By Barbara Kleban Mills
March 19, 1984 12:00 PM

Robyn Douglass knows what women want: wing-tip shoes. That’s what made the difference for Douglass, a former 1974 Playboy cover girl who cross-dresses for success in Her Life as a Man, an NBC TV movie broadcast on March 12. Says Douglass, 30, “I’d put those on just before I’d leave the mobile home where I dressed. I’d stand up and feel a kind of strength. The weight of them gave me new confidence.”

Her Life as a Man is a Tootsie in reverse. Robyn plays Carly Perkins, a journalist who disguises herself as a man after being turned down for a sportswriting job by a chauvinist pig-skinned magazine editor. Carly becomes “Carl”—and lands the job.

To test her manhood, Robyn wandered through the L.A. airport in disguise. “I didn’t want to draw any attention, which I would have if I’d come across as a freak,” she says. In fact, Robyn passed one of the best gender tests known to man: Joan Collins. In the movie, the voluptuous Dynasty star plays a football-team owner who tries to seduce Carl during an interview. “Since I’d never seen Robyn as a woman, I tried to think of her purely as a man,” says Collins.

Like other beauties of both sexes, Douglass assisted nature with a few synthetics. During her daily three-hour transformation, a luxuriant beard and mustache were painfully glued to her face and padding was added to her willowy 5’7½”, 120-pound frame. “I made them give me a tush,” she says, patting the appropriate spot. Was she anatomically correct in another key area? “Well,” says Robyn, “let’s just say that there was a lot between me and my Calvins.”

The costume change wrought some internal changes too. “The more I was a man, the more valuable my opinions seemed to be.” A little macho also rubbed off with an irritating member of the show’s crew. “I actually thought to myself, ‘I may punch this guy out,’ ” says Robyn.

Being involved with someone who changes sex on the way to work was problematic for Robyn’s live-in lover of nine years, Joel Cory. “Schizophrenia was rampant,” says Joel, age 46, a commercial voice-over specialist who shares a lakeside Chicago home and Santa Monica apartment with Robyn. “I called Robyn one morning at home when she was already in costume. She knew it was me, but she answered in Carl’s voice. It was bizarre.”

Robyn’s own history is much less bizarre than Carl’s. The daughter of an Army doctor and a hospital administrator, she was born in Japan and reared “from base to base.” At a Catholic girls’ school in Mountainview, Calif., Robyn had her first shot at a boy’s life, playing roles such as Romeo and Mercutio in class productions. Her big break came in 1979 when she played Dennis Christopher’s crush in Breaking Away. Since that, however, she has appeared in the less successful comedies, The Lonely Guy and Romantic Comedy.

After serving as a double agent in the battle between the sexes, Robyn reports, “I never really felt like a man. But I experienced what it’s like to be a woman—without restrictions.” Her Life as a Man has raised both her consciousness and profile. As Robyn observes, “I’ve gone from being the girl next door to the man down the street.”