NEW YORK CITY—Robert Kerman, who appeared in such mainstream horror films as Cannibal Holocaust, Death Mask and Night of the Creeps, as well as the original Spider-Man (2002), plus TV series including Hunter, Simon & Simon, Hill Street Blues and Cagney & Lacey, died yesterday, December 27, reportedly from complications of diabetes. He was 71 years old. Kerman was better known in the adult industry as R. Bolla, and he appeared in 177 hardcore movies for such companies as Video-X-Pix, VCA, Command Video, Essex Video, Caballero, VCX and at least a dozen others.
Kerman’s best known adult role was Debbie Does Dallas (VCX, 1978), where he played Mr. Greenfield, the owner of a sporting goods store where the titular Debbie (Bambi Woods) gets a job to raise money to travel to try out for the Texas Cowgirls cheerleader squad. Their scene together is the movie’s finale, and anyone who’s seen it will never forget Woods’ frequent exclamations during sex of, “Oh! Mr. Greenfield!”
But Kerman considered himself first and foremost an actor, having graduated from Brooklyn College in 1970, but even before graduation, he began appearing in off-Broadway plays, including roles in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, A View From a Bridge, Camille, The Knack, Joe Egg and several other comedies and dramas, in both lead and supporting roles, according to the Internet Movie Database’s David Szulkin.
However, Kerman was unable to get enough acting roles to support himself, and worked at such odd jobs as taxi driver and operator of a Good Humor ice cream truck before he was cast in Roberta Findlay’s 1974 hardcore film, Anyone But My Husband, released the following year by VCA Pictures. Thus began Kerman’s prolific porn career, for which he adopted the stage name Richard Bolla, most often shortened to R. Bolla, reportedly because he didn’t want to be nicknamed “Dick.”
Some of R. Bolla’s more famous adult roles were Trouble With Young Stuff (1976), Fiona On Fire (1977), Babylon Pink (1979), Budding of Brie (1980), Satisfiers of Alpha Blue (1980), Amanda By Night (1981), Foxtrot (1982), Scoundrels (1982), Girls On Fire (1984) and Taboo American Style 1 and 2 (1985).
“Bob and I worked on Debbie Does Dallas 2, Peepholes, House of Sin and a couple of others back in the dinosaur ages. He was always the professional and easy to be around,” retired actress Jeanne “Long Jeanne” Silver told AVN. “Bob wasn’t one to party with the cast or crew and I respected him for being coherent while others were often out in La La Land. I know these past few years have been a huge battle with the diabetes and the issues that come along for the ride.
“I’m sure Bob is hanging with Freddie [Lincoln], Gloria [Leonard], Candida [Royalle] and Gerard [Damiano],” she added. “I definitely wish I could have worked on a horror film with him as his crossover took him to some pretty scary roles! I know he is no longer suffering and is at peace.”
“I just know that I always enjoyed working with him,” Georgina Spelvin, his co-star in Devil In Miss Jones 2, told AVN. “He was a gentleman to the core, and a fabulous actor. And, to quote Jessica Rabbit, ‘He made me laugh!'”
“I’m so sad to hear this,” wrote Susan Nero on Facebook. “He was a sweet man … played my boyfriend in 2 films … was a pleasure to work with and hope he is at peace now.”
“Wow, another good man and legend gone from this realm,” wrote Porsche Lynn.
“One of my favorite actors to be partnered with,” added Eric Edwards. “His talent shall live on always in his movies. Yet sad to see him go! Rest in Peace, my friend.”
But Kerman was always uneasy about his participation in the adult industry.
“He got into adult films only after his mother died,” according to Szulkin. “He claimed that if his mother had been alive, he probably would not have entered adult films, since she had been very proud of his acting talent and it would’ve bothered her if he was in adult films.”
Indeed; when interviewed for a British anti-porn documentary The Dark Side of Porn, Kerman stated that, “In retrospect I’m really sorry that I did it, because I probably ruined the best years of my life as an actor.”
Inbetween porn gigs, Kerman managed to get some mainstream movie roles, including a bit part in The Goodbye Girl with Richard Dreyfuss (a porn fan who recognized him from XXX movies) and Marsha Mason, but he most notably appeared in the Italian horror films Cannibal Holocaust and Eaten Alive! (both 1980). According to Wikipedia, “In the DVD commentary for Cannibal Holocaust, Kerman described film director Ruggero Deodato as ‘remorseless’ and ‘uncaring.’ Incensed by the realization during filming that an animal’s death was not being faked, Kerman physically tackled the director and stormed off the set.” But despite his problems with the directors of those movies, Kerman would have liked to have continued making films in Italy, but his adult film background prevented that. In fact, it was for that reason that the Italian government denied him work permits and forced him to leave the country.
But things went from bad to worse, acting-wise, for Kerman. By 1986, he’d given up adult film roles and went to Los Angeles to pursue a mainstream acting career. Although he managed to sign with an agent soon after he arrived, that agent dropped him two years later after allegedly telling him that she could not book him anymore because of his past as a porn star. According to Szulkin, “He was devastated and struggled for nearly 10 years to recover from that incident having not worked during the whole time. … He went into a deep depression and abused drugs and alcohol. Eventually he became clean and sober, but never completely got over his agent’s betrayal.”
“Bob Kerman was among the best actors of all of us,” recalled award-winning adult director Paul Thomas. “He was more regarded as an actor rather than a porn star. His sexual performances weren’t anything to write home about, but he imbued them with so much character and presence that you almost forgot the fact that he was very average in bed. His connections with the directors and other actors and actresses was so excellent that you didn’t notice how average he actually as in bed or on the couch or wherever. But he was one of the best actors we’ve ever had. I haven’t spoken to him in the past 25 years, but I’ve heard he wasn’t doing so well.
“Anybody who was that good of an actor who found himself doing porn would, I imagine, approach it with a sour-grapes attitude,” Thomas added, when asked if Kerman was ambivalent about his adult career. “He didn’t exhude a particular sexuality at all; he was just a very good actor. I guess the best way I could describe him was, he was a very unlikely porn star.”
Annie Sprinkle, who starred with Kerman in several movies, offered, “R. Bolla was a sweetheart. I considered him the Marlon Brando of porn: handsome, charismatic, sometimes brooding and a really great actor. He always took his acting roles super-seriously, and seemed to really enjoy being on the set. I remember how much the great director Gerard Damiano loved working with him because he could really act. I would guess that Bolla was in XXX more for the acting than the sex, but then acting and sex are both creative acts and can be equally satisfying. I’m honored to have known him and have been in some films with him. Yes, that was years before video. We’re talking 16 and 35 millimeter! Thanks, R. Bolla, for being a mensch.”
Photos courtesy VCA/LFP and Jeanne Silver.