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Actress Robbie Lee's stint in exploitation cinema was extremely short -
she made only two exploitation flicks really worth mentioning -, but yet
she made enough of an impact on fandom to not be forgotten even nowadays.
And while it's true, she wasn't the greatest of actresses - in fact she wasn't
even particularly good -, she knew how to fill her roles with her spunky
persona, her mix of childish innocence and smartass freshness, and not at
least her good looks and willingness to shed her clothes occasionally. And
thus she is not as
easily forgotten as other actresses who often had longer careers
than hers in the exploitation market - while Robbie at one point said
trashy movies good-bye to switch to voice-acting in children's cartoons - but more of that later.
Robbie Lee was born in
1954 in San Fernando Valley, California, to Ralph and Georgia Lee.
was a talented character actor who later in life turned preacher and
founder of the Valley Presbaterian Church, while her mother was an
actress, who in the 1950's starred in a series of movies with reverend Billy
Graham, probably the most successful Christian evangelist of his time.
Robbie's godparents by the way were singing cowboy Roy Rogers and his wife
Dale Evans [Roy Rogers bio -
Robbie made her first on-screen appearance
in one of the films her mother made with Billy Graham - almost all of
which were directed by Dick Ross - while she was still a baby, but other
than that had a pretty normal childhood and youth. After graduating from
highschool in 1972, Robbie took up modelling and appeared in numerous
advertisments both in print and on television. And eventually, that pretty
faced girl in her late teens was discovered by the movie world ...
year was 1974, and Roger Corman was just putting the cast together for Big
Bad Mama, a film directed by Steve Carver to cash in on Corman's
own Bloody Mama (1970), and besides heavy-weights Angie Dickinson,
Tom Skerritt, and William Shatner (in one of his best and sleaziest post-Star
Trek-roles), he needed a bit of eye candy to lighten up the
proceedings, and the production company's choice fell upon Robbie Lee and
Susan Sennett (another pretty girl who never quite made it as an actress).
Big Bad Mama is a
rural gangster drama set in the 1920's, a genre that had become quite
popular after the success of Bonnie and Clyde (1967, Arthur Penn).
Angie Dickinson is the center of the film, playing the titular mama, a
character modelled on notorious Kate Ma Barker (a character
played by Shelley Winters played in above mentioned Bloody Mama),
with Tom Skerritt and William Shatner playing two shady guys circling
around her, cult favourite Dick Miller [Dick
Miller bio - click here] playing the cop after them and Robby
Lee and Susan Sennett playing Dickinson's daughters.
this combination of course, Robbie's role was very limited, basically she
was a sight for sore eyes (as was Susan Sennett, actually), but her looks,
a mix of innocent country girl and streetsmart bitch with a violent streak, fitted the role just
Big Bad Mama was
soon followed by Linda Lovelace for President (1975, Claudio Guzman),
a political farce with softcore sex thrown in about - you guessed it - the
world's first porn icon Linda Lovelace (whose classic Deep Throat [1972,
Gerard Damiano] was only 3 years old back then) running for president. The
film, which also stars Micky Dolenz of The Monkees-fame and
Scatman Crothers, saw Robbie Lee only in a very small role, and it was to
be a box office desaster. To this day it is rumoured that there is also a
hardcore version of this film.
But while 1975's Linda Lovelace for President did little to
further Robbie's career, it was also in 1975 that she played
her quintessential role, that of Lace in Switchblade
Sisters (Jack Hill).
Sisters was actually a late entry into the girlgang genre, a genre
that showed gangs of good-looking bad girls fighting other (mostly male)
gangs, showed the girls fighting among each other, and, in best grindhouse
tradition, added a bit of nudity to the mix ( and it was a
genre that was particularly popular in Japan in the early 1970's). And Robbie Lee's mix of
street smartness and naivety, innocence and tough bitch attitude made her
the perfect choice for the leader of The Dagger Debs, the film's
Robbie Lee's Lace is not the actual lead character of
the movie though, that would be Maggie as played by Joanne Nail, the good
bad girl (you know, the one who
actually has a conscience, never betrays the trust put in her and the
like) - but Joanne Nail is way too much of the likeable, healthy smalltown
American girl to really leave much of an impression, and thus it's left to
Robbie Lee to carry the film - not so much because she is such
a good actress, but because she is believable as the tough-as-nails bitch
who breaks out in tears when her man (Asher Brauner) tells her to
have an abortion after learning she's pregnant. When Joanne Nail on the
other hand hooks up with a black Maoist girlgang, this comes off as
totally unbelievable, not only because the plot element as such is rather
ridiculous but also because she simply fails to carry the scene.
the studio bosses knew about Nail's deficiencies and Lee's strengths,
which is why Robbie Lee received top-billing on Switchblade
Sisters is seen as nothing short of a cult classic, mainly because
arthouse favourite Quentin Tarantino left no stone unturned to camaign for
the film, he even gave it a theatrical re-release and released it on DVD
on his own label, Rolling Thunder Pictures, but back in the days, the film
barely made a ripple, it was just another in an almost infinite number of
grindhouse flicks, most certainly one of the better ones, but nothing
anyone back then went wild about ... and after three grindhouse epics,
Robbie Lee must have noticed that her cinematic career went nowhere in
(At this point, it might be interesting to note that
Robbie's mother Georgia Lee had supporting parts in Big Bad Mama,
Linda Lovelace for President and Switchblade
Sisters, despite the trashy and sometimes even sleazy contents of
these films ... which is interesting especially regarding Georgia's many
roles in reverend Billy Graham's films.)
Seeing no future for her in
feature films, Robbie Lee next turned to television, but besides
supporting roles in series like The Six Million Dollar Man and Police
Woman (both 1975), that career move led to precious little.
Lee's career actually did not take off again until the early 1980's, when
she started working as a voice actress on children's TV shows, first and
foremost on Rainbow Brite (1983 - '85), Q*Bert
(1983), The Getalong Gang (1984 - '86) and the Pound
Puppies (1988) - and as a voice actress, she achieved the kind of
fame she never could achieve as actress and was held in high regard in the
In 1984, Robbie made a one-off return to the
moviescreens, playing a role in the film My Therapist (Gary Legon),
a comedy about a sex therapist played by porn star Marilyn Chambers ...
but despite the presence of Chambers and grindhouse regular George 'Buck'
Flower, My Therapist is a pretty straight, non-porn comedy nobody
needs to be too ashamed about ... too bad the film today is pretty much
The last few years, it has grown a bit quiet about
Robbie Lee, mainly because she took a deliberate break from the filmworld,
but now (2008) she plans to return, this time focussing on
behind-the-camera-work, as she - through her own production company Dreamin Ridge
Ranch Productions (named after her Southern California ranch) - plans to produce a web-based TV-series bringing to
the screen many of her short stories ...