Reuter. Sean Connery and Honor Blackman in Goldfinger (Guy Hamilton, 1964).

A lot of life left to live


After her rise to mainstream fame, Honor Blackman made noticeable appearances in such films as Jason and the Argonauts (Don Chaffey, 1963) as the vengeful goddess Hera, the Western Shalako (Edward Dmytryk, 1968) and The Virgin and the Gypsy (Christopher Miles, 1970) with Franco Nero.

Simon Murphy
and Andrew Pulver in The Guardian: "while she worked steadily in film, her TV work was higher profile, and included guest appearances in Columbo, Minder and Doctor Who. In 1990, she was cast in a regular role in the ITV sitcom The Upper Hand, playing the glamorous mother of the lead female character. Blackman expressed her fondness for the role, saying it “made women who had just retired and felt they’d been put on the backburner realise they had a lot of life left to live”."

She earned raves on stage as the blind heroine of the thriller 'Wait Until Dark' as well as for her dual roles in 'Mr. and Mrs.', a production based on two of Noël Coward's plays. She also appeared on stage in 'The Sound of Music' (1981), 'My Fair Lady' (2005-2006) and 'Cabaret' (2007).

She was a staunch republican and turned down a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in 2002 to avoid being a “hypocrite”. More recently, she joined a campaign to demand compensation payments for pensioners who lost savings in the Equitable Life scandal.

Honor Blackman was married to Bill Sankey from 1948 to 1956. After their divorce, she married British actor Maurice Kaufmann (1961–1975). They appeared together in the slasher film Fright (Peter Collinson, 1971) and some stage productions. They adopted two children, Lottie (1967) and Barnaby (1968). After her divorce from Kaufmann, she did not remarry and stated that she preferred being single. She enjoyed watching football. Blackman died at her home in Lewes in 2020, aged 94, from natural causes.

RIP: Honor Blackman (1925-2020)
East-German postcard by VEB Progress Film-Vertrieb, Berlin, no. 1602, 1961. Honor Blackman in The Delavine Affair (Douglas Peirce, 1954).

RIP: Honor Blackman (1925-2020)
Autograph card.

Sources: Simon Murphy and Andrew Pulver (The Guardian), Gary Brumburgh (IMDb), Wikipedia and IMDb.

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