It's an appropriate time to become all wimpy and sentimental: Tanya Roberts is probably my favorite starlet of all time. Born Victoria Leigh Blum on October 15th, 1955, in the Bronx, New York, Tanya initially lived in modest surroundings (her dad was a pen salesman). She married at age 15 (!) just before parting ways with academic life. This union was annulled by her astonished new mother-in-law. Being constant in her ideas, Tanya was not that much older when she wed Barry Roberts, on his way to become a screenwriter. They had met on a movie line. So, she begun studying at the Actors' Studio, nothing less, with Lee Strasberg, all the while shooting TV ads (for Clairol and Ultra Brite) and making her off-Broadway debut in Antigone, not your typical lightweight bedroom farce.
She made her film debut in 1975 in Forced Entry, followed by The Yum-Yum Girls in 1976 and Fingers soon after. This movie had a high-profile cast (Harvey Keitel, Tisa Farrow, Jim Brown, Danny Aiello) but sadly didn't result in Tanya being "discovered". In fact, the majority of her scenes were all cut for television showings. Yes, there is that bathroom rape scene...
Tanya and Barry moved to California in 1977 to pursue their respective careers. Tanya had the opportunity to appear in several pilots for TV series: Pleasure Cove, Zuma Beach (co-written by Halloween director John Carpenter) and Waikiki. But these projects were never developed as full series. In 1979, Tanya was hired for the horror picture Tourist Trap starring Chuck Connors. This uneven but interesting movie is still remembered for its creepy atmosphere and our tied-up actress wearing sexy tight shorts. All you perverts take note! In California Dreaming, she still played a bikini-clad role, as in her recent TV projects.
We now arrive at the Charlie's Angels era, in 1980, where many of us first met Tanya and which marks the real start of a curious career. It's with great emotion that I remember these days of my youth. Tanya was picked out of 2,000 hopeful young women to play Julie Rogers, the last Angel introduced in the last season of the once-popular show, now suffering from banal scripts and fan indifference. Tanya's presence was not enough to save the show, but she at least presented us with a different kind of Angel, a bit more tough and streetwise, perhaps? Anyway, we can assume that her character's attitude may have influenced the two big-screen adaptations of recent years.
At least, Tanya successfully made a name for herself and got the attention of some producers for more higher profile projects, the first being The Beastmaster (by Don Coscarelli, creator of the Phantasm franchise). The Beastmaster enjoyed good publicity, mainly when Playboy magazine proposed an article on Tanya (and some sexy pictures, if you can believe it), in the November 1982 issue. Remembering all this, another wave of nostalgia hits me. To this day, The Beastmaster remains a top cult movie, as it used to play endlessly no cable TV.
We next joined Tanya in an Italian production, Hearts and Armor, an adventure film not very well-known in North America but worth a look. Next, an important role came her way: Mike Hammer's secretary in a potential new TV series about the immortal detective, played by Stacy Keach. Tanya can be seen in the pilot, but declined to go further, preferring to concentrate on the role that could make her a big star: Sheena Queen of the Jungle, after she personally sought out the part. Was this a wise choice?
Sheena was a commercial flop and named one of the top movie turkey of the year 1984. Critics were delighted to tear it apart, citing lackluster direction and abysmal performances by all. Truth to tell, the movie doesn't fly very high, sometimes is even embarrassing in a too much naive Tarzan kind of way. Tanya had the looks, but that was about all. Even then, good news followed as she was cast in the next James Bond adventure, tired Roger Moore's last picture in the series, A View to a Kill in 1985. Again, it was a bitter disappointment, as Tanya was perceived as a wimpy heroine, dressed in conservative fashion; in fact, she's still considered one of the less remarkable Bond Girl. To make matters much worse, she was still blonde after Sheena... hair color she has kept to this day, to this writer's dismay.
The rest is even more tragic. Body Slam, a movie about professional wrestling; a women-in-prison film, Purgatory, where our actress is seen throwing up; and some titles in the then-popular genre of erotic thrillers, all pretty much forgettable, where Tanya is often seen completely nude, pushing the limits of softcore. I can't play the hypocrite and complain about seeing her naked but, geez, these productions are not necessarily high-quality.
I was satisfied to see her in the cast of Fox's That 70's Show, playing a none-too-bright housewife, as it was time that she left sordid and repetitive stories. At least, we could marvel at the fact that Time is still very kind to her, like many guests in this very site. Not being a superstar, it could be kind of hard for her to pursue a successful career and find meaty roles, as she reached a critical age for any actress.
I'm still convinced that Tanya could've been taken more seriously if she had not made a couple of unwise career choices. What can we deduce of the fact that she only remains a semi-regular cast member of That 70's Show for later seasons? For me, though, she remains the ultimate sex-symbol of my teens, with her amazing long legs and husky voice, symbols that can't be totally forgotten after more than 25 years.