I first caught actress Debra Lamb on video in a little-known gem entitled The Stripping Telegram: Special Delivery, which was shot in Hollywood in the mid-80s. In it, she played a pizza delivery girl who forgot the pizza but more than made up for it with a sizzling routine that showed she had formal dance training. Her exotic looks were familiar to me and I was sure I’d seen her somewhere before, so I did a little digging and found her featured in the June 1987 issue of Easyriders magazine I had in my collection.
Wanting to learn more about such a striking girl, starting with her last name, I checked magazines stands, book and video stores (these were the pre-Internet days) and found her featured in a now-defunct publication entitled Focus, which included her bio and list of acting credits. That was in 1994 and she has since been among my favorite B-movie actresses. The above photo of her as “Jessica” from the 1989 B-classic Beverly Hills Vamp should save me from having to explain why.
As well as being a personal favorite, Debra is the most successful (if not only) Asian-American “Scream Queen” of all time. Ranking right up there with other icons of the genre, such as Brinke Stevens, Linnea Quigley, and Michelle Bauer, Debra has appeared in over 40 films and videos, as well as done countless modeling gigs. Despite all that, she still finds it hard to believe that so many people have seen her work and that fans and critics alike consider her one of the big names in B-cinema.
Several months ago, I was wondering if I could find any current news on Debra (if I didn’t, I probably would have done a “Whatever Happened to..?” entry on her), and I came upon her psychic healing website. After sending her an e-mail through her site asking for an interview and receiving no reply, I assumed she wasn’t interested in delving back into her modeling and acting past. However, I recently learned that was far from the case. (It turned out she never received my message due to a technical glitch.) Thanks to a mutual friend putting in a good word for me, Debra sent me a message through Facebook, welcoming me to contact her and was very open to an interview, which we did three days later. While speaking with her, she talked at length about her career, the people she’s worked with, her nearly 10-year hiatus from acting, and her recent comeback. Besides having a great sense of humor, Debra was one of the most enjoyable ladies I have ever met, let alone interviewed, and she placed almost no topics off limits.
During our lengthy conversation, I also learned a lot about Debra that I wouldn’t have found out from other sources, such as; she was almost in the Navy, loves to snack on raw onions, has had almost every kind of pet you can think of, doesn’t close the bathroom door when she’s at home, and politics is not among her favorite topics. The following are condensed excerpts from my exclusive interview with her.
CHRIS CHARLES: First off, thanks very much for granting me this interview because I’ve been fan of yours for a long time. DEBRA LAMB: Oh you have? Tell me how you know of me! CHRIS: Well, I first saw you on video was in something entitled Stripping Telegram: Special Delivery. DEBRA: What one was that? You’ll have to remind me because that one doesn’t sound familiar. CHRIS: It was probably shot in the mid-80s at a Hollywood nightclub and your role was a pizza delivery girl … DEBRA: Oh my god! I remember that! CHRIS: …and your line was, “you ordered a hot pizza with ….anchovies?? Are you one of those perverts who likes that fishy smell??” DEBRA: Oooh gross! (laughs) CHRIS: Haha, you remember that line? DEBRA: Well, not that part but I remember that video. You’ll have to do me a favor and tell me how I can get a copy of that. CHRIS: I’ll get you a copy of it. I have it on VHS. DEBRA: That’s where you first saw me? Wow! That was probably one of the first things I ever did. CHRIS: Well, the first time I saw you in a video. I had seen you in Easyriders and Supercycle magazines before that. DEBRA: Oh my god! You are a big fan, aren’t you? CHRIS: Well, yes and your look stood out because you’re Asian and there weren’t many Asian or exotic-looking models doing that kind of stuff back then.
CHRIS: Oh, I understand you ride or used to ride (a motorcycle)?
DEBRA: I did! How did you find out?….oh, in Focus?
CHRIS: Yes, it was written in there.
DEBRA: Yes, well in my early 20s, I couldn’t afford to get my car fixed …
CHRIS:(Author’s Note: I interrupt here to show Debra I’ve done my homework) Yes, you couldn’t afford to get it fixed so you had to get a job within walking distance of the $200 a-month room you were renting at the time so you got a job at a fast food restaurant that was a 45-minute walk away, right?
DEBRA: Oh, that’s true! Yes, times were hard. Due to circumstances, I left home in my senior year of high school. I had to tell my teachers a sob story of why I couldn’t do my homework because I had full time job, but I graduated from high school and then I had to figure out what to do because I didn’t have any money. I had to make a little more money because times were terrible so I started doing stripping telegrams and I did the waitress thing.
CHRIS: So of all the jobs you had, which one was the one you hated the most? DEBRA: Well, there was this job at a retail clothing store, and that fast food one I hated, but pretty much any “normal” job I’ve had, I’ve hated (laughs).
DEBRA: …so for about 9 years (from the mid-90s to mid-2000s), I was completely out of acting and working regular jobs, but you know how artistic people don’t do well in regular jobs?
CHRIS: Yes, of course. You feel like you’re being stifled.
DEBRA: Yes, I have this rebel anti-authority thing where I don’t want to put the square peg in the square hole.
CHRIS: Well it’s a good thing you never tried the military.
DEBRA: You know what? I have a story about that (laughs). You wanna hear it? CHRIS: Well sure, because there’s so much stuff about you on the net and in older magazines, that I’d love to hear some stuff about you that can’t be found at other sources, so please go ahead. (Author’s Note: Debra proceeded to go into a fascinating and revealing story that we later decided to omit here in order to protect the not-so-innocent.)
CHRIS: Tell me about your dance and stage training. DEBRA: I took ballet (when I lived) in Oregon until I was 14. Then I moved to Los Angeles and then in Beverly Hills High School (where she says she was the poorest kid) I took modern dance, and when I went to Santa Monica High School I took dance and theater. The first couple of years out of high school were pretty rough. I ended up working in a bikini bar and then I worked in a topless bar. I entered a contest in a (full) nude bar and I actually won. I ended up working there for just one day and decided it just wasn’t for me. But I worked in topless bars for several years while I was acting because unless you live with mommy and daddy or have a sugar daddy, you have to have a job.
CHRIS: I read in Focus that you didn’t know your father, but you’re obviously part Asian. Do you know anything at all about your ethnic background?
DEBRA: Well, my mom thinks that my father was Filipino, which makes sense because I have looked like I could have been sisters with a couple of Filipino friends. I refer to myself as “Eurasian” but I’m most likely some kind of Pacific Islander mix.
CHRIS: So everything written in Focus was actually written by you?
DEBRA: Most of it was. I wrote all of the commentary on my movies and everything else is pretty accurate.
CHRIS: How did you get started with your psychic work?
DEBRA: I’ve always been into the psychic thing and when I was in my 20s, I was giving people readings. There are two things that I’ve always really loved; one is psychic stuff and the other is acting. I built my own website, and I’m proud of that, because I think it turned out pretty good.
CHRIS: Yes it did and you still look amazing. I also saw the very recent stills of you from your appearance on Creepy KOFY Movie Time and you’re still in great shape. What do you do to stay in shape?
DEBRA: I work out all the time to a collection of workout DVDs that have cardio and kickboxing-type moves and isolation stuff. I also do a lot of “Ab Jams” and I also have one of those shake weights! (laughs)
CHRIS: Ah yes, guys love to see women using those, but they really do work. DEBRA: Yeah it’s hard! If you do it for more than a minute, you’re like; aaaagh!
CHRIS: So before you got online (with your psychic website and Facebook), you really weren’t aware of how well-known you were or how big of a fanbase you had?
DEBRA: I pretty much had no clue. I started a Facebook page to promote my psychic business, and then I started looking up friends, old acting buddies and directors like Fred Olin Ray. The more I got connected, I started getting people contacting me saying “I know you! I’m a big fan of yours!” and I thought that was really cool!
CHRIS: When I first searched for you online, I found your psychic website and send you a message through it about an interview but I didn’t get a reply so I thought you didn’t want to delve back into your B-movie past.
DEBRA: You did?? I never got it. I don’t know what happened but that wasn’t the case! But I’m glad you got ahold of me. So which movies have you actually seen?
CHRIS:Beverly Hills Vamp, of course, Deathrow Gameshow, The Invisible Maniac, and Evil Spirits are ones I can think of offhand.
DEBRA: You know, when I lived in Los Angeles I had so many costumes from all my movies but I moved to New York for awhile and when I wanted to move back (to LA) it would have cost a fortune to move all my stuff back so I ended up giving five large trash bags full of costumes to a thrift store.
CHRIS: Wow, lucky customers at that thrift store! So, you didn’t keep many souvenirs from your movies or modeling gigs? DEBRA: I did, but I just kept downsizing. I threw out two full boxes of those Focus magazines, but this was a few years ago when I didn’t think I would be getting back into acting. Not that I didn’t want to, I just didn’t think it would ever happen. But then I got on Facebook and started getting contacted by people who wanted to work with me and send me scripts.
CHRIS: Have you ever been offered any kind of work that you turned down?
DEBRA: Well, I had done some modeling and when I first started to get into acting, I knew Traci Lords because we went to the same acting school…
CHRIS: I assume this was after her scandal broke?
DEBRA: Yeah, this was probably the late 80s. We kinda became friends. Oh, I was in one of her workout videos. Anyway, I did a couple of wrestling videos that were shot in LA but released overseas and the producer of those later told me that I was really popular in Australia because even though this one girl who was tougher than me had me in these holds, I still held my own and didn’t give up. When she asked me to do more for them (the video company), I had to turn her down because I didn’t want to keep doing that stuff because I was trying to be an actress. She was disappointed, but I just told her I was sorry, but I just didn’t want to be put in that mold. Same with the topless work. I was basically (getting known as) “the topless girl” and I started turning down a lot of jobs that I didn’t think would be beneficial to my career.
CHRIS: I read where you also had a friend who worked as a magician’s assistant and she taught you fire eating and breathing. So, didn’t you also get a lot of work because you were known for your fire eating ability?
DEBRA: Oh, yeah.
CHRIS: Did you ask her to teach you that because you thought you’d be able to use that skill or did you think it was just kind of cool?
DEBRA: I just thought it was cool! Plus, I was dancing too and I thought it would be a great addition to my dancing. What it is, is that you’re holding your head back so the flame’s going straight up out of your mouth, but you have to make sure your mouth is completely wet inside, or you could burn yourself. You cannot fire eat and have dry mouth.
CHRIS: Yeah, I was once in a band with a guy who was a real Gene Simmons fan, so I know about that. Ever had any accidents?
DEBRA: There was one time during a show a little lighter fluid got on my chin and my chin caught on fire so I was slapping my face. It was the only bad (fire eating) show I had.
CHRIS: Well, I see you still do it today because I caught your act on Creepy KOFY Movie Time. DEBRA: Yes, I do!
CHRIS: Most of your tattoos that you have now, you didn’t have during your B-movie heyday. What is the tattoo on your left shoulder?
DEBRA: It is an Ouroboros. It’s kind of like a symbol for eternity. It’s usually a snake eating its own tail but I had the tattoo artist do it with a dragon’s head instead because I thought it was more feminine. I also have a hamsa hand on my forearm and let’s see….I have (counts to nine). If you go to my Debra Lamb Extreme Facebook page you can see pictures that show off my tattoos. Well, most of them!
CHRIS: I see that you were a guest on (former porn star) Ginger Lynn’s Spice Radio show The Jerk Box, a few months ago. DEBRA: Yes, we were buddies back in the day because we were in a couple of those Electric Blue shows for the Playboy channel together. So when I got on Facebook, we friended each other and she saw that I’m a psychic and she invited me on her radio show. That was last December and I was on the day before her birthday. She was going to have me talk to people on the phone as a psychic but the show didn’t follow those lines. It was really fun though. We had cake and were doing all these fun things with cake all over us (laughs). I was on the show for the full four hours!
CHRIS: Early in your career, did you ever come across any sleazy producers that wanted to get you on the casting couch? DEBRA: Uh, one or two, but let me tell you about this bondage photo shoot I went on. I was only about 19 or 20 but I was really innocent at the time. I was taking a variety of modeling jobs, and since I had no money, I was willing to try almost anything. I showed up at this place but I just couldn’t do it because when I saw the set with all the bondage stuff, it really wasn’t my thing so I left. The agent later yelled at me about how much money he lost, but I said I was sorry but I just couldn’t do it. CHRIS: So, is there anything you did early in your career that you now wish you hadn’t done? DEBRA: Yeah, there is one nude photo shoot I did that makes me kind of cringe. It wasn’t that bad, and it wasn’t like I was doing anything with anyone else, but the photography wasn’t very good and the lighting was bad. Now, years ago when I was doing all the movies, some of my really early stuff embarrassed me back then, but now I don’t care. I mean, it was so long ago, who cares? I also did a shoot or two with (photographer) Suze Randall, who wanted me to get into porn because she thought I’d be a natural. She was very nice and really professional and I liked her but I had to tell her no because I felt I just couldn’t do that and have a chance at a mainstream acting career.
DEBRA: …even the whole thing with me leaving acting for almost 10 years, I really think it was all for the best. I’m OK with it and I’m happy that I have the opportunity to come back stronger and better than ever! I have a lot of people who are happy to hear from me and happy to see that I’m getting back into acting. CHRIS: What was the last film you did before your hiatus from acting? DEBRA: Well, don’t share this website yet because it’s not quite ready, but if you go to my fan site you can see my complete filmography. I actually built both my psychic website and my fan site myself! It’s for my fans. Everything that I’ve ever done up to this point right now. Anyway, there are a few things on the filmography page of my fan site that they don’t have on my IMDb page, like a couple of student films I did. (Author’s Note: Even though it’s still under construction, Debra later gave her OK to link to her fan site.) The last one that IMDb lists is Ballerina Finale, which actually began as a student film in 1994 (under the working title; Curtain Call). The director (Christine Rasmussen) expanded it and made it into more of a feature film that was released in 1997. So, the mid-90s was pretty much the last time I did anything, until the early 00s when I started going out on auditions again. I starred in a few more student films, and I worked on the pilot episode of Star Trek: Enterprise, but unfortunately I was cut out! CHRIS: Aww! The part of the “alien fire eater”? DEBRA: Yes, but there is this website that lists actors that were cut out of films and TV shows, and according to them, if you buy the first season DVD set, you can see that I was put back in.
DEBRA: …I knew people knew who I was way back when but I never thought of myself as being famous at all.
CHRIS: Well, you’re an icon in the B-movie industry, right up there with the likes of Brinke (Stevens), Linnea (Quigley) and Monique (Gabrielle).
DEBRA: That I only found out about recently. I never thought I was (that famous). Even just the last couple of months, I’m having more and more people tell me that. Wow! I had no clue!
CHRIS: And you have the distinction of being pretty much the only well-known Asian Scream Queen in America. There are Asian actresses in their home countries that are popular in the genre but you’re the only one I can think of in the US.
DEBRA: It’s funny too because back in the day when I was going on auditions and looking for agents they would always ask me “well, what are you?” because I looked exotic. So I would tell them I was half-Asian and half-White and they would always say that they didn’t know what to do with me because I didn’t fit into a definite ethnic group, which is what they wanted at the time. These days, so many people are mixed, but back then, you had to fit in a certain category. I’d tell them I could play Asian or Mulatto or Latina but at that time you had to be like cookie cutter.
CHRIS: Do you think you didn’t get cast for some roles because you didn’t fit in to a specific ethnic category?
DEBRA: Well, I don’t know but in the long run, I’m glad that I wasn’t pigeon holed as a certain type, other than being exotic.
CHRIS: Ah, so you were never cast in any stereotypical Asian roles just because of your look?
DEBRA: No, because I didn’t look Chinese or Japanese or whatever enough to be cast that way.
CHRIS: What kind of motorcycle were you riding to your auditions back in the day? DEBRA: It was a Honda CM400. CHRIS: Ahh, so it wasn’t a hog like the one you’re posed on, on the cover of Supercycle, which is what I was imagining you riding to your auditions. DEBRA: No, but it was still a real motorcycle, and I could barely pick that thing up. Every once in a while when I was trying to park it, I would kind of fall over and sometimes I would have to wave to someone to come and help me pick it up (laughs). CHRIS: You said your stepfather at the time was a weekend biker and he got you that bike so you’d have some transportation? DEBRA: Yeah, and the bike that I posed with on the cover of Supercycle wasn’t that much bigger than the one I had. And that bike (in Supercycle) was extremely popular at the time so I felt really privileged to be modeling on that gorgeous bike. CHRIS: You also did a shoot for Easyriders that featured you posing with a bike. DEBRA: Yeah, the Easyriders shoot was okay, but it wasn’t as good as the Supercycle one. That particular issue of Supercycle is a collector’s item now.
CHRIS: What actresses that you haven’t worked with, would you like to work with?
DEBRA: I’m finally going to be working with Brinke Stevens and Linnea Quigley on a film coming up that I’m the executive producer on. I’ll be starring as Sheriff Borden in Mountain of the Flesheaters. I haven’t worked with Linnea on a film before this but she used me for this book she did that was a spoof on Madonna’s Sex book called Skin and I’m in that quite a bit.
CHRIS: Any (actresses) whom you’d never work with again?
DEBRA: I can’t think of anyone I wouldn’t want to work with again. There may have been some who were kind of full of themselves at the time but I’m older now and I know how people can be when they’re younger. I know that there were a couple of times when I was younger that I wasn’t exactly the most professional person and I learned from that.
CHRIS: So, what upcoming events will you be appearing at?
CHRIS: You’ll be there to sigh autographs and meet fans?
DEBRA: Yes. I’m getting some more photos printed up for it. I had a ton of prints and other merchandise at one time, but over the years I got rid of a lot of it.
CHRIS: Was there a point in your life when acting alone paid the bills? DEBRA: There was a brief time in the early 90s when it did.
CHRIS: I understand you also went to beauty school?
DEBRA: Yes, that’s another thing! I’m a beauty school dropout.
CHRIS: Did you end up dying your hair pink? (Grease scene reference)
DEBRA: No but do you know how hard it is to got to beauty school for 8 hours and then go to work for 8 hours the same day? I really would have been good at it but the school was full-time and then after school I would go to my waitressing job until 1:00 AM, then I’d go home and get four hours of sleep and then back to school again. I made it for about three months.
CHRIS: I also understand you usually do your own makeup? DEBRA: I’m very good with makeup so I usually do my own. I’ve also done other people’s makeup for photo shoots, including Linnea Quigley and Stella Stevens for Femme Fatales Magazine!
CHRIS: A lot of people have preconceived notions about actresses living a very exciting, glamorous life and traveling everywhere. Have you traveled much for movie or photo shoots? DEBRA: I’ve been to the Bahamas but that was for a vacation. I haven’t traveled outside of the United States for my movies or photo shoots….and I shop at the mall (laughs). Oh, there’s this lingerie shop in Hollywood called Trashy Lingerie. I love Trashy Lingerie. I use to shop there all the time and they have really super top-notch lingerie. I still have a lot of the stuff I bought there.
CHRIS: Well Debra, it’s been awesome talking with you and I want to thank you again for giving me this interview.
DEBRA: Well, did we have a good interview or what?!
CHRIS: This has been great. I’ll see you at the Nightmare to Remember Film Festival on June 18th and we’ll stay in touch. I’ll also look forward to seeing you in more of your upcoming projects now that your making public appearances and doing movies again. Oh, and one more thing; do you still dislike anchovies on your pizza?
DEBRA: Are you kidding?! I love anchovies ….and garlic! (Laughs)
With Melissa Anne Moore, Ria Coyne, and Wendy MacDonald at Chiller Con ’93
Showing her fire breathing skills as “Raven” in the 1994 UCLA short film Curtain Call, which was later expanded upon and re-released in 1997 as Ballerina Finale
Debra did her own makeup and wore this Tom Bliss-designed bra
for a photo shoot she did during the making of Ballerina Finale.
Gracing the cover of the spring 1994 issue of Draculina. Fellow
Scream Queen Linnea Quigley is pictured at lower left.
As an Asian Elvira from a 2010 photo shoot for Dark Beauty magazine
A very recent photo of Debra sporting a very different look. Her t-shirt
holds a clue as to the title of her comeback to the B-movie scene.
Debra as Myra the “Snake Lady” on a episode of the 90s HBO series Dream On
Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, Chris flirted with the music biz there and in Nashville before joining the U.S. Army and serving in South Korea. He remained in Asia for several years afterwards, teaching English and covering the regional entertainment scenes. Currently in a mindset between Seoul and San Francisco, you can catch his writings at Idol Features, Behind the Velvet Curtain, and add him on Facebook and Google+
^ Mine too (obviously). Debra told me she's going to begin shooting Disciples along with some other Scream Queen icons, later this month. Stay tuned to this site for a very possible feature on the cast of that film!
Debra just got back to the SF Bay Area from Los Angeles, after finishing up Disciples and is now filming a few more scenes for Charles Webb's upcoming G-String Horror. (That's the working title and it may change.) I've seen some photos of Debra at the Market Stree Cinema in San Francisco, where some scenes have been shot.
My dad had that issue of Super Cycle in his collection (which is now my collection) and a friend told me her name. That led me to a Google search and that led me here. Great interview! Glad to finally find out about a girl I had been lusting over for the last few years!