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Jay Robinson

Jay Robinson is an American actor best-known for his role as Caligula in The Robe (1953). TV audiences may remember him as Ambassador Petri in the 1968 "Elaan of Troyius" episode of the original Star Trek series, or as Monty Dolan on the NBC daytime soap Days of Our Lives (1988-89). Younger television viewers might recall him as mad scientist Dr. Shrinker on The Krofft Supershow (1976-77).


Biographical fast facts

Date and place of birth: April 14, 1930, New York City, New York, U.S.A.*

Child: Jay Paul Robinson (b. February 28, 1961, at 6:59 p.m.) (son)

Parents
Father: Stanley Robinson (an executive at Van Heusen)
Mother: Barbara (Breslaw) Robinson (a Broadway dancer known as "Bobbie Breslaw" and later, a real estate broker)


Error corrections or clarifications

* Source: His autobiography The Comeback (1979) - "I was born on April 14, 1930."

Note: A few sources erroneously report he made his debut in Life with Father. This error originated as a result of a fib Jay told to help land his first stage roles.

Some sources, early reviews, and playbills, erroneously report he was educated and had extensive stage credits on the British stage. This error also originated as a result of a lie Jay told in order to get a foothold on Broadway. At that early stage of his career, he recalled, "I had never once been outside the continental United States."

Early studio biographies erroneously reported he'd been educated by a private tutor. Again, this was due to fabricated information Jay supplied the studio publicists. In his autobiography he commented, "One spurious item I gave her (the publicist) was that I had been educated by a private tutor as a child."


Biography - Selected credits

Jay Robinson spent the first few years of his life in New York City. His mother was a former Broadway dancer, and his father was one of the founders of the popular clothing maker Van Heusen. At the age of seven, his parents divorced, and he and his mother moved to Miami Beach, Florida, to live with his maternal grandmother. After the move, young Jay discovered a scrapbook containing memorabilia from his mother's dancing days on Broadway. It was then that he resolved to become an actor.

He began performing at the age of 11 for the USO. This consisted of Jay and a couple of neighbor girls singing and dancing to the hit song
Chattanooga Choo Choo. His professional stage debut was as Henry Aldrich in What a Life at the Hawthorne Inn Playhouse, in East Gloucester, Massachusetts on July 8th, 1946.

He worked opposite Boris Karloff in
The Shop at Sly Corner, Fay Bainter in Gayden, Katharine Hepburn in As You Like It, and received incredibly glowing reviews for his work in each. Perhaps a bit heady from all the adulation, he set about to produce and star in his own Broadway show. His father raised $50,000 to produce The Green Bay Tree with Jay both starring and producing it. Quickly realizing he'd be better off just starring in the Broadway show, Jay gave control of casting, directing and producing to Shepard Traube. Jay's ego got the best of him and the young actor was promptly fired.

Just 21 years old, he then set about to produce and star in a Broadway play based on his own life. His father again raised $50,000 to mount
Buy Me Blue Ribbons. The show opened October 17th, 1951, at the Empire Theatre, in New York City. The reviews were terrible, and it closed after just 13 performances.

Hollywood beckoned, and Jay moved to the West Coast. His first role was that of mad emperor Caligula in the film
The Robe (1953). The reviews for the young actor were fantastic. Adulation came at Jay from all directions. It was reported that he was receiving more than 10,000 fan letters a week at the peak of his Caligula fame. By his own admission, the unending praise went to his head. He purchased a palatial mansion in Bel Air, a 14-carat gold-plated Cadillac convertible, spent money like a madman, and threw lavish parties. In the mid-1950s, he also became a regular user of marijuana, before escalating to uppers and downers. By the late-'50s he would spend months in a haze of pills, heroin, and hallucinogens. He was completely hooked on drugs by the time of his arrest on several counts of narcotics possession November 13th, 1958. He was ultimately sentenced to a year in county jail. While freed on bond pending appeal, he began selling everything he owned in order to pay for drugs. Only after he lost his Bel Air mansion did he begin a new phase in his life, beginning with a drug withdrawal program.

He met and quickly fell in love with Pauline Flowers. She was a nurse he encountered as he was beginning to straighten his life out. They married February 8th, 1960, in Tijuana, Mexico. Following his marriage, Jay found that acting jobs had completely dried up, so he ended up working various jobs such as an animal caretaker at a small zoo, and tour guide at a monkey sanctuary in Florida. The latter position was most apropos in that Jay had actually owned and cared for several pet monkeys of his own. He returned to the stage only after the young couple and their new son moved to Florida, then on to New York. Though he found occasional stage work, most were scared off by his previous heavy drug use and refused to hire him. Their early years together were extremely lean, and even food was sometimes scarce. When Pauline was hospitalized with tuberculosis, things only got worse. She did eventually recover, but the couple saw no future for themselves in New York, so moved back to the West Coast. Finances were not much better, but he did find work as an apartment/boarding house manager, fry cook, and a psychiatric hospital worker. Just as his life was settling down, he was arrested (May 13th, 1966) on an old warrant.

Shortly after his marriage, Jay had seen a news item announcing that his drug conviction had been reversed, so believed that was the end of the case. In reality, once his conviction had been reversed, a hearing was set to fix a date for a new trial. When he failed to show at that hearing back in 1960, a warrant was issued for his arrest. For six years there had been a warrant out on him, but since he had moved several times, the authorities had lost touch with him. After a second trial, he was convicted again. It was then that he learned his wife had been diagnosed with cancer. Jay Robinson became prisoner number B5985 in the California state prison system. He undertook rigorous training behind bars and became a prison firefighter, and also discovered that Pauline's battle with cancer was successful. On March 9th, 1968, he was released on parole, having served fifteen months behind bars.

His debt to society now paid, Jay set about rebuilding his acting career. Shortly after his release from prison, he found work guest-starring on the popular CBS detective drama
Mannix. Star Trek, The Wild, Wild West, and Bewitched followed. Though he usually portrayed despicable villains, Jay was finally rebuilding his acting career with work in various television and motion picture projects. After he had signed on to appear in the film Born Again, Jay became a born-again Christian. He continued to find work on television and in movies for decades, and was also an inspirational speaker. His autobiography The Comeback was published in 1979.

Selected film credits:
The Robe (1953)
Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954)
The Virgin Queen (1955)
The Wild Party (1956)
My Man Godfrey (1957)
Bunny O'Hare (1971)
Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask) (1972)
Nightmare Honeymoon (1973)
This Is a Hijack (1973)
Three the Hard Way (1974)
I Wonder Who's Killing Her Now? (1975)
Train Ride to Hollywood (1975)
Shampoo (1975)
Born Again (1978)
The Man with Bogart's Face (1980)
Partners (1982)
The Malibu Bikini Shop (1986)
Transylvania Twist (1990)
Ghost Ship (1992)
Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)
Skeeter (1993)

Selected TV-movies/Miniseries/Pilots/Miscellaneous TV:
She Lives! (1973)
Mr. and Mrs. Ryan (1985)
C.C.P.D. (1992)

Selected stage credits:
What a Life (His stage debut, July 8th, 1946)
Candida
The Shop at Sly Corner (His Broadway debut, January 18th, 1949)
Gayden
As You Like It
Buy Me Blue Ribbons
Much Ado About Nothing
Caligula
Hamlet
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Night Must Fall
Julius Caesar
Twelfth Night

Television series:
The Krofft Supershow (Dr. Shrinker) (1976-1977)
Days of Our Lives (1988-89)
Beyond Bizarre (1997)

Selected TV guest appearances:
Mannix
Star Trek
The Wild, Wild West
Judd for the Defense
My Friend Tony
Bewitched
The Virginian
Hawaii Five-O
Room 222
O'Hara, U.S. Treasury
Search
The Waltons (recurring role)
Planet of the Apes
Banacek
Kolchak: The Night Stalker
Barney Miller
Bronk
Harry-O
Doc
Phyllis
The Kallikaks
A.E.S. Hudson Street
Flatbush
Cliff Hangers
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
Voyagers!
Scarecrow and Mrs. King
Tales of the Gold Monkey
CHiPS
Amanda's
George Burns Comedy Week
New Love, American Style
Night Court
Murder, She Wrote
Cheers
F.B.I.: The Untold Stories
The Nanny


Sources

The most in-depth of more than two dozen sources consulted in preparing this profile, was Jay Robinson's 1979 autobiography, The Comeback.


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