Birthplace: London, England
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Executive summary: Cathy Gale on The Avengers
Honor Blackman was not the first actress to play a kick-ass chick on film or television, but she was the first to make beating up on men part of her screen persona, while remaining smart, sexy, and completely feminine. In her most famous roles, she played Dr Cathy Gale on TV's The Avengers, and battled and bedded Secret Agent 007 as Pussy Galore in Goldfinger.
Blackman's father was a strict disciplinarian, but when she entered adolescence he insisted that she take self-defense classes, decades before girls routinely did such things. In her early teens, she volunteered as a motorcycle dispatch rider during World War II, rushing secretive packages across town while air raid sirens sounded. At 15, she was a standout in drama class at school, and for her birthday her father signed her up for elocution lessons to overcome the family's cockney accent. At 17, he angrily slapped her as punishment for wearing lipstick, and Blackman, by then a yellow belt in judo, hit her father back, with ferocity. She moved out later that night, but after tempers cooled father and daughter remained close. He later talked her through a bout of insecurity, urging her to audition for her first professional play, The Guinea Pig. She was hired as understudy to the lead, and took the role to rave reviews when the star took ill.
She was soon earning her living as a stage actress, and broke into film with a tiny role in Fame Is the Spur. Some of her best early notices came in 1948, for Quartet. For the next decade she worked steadily in film, but never found great fame. In the late 1950s, she was featured in two TV series. She co-starred in The Four Just Men, and after that series was cancelled she played probation officer Iris Cope on the cleverly-titled Probation Officer, but she left that drama after its first season.
During her first marriage, she had an abortion, although doing so was illegal at the time. Newly divorced, she had a nervous breakdown, and was hospitalized for a month. Her bounce-back role came when she joined a British action-adventure series for its second season in 1962. In its first year, The Avengers had starred Ian Hendry and Patrick Macnee, two men at work in a male-bonding "buddy concept". Julie Stevens had briefly played part-time spy Venus Smith, but her role consisted of little beyond screaming and waiting for John Steed (Macnee) to rescue her.
As Cathy Gale, Blackman brought something wildly different -- a female character who could hold her own among the men. She was a doctor of philosophy and a judo expert who, instead of waiting to be rescued, often rescued Mr. Steed herself. With her self-defense training and personal gusto, coupled with the program's low budget, Blackman performed many of her own stunts, and once accidentally kicked a guest star -- a professional wrestler -- into brief unconsciousness.
It was Macnee, she says, who suggested that Gale's character should wear leather, after several pairs of Blackman's traditional pants had ripped down the seams during fight sequences. The leather, wrapped around Blackman's performance, made The Avengers a hit. Blackman became a star, profiled in articles with titles like "Sex Kitten in Black Boots", and hyped as "blowing out picture tubes all over England."
To avoid being typecast, though, she left the show after only two seasons. She was replaced by the generally forgotten Elizabeth Shepherd as Emma Peel, but after only an episode and a half, Shepherd was fired and Diana Rigg became Mrs. Peel. Most Americans never saw Blackman's Cathy Gale, as The Avengers did not air on American TV until 1966, two years after her departure. But Rigg's Mrs. Peel, a pretty tough dame herself, was following a path that had been blazed by Blackman.
After The Avengers, Blackman has said, tossing Sean Connery about the barn in their famous Goldfinger fight scene was "easy-peasy lemon-squeezy". She was 37 years old when she played Pussy Galore, making her the oldest Bond girl in all the 007 films. In Fleming's novel Goldfinger, Ms Galore is clearly a lesbian, but to Blackman's amusement, the film's only allusion to her sexuality was when she slyly told Bond, "I'm immune to your charms."
Beyond The Avengers and Goldfinger, Blackman has had a long career on stage and screen, but many of her film roles have been supporting parts. Her best films include the Titanic tale A Night to Remember, Jason and the Argonauts with effects by Ray Harryhausen, and Bridget Jones's Diary.
Now a senior citizen, Blackman is still working as an actress, and still looks like she could outfight most men. After being asked her secrets of youth many, many times, she wrote a book in 1997, How to Look & Feel Half Your Age for the Rest of Your Life.
She has long been involved with the Fairtrade Foundation, a British organization that offers a "Fairtrade" mark for products grown or manufactured in the third world, if the importers can certify that low-level foreign workers received reasonable wages and fair treatment.
Husband: Bill Sankey (businessman, m. 1946, div. 1956)
Husband: Maurice Kaufmann (actor, b. 1928, m. 1963, div. 1975, one daughter, one son)
Daughter: Lottie (adopted, b. 1968)
Son: Barnaby (adopted, b. 1969)
University: Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London, England
Bond Girls Pussy Galore on Goldfinger
The Avengers Dr. Cathy Gale (1962-64)
Never the Twain Veronica Barton (1981-91)
FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
Cockneys vs Zombies (23-Aug-2012)
Colour Me Kubrick: A True...ish Story (6-Oct-2005)
Jack and the Beanstalk: The Real Story (1-Oct-2001)
Bridget Jones's Diary (4-Apr-2001)
The Sight (10-Sep-2000)
To Walk with Lions (4-Jun-1999) · Joy Adamson
Tale of the Mummy (10-Jul-1998) · Capt. Shea
The Cat and the Canary (19-Nov-1979) · Susan Sillsby
To the Devil a Daughter (4-Mar-1976) · Anna
Something Big (1-Dec-1971)
The Virgin and the Gypsy (Jun-1970)
The Last Grenade (Mar-1970)
The Last Roman (17-Dec-1968)
A Twist of Sand (9-Sep-1968)
Life at the Top (14-Dec-1965)
The Secret of My Success (29-Sep-1965)
Moment to Moment (1965)
Goldfinger (17-Sep-1964) · Pussy Galore
Jason and the Argonauts (19-Jun-1963) · Hera
A Matter of WHO (3-Oct-1961)
A Night to Remember (3-Jul-1958) · Mrs. Liz Lucas
The Square Peg (1958) · Lesley Cartland
Suspended Alibi (Feb-1957)
The Glass Tomb (15-Apr-1955)
The Rainbow Jacket (May-1954)
Green Grow the Rushes (6-Nov-1951)
So Long at the Fair (3-Jun-1950) · Rhoda O'Donovan
Conspirator (9-Dec-1949) · Joyce
Diamond City (20-Sep-1949)
A Boy, a Girl and a Bike (23-May-1949)
Daughter of Darkness (21-Jan-1948)
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