Dear Bobbie

September 5, 2008

Dear Bobbie,

It’s been a week since I heard the news of your passing and I’m not sure how to react.  I’m not sure how to justify writing to you on my blog, either, since it’s supposed to be about TV and you really weren’t on TV very much. 

Oh, you were in a Rockford Files, but as far as I could tell you got cut out of it except for some long shots and the shape of your corpse under a blanket.  You had a few scenes in a Kolchak: The Night Stalker that might have been one of your trashy exploitation movies, decked out in some kind of Arabian Nights getup, an undercover policewoman in a massage parlor, offered up as bait for Jack the Ripper.  You did a Cade’s County and a Love, American Style and an Adam-12 that’ll be the first episode I sock into the player after I give myself the next DVD set for Christmas.

So that settles my first problem, but my second one is trickier.  How do I say what I have to say to you without sounding like David Thomson on a Nicole Kidman jag?  I fear I will fail, but I must give it a try.

I first saw you covered in mud and straddling an even filthier Pam Grier, a mischievous grin etched across your face.  It was a photo similar to the image above, only black and white, in the pages of a weird book called Re/Search #10: Incredibly Strange Films, which was my introduction to the world of campy and crummy cult movies as I killed many a high school weekend thumbing through the Cinema section of the bookstore. 

You and Pam and the mud puddle took up a whole page, but the chapter-intro photos were maddeningly uncaptioned, winks to the fanboy cognoscenti, a dozen or so enigmas to taunt the novice cinephile.  So I didn’t know then that she was Pam and you were Roberta Collins and the movie was Jack Hill’s The Big Doll House.  I don’t think I ever figured it out, either, just stumbled across the lot of you again by accident during one of my teenaged fishing-net hauls from the video store.  Well before you and Pam got down to it I was gone on your lemon-yellow hair and the kittenish ferocity with which you delivered your lines and that smile, which seemed to mock any ethical qualms about grooving on trashy sex-and-violence movies and to say: well of course this is sleaze, and if I’m not worried about my dignity why should you be?  Death Race 2000 came later, and Eaten Alive, and The Witch Who Came From the Sea and more, a rich decade at that level, but drive-in cuties were plentiful then and you never got your due.

We only met once, at a Hollywood Collectors Show circa 1997.  You looked great.  You didn’t seem to be selling many autographs and when I came up to your table, you only had dupes of three or four photos of yourself, none very good.  There was one pic of Jack Hill, in heaven, sandwiched amid three of his Big Doll House ladies, goofy grins all.  A single copy.  I asked you to sign it for me and you told me that Jack had just given you the photo a few minutes before.  Say what now? I said.  Jack Hill, you said, and pointed: there was Jack, no nametag, anonymous sentinel stationed for some reason next to a dealer’s table where I guess some of Hill’s movies were on offer - a tangential puzzlement I never sorted out.  You hadn’t seen Jack in years. 

Well, of course I can’t take your only copy, I said, just sign any of the other ones.  But my five dollars was on the table already and you shrugged and scrawled your name across Jack’s sentimental gesture and handed it to me.  No biggie, right, no more than pawing Pammy in a Filipino mudhole of an afternoon, ya dig?  Were you being kind to a fan or just making sure I didn’t snatch my fiver back?  I couldn’t tell, Bobbie, that’s why I still study your smirk in those junky movies.

What did we talk about that day?  I think I told you my silly story about Re/Search #10, and you had to think for a moment before volunteering that it took a really long time to clean up after you shot that scene in the mud.  I’ll bet, I said.  I looked at the photo you’d signed and suggested that everybody looked kinda stoned in it.  You were noncommittal.

In the early, good old days of the Collectors Shows, all but the most “famous” of the guests would sit behind their picture-laden tables unmolested for long stretches of time, eyes casting about for someone to bathe with their glow.  It was easy to strike up conversations and I often thought of taking it a step further, asking one of the bored-looking character actors if they’d like to ditch the place and grab a burger or a martini, my treat.  I should’ve done it with you, Bobbie.  You were alone that day, unlike most of the other celebs, no boyfriend or “manager” or fame-cowed offspring to collect the marks’ cash for you.  I don’t even know how old you were then (you kept your birthdate out of the reference books till the end, Bobbie, bravo), but for sure a whole lot closer to my parents’ age than to mine, and while I generally don’t go for older women, I find myself wondering what might have happened if I’d ventured that your memorabilia isn’t moving and it’s a warm summer day outside and my interview subjects sometimes seem to thrive in the company of an avid youngster.  But that’s far enough in that direction, I suppose.

I don’t really know much about you, Bobbie, not even whether anyone other than me ever called you Bobbie.  Just the little bit you told a reporter in a magazine called Femme Fatales and some gossip on the internet.  You were a teenaged Miss El Monte and a practitioner of holistic medicine.  You were Glenn Ford’s “healer” during his last years of illness (maybe he remembered you from Cade’s County; dear readers, there’s your TV angle come full circle), and based on what I’d heard about Glenn Ford, I devoted some time to fretting about what healer might be a euphemism for. 

Somewhere around the time our ships were passing in North Hollywood, Tarantino auditioned you for the Denise Crosby part in Jackie Brown.  How badly could you have blown it, Bobbie, that QT passed up the opportunity for a Pam Grier-Sid Haig-Big Doll House reunion?  I saw part of one of your final movies on TV in the USA Up All Night days, School Spirit or Hardbodies, and you looked wasted or sedated or just defeated by fifteen years of the grindhouse grind.  That Big Doll House spark was gone then, but this was a dozen years past that and when you told me how Quentin was a fan I could tell you wanted that comeback that never came.

Bobbie, I don’t even know for sure that you’re no longer with us.  Supposedly Jack Hill broke the news on his MySpace page, but the message has disappeared.  Could it all be one of those horrible Jerry Mathers-in-Vietnam mixups?  Maybe there’s hope.  Bobbie, can I be your Orpheus, can I lead you back from the dead somehow, a cyber-mash note my unlikely conduit?  I promise I won’t look back.

Belatedly,

A Fan

P. S.  Rest in peace, Bobbie.

P. P. S.  Somehow, knowing how unhappy you were at the end only deepens my obsession.  You’re an unresolved enigma that I can’t leave alone.

You told your Femme Fatales interviewer about some movies you were in, without credit, and so far not noted on the IMDb or anywhere else.  I skimmed through them, looking for fugitive glimpses.  Here you are in Minnie and Moskowitz, your hair about halfway to Veronica Lake.  “Do you have malteds?”  “We sure do.”  You’re the countergirl at Pink’s Hot Dogs, your dialogue is mostly inaudible, and Cassavetes gives you only this one closeup.

You made your film debut in Lord Love a Duck.  You were still a brunette.  You had no dialogue but you’re a featured extra, one of the girls from Tuesday Weld’s high school.  I spotted you in at least four scenes.  Necking in a car.  On the far right in a cosmetics class, looking unconvinced:

And go-go dancing on the beach, later at night in tight pants, but first here, in the leopard print bikini:

It was 1966 and you were 21.  And that’s as far back as we can go, Bobbie….

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6 Responses to “Dear Bobbie”

  1. Donna Lethal Says:

    This is so beautifully written and poignant.

  2. Marty McKee Says:

    Great stuff, Stephen. I wrote about Collins some on my blog too, though I was never fortunate enough to meet her. She really was a good actress.

  3. Bryan Says:

    I met Roberta back in the 70s. her and her son Michael lived across the street from me in W. Hollywood. I ended up living with them off and on until 1983. Michale was two years younger than me (July 26, 1967). His father was Gunther Collins. I only saw him once in 1984 (he was never part of Michaels life). Most posts and blogs I’ve read only talk about her movie career. It seems like no one talking about actually really knew her. I only knew her from when I was 11 to 23 years old. We lost contact when I move back east. Roberta was a great person. She did everything for her son and wanted him to have everthing she didnt have. I remember she was born in either Norwalk or Whittier, CA November 17, 1946. I am having a hardtime writing because I am still in shock that not only did loose a brother I lost a mother.

    I will try again some other time. I want to try and see if her parents are still alive. Find out what happened to Michaels kid.

  4. Django Says:

    Nice post. I only found out today and was saddened. I’ve loved Roberta in The Big Doll House and Death Race 2000 for years and been wanting to find out more about her (and hoping that some kind of online interview or fansite would spring up eventually). I never had a chance to meet Roberta or read her Femme Fatale interview. But I loved the aforementioned movies and her role in them. They made me want to see more of her and find out about the person. Although not a big well known star, Roberta won me over with her performances and got an enthusiastic fan response from me in a way that money or PR certainly can’t buy. I’m sorry to find out how sad the later part of Roberta’s life was (I’ve suffered loss myself) and I’m sorry that I’ll never really learn more about her. A tragic end, undeserving of someone who for me was a personal icon.

  5. Django Says:

    I’ve made a tribute page for Roberta at: http://www.myspace.com/roberta_collins_tribute

    I didn’t see anything similar anywhere, so I took my own admittedly amatuerish bash myself. I hope other fans will pay their respects and feel free to volunteer any info, photos or personal stories they have. I can be emailed at: django24@yahoo.com if someone doesn’t have an account but wants to pass on something.

  6. Adam Says:

    This was really touching. I’m the guy who wrote about Tarantino auditioning her for Jackie Brown on imdb, which might be where you got that info. It always seemed so bizarre to me that someone that gorgeous and talented didn’t have more success. I hoped it was because she found contentment in some other way, but sadly it seems like that might not have been the case. Her “sedated” (as you aptly put it) presence in those movies from the 80s, especially Vendetta, is indeed jarring. So, so sad…


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