Robert Kerman / R. Bolla – R.I.P.

Robert Kerman / R. Bolla – R.I.P.
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The actor Robert Kerman, also known as R. Bolla, died this week in New York at the age of 71.

His career lasted over 10 years, from the mid 1970s to the mid 1980s, and encompassed work for all the main adult film directors. He was perhaps most well-known as the bumbling Mr. Greenfield in Debbie Does Dallas.

As a tribute, we’re re-releasing our 2013 interview with Robert, together with an all-new introduction in which The Rialto Report’s Ashley West remembers spending time with Robert.

 

This podcast is 62 minutes long.

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I first became aware of Robert in more mainstream films – specifically in the notorious Cannibal Holocaust from 1980, but even before that a film at the other end of the spectrum, the romantic comedy, The Goodbye Girl, in 1977. The star of The Goodbye Girl was Richard Dreyfuss – which in my mind was appropriate because I always thought of Robert as the Richard Dreyfuss of the adult film business. They were born within six weeks of each other, into middle class Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn. Both were passionate about the craft of performing, and came through the ranks doing theater to define themselves as actors.

Both men were short and neither had leading man good looks but they succeeded playing animated, wise-cracking, characters who were always worth watching.

Both won awards, acted prolifically, had problems with drugs – and up and down relationships, and their careers tailed off after the 1980s.

And they were both fans of each other too. When they made The Goodbye Girl, Dreyfuss took Robert aside and told him how much he’d admired him in adult films, and was particularly friendly to him on the set.

But of course the similarities between the two of them end there. By the mid 1970s, Richard Dreyfuss was a Hollywood A-lister, and Robert Kerman was R. Bolla, more commonly recognized for being Mr Greenfield in Debbie Does Dallas rather than for his Hamlet.

Could Robert have made it in mainstream films and theater work? In a parallel universe, was he the successful character actor, regularly employed, and appreciated for his craft, and Dreyfuss the embattled sex and exploitation journeyman actor?

Robert certainly felt that he’d missed out, and he thought that the adult industry was to blame. Or rather, it was the way he’d been seduced by it. Whenever he spoke to me, he always insisted that he’d loved his time making porn films. It’d given him regular work and money, and a chance to practice his acting in front of a camera. And, sure he was a big fish in a small pond, but who doesn’t like being a big fish in any pond?

The problem, he said, was that the industry made him lazy. It took away the hunger that an actor needs to get up in the morning and go to countless auditions, and give everything he’s got, only to get rejected time and time again, before getting back up and going back out looking for that one part, that one role, that will make the difference, that will be the break-through.

When I first met Robert 10 years or so ago, he was still hoping for that big break. Unfortunately, he’d fallen on hard times, the medical treatment he paid for his terminally-ill cat had left him penniless and near destitute. He was living in a small apartment in the center of Manhattan in a subsidized building reserved for people who had worked in the performing arts. Outwardly, he appeared cheerful, but his situation was desperate. He watched television 24/7, was surrounded by medications to help him in his poor health, and confessed to having names for the two rats that would come out at night when he watched films.

When I visited him after that, he was always great company, full of conversation and insight about history, politics, films, and much more. He often spoke about his friends from the adult film days – and one in particular, a fellow adult film actor, Michael Gaunt. Michael and he had started in the sex film business in the same era, and shared a passion for the craft of acting. They lived together for a time, and practiced Shakespeare scenes with each other. In the years since then, their lives had gone in parallel directions, with many highs and lows. Neither had climbed the heights that they’d dreamed of when they recited lines together night after night, but they were still going, still dreaming big. Robert hadn’t seen Michael for many years and wondered how he was doing.

I found that Michael was starring in an outdoor production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ in upstate New York, and offered to drive Robert up to see the show. Robert was only too happy to go – and we decided to keep it a secret from Michael until after the show.

In one section of the play, Michael – who’s always a physical actor – comes into the audience and recites his speech directly to an audience member. When it came to that moment, Michael jumped into the audience and found himself suddenly confronted by the smiling face of Robert. They looked at each other in the eyes for what seemed an eternity, Robert beaming happily, Michael looking surprised and incredulous. They were suspended in stillness. It was as if they were exchanging infinite memories and the understanding of many lifetimes ago, a common bond of dreams, hardships, and loves lost and won, just by looking at other.

When I interviewed Robert, I asked him about his relationship was with God. Robert smiled and said they were on speaking terms. He admitted to praying every day. The prayers were always the same he said. He just asked for one more final curtain. One more moment in the spotlight. One final act.

 

  • Posted On: 28th December 2018
  • By: Ashley West
  • Under: Podcasts

35 Comments

  1. Anon · December 28, 2018

    Thank you for this. He was someone I will remember with great affection.

  2. Gerry · December 28, 2018

    A sweet man, who coulda been a contender.

    Love you R. Bolla…

  3. Mr. G · December 28, 2018

    I have an old (from 1979) AVC [Adult Video Corporation] VHS tape of GUMS (1976), the [X]-rated parody of ‘JAWS’ where Robert Kerman played the Richard Dreyfuss part. Kerman plays ‘Dr. Sy Smegma’ and he carries a blow-up doll around for amusement. You can’t help watching ‘R. Bolla’ in GUMS and not think of R. Dreyfuss from JAWS. I also recall seeing Mr. Kerman in the 1981 movie YOUNG, WILD AND WONDERFUL about a group of students and teachers visiting a museum. I think he played the museum curator and had a scene with Merle Michaels.

    I’d read before that he had an agent in the mid-1980s who all of a sudden dropped him with no explanation and how depressing he’d found that to be.

    Rest In Peace.

    • April Hall · December 29, 2018

      If you listen to his interview Mr. G you’ll hear him tell the story of the agent. It definitely was formative for him.

  4. Tara · December 28, 2018

    Thanks so much for this tribute to Robert. I became a fan of Robert from a screencap from the Italian cannibal film Eaten Alive. It was around Halloween and my sister and I were always looking for new horror films to watch. In that screencap I saw a very handsome man. From then on I began watching his other films. I am not a typical porn watcher. I usually skip over the sex to get to the other scenes. LOL. I grew up in the 80s in my dad’s video store where he left porn tapes all around. Movies like Backside to the Future and Crocodile Blondee. My mom wasn’t too pleased. Kerman was good in anything. From Eaten Alive and Cannibal Holocaust to Amanda By Night, Pleasure Palace, Angel Buns, Punk Rock and the list goes on and on. I wish he was still here so I could meet him, but I know I will meet him someday. Someday I will see him reciting Shakespeare with the greats like Spencer Tracy, Bogart, Fonda, Hepburn and so many others. God bless Robert Kerman aka R. Bolla <3

  5. Eric Edwards · December 28, 2018

    Thank you, Ashley and The Rialto Report for bringing back this tribute. Hearing his voice again brought back many memories that we shared on the several movie sets that we worked together on. He was not only a talented actor, but also a good friend back in the Golden Age of Adult Films. In that respect, his legacy shall live on. Rest in Peace, my friend.

    • April Hall · December 29, 2018

      Those are lovely words Eric – thank you for sharing them.

    • Gina Valentino fan · December 29, 2018

      Eric and R Bolla were great together in one of my favorite films Indecent Exposure. It was a buddy film, there were photographers driving around in a van and having sex with every girl they photographed. They looked like they were buddies in real life and having a great time. In a group scene it looked like R Bolla was going to have sex with the beautiful star of Bad Girls Victoria Knoll, he is doing a silly dance with her but when the sex scene starts Eric gets her instead ( I hope R Bolla at least got to be with Victoria off camera?)
      But I didn’t feel too bad for Mr Bolla, at the end of the film he has a sex scene with sexy 70’s star Jessie St James. A great acting job in that film from Mr Edwards and Mr Bolla!

      • Eric Edwards · January 10, 2019

        Thank you so much, Gina. Indecent Exposure was one of my favorite films with Bobby along with Pleasure Palace. He was a really fun guy to work with–and a real pro! And, for some crazy reason or other, in all the mix of bodies, I got lucky in that scene that you mentioned! (LOL)

  6. John · December 28, 2018

    Thank you for the touching article about Robert. This and the podcast brought back some fond memories of when I knew Robert briefly. I met Robert about 10 years ago when he appeared after a midnight showing of Cannibal Holocaust. We spoke on the phone a few times. All the calls were quite lengthy. I found him to be very kind, humorous and intelligent . I saw him again about 5 years ago at one of Anthology Film Archives “porno chic” nights of films. He didn’t look well. I am sad to hear of his passing, but am sure he is in a great place now.

  7. The Chris · December 28, 2018

    Thanks for updating this…. I was an extra once in one of his films. As soon as I saw him, I knew I had seen him before. What a classic character actor. I’ll never forget that day. I knew he was in ill health, and reached out to him on Facebook, but never got a response. I hope he read what I wrote – praising a guy that was so inspirational all of those years ago. I listened to this interview, and it’s heartbreaking that he never really got that chance he was waiting for.

    • April Hall · December 29, 2018

      We agree Chris. We really think he could have been one of those regular players in mainstream film. We wish he had been.

  8. Wes · December 28, 2018

    Another amazing candle of light and truth has burned one last time. Now, for the next phase, a new journey begins as the spirit of his destiny embarks on a new mission. God be with you Robert.

  9. George Maranville · December 29, 2018

    Very gentle soul. Thanks once again to The Rialto Report for keeping us informed. No more respectful way to have learned of his passing.

  10. Carter Stevens · December 29, 2018

    One last curtain call for a GREAT actor. Rest in Peace old friend.

  11. Henry Funes · December 29, 2018

    Excellent interview in all aspects: subject matter, questions and conversation between interviewers and Robert Kerman. Kudos to all involved. Wonderful podcast.

  12. KingMidasInReverse · December 29, 2018

    Saddened to hear this news. My favorite R. Bolla movie was his role in “Spitfire” along side Samantha Foxx. A talented actor. May he rest in peace

  13. Gina Valentino fan · December 29, 2018

    Sad news, what a great character actor and performer. As sexy as Bambi Woods was in Debbie Does Dallas, R Bolla was also great in that film with her and played the role so well I wanted to go to Greenfields to buy my next tennis racket. He really was part of 2 great era’s, first the NY scene in the 70’s where he would turn in a solid performance in every scene you saw him in with all the great stars of the time, Vanessa Del Rio, Samantha Fox, Tiffany Clark etc

    Then it seemed like in 1984 R Bolla reinvented himself, he got very slim, went to LA and was doing scenes with all the great stars of the LA video explosion of 1984. Ginger Lynn, Amber Lynn, Christy Canyon, the amazing Angel, R Bolla had scenes with all of them and despite being almost old enough to be their fathers his charm seemed to win them over and they all looked like they liked having sex with him. I remember seeing him with Crystal Breeze and thinking what a lucky guy, she was 20 years old and drop dead gorgeous at the time.

    There was no internet back then and you couldn’t learn much from the back of a VHS box, you would have to rent the film to see who your favorite girls had a sex scene with. I remember being bummed when I saw R Bolla in films with Nikki Randall, Tamara Longley and Gina Valentino and he didn’t get to have a sex scene with them. But you can’t win them all even though R Bolla almost always did! RIP, thanks for all the great memories from a bygone era we will miss you.

  14. Janice · December 29, 2018

    I came to this site with zero interest in adult film, but after being a fan of your research and writing and interviewing for the last few years, I find myself quietly devastated by the loss of someone I have never met or seen in many films. And so it is for Robert Kerman.

    Thank you to the Rialto Report for bringing alive a time and a place that is filled with many, many wonderful people.

  15. Tara · December 30, 2018

    In Christmas 2017 I got Robert’s cannibal film “Eaten Alive” on DVD for Christmas. I really wanted that film and even though it was more expensive I got it. When the blu ray came out earlier this year I bought it too. I bought Carter Stevens “Punk Rock” and “Pleasure Palace” on DVD. This Christmas I got Robert in “Blonde Ambition” the Platinum Elite edition. I was making DVD captures for a Robert Kerman/R. Bolla group that a good friend and huge Kerman fan let’s me co-run before I was informed he had passed away. I was discovering brilliant performances like his one in Damiano’s “Satisfiers of Alpha Blue”. The emotion he displays in that role is Oscar worthy. Other films like ” The Odessey”, “The Playgirl”, ” Gums”, “Angel Buns”, ” Spider Man”, “Amanda by Night” the list goes on an on. My sister and I sent Robert a card probably almost a year ago. He got it and loved it. I only wish I had talked to him via phone when someone sent me his phone number on his behalf. I kick myself that I didn’t. Problem was I live in Canada and I don’t have much money. Regrets are sad things. Thanks Ashley and April for doing a great job and showing Kerman the respect his memory deserves.

  16. Paul · December 31, 2018

    Only last week I was re-watching the excellent ‘Satisfactions’ (1982) containing a memorable final scene in which RB is attended to by Kay Parker and the stunning Laura Lazare. The twist in the tail here is somewhat unexpected!

    Echoing an earlier comment I can’t help but think what a lucky chap RB was to have enjoyed Laura’s company and I can’t help but wonder how a ‘girl next door’ type such as she decided to enter the murky world of adult films….but I’m very glad she did!!!

    RIP Mr Bolla

    • Anon · December 31, 2018

      Paul, I was a Laura Lazare fan too, she looked like a mainstream model. One thing I noticed about her, one of her legs was slightly deformed, much thinner than the other leg with scars on it from an operation. Do you know the story behind it, was Laura in some kind of accident?

      And R Bolla did it again in Satisfactions, another great scene from him!

  17. Ignacio Hernandez · December 31, 2018

    I hurt so much for this man. He truly was a sweetheart of a person, and one of the finest actors to grace blue movies. We lost a great talent, but his impact will remain and he will live on in his films!

  18. E King · December 31, 2018

    Rest In Peace. A very poignant and heartbreaking report. Acting is a profession to some, an obsession for others. Tough breaks and bad luck are emotions shared by everyone.

  19. Charles · January 1, 2019

    Very sad indeed- further proof that the 70s and 80s were indeed the Golden Age of adult film. Robert Kerman was a porn actor, not a ‘star’, but ACTOR. Men like him, Eric Edwards, John Leslie, Jamie Gillis, Paul Thomas, and Harry Reems were legit actors who could have sex on camera without Viagara or caverject or whatever. They acted on the screen and made their films most entertaining. Today’s porn ‘actors’ could take lessons from those greats. i remember quite fondly Bob’s work in “AManda By Night”, “Debbie Does Dallas”, and other films. Two scenes of his stand out in my memory. First, in “Blonde Ambition” he played an English chauffeur who gets a BJ on a plane while he recites a recipe in a clipped English accent- pretty amazing he kept in character while having a hummer! And my favorite scene of his is from “For Richer or Poorer” with the legendary Georgina Spelvin. They play a divorcing couple and Georgina’s character had a dream sequence in which she sees a kinkier version of herself having sex with Bob’s character- and then he demands anal sex. “I can’t – you’re too big, it would hurt too much” she tells him. “Enough,” he replies, “it will hurt enough, but not too much. It’s what you want- do it!” And she does. They just don’t make stars like Bob Kerman/R.Bolla or Georgina Spelvin any more. RIP to one heck of a fellow who delivered in his work. I can only hope he’s finally found peace

    • April Hall · January 13, 2019

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments Charles – we greatly appreciate them.

  20. Marco Rodriguez · January 2, 2019

    I am really surprised with this news!!. The images of Robert i have in my mind were (the first) when he arrived to sekas place wearing an air pilot suit in Inside Seka movie. The second because of the role he played in Cannibal Holocaust.

    I retain in my mind that phrase he said: “My roles in porn movies destroyed my career as an actor” Painfull !!
    Rest in Peace Robert Bolla

  21. Gary McEwan · January 7, 2019

    So very sad, I lived in hope that one day i could meet Robert. Such a great actor “Pleasure Palace” and “Cannibal Holocaust” amongst many many other great movies that I loved. I got the impression from his interview with you guys that he thoght he was under appreciated and nothing could be farther from the truth. In my opinion he was one of the all-time greats may he rest in peace, i hope he’s up there trading stories and a having a drink with Jamie Gillis.

  22. Mr. Elliot · January 7, 2019

    Kaddish.

  23. Steven Whelan · January 14, 2019

    The only porno film i saw him in was Debbie Does Dallas & i am leaving this comment as i am more familiar with his Italian work. It is a real tragedy he never got the breaks he obviously deserved & no doubt he would of succeeded at the very top as his acting talent was there for all to see….RIP Robert.