Few people have helped to weave the cultural fabric of Los Angeles the way Robert Arthur Schaffner (aka "Colonel Rob") did with his wild personality and subversive interests. Beloved by everyone who met him, he was a bank of endless pop culture knowledge who shared his wisdom with anyone who entered his kingdom — his infamous Los Feliz store Mondo Video. His throne was behind the counter and his legions of faithful followers all carried a membership card to prove they were part of the freaky family and proud members of the greatest video store that ever existed.
Schaffner was found dead in his home in Lancaster this week. He was 57 years old. He is survived by two older siblings, brother William Schaffner and sister Nancy Zider. His girlfriend, Jodi Antoine, made the public announcement on Facebook yesterday:
"I'm so sorry to announce my most favorite human being, my loving boyfriend of 18 years, The Colonel Rob Schaffner aka Mondo Viedoagogo, has taken his own life. I'll explain more later. Right now I'm still in shock and doing some heavy grieving dealing with this nightmare. I'm so sorry to everyone who knew him very well."
Antoine tells L.A. Weekly that Schaffner had been suffering from pain due to injuries from spinal stenosis and chronic arthritis. An L.A. antihero, Schaffner completely disregarded traditional business practices and encouraged everyone to be as out there as they wanted with absolutely no judgment. In fact, he loved being around those whom regular folks considered dysfunctional.
Originally opening a store in San Pedro in 1988 with help from his brother Bruce Schaffner (also now deceased), he soon realized that the South Bay was not a hub for the extreme. The brothers packed up with their neighbor Ana Medina and her store, Archiac Idiot, and all three moved to the up-and-coming North Vermont area in Los Feliz. Opening the doors to both locations with a torn wall between them on the day the L.A. Riots started in 1992 surely set the tone for a riotous retail experience.
Before the internet, if you really wanted to know about something, you had to search hard for it. But Mondo made it easy. It had the most extensive collection of films you could ever imagine — and by no means was it taking up space with filler. If you dared to ask for something like Jerry Maguire, you’d probably regret that moment almost immediately. The catalog for its library of films was about the size of two phone books, and the sections were not broken up by simple genres. If you asked for the horror section, Rob likely would ask you something like, “Are you talking about Zombies or more like Naughty Nazis, Rape & Revenge or Manson Mania?”
He put a mind-blowing amount of effort into having almost every weird movie in existence — from B-movies and cult films to homemade underground tapes, art-house classics and beyond. The music video section was better than any record store, divided up by Punk, Goth/Industrial, Garage, Heavy Metal, etc., all filled with hundreds of titles. Mondo was definitely the only video rental store in the world with a GG Allin or Kenneth Anger section. It was a total sanctuary of the weird and unconventional.
Mondo members could always make friends with the strangest people there; you truly had no idea what kind of chaos and insanity you might be walking into just to drop off some videos. Rob attracted and harbored the most colorful, dysfunctional and bizarre clientele you could imagine. There was no judgment within those walls and wild behavior was not only welcomed but encouraged. It was a genuine beacon for the counterculture.
Goddess Bunny got discovered by Marilyn Manson, while pop singer Jewel (still living in her van undiscovered) got burped on by El Duce of The Mentors. GG Allin did one of his only L.A. performances there, while Russ Meyers and Kitten Natividad were regulars.
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"If you were a paraplegic that wanted to sing Rocky Horror naked and get pissed on, here was a place where you could do that," recalls former employee Erek Michael, now manager of the Museum of Death. "It was a product of its time and it will never happen again.”
There were no boundaries at Mondo, and that might have been the downfall of the business itself. It eventually had to change locations as Los Feliz became more gentrified, and new shoppers who came to the area had less appreciation for events like “Transvestite BBQ” (where local homeless and trans sex workers would come to party).
A petition was passed around stating that the Colonel's store was bringing property values down and attracting the morally defunct to the neighborhood. It was ultimately successful in getting Mondo Video out, but Rob proudly framed the petition and hung it in his storefront window till the day he had to move.
Rob represented everything that L.A. should be known for: the nonconformists, the boundary pushers and the provocateurs. He forever left his mark on the minds of everyone in L.A. who was lucky enough to have a membership card and, more important, anyone lucky enough to call him a friend. They were usually one and the same. R.I.P. Colonel.