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Actress Francine York, Iron Range native, dies at 80

Actress Francine York, an Iron Range native who had dozens of television and film credits, died Friday in California at age 80. (News Tribune file photo)

Actress Francine York, a Northland native who had more than 150 television and film credits but never forgot her Iron Range roots, died Friday in California.

York, who was born Francine Yerich in Aurora, was 80 and had cancer, according to her close friend Pepper Jay.

York once declared the 1973 cult film "The Doll Squad" her most popular film, but she played everything from an alien to a exotic belly dancer. On "Batman," she played Lydia Limpet, the Bookworm's henchwoman. Her credits included guest roles on "Bewitched," "General Hospital," "I Dream of Jeannie," "Perry Mason," "Lost in Space" and "My Favorite Martian." She also appeared in "Tickle Me" with Elvis Presley.

Her more recent roles include "Family Man" with Nicolas Cage, "Hot in Cleveland" and "Star Trek: Progeny."

York was born in Aurora in 1936, one of two children of Frank and Sophie Yerich. The family moved to Cleveland for a few years before returning to the Range, according to an online biography. She attended Aurora High School, where she took part in class plays, won the Miss Eveleth contest at age 17, and later was a runner-up in the Miss Minnesota pageant.

"You can't take the Range out of the girl," she told a reporter in 1991, when she returned to the Northland for her parents' 56th wedding anniversary. "There's nothing like coming to your roots. It gives you a sense of where you came from."

As a teen, York was "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," the online biography says.

York later moved to Minneapolis and then California. She danced as a showgirl in San Francisco before moving to Los Angeles, where she played the Moulin Rouge nightclub. Her screen career was launched when Jerry Lewis cast her in "It's Only Money," and she went on to appear in five more Lewis films.

Of some of her famous co-stars, she said in a 1991 article that ran in the News Tribune, Presley "would talk under his breath" and tell off producers. And Marlon Brando "couldn't remember his lines" and had to wear a receiver in his ear to remind him of what to say.

York appeared in sci-fi and cult movies such as "Curse of the Swamp People" and "The Centerfold Girls," often costumed in latex or leather. She told USA Today last year, "The studios would often hire me because I was attractive, then realized I could act, too!"

York never married and had no children. For 10 years, she was the companion of director Vincent Sherman, who died in 2006.

She later parlayed her cooking experience into appearances on culinary shows and wrote recipes and fitness programs that appeared in national health magazines. In the early 1980s she promoted walnut potica made by the Italian Bakery in Virginia.

York was in the process of writing her autobiography when she developed cancer. There was no immediate word on funeral arrangements.

Reuters contributed to this report.