"Best laid plans of
mice and men.
I don't know where it's
from, but I know it's true!"
Gotham City Burns (1966)
In 1968) York co-starred in
a pilot for a proposed NBC adventure series called "City Beneath
the Sea" which featured Glenn Corbett and Lloyd Bochner. The
series was rejected, but the concept was recast and became a
television movie (City Beneath the Sea (1971) with Stuart Whitman in
the starring role.
York was born in the small mining town of Aurora, Minnesota to her
parents, Frank and Sophie Yerich. When York was five, her family
(including her younger sister, Deanne) moved to Cleveland, where she
began to write short stories and take an interest in acting. At age
nine, she made her theatrical debut in the Hodge Grammar School
production of Cinderella, playing Griselda. Initially quite upset
that she did not get the starring role, Francine ended up stealing
the show with her performance as the evil stepsister. Right after the
show, she ran into the audience and told her mother that she wanted
to be an actress.
When York was age 12, the
family moved back to Aurora, where she continued to perform in class
plays, as well as writing, producing, directing and starring in a
three-act play called "Keen Teens or Campus Quarantine".
Francine, displaying an entrepreneurial spirit at a young age,
charging five cents admission to the show.
While studying journalism
and drama at Aurora High School, York worked as the feature editor of
the school newspaper, Aurora Borealis, and she won all of the
school's declamation contests with her dramatic readings.
Additionally, she was the baton-twirling majorette for the school
band, and active in the 4-H club, where she won several blue ribbons
for cooking in both county and state fairs. This proved to be
valuable experience later on, when she would not only host, but do
all of the gourmet cooking for dinner parties for some of Hollywood's
age 17, York won the Miss Eveleth contest (Eveleth being a nearby
town), and became a runner-up in the Miss Minnesota contest, which
was hosted by former Miss America BeBe Shopp. For the talent portion
of the Miss Minnesota pageant, York, who was not afraid to be less
than glamorous during a performance, donned some old clothes, removed
her makeup, grayed her hair, and performed a reading of a monologue
called "The Day That Was That Day" by Amy Lowell, in which
she played a dual role of two elderly Southern women. BeBe Shopp
encouraged York in her theatrical ambitions, and predicted that she
would end up in Hollywood. At this point, however, Hollywood was
still a dream for York, who wanted desperately to leave Minnesota and
make her mark in show business.
Moving to Minneapolis, York
got a job modeling sweaters for New York-based Jane Richards
Sportswear and began traveling throughout the United States, ending
up in San Francisco. After leaving Jane Richards, she began a
modeling course at the House of Charm agency, which started her off
on a very successful modeling career for all of the major department
stores, including Macy's. Her modeling work got the attention of the
producers of the Miss San Francisco beauty pageant, which she
subsequently entered and was voted runner-up, but ended up taking
over the title after the winner became too sick to participate. Soon
after, York got a job as a showgirl at Bimbo's, a well-known San
Francisco nightclub, which was highly disapproved of by her modeling
agency, but this turned out to be the right choice for York when she
met Bimbo's headliner, singer Mary Meade French, who brought her to
Hollywood and, later, got her signed with her first agent.
Arriving in Los Angeles,
York once again found herself working as a showgirl at Frank Sennes'
Moulin Rouge, a popular nightclub on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood,
where she performed in three shows a night, seven nights a week for
six months. Tired of sharing a stage with elephants, pigeons and
horses, she moved on to pursue her acting career and began study with
famed actor/teacher Jeff Corey. While performing in Corey's class,
York was spotted by a theatrical producer, who cast her in a play
called "Whisper in God's Ear" at the Circle Theatre. During
this time, the same producer gave York her very first movie role,
starring in Secret File: Hollywood (1962), a film about the
day-to-day operations of a sleazy Hollywood tabloid. The movie
premiered in York's hometown of Aurora, which gave her the biggest
thrill of her life as the whole town, the press, her family, friends,
and even the high school band turned out at the airport to greet her
with banners proclaiming, "Welcome Home, Francine!"
York's first big break came
when Jerry Lewis cast her in his film It's Only Money (1962), in
which she played a tantalizing sexpot, a role which brought her a
tremendous amount of publicity. This led to Lewis hiring her for five
more of his films, including The Nutty Professor (1963), The Patsy
(1964), The Disorderly Orderly (1964), The Family Jewels (1965) and
Cracking Up (1983), in which she played a fifteenth century marquise.
Other notable film appearances include Bedtime Story (1964) (with
Marlon Brando and David Niven), Tickle Me (1965) (with Elvis
Presley), Cannon for Cordoba (1970) (with George Peppard), and
science fiction cult films Curse of the Swamp Creature (1968), Mutiny
in Outer Space (1965) and Space Probe Taurus (1965).
York's most popular film
was the cult classic The Doll Squad (1973), where she played Sabrina
Kincaid, leader of an elite team of gorgeous female assassins who
attempt to stop a diabolical madman from destroying the world with a
deadly plague virus. York also delivered a stunning performance as
Marilyn Monroe in an otherwise lackluster film, Marilyn Alive and
Behind Bars (1992). Film critic Tom Weaver has been quoted as saying
that York's performances often rise above the low-budget films she
has been cast in. More recently, Francine played Nicolas Cage's mother-in-law
in The Family Man (2000).
York has also had many
appearances on television including: Route 66 (1960), Hawaiian Eye
(1959), 77 Sunset Strip (1958), My Favorite Martian (1963), Burke's
Law (1963), Perry Mason (1957), Gomer Pyle: USMC (1964), It Takes a
Thief (1968), Green Acres (1965), The Wild Wild West (1965), Ironside
(1967), I Dream of Jeannie (1965), Love, American Style (1969),
Mannix (1967), Bewitched (1964), Adam-12 (1968), Mission: Impossible
(1966), Kojak (1973), Columbo (1971), Matlock (1986), The King of
Queens (1998), Las Vegas (2003), The Mindy Project (2015) and Star
Trek: Progeny (2016). York's personal favorites among her television
roles include her portrayal of nineteenth century British actress
Lily Langtry in the Death Valley Days (1952) episode "Picture of
a Lady", and her role as the princess opposite Shirley Temple
(one of Francine's childhood idols) in NBC's presentation of Hans
Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid", finally getting
to play "the princess". York remembers, "Shirley
carried my bridal train down the aisle when I married the prince.
Even though she was older than me, she was small with short little
legs and told me 'Oh Francine, I wish I was as tall as you.' (York
was 5' 8") I remember the sets on that show where made of
cardboard and if you breathed too hard they would fall apart."
One of Francine's other favorite roles was that of high-class
prostitute and blackmailer Lorraine Temple on Days of Our Lives (1965).
York also co-starred in the
1965 Lost in Space episode, The Colonists, playing an alien, Niolani.
She wore was a skintight piece of black latex, a pointed headdress,
and carried a fancy scepter. In the final scene, a dramatic blast
resulted in a near miss for York. "Irwin Allen (producer) loved
explosions. A sofa went flying up unexpectedly and came close to
hitting me. The PR man made a big deal out of the incident and the
next day in the papers the headlines read 'Actress Saved by
Headdress,' although I dont think the headdress had anything to
do with it."
York also apeared on Batman
(1966) as the accomplice to guest villain Roddy McDowall as The
Bookworm. McDowall was once asked what he liked about doing Batman
and he answered, Francine York.
While York was working as a
film and television actress, she was also making a name for herself
as a fitness/nutrition expert and gourmet cook. She made many
appearances on television demonstrating her culinary skills, and many
of her recipes, as well as her exercise programs, were published in
national health magazines. York also became known as one of
Hollywood's leading hostesses, cooking for such celebrities as Clint
Eastwood, Rex Harrison, Vincent Price, Regis Philbin, Jean Stapleton,
Neil Sedaka, James Arness, Glenn Ford and Peter Ustinov.
York continued to act in
films and on television. Two recent television appearances include
Hot in Cleveland (2010) (as British matriarch Lady Natalie), and
Bucket and Skinner's Epic Adventures (2011) (as Aunt Bitsy).
In 1996, she met director
Vincent Sherman (Mr. Skeffington, The Adventures of Don Juan, The
Young Philadelphians), and became good friends despite their 30 year
age difference until his death in 2006 at age 99.
York never married, she
once said, "Like Cinderella, I always wanted to marry the
handsome prince... but they don't make glass slippers in size
ten!" On January 6th, 2017, York died of cancer at age 80 in Van
Nuys, California. She was working on her autobiography at the time of