Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Cheryl 'Rainbeaux' Smith

Earlier this year I watched Jonathan Demme's debut feature, the women-in-prison classic Caged Heat for the first time. Afterwards I went on imdb to read about the cast, to see what else they'd been in etc. It's what I normally do after watching a film, especially after something as awesome as Caged Heat. It really is one of the better WiP films, with a really great cast. Clicking through the names I was really surprised to see that many of the leads were already dead, despite the film being less than thirty years old. Juanita Brown died at the young age of 30 and Cheryl 'Rainbeaux' Smith only made it to 47. Ella Reid died at the age of 55. Even the legendary Roberta Collins passed away relatively early at the age of 63.

But, it was Cheryl 'Rainbeaux' Smith's death that really resonated with me, I guess because she always looked so sweet and innocent on screen...in every film I'd ever seen her in anyway...a bit of a goofball with a sparkle in her eyes. So, I googled her name and started looking into what happened to that little blonde girl who never seemed to get any older.

Cheryl in Caged Heat (1974)

There's a not a huge amount of information available about Rainbeaux, but much of what there is has been collected on her "official" website http://rainbeauxsmith.net. This is mainly a text-based site, featuring a collection of pieces from friends, fans and acquaintances, along with a few photos, links etc. I'm not going to go into detail about her life. All I know I read on that website, so if you're curious I suggest you do the same. What's immediately clear is that hers is not a happy story. In short...after starting to make a bit of a name for herself in the mid to late 70's something went wrong. She fell in with the wrong crowd, disappeared from the movie world and spent much of the 80's and 90's battling a heroin addiction, going in and out of rehab/prison and sometimes resorting to prostitution or shoplifting just to keep going, eventually losing her battle with liver disease and hepatitis.

Looking back at her movies, it's difficult to imagine Cheryl that way. From the creepy and strange Lemora: A Child's Tale Of The Supernatural in 1973 to the erotic musical version of Cinderella in 1977 she always came across as so innocent and so...I don't know...proper? And that's even even true in her slightly raunchier films.

Lemora: A Child's Tale Of The Supernatural (1973)

Cinderella (1977)

Last night I watched Revenge Of The Cheerleaders (1976). Allegedly, when Cheryl was approached for the role by director Richard Lerner, she informed him that she was pregnant and as such probably not suitable for the role of a high school cheerleader. But, instead of moving on to the next pretty girl in line Lerner was determined to have her in his film and rewrote the script to feature a heavily pregnant cheerleader. I guess if Rainbeaux Smith wanted to be in your movie you made sure there was a part for her. As a result she spends most of the film in the background, looking slightly uncomfortable and out-of-place in a cheerleader's outfit with her pregnant belly. As she described the experience herself: "Here are these beautiful girls with all this energy and me waddlin' 'round like a fat duck"

Revenge Of The Cheerleaders (1976)

Revenge Of The Cheerleaders (1976)

This didn't mean she had a bad experience making the film. It was her favourite of her cheerleader movies. She made The Pom Pom Girls that same year and a couple of years earlier she had made The Swinging Cheerleaders, another raunchy addition to the genre and something she said she would rather forget.

The Swinging Cheerleaders (1974)

One of the last films she did was Gary Sherman's incredible Vice Squad (1982), where she has a small speaking part and is credited simply as White Prostitute.

Vice Squad (1982)

She has thirty acting credits on her imdb page, some of which saw her venture into mainstream territory. She was in two of the Cheech & Chong movies (Up In Smoke (1978) and Nice Dreams (1981) and also in Robert Aldrich's The Choirboys (1977).

I haven't seen all of her films, but there is always something special about her. She's just instantly likeable and always really fun to watch. Watch any of the ones mentioned above and you'll see what I mean.

Cheryl's star shines on and many of her films have gathered a cult following. Quentin Tarantino is a big fan and rightly so. She was an extremely charming and talented actress, who just happened to make some bad decisions. It's so easily done.

Someone should really do a Rainbeaux Retrospective. Now there's my suggestion for the next Scala Forever season.

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