Feb 2, 2014
The First (Female) Action Hero
I've heard the claim that the character of Buffy Summers (from the TV
the Vampire Slayer (1997 - 2003)) was a groundbreaking
character because Buffy was the first female action hero on TV.
Now I don't know if the people who say stuff like that are just such
enormous fans of Buffy they have enormous blinders on or if
these people think pop culture began with them.
Either way, to those people who think that Buffy was groundbreaking for
being the first female action hero on TV, allow me to cure your
though I can't do anything about your inability to master a Google
I grew up in the 1970s. And in the 1970s, I found plenty
of role models on TV. And by role models, I mean females who were every
bit as much an action hero as any male on TV. Feminism was big
in the 1970s and "Women's Lib" was a popular term through the decade.
Betty Friedan's The
Feminine Mystique was published back in 1963. The 1970s
had the Equal Rights Amendment and Ms. magazine. How could any
thinking person not realize that this
movement reached into the world of
Now I certainly don't have a complete list of all the TV shows
I watched growing up. But, limiting myself to live action series and
cartoons, here are the TV shows that I remember watching as a
kid, all of which
break the claim that Buffy was a groundbreaking character for being
the first female action hero on TV..................
- My favorite action hero had
to be the eponymous lead of Wonder Woman
(1975 - 1979). A superhero, the immortal Amazon would
leave Paradise Island to come save mankind in times of trouble. She was
stronger than any man, faster than any man and, frankly, smarter than
- Then there was Charlie's
Angels (1976 - 1981) with three female
private detectives who
kicked butt and solved crimes. I clearly remember the scene where the
character played by Farrah Fawcett (then Farrah Fawcett-Majors)
defeated a bad guy played by Timothy
Dalton in hand-to-hand combat.
show I was allowed to stay up past my bedtime to watch was the
Christie Love! (1974 - 1975) about Christie Love, an undercover
(There was also Police
Woman (1974 - 1978), but that was a show I did not watch.)
- There was The Bionic
Woman (1976 - 1978) who proved that it wasn't
just a six million dollar man who could be implanted with bionic parts
and then used as a
- The Invisible
Man (1975 - 1976) featured a husband and wife team where
both were scientists and both were agents.
Drew of the Hardy
Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries (1977 - 1979) was a teenage
private detective and a hero of mine in books and then on TV.
- Battlestar Galactica (1978 - 1979) where Lieutenant Sheba was a Viper pilot the same as Apollo and Starbuck.
- Buck Rogers
in the 25th Century (1979 - 1981) with Colonel Wilma
Deering, a starfighter pilot who often saved Captain Buck Rogers.
up, Saturday morning TV was not bereft of female action heroes for me to watch..........
- There was Isis
(1975 - 1976) about an archaeologist who found an amulet that gave her
the power of the goddess Isis which she used to battle evil.
- Electra Woman
and Dyna Girl (1976 - 1977) --- A female caped crusader
and her teenage sidekick.
- There was Space Academy
(1977) set sometime after the star year 3732. This academy to
which the best and brightest were invited to train featured girls
alongside the boys.
- Land of the
Lost (1974 - 1976) where the teenage Holly held her own in
a world of dinosaurs and lizard people.
- Dr. Shrinker
(1976 - 1977) -- Evil scientist shrinks three teenagers, two boys and a
girl. This one I'm not sure about, but I think it was on this show
where the girl was the one who always came up with the idea that saved
the day (though the two boys would pretend they didn't hear her and
then announce the same idea to my and the girl's great frustration).
Even in syndicated TV there were female action heroes and
been even before the 1970s........
Those are just the shows I can remember
watching. I'm sure there are other shows I've forgotten. And then there
are the shows I never watched that featured a female action hero, shows
West (1965 - 1966), the ocelot owning private detective, and The Protectors
(1972 - 1973) with the elegant, sword-wielding
- The Avengers
(1961 - 1969) with multiple female action heroes including the
incomparable Emma Peel, smart, sexy and
deliverer of judo-chops. (It's possible that it's the
anthropologist and judo-expert character of Cathy Gale (played by Honor
Blackman from 1962 - 1964) who may be the character who actually
holds the honor of being the first female action hero on
TV......British TV at least as The Avengers
wasn't shown in the US until 1965 and those were the Mrs. Peel
episodes. But I wouldn't attempt to make a definitive claim of Cathy Gale as TV's first
female action hero as I'm no expert on 1950s and
1960s television even in the US much less in the UK.)
- The Big Valley
(1965 - 1969) had
the female equivalent of Bonanza's
Ben Cartwright in Victoria Barkley
the widowed matriarch who ran a ranch and multiple business enterprises
with her adult children. Victoria was strong, capable and knew how to
use a gun when she needed to. (Growing up The Big Valley
was my favorite of the "old" Westerns and you should be able to guess
- Get Smart
(1965 - 1970) -- How I admired the oh-so-competent Agent 99.
(1966 - 1968) where I loved best the episodes that had Batgirl.
Impossible (1966 - 1973) had women along with men as IMF
- The Mod Squad
(1968 - 1973) -- Three "hippie" undercover cops, "One black, one white,
one blond," with the blond being a female.
- Space: 1999
(1975 - 1977) where the alien Maya would save the day with her
New Avengers (1976 - 1977) with the long-legged Purdey as
Steed's new martial arts dealing, expert marskman partner in spying for
the British government in this update of the classic show.
Caroline di Contini.
my admittedly limited knowledge of 1950s and 1960s TV, if I had to
choose the first female action hero on American TV, I would suggest the
eponymous lead character of Honey West
. (Incidentally, Honey West
was produced by Aaron Spelling. It was only the second TV series he
ever executive produced and he chose to feature a female as an action
hero. Spelling later went on to produce two shows from
this list, The Mod Squad
and Charlie's Angels
among his many shows. He was a producer who was never afraid of having strong female characters.) Honey West
premiered in September 1965 (31.5 years before Buffy the Vampire Slayer
) though the character of Honey West debuted in an April 1965 episode of Burke's Law
. Honey West (played by Anne Francis) was the lead
not a sidekick. With her marksmanship and judo skills, she was an
action hero. Though the TV character was influenced by the female
agents of The Avengers
(in fact, Honor Blackman was first offered the role of Honey), but, unlike The Avengers
, Honey was
the star of her show and without Honey West there could be no Honey West
But the point is from the 19th century to the 25th century and beyond,
from superhero to
private detective to military officer to spy to ordinary girls trapped
in dangerous situations there was an entire range of female action
heroes on TV long before Buffy Summers was ever around.
Addendum, May 6, 2014
--- With further reading I've learned about two earlier TV series that
starred females in roles that might qualify as the first female action
hero on TV:
(1957 - 1958) -- Starring Beverly Garland as an undercover New York
City police officer. This was the first TV series to focus on a female
- The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong
(1951) -- Starred Anna May Wong in the first starring role for an
Asian-American actor on TV as she played Mme. Lui-Tsong an art gallery
owner who was also an amateur(?) private detective. (I put a question
mark after amateur because that's the impression I get from the brief
descriptions I've read of the series. All of the footage of the series
was destroyed, so it's not possible to see it.)
For more pop culture pieces there's "When Good TV Shows Are Going Bad...Signs a Show Has Jumped the Shark," "Immortal Death Wish," "Dune, Evil and the Bene Gesserit," "The Real Ending to Tarantino's "Death Proof"," and "Double Identity -- Distinguishing Actors and Their Roles."
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