From Billy Graham movies to nudie flicks.


Three years ago, I wrote an article on the history of World Wide Pictures, the movie studio founded by Billy Graham. In the course of researching that article, I watched a couple dozen Billy Graham movies — and I quickly grew tired of the overly mannered acting done by a woman named Georgia Lee, who starred in at least six of those films, from Oiltown, U.S.A. (1953) to The Restless Ones (1965).

All of those films were directed by someone named Dick Ross. And after The Restless Ones, Ross, Graham and Lee all apparently went their separate ways: the Billy Graham organization continued to produce movies, most of which were now directed by James F. Collier (the writer on The Restless Ones); Ross went on to produce or direct a handful of films without Graham’s backing, most notably The Cross and the Switchblade (1970); and Lee pretty much stopped acting in movies altogether, at least if the IMDb is to be believed.

She did, however, have bit parts in three movies that came out in the mid-1970s. And all of those movies featured her daughter Robbie Lee in a, shall we say, morally compromised role. Different websites disagree on the precise order in which these films were made, but here they are in the order that the IMDb says they were released:

Big Bad Mama (1974) is a Roger Corman film that stars Angie Dickinson as a woman who robs banks with her two daughters (one of whom is played by Robbie Lee) and her two lovers (played by Tom Skerritt and William Shatner). Nude scenes abound, as does some typical-for-the-era mocking of religion, and Robbie Lee gets pregnant by Skerritt, who sleeps with both of Dickinson’s daughters while Dickinson is distracted by Shatner. Georgia Lee, for her part, appears briefly as a high-society woman whose daughter is abducted by Dickinson’s gang; Georgia herself never does anything that would have seemed untoward in a Billy Graham film, but it is still kind of curious to see her chaperoning her daughter, as it were, by agreeing to appear with her in a film of this sort.

Then there is Linda Lovelace for President (1975), in which the star of the porn film Deep Throat (1972) runs for office. The film itself is not what I would call hardcore, as such, but it’s still pretty skanky, and I’d advise everyone to avoid it if they can. This time around, Georgia Lee has a bit part as a woman in an elevator who rattles off a bunch of numbers — flight numbers, departure times, and so forth — that distract the assassin standing behind her, who cannot remember which hotel room he is going to. (The photo above comes from this scene.) Again, Georgia doesn’t do anything that compromises herself in any way — except for the fact that she actually deigned to appear in this movie. Robbie Lee, meanwhile, appears briefly in an entirely different scene, as an incestuous hillbilly. (The photo below comes from this scene.)

Finally, the real-life mother and daughter appeared on-screen as a fictitious mother and daughter in Switchblade Sisters (1975), which happens to be one of Quentin Tarantino’s favorite films; he sponsored a theatrical re-release in 1996 and discusses the movie on its DVD. This time, Robbie Lee is basically the main character, the leader of a female gang whose position within the group — and whose relationship with the leader of the local male gang — are threatened by the arrival of a new girl in town. Once again, Robbie Lee’s character gets pregnant. And this time, Georgia Lee’s one scene — performed with all the patently fake, manipulative earnestness of her Billy Graham roles — consists of telling the landlord that she hopes he’ll “roast in hell.”

Compared to the first two films, Switchblade Sisters is pretty tame. And according to the IMDb, Robbie Lee went on to do some TV work before specializing in children’s cartoons, where she contributed her voice to shows like Rainbow Brite and The Get-Along Gang before apparently calling it quits in the late ’80s. So she may have left her exploitation-movie days behind her fairly quickly.

But still, it’s weird to see that an actress who specialized in evangelistic films for so long — I’m referring to Georgia now, not Robbie — would come out of retirement to appear in movies like these. If Georgia were simply another actress who, for whatever reason, happened to get a lot of gigs working for the Grahams, that would be one thing. But this website says her husband, Ralph Hoopes — he’s the one she’s talking to in the shot from Linda Lovelace at the top of this post — was “a noted preacher” and founder of a congregation called Valley Presbyterian Church, and that their daughter Robbie went to Los Angeles Baptist High School. This other website, by an Australian who apparently spoke to Georgia by phone for ten minutes, also testifies to her “Christian beliefs”, though it gets some of its information wrong by claiming that Robbie was her “son” rather than her daughter.

At any rate, it would appear that Georgia Lee stayed “on message” with the Grahams off-screen as well as on-screen, at least for a while. It’s kind of weird, then, to see her — and her preacher husband! — appearing with their daughter in films of this sort. Maybe it was a form of outreach to their daughter’s friends. Who knows. But I assume there is some sort of story behind all this, and I am curious to know more about it.

About Peter T. Chattaway

Peter T. Chattaway was the regular film critic for BC Christian News from 1992 to 2011. In addition to his film column, which won multiple awards from the Evangelical Press Association, the Canadian Church Press and the Fellowship of Christian Newspapers, his news and opinion pieces have appeared in such publications as Books & Culture, Christianity Today, Bible Review and the Vancouver Sun. He also contributed essays to the books Re-Viewing The Passion: Mel Gibson’s Film and Its Critics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004) and Scandalizing Jesus?: Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ Fifty Years on (Continuum, 2005).

  • Nancy Matic

    I have known Georgia Lee for 65 years. She was and is a beautiful, talented and a true Christian woman who has spent most of her life leading people to Christ. She, at 86 years of age, is still actively preaching the gospel wherever and whenever appropriate in Maui where she currently lives. Georgia Lee is not a hypercritical, fake religious person. She is for real and my closest and dearest friend. Her husband, Reverend Ralph Hoopes, who passed away in 1993, was also one of the finest people I have ever had the privilege of knowing.


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