Character actor Jay Robinson owned a pair of the narrowest, cruelest-looking eyes in 1950s Hollywood. To compliment them was an evil-looking sneer, crisp and biting diction and a nefarious-sounding cackle. These were all draped upon a lean, bony physique that could slither about menacingly like a ready-to-pounce cobra. With that in mind, he made an auspicious film debut as "Caligula" in The Robe (1953), stealing much of the proceedings from the movie's actual stars Richard Burton, Jean Simmons and Victor Mature. Though many complained that Jay's interpretation bordered dangerously on outrageous camp, his depraved Roman emperor nevertheless remains the most indelible image when reminded of the epic costumer.Born April 14, 1930, in New York, Jay came from a fine upbringing, tutored at private schools both here and in Europe. His background in summer stock and repertory companies eventually attracted Broadway work in the Shakespeare classics "As You Like It" (1950) and "Much Ado About Nothing" (1952). He also appeared in and produced the play, "Buy Me Blue Ribbons", in 1951, which was short-lived. After his movie bow, Jay went on to reprise the scene-chewing "Caligula" character in Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954) with Mature and Susan Hayward, and offered typically eye-catching supporting turns in The Virgin Queen (1955), starring Bette Davis, and My Man Godfrey (1957), with David Niven and June Allyson.It was at this juncture, however, that things started going horribly wrong for Jay. His new-found celebrity reportedly went to his head and he became extremely difficult to work with. In addition, the volatile actor began experimenting recklessly with drugs. In 1958, he was booked for possession of narcotics (methadone) and sentenced to a year in jail. Free on bail, the incident and resulting notoriety ruined his career. After scraping up work outside the entertainment industry as a cook and landlord, he recovered from his drug addiction and married. Resuming work in obscure bit parts, he had another career relapse when he was forced to spend 15 months in jail after an old warrant was served on him.In the late 1960s, Jay started appearing again on TV. He even prodded the memory of his own "Caligula" character by playing an impertinent "Julius Caesar" on an episode of "Bewitched" (1964). However, it took a huge star like Bette Davis, who had always recognized and appreciated his talent, to help him regain a footing in movies again when she insisted he take a prime role in her movie, Bunny O'Hare (1971). The movie failed miserably, deservedly so, but Jay prevailed and managed to repair his status with a number of delightfully flamboyant and hammy performances. Jay played fun parts along the way in Woody Allen's Every Thing You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask (1972), Warren Beatty's Shampoo (1975) and even Paul Reubens' Big Top Pee-wee (1988). While he played the delightfully eccentric "Dr. Shrinker" on "The Krofft Supershow" (1976) for one season, he somewhat balanced this silliness with made-for-video Shakespearean performances of Macbeth (1981) (V), The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice (1981) (V) and Richard II (1982) (V). Some horror roles fell his way as well with Train Ride to Hollywood (1975), in which he played "Dracula", Transylvania Twist (1989) and Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992). In 1997, Jay proved an ideal host for the series "Beyond Bizarre" (1997). He is more or less retired into the millennium.
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