By Brian Abrams
With only a few onscreen appearances during the heyday of 1970s grindhouse cinema, Cheri Caffaro seized the crown of its deliriously exploitative bondage subgenre.
In the drive-in classic Ginger (1971) (Picture: 1 - 2 - 3), Cheri portrayed the title character, a secret agent unafraid to wrestle another bikini-clad thug babe on the beach--even if it meant the loser had to strip off every thread.
In the 1972 sequel The Abductors (Picture: 1 - 2 - 3), Cheri-as-Ginger cracked down on a horribly horny white slave ring on the East Coast. In the crude, politically radical A Place Called Today (1972), a.k.a. City in Fear, Cheri brought the most to her role.
Unbeknownst to many of Cheri's fans at the time, the blonde-haired, raspy-voiced actress was married to the director of those very films, Don Schain. What a team they made. In New Jersey.
Cheri was a star among very off-kilter stars and she gave it her all. Case in point: To promote Ginger's theatrical release, Caffaro accepted her publicist's dare, to participate in a naked interview with esteemed New York Post columnist Earl Wilson in the Sherry Netherland Hotel in midtown Manhattan. (Wilson was fully clothed.)
By that point the name Cheri Caffaro, or at least Ginger McAllister, had become well ingrained into the popular consciousness of B-moviedom.
Sadly, Caffaro's name wasn't illuminated on marquees for too long after that. She starred in four more titles, most notably, Don Schain's other ginger follow-ups, Girls Are for Loving (1973) (Picture: 1 - - 3) and Too Hot to Handle (1976) (Picture: 1 - 2 - 3). She went on to piddle in relatively insignificant projects, including co-scripting and producing the sorority raunch masterwork H.O.T.S. (1979) and doing a voiceover for the Real Ghostbusters cartoon in 1997.
By then, Caffaro and Schain had been divorced for ages, her connections to the New Jersey softcore thriller universe were severed, and she disappeared virtually overnight.
In the ensuing years, Cheri has become more myth than mystery, as everyone who had previously shared success with the woman has no clue as to her whereabouts. Ex-husband Schain (who politely declined an interview) lost contact with her a lifetime ago and said he had "no idea" where she is.
Actress Jeramie Dreyfuss, a scene-stealing co-star of The Abductors, believed that Caffaro was murdered. Dreyfuss recalled reading Cheri's obituary in the New York Post in 1978. Caffaro, she recalled, had been murdered by unknowns on account of a personal diary that she (Cheri) had threatened to publish. An archivist at the Post disconfirmed this fuzzy recollection.
Caffaro's fans for years have suffered from curiosity. Across the World Wide Web, sleazy sycophants scratch heads in query to her disappearance.
Even Pulitzer Prize-winning author Larry McMurtry has shared his wonder and admiration. Not only has he reflected on her in his 1987 film criticism compilation, Film Flam, but he's exchanged recent sentiments via pen pal. ("Someone stole all her videos from my house," he said in a hand-written letter. "I think I had five.")
But the online propaganda is probably what creates the enigma behind (or in front of) Caffaro's what-happened-to story, leading millions to believe that her fictional dirty business on screen translated into a reality off screen.
After I discovered Caffaro's whereabouts recently, she agreed to speak with me in a series of phone interviews, so long as I would not disclose how she was found. Plus, when it came to questions about her past, Caffaro had very little to say. One thing she made for certain, though; she shook her head at all the dubious claims about her so-called underworld persuasion.
"It's the conspiracy that never happened," she said. "But it's a great subject for a film. For somebody, anyway."
California resident Cheri has kept a low profile for personal reasons. At fifty-seven, the retired actress says she's "been writing and putting together some of [her] own projects.""You are where you are because of what you've done," Cheri notes. "People who want to categorize you in this world [don't] take the whole person for what they're all about. It's interesting, though, that it seems to be something that has stuck with people over the years. I think it's their own fantasy they want to create."To this day, Cheri hasn't received all the money due her from her exploitation work, but she's proud of being somewhat a martyr to the successors of Ginger"When I did those films, they were kind of breakthrough. They were fun to me," she said. "It put women in the front line of doing action. And look at them now; now they're getting millions of dollars for this stuff."Unlike the G.I. Janes on the big screen that followed, Caffaro never got to count her first million from any of her flicks. With any luck, for all the grindhouse hall-of-famer has given us--and actresses subsequent--over the years, she'll one day get hers. Hopefully she won't be so secretive about it, either.