We got a little something different for ya'll on this week's edition of Classic Hotties. While Tanya Roberts may not be among the Hollywood royalty we typically cover in this column, she is nonetheless of great significance for folks my age. In fact, I think it's fair to say that her exploits in and especially out of her clothes, hold as much significance for 80s movie fans as any other hottie in Hollywood history. Yes, for us children of the 80s, Tanya was just what a young boy's awakening sexuality called for. How many 80s adolescents spent their afternoons in front of the TV, admiring every inch of Tanya's perfect body in a variety of fondly remembered B-movies? She was the herald of a maturity that was just around the bend for those of us in a hurry to grow into men. Somehow, Tanya was always around to oblige us there.
Tanya's beginnings are somewhat unusual compared to other women we've profiled here. Born Victoria Leigh Blum in 1955, she spent her early years in The Bronx, the daughter of a fountain pen salesman. After her parents divorce when Tanya was a teenager, her mother moved them both to Toronto. She spent a few years there building a portfolio for a future modelling career, but at 15 decided to drop out of school, got married and hitchhiked around Canada and the US with her husband. Thankfully her mother managed to get the marriage annulled and brought her daughter back home. Some time later, Tanya made her way to NYC and begin to actively pursue her modelling career, appearing on the cover of various publications. It was here she met her 2nd husband, psychology student Barry Roberts. Like a New York fairytale, Tanya later proposed to him on a subway and the two were married soon after. With a new husband supporting her and a small taste of success as a model, Tanya began to aim for loftier goals, her eyes set on dreams of life on the big screen.
Tanya began to study at the prestigious Actors Studio under directors Lee Strasberg and Uta Hagen in the mid 1970s. Shortly thereafter, she and her husband, both still aspiring to bigger and better things, moved to LA. Tanya's good looks managed win her some work in various commercials, which led to some mostly forgotten low budget movies and a handful of TV pilots that never got picked up. Not the most auspicious start, but thankfully something bigger was just around the corner. Tanya rose above 2000 other aspiring hotties for the coveted role as a third generation of Charlie's Angels. Unfortunately for Tanya, by the time her tenure as an Angel started, the show had lost most of its steam and was cancelled shortly thereafter. This brief TV stint generated enough celebrity for her to grace the cover of People magazine in 1981, leading to what was the high point of her career in the mid 1980s.
The year after her show's cancellation from prime time, Tanya landed a part in the cheesy medieval animal fantasy movie BEASTMASTER, playing the slave girl Kiri. That year Tanya did a nude Playboy shoot to promote the movie, posing next to some of the big cats from the movie. Though the movie only did modest business in theaters, it became a staple of various cable networks in the mid 80s, earning itself a cult following from people like your friendly columnist, who through several hundred viewings managed to assuage his fear of gigantic, mouthless, cannibalistic mutants, strange deformed witches with nasty faces and really hot bodies, as well as rings with creepy, moving eyeballs in them. It was the movie that made every little boy want a pair of varmints we could control with our minds, and our own weird, bladed boomerang. It also taught us to really dislike the sight of oiled six pack abs and to understand the true horror of John Amos in a sumo wrestler diaper outfit.
After that, Tanya did a few movies overseas as well as a role in a TV movie adaptation of the Mike Hammer detective stories. This TV movie eventually led to a full-fledged series staring Stacy Keach, but Tanya declined to reprise her role as Mike's busty secretary, in favor of what she seemed to think would be her next big hit - an adaptation of the 1930's comic SHEENA: QUEEN OF THE JUNGLE. The story of an orphaned European girl raised by an African tribe, the film mirrored her previous movie BEASTMASTER in that it featured a great deal of animal costars. Unfortunately, the movie was a huge disaster both financially and critically, earning just about every Razzie award in 1984. Though obviously terrible, it did have its virtues.
Sheena is one of the few PG movies ever made that featured full frontal nudity, thankfully in the form of a totally naked Tanya (highly NSFW images here). Of course, these were the heady days back before the PG-13 era, when the MPAA had little choice but to give a PG pass to content that would earn a movie a hard R today. Basically, if your movie didn't show scenes of people being carved into pieces or simulating wild sexual romps, it was going to get a PG. Which meant that none of the movie channels had any qualms about showing such a movie over and over, usually in the afternoon, right when kids were just getting home from school. You can bet that was appointment TV for a curious young lad already smitten with Tanya. While awful in almost every way, Sheena was at the very least a fantastic lesson in patience. We gladly and dutifully sat through several minutes of the cheesy, poorly-acted exploits of Sheena, waiting for her to strip down for a bath in a jungle stream. Everything else that came before and after that scene may have been terrible, but those few minutes of unabridged Tanya were sheer artistry.
The dismal failure of SHEENA didn't quite ruin Tanya's career. That honor was given to what was, ironically, Tanya's biggest claim to fame - her turn as a Bond girl. In 1985, Tanya starred in A VIEW TO A KILL, the last Bond movie to feature Roger Moore. Though it had perhaps the best Bond theme of them all and Tanya did look fantastic in the movie, this particular Bond film was seen by many as a low point in the franchise. Featuring a practically geriatric Moore who was far past his ability to play Bond convincingly, the movie was given over to cheesy action tripe and pointless violence, as well as some of the worst acting in the history of all the Bond movies, mostly from Tanya herself. Playing a geologist attempting to save Silicon Valley from a psychopathic Christopher Walken, her performance earned her yet another Razzie for Worst Actress that year and did quite a bit to put the kibosh on any future big league roles for Tanya.
Sadly, Tanya did spend most of the next 15 years in low budget hell, doing a variety of semi-soft core movies with names like NIGHT EYES and SINS OF DESIRE. Her efforts in these films once again relegated her to cable TV cult status, her fanbase shifting from burgeoning afternoon sexuality to horny insomniacs. These might not have been major Hollywood productions, but Tanya still took them seriously. For instance, for her role in 1991's INNER SANCTUM, part of her contract stipulated that Tanya be able to choreograph her own sex scenes. One of the scenes she co-directed was so graphic that it had to be cut - even from the unrated version. Not bad.
B-movies were pretty much how it went for Tanya until the late 90s, when she found a brief popularity resurgence with the role of Midge Pinciotti in the wildly popular throwback sitcom That 70s Show. Tanya did 3 seasons of the show, playing the mother of "Hot" Donna Penciotti, played by the equally tasty Laura Prepon back in her redhead days. Unfortunately Tanya was only able to do 3 seasons of the show before leaving to care for her husband Barry, who was ill with cancer. He eventually succumbed to the disease in 2006.
And that's pretty much been it for Tanya. Unofficially retired, she hasn't done much of anything since the passing of her husband. That's perhaps not the most graceful of Hollywood exits, but certainly not the worst either. It's always the more dramatic or sensational careers in Hollywood that get the attention, thanks to the novelty of their unlikely beginnings, their unparalleled successes, or their climactic declines into ruin. Yet for most hot young things who get a lucky break in their prime, things eventually trail off, leading to an inevitable descent into existence as a footnote in Hollywood history, their fame mostly relegated to those people they managed to impress in their brief time in the spotlight. Tanya might not be known to many young folks nowadays, but for many a latchkey kid of the 80s, this one in particular, memories of Tanya will last a lifetime.