From Doll House to Death Race – Remembering Roberta Collins (1944 – 2008)

Posted in Remember by - December 06, 2013
From Doll House to Death Race – Remembering Roberta Collins (1944 – 2008)

Flaxen-haired former model Roberta Collins appeared in several cult movies in her 20 year career, and quite often stole the thunder from those around her. Spirited, funny and tough, Roberta had a carefree appeal and a bubbly nature which carried her performances farther than many of her contempories.

Born Roberta Lee Hefley in California on November 17th 1944, Roberta won numerous beauty contests as a teenager, and it wasn’t long before she found minor acting work in the late Sixties.

In 1971 Collins landed her first big movie roll. As tough blonde Alcott in Jack Hill’s ‘The Big Doll House’ she gave a funny, sexy and hard-edged performance in this ground-breaking Women-in-Prison picture, co-starring Pam Grier and the wonderful Judy Brown. This turn led to another Philippines set prison picture, Gerardo de Leon’s much rougher ‘Women in Cages’ (1971), which had lost the comedy appeal of ‘Doll House’. After a co-starring roll in Vernon Zimmerman’s action comedy ‘Unholy Rollers’ (1972), with Claudia Jennings, and an episode of ‘Wonder Woman’ in 1973, Roberta starred in her most popular Prison picture. Jonathan Demme’s 1974 cult favourite ‘Caged Heat’ had Collins as the tough and resourceful inmate Belle Tyson, who is exposed to the brutal realities of the prison torture system. The following year Roberta scored another hit, as Matilda the Hun in Paul Bartel’s futuristic actioner ‘Death Race 2000’, alongside Sylvester Stallone, Simone Griffeth and David Carradine. That same year Collins was very appealing in ‘Train Ride to Hollywood’, an entertaining parody of cinema’s golden age. The film was primarily a musical vehicle for the popular soul group ‘Bloodstone’. The movie had some great support, including Roberta as Jean Harlow, Phyllis Davies as Scarlet O’Hara, and Jay Lawrence doing a great Clark Gable.

Collins’ next two films would be both controversial and fairly bizarre. A small role in Matt Cimber’s 1976 arty film ‘The Witch Who Came From the Sea’, was followed by a turn as a runaway prostitute in Tobe Hooper’s studio bound bayou set horror ‘Death Trap’ (1977). Filming on ‘Death Trap’ was not a happy experience for the 32 year old Roberta, who had to endure unwanted advances from 56 year old lead actor Neville Brand.

Roberta’s career waned in the late 70’s, following a good six year run. After a bit in Michael Winner’s ‘Death Wish II’ (1982), the only roles of note were in the 1986 prison flick ‘Vendetta’, on the other side of the law, as a security chief, and the two ‘Hardbodies’ sex comedies from 1984 and ’86.

Sadly, Roberta’s later years were not always filled with joy. After the suicide of her son Michael, Roberta fell into a deep depression, and on August 16th 2008, at the age of 63, she suffered a heart attack after an accidental overdose of pills.

A very good actress with a vibrant persona who lit up the B-movie screen, lovely Roberta Collins will be remembered as one of the brightest stars of the exploitation era.

Favourite Movie: Caged Heat
Favourite Performance: The Big Doll House

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2 Comments on "From Doll House to Death Race – Remembering Roberta Collins (1944 – 2008)"

  • Enjoyed this piece tremendously and it was instrumental in nudging us forward in our Roberta Collins tribute show, an album of the songs will be forthcoming. Thank you very much!

    • admin

      Good luck with your show, it looks set to be a great night . It’s a shame I’m in the UK!

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