Glori Fickling: The woman behind (and inside) the 

1950s private detective series Honey West 

Story by MARRIE STONE

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

This year, Gloria (Glori) Fickling again turns the age she’s always turned…29. Now, she says, you only have to hold that number up to the mirror. 

If ever a woman could convince you age is only a number, it’s Glori. She still exudes the same sense of fun adventure and daring flair for fashion she had 70 years ago when she met her late husband, Skip, while crawling backwards out of a hotel window wearing nothing more than a bikini. (Stay tuned for more on that story later.)

Best known for their collaboration on the first female private detective series, Honey West, that debuted in the 1950s, Glori and Skip celebrated a storied career.

We sit for a few hours – outside the home she and Skip built together in 1953, overlooking Laguna’s village with the church bells ringing below and the sun setting across the Pacific – and hold up that magical mirror on all the “29” glorious years of Glori’s life. 

Fashion first, fashion always

Fashion and a sense of style may be woven into Glori’s DNA. Born in Brooklyn and raised in Queens, fashion had been on her brain since she could remember. “Ever since I was a little kid, in my head I would be designing clothes,” Glori says. Before meeting Skip, Glori’s early career revolved around apparel. She worked for Women’s Wear Daily, the bible of the industry at that time. 

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The always-glamorous Glori in her library

Glori also became a fashion consultant for May Company, choosing all the clothing for their photo shoots. “In fact, I designed the first line of maternity clothes,” she says. Glori’s boss at the time grew jealous of her early and swift success, giving her only a small line in the magazine for her progressive designs.

Fashion became a theme of Glori’s life, influencing not only the concept and character of Honey West, but defining Glori’s sense of presence in everyday life. She’s known for her big-brimmed hats and trendy outfits, vogue jewelry and enviable shoes. Glori will never be caught looking anything less than the best dressed.

Except that one time…

Seventy years ago, still single and on a Catalina Island adventure with friends, Glori got locked inside her hotel room. With no other means of escape, and wearing only a rainbow-striped bikini, she took matters into her own hands. The window was low to the ground, but navigating it in a bathing suit made an entertaining scene. 

Skip Fickling sat on a railing outside her room, watching her progress. “Well, aren’t you cute,” Glori said once she made it to the ground. Skip asked her out on the spot, but Glori already had a date. 

Fortunately for Skip, Glori’s date turned into a disaster. Like a scene straight out of their later Honey West novels, Glori had to physically fight the man off. “The guy tried to nail me on the table,” Glori recalls. “I took my two feet, threw him across the room, and ran like hell back to the inn.” 

Skip was there waiting.

They spent a sweet weekend together. And, on Sunday, Skip accompanied Glori to church. He held her hand throughout the service. In a later 1959 appearance on the show “You Bet Your Life,” calling up this story, Groucho Marx asked Glori, “Why was that? Didn’t he trust you when the collection plate came around?”

The two eventually eloped to Las Vegas, getting married at one of those little chapels on the Strip. “The lady who stood up for us…she was only wearing a bathrobe, for crying out loud,” says Glori. “I asked her name. Skip thought that was so funny I wanted to know her name. But it was very sentimental to me. For god’s sake, I was getting married.”

A peach of a pair

Glori and Skip may have modeled their marriage after Glori’s parents. Glori talks about her father, Frank Gautraud, with some of the same reverence she has for Skip. “He was God’s gift to mankind,” Glori says about her father. “He had such a sense of humor. Mom and Dad were always laughing.” 

Her own marriage felt full of that same fun love. Skip and Glori loved travel, they loved Las Vegas, they loved working together. “A peach of a pair.” That’s what she called them.

“When you have parents who love each other all the time, you know you’ve got a chosen life,” says Glori. And Glori’s life has felt chosen.

How Honey was born

Twenty-first century women know the strength of being both smart and sensual. But in the 1950s, women who survived on bravery and wits, with more than a little sex appeal on the side, were a new breed. Skip and Glori were the perfect couple to usher that woman into the mainstream.

Honey West was based on Glori’s vivacious personality, Marilyn Monroe’s classic looks, and a Mike Hammer style hardboiled detective. A blue-eyed blonde bombshell with curves that wouldn’t quit, not to mention wit and wiles, Honey West was the first female private eye in American crime fiction. Named after the common and relatable pet name “Honey,” and “West” because, well, she lived in southern California. Out to avenge her father’s death, Honey was known to be “the sexiest private eye ever to pull a trigger.”

Writing under the gender-ambiguous penname G.G. Fickling (a nod to Glori’s maiden name Gloria Gautraud), the couple wrote 11 novels. Titles like “A Kiss for a Killer,” “Girl on the Prowl” and “Honey in the Flesh” all were born before the feminist movement took off across the country. 

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Honey West: “the sexiest private eye ever to pull the trigger”

This led to the eventual launch of a 1960s television show directed by Aaron Spelling and starring Anne Francis, who sported a tight black jumpsuit and sleek sunglasses, and kept company with a pet ocelot named Bruce. While the program only lasted one season, it became the precursor to later shows like Charlie’s Angels, Cagney & Lacey and Police Woman. 

Glori’s office is a shrine to Honey. Bookcases are crammed with copies in several foreign languages. Posters, dolls, memorabilia, and a long line of hotel room keys collected from their book tours line the shelves and walls.

“Her bravado, her great spirit, that’s what Skip saw in making me the role model,” Glori said in an interview last year with the Orange County Register

Glori’s great spirit

I ask Glori about her great spirit, and what she believes sets her apart. “I’ve always been so outgoing,” she says. “If I ever see anyone sitting alone, I always ask them to join me.” 

But, she tells me, there was one time she did not, and this led to one of her greatest life regrets. Once, Glori and Skip were having lunch and happened to see Marilyn Monroe sitting alone. “Almost any other time, I would have invited her to join us, but I was so humbled. She was gorgeous, like a glass doll.” Monroe felt untouchable and intimidating. It seemed too much of a stretch to ask.

Glori feels if she would have reached out to Monroe, told her that Honey West was based on her image, it might have made her day. As she recounts the story, it’s as though Glori feels the weight of responsibility in not alleviating some of Marilyn Monroe’s pain. “If I’d done that,” she says. “It would have been so cheering. What a foolish thing. Every other time, I would always ask.”

Not everything is easy

Glori forever looks on the bright side. But life doesn’t always offer its brightest sides, no matter how lucky you are. And in the mirror of her 29 years, there were some rough times.

At 14, Glori contracted a virulent case of rheumatic fever, forcing her to leave her home in New York, move away from her parents, and live with family in California. “The doctor said I had to get to some warm climate. I had relatives who lived here, and my mother sent me out.” 

It was a childhood illness that took her away from friends and family, but it led her west, to the great state where she’d meet her husband and make Laguna Beach her final happy home.

The hardships didn’t end there. Glori and Skip lost their first child shortly after his birth. The hospital made a mistake, sending Glori home when they shouldn’t have, resulting in complications they couldn’t control. This sunk her into a deep depression, one she wasn’t certain she’d crawl out from. But, she says, this heartbreak prevented Skip from having to fight in the Korean War. He knew Glori might not make it without him home. The couple went on to have three sons, three grandsons, and now a great-granddaughter. 

Years later, they would have lost their home in the 1993 Laguna fire, but for Skip’s training in World War II. He knew the roads, how to drive at night with the lights off, how to crawl through the brush and sneak back to the house when it was surrounded by police presence. That decision saved their home. Skip saw a hot-spot building next door and was able to contact the fire department in time to squelch it. Another lucky break, Glori tells me.

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Glori displays some foreign editions of the Honey West series

But Glori’s greatest loss was Skip, who passed in 1998. Skip had prostate cancer that he opted not to treat and, ultimately, it spread to his brain. “Meeting Skip was the great blessing,” she says. 

This is Glori’s way – turning every misfortune on its head to see the happy sides. Even as she tells me she doesn’t know why she’s lived this long, feeling like she should “give others their turn,” she recognizes she still has more life to live, and more to give the world.

Laguna’s latest grand marshal

At five o’clock, when the bells ring again and I think I should go home, Glori goes in the house to fetch us white wine, and we talk some more. Because with a life lived like Glori’s, there’s a lot to say. 

Glori is Laguna’s latest grand marshal. She’ll march at the head of the annual Patriot’s Day parade. This seems like an ideal choice. Forever the fashionista, the eternal life of the party, still dressed to kill, it’s little wonder Glori is Laguna’s darling. “This is my biggest honor,” she tells me. 

The road ahead

Always ahead of her time, Glori keeps facing forward, looking toward the future – to the possibility of bringing Honey West to the big screen and excited about her role as grand marshal. She’s still writing, anxious to contribute her talents wherever she can, still attending Thursday art walks and local events.

Like Honey, Glori is unstoppable. She’s a force of beauty and brains, style and ability. Her nails are perfectly painted, her makeup impeccably applied, her words carefully chosen. Nothing about Glori is left to chance. 

But what strikes me most is Glori’s warm acceptance, her willingness to say “yes” to life, to take in the stranger at the next table, and to turn every tragedy into an optimistic opportunity. Maybe that’s the secret to eternally turning “29.”