Francine York was born in the small mining town of Aurora, Minnesota to her parents, Frank and Sophie Yerich. When Francine 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, Francine 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, Francine ran into the audience and told her mother that she wanted to be an actress.
When Francine 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, charged five cents admission to the show, and the whole town turned out for the production.
While studying journalism and drama at Aurora High School, Francine 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 for Francine later on, when she would not only host, but do all of the gourmet cooking for dinner parties for some of Hollywood’s biggest names.
At age 17, Francine 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, Francine, 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 Francine in her theatrical ambitions, and predicted that she would end up in Hollywood very soon. At this point, however, Hollywood was still a dream for Francine, who wanted desperately to leave Minnesota and make her mark in show business.
Moving to Minneapolis, she 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, Francine 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, Francine got a job as a showgirl at Bimbo’s, a well-known San Francisco nightclub, which was highly disapproved of by Francine’s modeling agency, but this turned out to be the right choice for Francine when she met Bimbo’s headliner, singer Mary Meade French, who brought Francine to Hollywood and, later, got her signed with her first agent.
Arriving in Los Angeles, Francine 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, Francine 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 Francine 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 Francine’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!”
Francine’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 (1966), Mutiny in Outer Space (1965) and Space Probe Taurus (1965). Francine’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. Francine 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 Francine’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).
Francine has also had tremendous success in television, with appearances on Route 66 (1960), Hawaiian Eye (1959), 77 Sunset Strip (1958), My Favorite Martian (1963), Burke’s Law (1963), Perry Mason (1957), Batman (1966), Gomer Pyle: USMC (1964), Lost in Space (1965), 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) and Las Vegas (2003), among many others. Francine’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”. One of Francine’s other favorite roles was that of high-class prostitute and blackmailer Lorraine Temple on Days of Our Lives (1965).
While Francine was enjoying great success 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. Francine 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.
Francine 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). She was also quite busy working on her autobiography, something her fans are looking forward to with great interest. In 1996, she met director Vincent Sherman (Mr. Skeffington, The Adventures of Don Juan, The Young Philadelphians), and was his companion until his death in 2006. Francine 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 6, 2017, Francine York died of cancer at age 80 in Van Nuys, California.
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