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
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)
Nightmare Honeymoon (1973)
This Is a Hijack (1973)
Three the Hard Way (1974)
I Wonder Who's Killing Her Now? (1975)
to Hollywood (1975)
Born Again (1978)
The Man with Bogart's Face (1980)
The Malibu Bikini Shop
Transylvania Twist (1990)
Ghost Ship (1992)
Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)
Selected TV-movies/Miniseries/Pilots/Miscellaneous TV:
She Lives! (1973)
Mr. and Mrs. Ryan (1985)
Selected stage credits:
What a Life (His stage debut, July 8th, 1946)
The Shop at Sly Corner (His
Broadway debut, January 18th, 1949)
As You Like It
Buy Me Blue Ribbons
Much Ado About Nothing
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Night Must Fall
The Krofft Supershow (Dr. Shrinker) (1976-1977)
Days of Our Lives (1988-89)
Selected TV guest appearances:
The Wild, Wild West
Judd for the Defense
My Friend Tony
O'Hara, U.S. Treasury
The Waltons (recurring role)
Planet of the Apes
Kolchak: The Night Stalker
A.E.S. Hudson Street
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
Scarecrow and Mrs. King
Tales of the Gold Monkey
George Burns Comedy Week
New Love, American Style
Murder, She Wrote
F.B.I.: The Untold Stories