A former Bond girl and "Charlie's Angel" who was typecast for her physical attributes, actress Tanya Roberts became something of a cult icon thanks to feature roles in "The Beastmaster" (1982) and "Sheena: Queen of the Jungle" (1984), only to relegate herself to erotic thrillers that bordered on soft-core pornography in the early 1990s. Throaty and lithe, Roberts exuded a sexuality that was innate and allowed her to land roles as superficial characters in a variety of low-budget films and television movies, before she hit her stride by taking over for Shelley Hack on the popular "Charlie's Angels" (CBS, 1976-1981) for its final season. Despite her likeability, the iconic show hit a low point in the ratings and was summarily canceled. Undeterred, Roberts gained cult status in "The Beastmaster" and "Sheena," before landing what could have been a career-altering role as the Bond girl in "A View to a Kill" (1985). Unfortunately, the last 007 movie starring an aging Roger Moore was considered one of his worst and Roberts was criticized for her character's lack of depth. By the late 1980s, she began treading water in steamy thrillers like "Night Eyes" (1990) and Deep Down" (1994), before she surged once again as the foxy, free-thinking mom Midge Pinciotti on "That '70s Show" (Fox, 1998-2006). Though she had to leave due to her husband's terminal illness, Roberts proved that she was capable of delivering a quality performance on a critically acclaimed project.
Born on Oct. 15, 1955 in the Bronx, NY, Roberts lived for a while in Toronto with her mother after her parents divorced when she was a teenager. Roberts began her career when she was 17, paying her way by appearing in commercials while studying under such notable acting tutors as Uta Hagen and Lee Strasberg. In the early 1970s, she appeared on stage in productions of "Antigone," "Picnic," "Bus Stop" and "Born Yesterday," before making her onscreen debut in the low-budget horror thriller "Forced Entry" (1975). Following a turn in the comedy "The Yum-Yum Girls" (1976), Roberts moved with husband Barry Roberts from New York so both could pursue careers in Hollywood. She found work in pilots and unremarkable features, landing small parts in movies "The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover" (1977) and "Fingers" (1977), as well as TV movies such as "Zuma Beach" (ABC, 1978) and "Pleasure Cove" (NBC, 1979).
After appearing on the drama "Waikiki" (ABC, 1980) and the two-hour special "Vega$" (1980), Roberts landed her breakthrough role as the sexy, but street tough Julie Rogers on the classic crime drama "Charlie's Angels" (ABC, 1976-1981) after a nationwide search for the perfect fit. An Aaron Spelling production that was as much a showcase of the detective's good looks and fashion sense as their crime-solving skills, the "Charlie's Angels" team consisted of three beautiful women working as private investigators for the mysterious, never-seen Charlie (voiced by John Forsythe). By the time Roberts joined the show in its fifth and ultimately final season, the Angels had already gone through a number of replacements. The popular Farrah Fawcett left after the first season and was replaced by Cheryl Ladd; Kate Jackson departed following season three and was briefly replaced by Shelley Hack. Roberts took over for Hack, joining Ladd and Jaclyn Smith and returning the show to its original look, one blonde and two brunettes. Billed as a savior for the show's flagging ratings, Roberts - though likeable to audiences - was unable to rescue the series, and "Charlie's Angels" was finally canceled following season five.
Despite the lack of accolades, Roberts' role - to say nothing of her curves - on "Charlie's Angels" certainly won her notice and was followed by a leading performance in the popular horror feature, "The Beastmaster" (1982), in which she played the beautiful slave girl, Kiri, opposite Marc Singer's titular hero. Coupled with a nude pictorial of Roberts in a 1982 issue of Playboy, "The Beastmaster" was a modest box office success and lived on as something of a cult classic. After appearing in the Italian-made fantasy adventure, "Hearts and Armour" (1983), she was Mike Hammer's busty secretary in the TV movie "Murder Me, Murder You" (CBS, 1984), starring Stacy Keach as the hard-boiled detective. Roberts turned down the opportunity to continue playing the role on the series and instead cemented her cult status with her starring role as the titular "Sheena: Queen of the Jungle" (1984), in which a scantily clad Roberts played a female version of Tarzan. Critics savaged the movie and her acting abilities, which led to the unfortunate consequence of being typecast for her physical assets.
In 1985, Roberts graduated to Bond girl when she was cast opposite Roger Moore in his last outing as 007, "A View to a Kill." While being chosen for such an iconic role should have been a boost for her career, the character of Stacey Sutton was certainly not the most interesting nor brightest of the bunch, not to mention she had the misfortune of being seen opposite an obviously aged Moore in what many felt was his worst Bond film. Adding insult to injury, Roberts was overshadowed by the performance of Christopher Walken as Max Zorin - ironically considered one of the better Bond villains - and the wildly androgynous Grace Jones as his henchwoman. From there, Roberts co-starred opposite Dirk Benedict in the forgettable action comedy set in the world of professional wrestling, "Body Slam" (1987), and had a supporting turn in the futuristic B-actioner "Twisted Justice" (1989). Never one to shy away from steamy material, Roberts embarked on a series of erotic thrillers like "Night Eyes" (1990), "Legal Tender" (1990), "Inner Sanctum" (1991), "Sins of Desire" (1992) and "Deep Down" (1994).
The frequent appearances in soft-core late-night cable fare threatened Roberts with a Shannon Tweed-like career trajectory, but she managed to pull herself out with guest roles on TV shows like "Burke's Law" (CBS, 1993-95). A few years later, she landed a plumb regular role on the popular sitcom, "That '70s Show" (Fox, 1998-2006), playing Midge Pinciotti, the naive but forward-thinking bombshell mom of redheaded tomboy, Donna (Laura Prepon). Roberts' Midge was an example of the show's worthy effort to show multifaceted adults as well as teenage characters, with her skillful portrayal being appropriately over-the-top and making her character delightfully zany, endearing and sympathetic. But just as her career seemed to be back on track, Roberts' husband, Barry Roberts, whom she married in 1974, became terminally ill in 2001. Roberts was forced to leave the show and care for her spouse, who died in 2006. Though she made guest appearances on shows like "Eve" (UPN, 2003-06) and "Barbershop" (Showtime, 2005), Roberts remained largely inactive in her career.
By Shawn Dwyer