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Robbie Lee, Switchblade Sister - A Biography

by Mike Haberfelner

July 2008

For films starring Robbie Lee
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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. 

Ralph 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 - click here].

 

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 ...

 


The 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).

 


Basically, 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.

In 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 perfectly.

 


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.

 


Flix.com

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). 

Switchblade 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 central girlgang.

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.

Obviously, the studio bosses knew about Nail's deficiencies and Lee's strengths, which is why Robbie Lee received top-billing on Switchblade Sisters.

 

Today, 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 particular.

(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.

 


Robbie 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 business.

 

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 forgotten.

 

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 ...

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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Thanks for watching !!!



 

 

On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide
WHICH IS WORSE!!!

 

A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
starring
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD

 

 

Stell Dir vor, Deine Lieblingsseifenoper birgt eine tiefere Wahrheit ...
... und stell Dir vor, der Penner von der U-Bahnstation hat doch recht ...
... und dann triffst Du auch noch die Frau Deiner (feuchten) Träume ...

 

Und an diesem Tag geht natürlich wieder einmal die Welt unter!!!

 

Bauliche Angelegenheiten
ein Roman von
Michael Haberfelner

 

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