R.I.P. Honor Blackman, Sixties spy stunner of Goldfinger and The Avengers
The actress known as Dr. Cathy Gale and Pussy Galore was 94.
Image: The Everett Collection
Goldfinger remains the ultimate James Bond film. Shirley Bassey belting that incredible theme song. The striking image of a victim painted gold. The swinging poolside of the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach. The henchman Oddjob whipping around his razor-sharp derby hat like a killer frisbee. A laser inching towards our hero as Goldfinger delivers the immortal line, "No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!"
And, of course, the Bond girl, the ultimate Bond girl.
Ian Fleming introduced Pussy Galore in his 1959 novel Goldfinger. The American crime boss led a squad of female trapeze artists turned cat burglars called Pussy Galore and her Abrocats. The film changed the character a good bit, making her the leader of Pussy Galore's Flying Circus, a Goldfinger ally who turns good. The producers also gave her judo skills. Those came from the actress herself.
Born in Essex, England, Honor Blackman studied acting in drama school before taking to the stage. Early film roles led to a breakthrough gig on The Avengers, the hip British adventure series that aired on both sides of the Pond. Blackman portrayed Dr. Cathy Gale, an anthropologist into leather and martial arts, partnered with series constant John Steed (Patrick Macnee).
Blackman was introduced at the start of the second series, in 1962, as the show shifted to more a mod style. Television had never seen a female character quite like this. It is said that the show's writers simply took lines intended for Dr. Gale's male predecessor, Dr. David Keel (Ian Hendry), and transferred them to her character. But Blackman brought the judo skills to the table.
The hip-factor of The Avengers carried over into other media. Blackman and Macnee recorded a pop song together in 1964, "Kinky Boots," which eventually managed to crack the Top 10 in the U.K. Blackman also released her own single, "Before Today," in 1968.
But Blackman left The Avengers for James Bond. The show grooved on without her, casting Diana Rigg as Mrs. Emma Peel. They even paid tribute to Blackman in an episode following her departure. In "Too Many Christmas Trees," John Steed received a holiday card from his former partner. "Whatever can she be doing at Fort Knox?" he asks.
This was a sly nod to the plot of Goldfinger, which had hit theaters a year prior.
"It was two years of a show every fortnight for the entire year. I used to stand up for hours and hours after rehearsals for clothes fittings as well as go to the gym for my judo," she said in a 2011 interview with Sci-Fi and TV Talk. "I also used to do an enormous amount of publicity for the series, as did Patrick. It was very, very tough going but great fun."
Elsewhere on television, Blackman could be seen in an episode of The Saint (paired with another "007", Roger Moore), which you can stream below, as well as a season-two mystery from Columbo, "Dagger of the Mind."
She also continued to take small, recurring roles on cherished British television institutions such as Coronation Street and Doctor Who.
Blackman passed away this week, according to The Hollywood Reporter. She was 94.