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The Mystery of Robin Johnson

Actress Robin Johnson

Actress Robin Johnson

Most Americans have never heard the name Robin Johnson. But in the fall of 1980, she was on the verge of superstardom. And if things had gone to plan, her name would have been as familiar as Barbra Streisand. She would have been the star of hit movies with perhaps a few Oscars to go along with them. And she would have had platinum selling record albums with a string of top ten hits. At the least she should have been a popular character actress like Kristin Chenoweth with maybe a couple of top 40 hits. But instead she is barely even a footnote, who's most prominent role was as a prostitute in a single episode of Miami Vice.

Years before Miami Vice she was one of the stars of Times Square ( 1980 ), a major motion picture from Robert Stigwood, the producer of Saturday Night Fever and Grease. And just as Saturday Night Fever and Grease had transformed John Travolta from television star to movie star, Stigwood believed Times Square would do the same for Robin. He was not alone. Most film critics had nothing but praise for her debut performance, even if they did pan the movie itself. They were convinced Robin Johnson would soon be a major actress, provided she acted in movies better than Times Square. Hollywood was willing to give her that chance. She received a deluge of offers from studios and producers. She had multiple options to star in movies and television shows. And there was an album on the way. She was going to record for RSO. Rumors were that she had already recorded a New Wave album, and it was ready to drop at any time. US Magazine confidently listed her as one of the handful of new celebrities they pronounced "80s Arrivals", expected to dominate the decade to come.

And then nothing.

For more than three years she was not in any motion pictures, on any television series, had any albums or singles released, or even appeared on any talk shows. In the entertainment business, three years out of the public eye may as well be a million. Popular celebrities who take more than a year off between projects are either quickly forgotten, or thought of as a has-been. For up an coming celebrities who are riding on the momentum of their current projects, not working for three years could be career suicide. When Robin finally did return to show business, she began making a name for herself as a television star. After spending a year as the notorious Darcy Dekker on the soap opera Guiding Light, she worked her way up to prime time television as a cast member of a weekly network show.

And then nothing again.

Inexplicably, she disappeared for another three years. She had built her television career up to the point where she could have easily found work guest starring on network shows, and quite probably being cast as a regular in another series. At the least she could have returned to her soap opera. But once again, she was out of show business for another three years. Then in 1988 she re-emerged with a plum role in a major motion picture, and a brief return to Guiding Light.

And then nothing. This time for good. Robin Johnson would never act on television or in the movies again.

So what happened? Why did someone with so much promise fail to become major star? Why did she keep disappearing? And why did she permanently retire? That is the question her fans want to know. Even though she had no more than a brief dalliance with show business, she did not go unnoticed. Stigwood would have never compared Robin to John Travolta had she not had the equivalent screen presence. Many of those who did see her movies, who did see her prime time network show, who remembered her from her soap opera work, or even just from her one appearance on Miami Vice, became instant fans. Robin Johnson was an actress who was easy to fall in love with and hard to forget, even with her tough Brooklyn persona and raspy voice. She could have easily have been the Jean Harlow of her generation, if only given the right breaks.

She certainly had the looks. Robin was beautiful. Perfect for magazine covers. Her fans fondly remember her lush pouty lips as one of her distinctive features. But those lips often broke into a wonderful mischievous smile, as if she was saying "Are you ready for some trouble?" She had a dangerous sexiness. A sort of "Try something with me if you dare" attitude. But always with a sense of hidden vulnerability. She could have easily been one of the decades biggest sex symbols. She had everything you would desire from a female celebrity. And on top of that she had something we seem to allow the beautiful celebrities to slide on. She could act. More than that, she was among the best actresses of the 80s.

Even in throw away roles like the one on Miami Vice, you felt like she had just bared her entire soul for you. Watch her long enough and you felt as if you knew her intimately. Her screen presence was dynamic. She would immediately draw all attention to herself, usually without even trying. She became the center of the scene, while everything else, the other actors, the set, the plot, all became nothing more but background wallpaper. It was her moment, and it was almost as if the entire movie or television show she was on had been crafted specifically for that moment to occur. Not many actors are gifted with that ability. It is such a shame it was almost never put to good use. Despite a minority of die hard fans that would discover her in small roles here and there, she remained obscure. And then she was gone, with her fans wondering why, and would she ever pop up unexpectedly again.

How I Became a Fan of the Very Obscure Movie Times Square

Robin Johnson and Trini Alvarado Times Square

Robin Johnson and Trini Alvarado Times Square

When doing a little research for this article which involved reaching out and talking with a few fans, as well as reading countless comments about her scattered on forums across the internet, I began to realize it was not just her story. Each fan had their own distinct story. How they discovered her, which shows or movies they had seen her in, and the shows and movies they did not know she was in and are sad they missed. The story how they became a fan of such an obscure actress. I have my own story. And like most of Robin Johnson's fans, it began with the movie Times Square. I felt a need to bare my own soul to explain how I ended up obsessed with her. But I can understand if you don't feel the need to read it, and skip to the second half of the article.


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In the late 70s my older brother and all of his friends became huge fans of The Rocky Horror Picture Show ( 1975 ). Never mind that they were a few years too young to be allowed into an R movie and had never actually seen it. They had the soundtrack which they played all the time, they knew the words to every song, they had every book and magazine article, they occasionally dressed up as the characters and even once staged a lip sync reproduction of the movie as a backyard play which most of the neighborhood showed up to see. When it was announced that the star of Rocky Horror, Tim Curry, would be starring in a new movie called Times Square, my brother and all his friends were dead set on seeing it. But just like Rocky Horror, it was an R movie. No problem though. We had The Haven.

Times Square movie poster

Times Square movie poster

The Haven is now legend. It was the theater every kid in Queens and most of Brooklyn knew of for one reason alone; they would let any kid of any age into an R movie without an adult. Even though it took nearly an hour for me and my friends to walk to Woodhaven, we would go to The Haven all the time. It is where I got to see countless movies my parents forbade me to see, like The Shining ( 1980 ), Porky's ( 1981 ), Apocalypse Now ( 1979 ) and a whole bunch of violent splatter movies. But there was one drawback. The Haven was the very last theater in New York City to get a new movie before it ended it's theatrical run. Which is why the owners did not give a f*&k about allowing minors into the theater. But it did mean that if a movie tanked and was pulled from distribution before it's run was over, then the Haven did not get it.

And that was exactly what happened with Times Square. Each week my brother and his friends would have a strategy meeting where they discussed if that week they could get someone's cool uncle or older brother to bring them in to the theater. They talked a lot about what they thought the plot was about based on just the advertisements. And they always ended the meeting by checking the papers to see which theater Times Square was in. They knew about the pecking order. The UA and Loews theaters got new movies first, then next the big independents like The Midway, then the smaller independents like The Crossbay, and finally down to the grindhouse theaters which included The Haven. But Times Square never made it past The Midway before it was no longer listed. I recall that week everyone having a fit as they checked the paper again and again, and then came to the conclusion it was pulled from distribution, and would not be at The Haven. Since this was my older brother and his friends, I do not remember being in the loop, and was not planning to see the movie with them. I wasn't even a Rocky Horror fan.

Channel 5 Movie Club

Channel 5 Movie Club

Jump ahead a couple of years. One of my local television stations, Channel 5, began airing a weekly movie block with the not too original name Channel 5 Movie Club, but with a very original premise. Viewers were invited to write in and request a movie. The idea was for the viewer to pick one of the 100 or so movies the channel had in their library, and had probably aired dozens of times in the past. But instead they were inundated with requests for movies the channel had never shown before. Channel 5 saw a potential way to draw new viewers. There were hundreds of films out there that had either never aired on television before, or had not aired in years. The arrival of the video rental stores was still a year or two away. So if someone wanted to see something like 2001: A Space Odyssey on the small screen, the only way was if a television station aired it. And the last time it had aired was on CBS way back in 1972. So it was no wonder that Channel 5 received hundreds of requests for 2001: A Space Odyssey, and was why it aired on the first episode of the Movie Club.

A few of the other films that got hundreds of requests also aired. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly ( 1966 ) and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid ( 1969 ) which aired with the uncensored line "Oh Sh!t" as they jumped off the cliff. Channel 5 even made a big deal about the fact they were keeping the cuss word in during the broadcast. Which brings up the other unique thing about the Channel 5 Movie Club. Films were rarely censored. They were all shown uncut, and with very few commercial breaks. Once they had aired all the movies with mass requests they could get the rights to, and they were down to the films that only got a few requests, they initiated a lottery system. They would take a weeks worth of requests and place it in a drum, pulling out one letter at random. If Channel 5 was able to get the broadcast rights, then the movie was selected for an upcoming episode, usually with the person who picked the movie hosting the opening segment. An eclectic range of movies were requested. Everything from The Who's Quadrophenia ( 1979 ) to Stanley Kubrick's Straw Dogs ( 1971 ) aired on the club.

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I got a small black and white television for my birthday in 1982. I had been watching Saturday Night Live since my parents decided I was old enough to do so in 1979. ( Of course I was old enough. I had already seen Animal House at the Haven ) But that same year Lorne Michaels left the show, and with that the original cast and writers all left as well. The next few seasons sucked, with the lone exception of any sketch with Eddie Murphy in it. For this reason I began watching less and less of Saturday Night Live and more and more of The Channel 5 Movie Club. But it was always a last minute decision as to which program I would watch. .


It was a lot of random luck that brought me to watch Times Square the night it aired. For one thing, I can't imagine it would get a lot of requests back then. Very likely there was a single request for it in the drum that week, mixed in with hundreds of other requests. It may have even been the only time someone sent in a request for that movie. And yet it was pulled from the drum, and EMI made it available for broadcast. Otherwise, no other station seemed interested in airing it. As far as I can tell, the night it aired on the Channel 5 Movie Club was the world broadcast premiere. Even choosing to watch the Channel 5 Movie Club that week was random luck. On the one hand there was SNL, which the rest of the family was watching in the living room. On the other hand was a movie I was only slightly curious to see because my brother and his friends had obsessed about it a couple of years earlier. The only thing I knew for sure about it was that it had bombed, and that usually meant the film was bad. It was a last minute decision, but on that Saturday night chose to stay in my room and watch the Channel 5 Movie Club.

Knowing it had bombed bad enough to be pulled from distribution mid run, I had low expectations. And although I would be seeing it uncut and with very few interruptions, it would be full framed on my small black and white television screen. Not the optimal viewing experience. And yet, something magic happened that night. I found myself loving the film. When it ended, I was so enthralled and delighted that I wanted to see it again. I spent most of the rest of the week thinking about that film. Critics all seemed to agree that it was a disjointed mess. But that is not what I saw. I was among the minority who enjoyed it.

Tim Curry was credited as the film's star, despite being in very few scenes. I already knew of him as Dr. Frank N Furter, the cross dressing mad scientist from Rocky Horror Picture Show. He would go on to be a prolific character actor and voice over artist for cartoons. Second billing went to Trini Alvarado, and I knew who she was as well. In the early 80s she had been on many television series and tv movies. She was the girlfriend in Dreams Don't Die ( 1982 ), A network television movie about a teenage graffiti artist that me and my friends liked a lot . The one actress I did not know was Robin Johnson. She is the first thing we see in the movie, a teenager dragging a shopping cart with an electric guitar and an amp down 42nd Street. Her character, Nicky Marotta, was clearly the movie's protagonist. But Robin had to settle for an "Introducing" third billing credit. That credit let us all know this was her first appearance anywhere. And since I did not recognize her from any movie or television show that followed, for all I knew, this was her only acting gig.

Times Square VHS tape for home video

Times Square VHS tape for home video

Back in the early 80s there were no DVRs, no Internet, no pirated or bootlegged videos, no streaming video, no iN Demand. And as mentioned, it was still the very beginning of movies on home video. When it came to a movie you loved, the only way to see it was to keep checking the television guide until it was once again listed. I was at the mercy of Channel 5. If I wanted to see Times Square again, I would need to wait until they decided to air it again. Which took Channel 5 almost an entire year to do. It was in early 1984 that they aired it again, this time after 1am in the morning. The whole week I anticipated watching Times Square again with the excitement of a child waiting for Christmas to come. I stayed up late to watch it, and enjoyed it even more the second time around. If only I had owned a VCR, then a copy of the movie would be mine. But that was it. As far as I know, Channel 5 never aired the movie again. It would not be out on home video until 1987, and I would not even know that until 1989 when a bootleg copy turned up in a shady rental store I belonged to. ( definitely a bootleg. Thorn EMI Video released hard shell boxes, not slipcover cardboard. )

The Return

Robin Johnson as Candy James on Miami Vice

Robin Johnson as Candy James on Miami Vice

It was January in 1985, and it had been a year since Times Square last aired. I was watching an episode of Miami Vice. Crockett was sitting poolside at a fancy hotel, pretending to be a tourist, when he was approached by an attractive young woman. There was something about her that was very familiar. I knew I had seen her before. Had I been paying attention to the opening credits, then maybe I would have known who she was. The woman turned out to be a fancy call girl, and after soliciting Crockett for sex, is arrested. Of course, Crockett and Tubbs were after bigger fish, and once she was back at the police station, began pressuring her into helping them. It was midway through that interrogation that I suddenly realized who she was. I grabbed that weeks copy of TV Guide and looked up that week's listing for Miami Vice, and sure enough, Robin Johnson was listed as a guest star. I could not believe it. It was almost as if Nicky Marotta was back. Only this time all grown up and wearing a sexy outfit.

I was in for another surprise. About a week later NBC began airing a promo for a new winter replacement series that looked like a rip-off of Charlie's Angels called Code Name: Foxfire. And in the promo as the third angel was Robin Johnson. This was too good to be true. Seeing her again on Miami Vice was a delight. Now I could see her again every week. And she was in a series that would probably have her wearing more sexy outfits.

TV Guide advert for Code Name: Foxfire

TV Guide advert for Code Name: Foxfire

Code Name: Foxfire was your standard formula 80s crime series, but with female spies. It wasn't a bad show, it just was not as good as Miami Vice. Which is probably why it did not last very long. The show was built around actress Joanna Cassidy who played Liz Towne, a CIA agent that goes by the name Foxfire. Sheryl Lee Ralph and Robin Johnson were basically her sidekicks in the pilot movie. In fact, Robin does not even make her first appearance until an hour into the movie. Very frustrating. For the first hour Cassidy is a solo act, but by the second half of the movie she decides that she needs the help of professional burglar Maggie Bryan ( Sheryl ) and skilled driver Danny Tooled ( Robin ). In the regular one hour episodes, Sheryl and Robin were on equal footing as Joanna, taking on various undercover roles. As expected, Robin would occasionally take on a cover that involved her wearing something sexy. The new found attraction I had for her in Miami Vice was amplified, and before I knew it I had a crush on her. Which made it all the more sad when her show was pulled from the schedule. A month later my worst fears were confirmed when Sheryl Lee Ralph was promoting her newest single on Live at Five. She confirmed that the show had been cancelled, and gave the excuse that it had done well in the ratings, but just not good enough to pay for an action series.

Sheryl was the first to bounce back from the cancellation, not just attempting to revive her singing career, but joining the cast of It's A Living for it's last three seasons, the cast of Moesha in 1996, and appearing in many television shows and movies in between. Joanna Cassidy also continued appearing on television shows and movies, such as Who Framed Roger Rabbit ( 1988 ). But Robin once again vanished off the face of the Earth. At first I had no idea that that actress I had just fallen for was gone again. I assumed that she would be back in the next fall season, as a guest star on different shows, or perhaps even ending up in another series. But that never happened. It would be another three years before she unexpectedly popped up again. In the meantime, I found out she was in a movie other than Times Square.

The Unreasonably Hard Quest For Splitz

The most original thing about the movie Splitz was it's unusual horizontal movie poster, which was duplicated for it's original home video box.

The most original thing about the movie Splitz was it's unusual horizontal movie poster, which was duplicated for it's original home video box.

You may want to just skip this section. If you do, here it is in a nutshell. I spent more than 30 years trying to watch or buy the only movie to ever credit Robin Johnson as the star, and each time failed. To this day it is the most obscure of all her roles, and I am including her 30 second non speaking cameo in After Hours.

One of my friends was in the first family in my neighborhood to buy a VCR. The very first thing his parents did was join what was then the only video club in South Queens. Since it was a good 20 minute hike across town just to get to it, his parents would send him to the video store every Friday to rent them movies, throwing in a little extra money so he could rent something for himself. And I would go along with him. From the very beginning, video stores all followed the same rule when it came to pornography. The "Adult" movies were all kept separate, in a section of the store that you could only enter via those old fashioned swinging doors from western saloons. The clerk was suppose to keep his eye on the door to make sure no minors ever went in. But we snuck in there all the time. He didn't even notice when we pulled the same prank every week. The Adult section had this creepy X Rated cartoon version of Snow White, which we would remove from it's shelf and place in the kids section among the Disney cartoons. Other than that, all we could do in the adult section was look at the boxes. My friend vowed that once he reached 18, that he would rent every movie in the adult section. That would not be for another five years.

His 18th birthday coincided with him getting his drivers license. His parents would allow him to drive their car as long as he refilled the tank with his own money. So on his birthday we drove right down to the video store where he marched right through the adult section swinging doors, removed the box he had been looking at for years, slapped it on the front desk, and holding out his drivers license announced with pride "I'm renting this today!" He only had it in his house for ten seconds before his parents yelled at him and made him bring it back. No matter. A week later he secretly rented it again, snuck it into his house under his shirt,and began the ritual of renting porn on Friday evening, watching it on the living room television after his parents went to bed.

He had vowed to rent every movie. And that only took about three months. Including the Snow White cartoon and a movie with puppets, the adult section only had 12 films. All the same films the store had since 1982. Since he was now driving around in a car, he decided to join other video stores and raid their adult sections. Every time he spotted a video store he did not yet belong to, he would make a u-turn, park the car, and join it. There were about fifteen video stores in Queens he belonged to that I knew of, at least one in Brooklyn, and a couple of others that were all the way out in Nassau County. Some of them had well stocked adult sections that got new arrivals every once in a while. So every Friday evening I would join him on a pleasant drive around Queens, which would end at a random video store so he could fulfill his Friday night ritual. While he was in the adult section, I would peruse the shelves elsewhere in the store, keeping myself busy by reading the boxes.

The only photo on the Splitz box, and Robin was not in it. Neither was she depicted on the artwork on the front of the box.

The only photo on the Splitz box, and Robin was not in it. Neither was she depicted on the artwork on the front of the box.

One box that drew my attention had horizontal artwork rather than vertical. The bulk of the picture was a pom pom girl doing a leg split which ran from end to end of the box. The movie was called Splitz, and based on the rest of the artwork, it was another cheap early 80s sex comedy. I was about to put the box down when I glanced at the cast, and to my shock saw that the star of the movie was Robin Johnson. I immediately brought the box to my friend in the adult section. He looked it over, read the back, and then informed me that it was not porn. "I Know." I said. "I want you to rent this. I'll give you the money." It also meant watching it at his house, since I did not have a VCR yet. After a few minutes of badgering, I talked him into renting it. All for naught, because the clerk told us that the movie was out.

The next afternoon I went with my friend to return what he had rented. Splitz was still out. A week later we returned to the same video store. It was still out. Over the next few months we returned to that store many times. Each time Splitz was out. Finally we were informed that the reason it was always out was someone rented it and never returned it. None of the other video stores my friend was a member of had Splitz. When I finally did own a VCR I set off to buy the movie, but no store that sold movies seemed to have it. Not RKO Video, not Record Explosion, not The Wiz and not Crazy Eddie. Finally I checked with J&R, who not only had the best selection of videos in Manhattan, but had accounts with every video distributor. Not only did they not have it, but could find no distributor with it in stock. And that was that. Or so I thought.

Around 1991 a Blockbuster opened up in my neighborhood. Another friend had become a member, so I joined him one day to look for a movie to rent. I was looking through the comedy section and there it was. Splitz. I immediately tried to rent it. The clerk told me I needed to be a member. I tried to join then an there. The clerk informed me I needed to have a credit card. I did not have a credit card. So I went out to get my first credit card. I was informed I would needed a drivers license and a credit history first. I had neither. Deciding this was too much trouble just to rent one damn movie, I asked my friend who was a member of every video store in Queens if he could rent it. He could not. The only video store in Queens he did not belong to was Blockbuster. Why? It had no adult section. Fortunately my mother and her friends decided to join, and she agreed to lend me her card once it came in the mail. About a week and a half later the card finally arrived, and I was out the door with it immediately. And guess what? GONE! Someone rented Splitz and did not return it. And that was that again.

The box for the second home video release of Splitz. Notice they got rid of the original movie poster in favor of this generic picture of a cheerleader.

The box for the second home video release of Splitz. Notice they got rid of the original movie poster in favor of this generic picture of a cheerleader.

Here is what I found out recently. Splitz was released by Vestron Video in 1986. The reason it was hard to find was that they were not priced for home sales, but around $80 to be sold directly to video rental stores. Your local rental shop would need to order it from the Vestron catalog, but they were probably more interested in ordering popular movies like Dirty Dancing. When Vestron went out of business in 1991, it's library of movies were acquired by LIVE Home Video which then re-released Splitz on their budget video label Avid Home Entertainment. It was in a redesigned box with a photo of a cheerleader, most likely not from the movie, jumping in front of an all sky background. I was still buying VHS tapes at the time and do not remember seeing it an any of the stores I went to. However, seeing as it was in a radically different box, it is possible I saw it in a store but did not recognize it. It was released again in 1998 by Gemstone Entertainment as an ultra-low budget video, most likely in SLP mode to save money on the tapes. Once again the box was redesigned, going back to the original artwork, but shrunken and turned vertical and printed on an all white box. In the space underneath was a list of all the recording artists who's songs were in the film. Once again, I had no idea it was available.

The box for the Liberty International DVD release of Splitz. It was a reworking of the Gemstone VHS box. Most likely this and the Gemstone release were unauthorized.

The box for the Liberty International DVD release of Splitz. It was a reworking of the Gemstone VHS box. Most likely this and the Gemstone release were unauthorized.

The only time I thought of looking for Splitz on DVD was in 2000 when Anchor Bay released Times Square on DVD. The store I bought it in, J&R, assured me that Splitz had never been released on DVD, nor was it scheduled to be released. Splitz was finally released on DVD in 2009 by Liberty International, using the same full screen edited for television VHS master used for the previous releases. But by that time I was no longer looking for it. When I first got the idea for this article a couple of months ago, I discovered that a company called Code Red had released Splitz remastered from a widescreen theatrical print in 2015. Certainly It should have been easy to buy a 2015 release in 2016, right? Wrong! Amazon had no listing for the Code Red release. The Code Red website did not list Splitz for sale, nor lists it as out of print. I knew it had been released. I found it for bid on eBay, with pictures of the Code Red box, the latest bid around $175. Amazon did have the Liberty International release, but only available as used copies. The cheapest used copy sells for $75. One used copy sells for $374. None of this means that these DVDs are actually worth that much money, only that they had become so rare that sellers can jack up the price, similar to how sellers of comic books have jacked up the price to books that once sold for ten cents to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

I did not give up on Code Red. I frequently checked back at the site. There was a curious link called "STORE" which only lead to a page that said the store was in the midst of maintenance and would be back soon. For a two day window the store link worked, and a lot of films that were previously not on the site were available, including Splitz. I made the purchase, but had no idea if they had the movie to sell. For one thing I did not get a conformation email. Another, the link for the store went back to maintenance very shortly after I made the purchase. Did they really have the movie in stock? Or did I access the store accidentally while it was still under maintenance, and the page had not been updated?

Finally, after two weeks, I got a conformation email, saying the item had been shipped by first class mail, and should be in my home within 2 to 7 days.But just because I was finally able to purchase Splitz did not mean my run of bad luck had ended. I was also given the tracking number. What was suppose to be first class mail ended up sitting in the post office it was left at for three days, and then another couple of days in the states main post office. Even when the USPS gave me a due date of Friday October 28 ( which would be eight days after I received an email saying it would arrive within 2 to 7 days ) the post office did not meet the deadline. It arrived at my post office on Friday, but they did not deliver it. They failed to deliver it on Saturday. On Monday morning I showed up at the post office with the tracking number and they said they could not hand it over to me, that it needed to be delivered. It was Halloween. I had to be at my work. I knew any package left at my door was at the mercy of a hoard of trick-or-treaters, some who may have decided to trick my house by stealing the mail. So I asked someone to sit at my front door, hand out candy, and intercept the package when it arrived. According to that person, she was busy handing out candy to a group of kids when the mailman arrived and simply placed the pile of mail at the foot of the stoop. A five year old kid in a Batman costume immediately pulled the package from the pile and stuffed it into his bag, and then began to walk away. He had to be stopped. And for a few tense moments his parents had to be convinced their angel of a kid had just poached someone's mail. When they finally looked into the bag, the kid in the Batman costume began to throw a tantrum and say the package was his. The mailman had given it to him. He refuse to allow his parents to reach into the bag and take it out. He tried to hold onto it when they did. And he threw a screaming fit on the ground when it was handed back. The package finally made it safely onto my living room table. Just a side glance close to being successfully stole

Robin Johnson as Cookie Fitzwaring in the movie D.O.A.

Robin Johnson as Cookie Fitzwaring in the movie D.O.A.

I Had No Idea This Was Goodbye

She came back in 1988. I was watching Siskel & Ebert reviewing a remake of D.O.A. when they mentioned her name. She was in the movie! She was in the clip they aired! I was jobless that year, and with what little savings I had, could no longer afford to go to the movies. When I still could afford movies, the theaters I went to were theaters like The Haven or The Drake, or any other theater still charging $2 or less for tickets to see double features of films on their last week of distribution. D.O.A. was only at those fancy $6 theaters on it's opening weekend. It had mixed reviews, and Robin's name was not even listed on the movie poster, which meant her role was small. But I spent the $6 anyway.

Some SPOILERS during the next two paragraphs. Robin was different. It was if someone pulled an Eliza Doolittle on her. Her husky voice and accent were gone. Her mannerisms were gone. She was almost unrecognizable. She was playing "Cookie" Fitzwaring, the daughter of Charlotte Rampling's rich socialite character who was the lead suspect through most of the movie. Robin had matured as an actress beyond her typecasting as a streetwise girl from Brooklyn. This was proof that she could now play any role. She could be in a Merchant Ivory movie the next time. And she had an impressive seventh billing in the credits. With exception to Dennis Quade and Meg Ryan, her character was in more of the movie than any other character. I was sure this was the beginning of her adult movie career. She would be in a lot more mainstream movies, and would gradually work her way up to lead actress. She was back, and it would be permanent.

But this would be the only time I ever saw Robin Johnson on the big screen. About a third of the way through the movie Cookie helps Quade's character escape from a killer chauffeur who was planning to dump his body in a mud bog. In the process she is shot right between the eyes, driving the car right into the bog. The last we see of her is her body falling out of the car door and sinking into the mud, and out of sight forever. Little did I know the scene would be a prophetic coda for her film career.

Months, then years went by. I did not see her listed in the cast of any movie, or make any guest appearances on any television shows I watched. Meanwhile, her co-star from Times Square, Trini Alvarado, began to be featured in more prominent roles. She was the star of Peter Jackson's The Frighteners ( 1996 ) and was critically praised for her performances in The Perez Family ( 1995 ) and Little Women ( 1994 ). But while Trini was close to becoming the next Meryl Streep, and Tim Curry was thrilling us as Pennywise the Clown in in Steven King's It ( 1990 ) and as Cardinal Richelieu in The Three Musketeers ( 1993 ), Robin was nowhere to be found. I was so sure she would have had the same success. I was so sure I would have been paying to see her movies in the 90s instead of The Adventures of Ford Fairlane ( 1990 ), Godzilla ( 1998 ) and a lot of other crap my friends convinced me to go to. In 2000 she was on the commentary for the DVD release of Times Square, only explaining why she had not acted between that movie and her mid 80s return. She did not mention why she disappeared after 1988, nor that she was planning to retire from show business for good.

PART II

The Legend of Robin Johnson

I tried my best to piece together the biography of Robin Johnson. However, with stories that sound like they were invented by publicity departments, accounts from sources that contradict accounts from other sources, three or more persons claiming to be Robin on social media and no proof that any are real, fan postings across the internet with no explanation as to where they got their facts from, and even Wikipedia is not exactly a reliable source, I can not say what I am about to print is 100% true. So lets just call this a legend.

RSO

Robin Johnson and Trini Alvarado in Times Square.

Robin Johnson and Trini Alvarado in Times Square.

For example, the way she was discovered sounds like a fabricated story. 15 year old Robin had cut a high school class to go outside and smoke a cigarette. While standing on the school steps, she was spotted by a man named Michael claiming to be a talent scout for RSO who asked her if she wanted to be in the movies. He handed her a card with a number. Suspecting it was some sort of con, Robin debated calling the number, but eventually did, and within a week found herself at an open audition for the part of Nicky Marotta in the movie Times Square. RSO had been on a worldwide search for the perfect actress to play Nicky, and after looking at thousands of actresses had come up with nothing. Robin was not exactly what they were looking for. But she impressed everyone at the audition and won the role. When asked what would bring a straight A student with no prior acting experience to an audition for a street tough kid, Robin mentioned that Michael had given her his card. That is when they informed her that there was no one named Michael working as a talent scout for RSO, nor had they sent anyone to Brooklyn. To this day Michael remains a mystery.

Nice story, which is backed up by everyone involved with the production of Times Square including Robin herself. But it sounds a little too close to the story of Lana Turner's discovery. The story goes that Lana had cut a class at her high school so she could drink a milkshake at Schwab's Pharmacy. There she was discovered by director Marvyn LeRoy who made her the star of his films. Actually, most of the Lana Turner story is not true. She was discovered at the malt shop across the street from her school by a magazine publisher who referred her to Zeppo Marx. Zeppo had recently left the Marx Brothers to form his own talent agency. Zeppo in turn talked LeRoy into casting her in a small part in his next movie. The only true thing about the Lana Turner story was that she was cutting school, just like Robin said she was. The whole cutting class to smoke sounds less probable when you hear where it happened. Robin was an exceptional student who was so smart that she was skipped a grade in her elementary school. The High School she allegedly cut class from was Brooklyn Technical High School, which only accepts geniuses. Not exactly the school a truant would be found in. Nor is it likely a smart student like her would risk expulsion by cutting and smoking right there on the high school steps, where any teacher could see her. Which is why this version of events sounds more like something a publicity department dreamed up rather than something that actually happened. The only thing the story was missing would be if Stigwood told Robin there was a Michael, but he had died years ago.

Robin Johnson in Times Square

Robin Johnson in Times Square

Even the origins of the movie itself seem to be something fabricated by a publicity department. Allan Moyle was an independent film maker in Canada who dreamed of becoming a major Hollywood director. In 1978 Moyle and Leann Unger were living in a sleazy apartment above a 42nd Street porn theater, so poor they could only afford used furniture. One day they bought a second hand couch and discovered a diary hidden under the cushion. It was written by a runaway girl who Moyle assumed must have been mentally disturbed. Fascinated by the diary, Moyle and Unger began writing a treatment based on it for a small independent movie called She Got The Shakes, about a disturbed teenage runaway living on the streets of Times Square. Looking to raise money for his film, he invited actor Tim Curry and screen writer Jacob Brackman to his apartment to pitch them the movie. If they were attached to the movie then it would be possible for Moyle to find investors. Both were interested, except that Brackman wanted to rewrite the script so that there would be two runaway girls instead of one. Attaching Curry and Brackman to the film seemed to work when film producer Robert Stigwood became involved.

Stigwood had made millions with the Robert Stigwood Organization ( RSO ) which produces stage shows and managed the careers of recording artist. Stigwood branched out into film production when he backed the low budget film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Jesus Christ: Superstar ( 1973 ), and later The Who's Tommy ( 1975 ). Realizing that the soundtrack albums turned a bigger profit than the movies did, Stigwood conceived of a three part plan. RSO would produce films where the soundtrack would be released on the RSO record label, utilizing mostly RSO artists. The first of these movies, Saturday Night Fever ( 1977 ) was not just a successful film and soundtrack album, but boosted the careers of RSO owned recording artists The Bee Gees an Yvonne Elliman. A year later RSO hit paydirt again with the movie and soundtrack for Grease ( 1978 ). But that same year Stigwood's Midas touch was tainted when RSO released two movies he should have passed on. Moment by Moment ( 1978 ) paired John Travolta ( who was fulfilling his three picture deal with RSO ) and the much older comedian Lily Tomlin in what was suppose to be a romantic comedy. The other was Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band ( 1978 ), which had The Bee Gees and Peter Frampton recreating The Beatles in a fantasy film using the songs from the same album. Both movies were notable bombs.No matter, The soundtrack album for Sgt Pepper went multi-platinum, although dropped off the Billboard 100 the week after the movie was released. Reportedly four million copies had not sold, and were shipped back to RSO, who ended up tossing the lot into a trash dump pit. ( Perhaps the same pit the E.T. game for Atari was tossed into? ) But the revenues from the albums that did sell were enough to cover the film's losses and earn RSO a nice profit.

Robin Johnson and Trini Alvarado in Times Square

Robin Johnson and Trini Alvarado in Times Square

Eager to find another film project that would result in another multi-platinum soundtrack album, Stigwood learned a movie scripted by Jacob Brackman was being shopped around. Before Brackman was a screen writer, he had been a lyricist who co-wrote a few of Carly Simon's hits. With Brackman writing the script, and Tim Curry attached as the star, Stigwood assumed the movie would have a musical element. In no time a deal was worked out with Moyle to make She Got The Shakes for RSO. Now with the backing of a major production company, Moyle could afford to license popular songs for his film, as well as utilize RSO for original music. At the time both Moyle and Stigwood thought the soundtrack would be Disco music. But the title would have to go. She Got The Shakes just did not work as a soundtrack title. The movie was eventually called Times Square.

Robin Johnson as Nicky Marotta

Robin Johnson as Nicky Marotta

The only thing left to agree on was the casting. In particular, who would play the two runaway girls Pamela Pearl and Nicky Marotta? Stigwood held one of those nationwide talent searches with open auditions held in several cities. He said he wanted a fresh face. But instead of casting a fresh face as Pamela, he chose 13 year old Trini Alvarado, a professional actress who had just been the star of the United Artist feature film Rich Kids ( 1979 ), and had just completed filming an ABC After School special. The lead character Nicky Marotta proved more difficult to cast. The original plan was to hire a much older professional actress for Nicky. And then, out of the blue, amateur Robin Johnson showed up for an audition claiming to have been recruited by a Michael. Moyle was won over immediately. According to one article, Stigwood was against casting a novice to play one of the girls, despite his nationwide search for a novice to play one of the girls. Moyle talked him into it, and eventually Robin was being given a crash course on acting and singing.

And that is the story of Times Square as told through countless magazine articles at the time of release. All supposedly true, and not an embellishment written by the promoters of the film to make the unknowns in the cast and crew sound more interesting to the press. Well, Wikipedia does back this version of events, so it has to be true.

Filming began in October 1979. Both Robin and Trini were minors, so child labor laws would have applied, limiting the hours they could work on a set per day. And Stigwood would need to provide an on set teacher in lieu of school. And they would need to pull this all off within a couple of months, completing principal photography by January the latest. Although her first movie, Robin kept up with the hectic pace, eventually impressing everyone on set with her natural acting abilities. But no one seemed impressed as much as Robert Stigwood. When filming was completed, Stigwood was so convinced Robin was destined to be as big as John Travolta, that he signed her to an exclusive three year production deal.

The soundtrack album for Times Square

The soundtrack album for Times Square

Someone Stigwood was not as thrilled with was Allan Moyle. During the fall of 1979 Disco took a sudden turn for the worst. Thanks to an anti Disco Demolition publicity stunt staged by the Chicago White Socks that attracted an unexpected sellout crowd of 50,000, radio stations one by one began removing Disco from their playlists. The anti-Disco movement spread across the country as Moyle was directing his film. Not wanting to be stuck with a soundtrack that would not sell, Stigwood decided the music to be used in Times Square would be changed to New Wave. Moyle complained that the music he had carefully picked for his film was being replaced. When Stigwood decided the soundtrack would be a double album he asked Moyle to shoot additional scenes with very little dialog that the newly added songs could play behind. To make room for them asked Moyle to remove some of the scenes with dialog, many which were necessary for plot continuity. And the final straw, Stigwood hired a consultant to tell him what scenes may result in the MPAA giving Times Square an X rating. This included all direct references to Nicky and Pamela being lesbians. Moyle refused to make the edits to his film. So Stigwood fired him and had the second unit director finish the film. Moyle was so despondent of his first experience with a big budget Hollywood movie, that he vowed never to make a movie again. It would be another ten years before he returned, with vengeance, directing Pump up the Volume ( 1990 ).

Robert Stigwood's edit of Times Square was released in theaters on October 17, 1980. Critics hated it. Many cited that the film was disjointed with continuity errors. Moyle has always insisted his edit would have been coherent, and would have been far more dramatic had key scenes not been edited out. Most theater goers were not fond of the film either. It earned just over $1 million, far shy of it's $6 million production cost, and far less than the $100 million worldwide gross Stigwood was expecting.

Critics may have hated the movie, but they loved the screen debut of Robin Johnson. For many she was the only good thing about the film. Us Magazine picked her as one of their 80s Arrivals along with Matt Dillon. It wasn't just the press who thought Robin had a big future. She began getting unsolicited offers from studios and producers. On the strength of her first film role she could have easily found work, very possibly as a costar or star of a major film project. The only problem was that she was signed exclusively to RSO.

RSO publicity photo for actress Robin Johnson. Aside from a few publicity photos, RSO did nothing to advance Robin's career after Times Square.

RSO publicity photo for actress Robin Johnson. Aside from a few publicity photos, RSO did nothing to advance Robin's career after Times Square.

She could only appear in RSO movies and Stigwood produced stage shows. She was even exclusive to RSO Records, meaning she could not accept recording contracts from any other record company. Stigwood was priming her to be a rock star. For the soundtrack album he had Robin sing a duet with David Johansen called Flowers in the City. She was still raw and would need a few singing lessons, but was fully capable of recording a New Wave album at that point. And she could probably play the electric guitar. At least she appeared to know how in Times Square, and later in the movie Splitz. No doubt Stigwood saw she had potential to sell records. Rumors abounded in 1981 that Robin had just recorded an album that was still waiting to be released. For a while there was even a rumor a few thousand copies of the album had been released without any publicity, and if you looked very hard you could find a copy at one of the record stores.

So basically, Robin could not act in a movie, could not act on television, could not even host a game show on television, could not act in a play or musical on Broadway, and could not record and release her own album unless it was produced by RSO. And she was not being paid, aside from whatever signing bonus she got. She would only see money if a movie was in production, or if an album was released. Why would she sign such a contract? Well, for one she was a 15 year old novice that had never seen a contract before. And then there are some articles that say her mother was her acting agent at the time, and as a novice herself would have been easy to take advantage of. And Stigwood had promised Robin the moon. He promised her that she would star in Grease 2 alongside Andy Gibb, which was to go into production very shortly. This was to be followed by hand picked movies that Robin would star in. Stigwood promised he could make her the next John Travolta. All this before Times Square had been released and Robin was still a random teenager. It would have been the only offer she was receiving at the time.

The common story is that Andy Gibb lost his role in Grease 2 after he failed his screen test. But screen tests did not prevent most of the cast from Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band from being, well, most of the cast. But here is the deal. For those of you who never saw Grease, the musical about high school seniors in the 1950s, and this is a SPOILER..... They graduate. They may not have had a conventional graduation ceremony but instead a graduation carnival (???), but as Danny and Sandy drive away in their magic flying car (????), they and the rest of the class of '59 have graduated. A slight problem when it came to sequels. Not that Stigwood had any chance of getting most of the original cast back. Not to worry. Co-producer Allen Carr had made a deal with Paramount for three sequels that would all feature different casts. Each film would depict a different graduating class of Rydell High, and the series would eventually end in the Vietnam era. The only stipulations were that production on the sequel begin within three years of the original film, and that Carr came up with a cast that Paramount was happy with.

Andy was cast as the lead simply because he was under contract with RSO. Andy may have never acted before, but he was a major pop star with three #1 hits, and five top ten hits in total. And that was good enough for Paramount. But then in October of 1980, the Bee Gees filed a $200 million lawsuit against Stigwood, alleging mismanagement, specifically for making them star in Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The lawsuit was settled, and one of the stipulations was that neither they nor their brother Andy would be forced to star in any of Stigwood's turkeys again. Basically, Andy Gibb was no longer obligated to be in Grease 2. And once he was out of the cast, there was no longer anything to interest Paramount.

Gibb was quickly replaced with Timothy Hutton, who had just won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. This pacified Paramount, until Carr decided to replace him with unknown Broadway actor Maxwell Caulfield after seeing him in a performance. To appease Paramount, Carr and Stigwood agreed that the female lead would be a major star. Initially they had Debbie Harry on the hook, but she ultimately decided she was too old to play a high school student. Auditions were held for the female lead, and at one point both Kristy McNichol and Pat Benatar were up for the part. Meanwhile, Paramount made their own attempts to get the class of '59 cast back for cameos. John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John turned down the offer, as did Stockard Channing and Jeff Conaway. Only Didi Conn returned, and for something longer than a cameo. Frenchy was going to still be at Rydell, forced to repeat the 12th grade after dropping out for beauty school. Director Patricia Birch then made two stunning decisions. One was to cast the then unknown actress Michelle Pfeiffer for the female lead. The second was to fire Didi midway through filming. ( Frenchy was suppose to be cut from the film completely, but eventually Paramount forced Birch to keep the footage with Didi that was already shot, resulting in Frenchy disappearing halfway through the film. )

In the meantime, there was the class of '82 at Brooklyn Technical High School which included Robin Johnson and perhaps not a graduation carnival. She had spent her last two years in disbelief as the part she had told her friends she had was given away to t