For Francine York, the road to Hollywood began in the small iron mining town of Aurora, Minn., where she was born in 1938. Her family moved to Cleveland briefly, before returning to Aurora, during which years she performed in school plays.Trips to the local cinema introduced her to stars such as David Niven in “Wuthering Heights” and Neil Hamilton in early 1930s Tarzan films.
“I never imagined at the time I would end up working with many of these actors,” said York from Los Angeles.
But it was York’s mom who predicted young Francine’s future. She would recount the time her daughter first witnessed the spectacular aurora borealis lights, visible from their northern Minnesota hometown close to the Canadian border.“She told me I asked ‘Momma, is that the end of the world?’” remembered York. “Her reply was ‘No, it means you’re going to be a star and go to Hollywood.’”
In 1959, her mother’s prophecy came true when 21-year-old Francine secured a small role as a secretary in an episode of the TV series “Rescue 8,” the first of more than 120 film and TV credits (see www.francineyork.net).
In 1964, she worked with Niven in the comedy “Bedtime Story.” The following year, she appeared in two low budget sci-fi films, “Mutiny in Outer Space” and “Space Probe Taurus.”
“The producer, Burt Topper, had to cut corners in ‘Space Probe Taurus’ and did the voice of the narrator and built the whole spaceship himself,” explained York. “For shots showing the stars in space, he poked holes in a piece of black velvet with lights behind. I told him ‘You’re the only man I know who built his own universe!’”
On television, York appeared in many classic '60s series including the “Lost in Space” episode, "The Colonists."
“My character was an alien, the noble Niolani,” she said. “The outfit I wore was a skintight piece of black latex, a black pointed headdress, and I carried this fancy scepter. Why didn’t I take the scepter home with me! Those props are priceless today and I could have lived the rest of my life on it!”
In 1996, York met 90-year-old director Vincent Sherman and became his companion until he died one month short of his 100th birthday. She says they never lived together, but remained good friends despite their 30-year age difference.
“Vincent was an astute director and had a remarkable attitude,” she noted. “Despite losing some big directing jobs to others, he was never bitter about anyone.”
That’s a philosophy York says she also followed on her Hollywood journey.
“I’ve tried to be positive throughout my life and display an attitude of gratitude for all that I’ve achieved,” says York, who is currently finishing her autobiography. “It was a wonderful blessing coming from a small town, but I always knew I would leave and travel the road to Hollywood.”
Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, Ala., and has written features, columns, and interviews for over 500 magazines and newspapers.