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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The HORN SECTION Salutes: Tamara Dobson (1944-2006)

Thursday would have been Tamara Dobson's 65th birthday. Sadly, the forever foxy 1970's icon passed away from multiple sclerosis and pneumonia in October 2006.

Many people first took notice of Tamara Dobson with her breakthrough role in 1973's CLEOPATRA JONES as she karate chopped her way through drug kingpins worldwide. Others first noticed Ms. Dobson as one of the most highly sought after fashion models of the late 1960's and 1970's, including a long-running stint as the face of Faberge's Tigress. Children of a certain age (say, mine) remember her fondly on JASON OF STAR COMMAND and BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25th CENTURY, and 1980's movie cultists came to know her as the commanding Dutchess in perhaps the ultimate WIP camp classic, CHAINED HEAT.

However it was that you first noticed Ms. Dobson, the point is that you certainly noticed her. The 6'2" beauty came to prominence as a model in the late 1960's.  The photo at left is from a 1969 issue of LIFE.  After some 25 national television commercials and countless magazine print ads, her film career began in 1972 with supporting roles in COME BACK CHARLESTON BLUE and FUZZ.

Tigress ad, 1978
It was Dobson's third role that would establish her as a star. She looked fantastic in no less than 15 different outfits (by Georgia de Saint Angelo) and should have done for the Corvette what Burt Reynolds did for the Trans Am and Steve McQueen did for the Mustang. The novel twist of CLEOPATRA JONES was that in an era of great distrust for authority, Cleo worked for the government and still managed to be incredibly cool.

Ms. Dobson's time at the top of the film world was brief: sadly, there would be only one more Cleopatra Jones adventure. The ambitious and image-conscious Dobson (who did not do nude scenes) pushed for more challenging roles and lamented the lack of scripts being written for black women, especially after the blaxploitation genre faded out around 1976. The December 23, 1976 issue of JET reported that Dobson was working on her own screenplays, including a romantic film to co-star Jim Brown, a third JONES vehicle, and an album for MCA records under Van McCoy's production, but unfortunately none of these projects came to full fruition (there is a rare 45 RPM of Tamara singing "It Ain't Easy" b/w "Jungle Girl" that occasionally pops up on ebay for you hardcore collectors -- wish I had a copy!).

Dobson continued her highly successful modeling career, with ads for the likes of Revlon and Faberge (replacing Lola Falana as Tigress spokesperson in 1978), but her post-Cleo acting career was mainly limited to Amazonian sci-fi supporting roles in series like JASON OF STAR COMMAND and her swan song, the telefilm AMAZONS (appropriately enough) in 1984 for ABC. She left acting behind at that point, still stunning as ever, but no doubt frustrated over lack of opportunity and typecasting. Hollywood's myopia was once again our loss. There were occasional rumors that Ms. Dobson might be returning to the screen, but AMAZONS remained her swan song.

Her acting career lasted barely a full decade, but Tamara Dobson still set the standard for supermodels in the movie world.  She became a far bigger box office attraction than Tyra Banks, Naomi Campbell, or Cindy Crawford. Even the durable Lauren Hutton never had a peak period of popularity like Dobson enjoyed in the mid-1970's.

As part of The Horn Section's birthday salute to the original foxy Cleopatra, two more reviews of her films that have yet to make it to DVD are forthcoming. Enjoy!

Dobson in 1969


Unknown said...

The most fascinating aspect of Tamara Dobson's career is that between her last work on film
(1984) and her death in 2006 ; absolutely nothing can be found on record about what Ms Dobson was doing. It is like she vanished off the face of the Earth.
It has always been my dream that someone could secure an interview with her brother Arthur Dobson to learn exactly what happened to cause Tamara to completely disappear after 1984.

Craig Edwards said...

A wonderful tribute to a striking and talented lady - I wish she would have continued in the public eye too.