The Exploitation and Redemption of Laura Gemser

If you’re a fan of trashy vintage B-movies and Grindhouse films, there is no doubt that you are familiar with Laura Gemser. She forged a successful career out of her unearthly beauty, and she is still world renown by die-hard fans to this day. But who was Laura Gemser as a person? How did such a shy and intelligent woman cope with being viewed as a sex icon due to the explicit Black Emanuelle movie series?

On the surface, her life story is a glamorous jet-set tale of stardom in the flower-power & free love era. Underneath the facade of bare skin on celluloid, there was a darker conflict going on in her heart. She enjoyed and despised aspects of her work at the same time. The films she starred in were disturbingly violent and often pornographic, and after awhile she balked at doing such roles. Laura yearned for a legitimate movie career, but was instead offered a steady incline of smut. This is the flamboyantly tragic life story of Laura Gemser.

From Java to Utrecht

She was born as Laurette Marcia Gemser on October 5, 1950, in the tropical city of Surabaya, Indonesia. The country was a Dutch colony for hundreds of years, and finally gained its independence in 1949. However Indonesia’s liberation was far from peaceful, and the authoritarian president Sukarno ruled with an iron fist. The country was in a state of conflict, with communist and radical Islamic sects constantly squaring off against one another. Concerned by the instability, her parents moved the family to Utrecht, Netherlands when she was only four years old.

After graduating high school, Laura attended Artibus Art School to study fashion. And of course, the 5 ft 7″ beauty was immediately noticed for her model good looks. In the early 1970s, she posed for fashion magazines in Belgium and Amsterdam. From the span of 1973 to 1977, Laura appeared on five covers of the Italian erotic magazine Playmen. She also posed for the French magazine Lui and worked with Francis Giacobetti. But it was in Italy where her career would take off and she would become a star.

The 1970s were an era of liberation in all shapes and forms, be it social, sexual, racial or otherwise. There is a misconception that American Hollywood films were at the forefront of everything progressive. This was untrue. In the U.S., bland and ordinary actresses such as Diane Keaton and Meryl Streep ruled the screen with a monopoly and swept the Oscars. In Italy, it seemed that audiences were more ready to accept ethnically diverse actresses.

Italian cinema often cast women of color in the 1970s, such as the Eritrean actresses Zeudi Araya and Ines Pellegrini, Burmese actress Me-Me Lai, African-American actress Ajita Wilson, Brazilian actress Florinda Bolkan, Dominican actress Lucía Ramírez, Afro-Italian actresses Carla Brait and Angela La Vorgna, and Jamaican actress Beryl Cunningham, among others. The roles they were given were often of dubious quality (cannibal horror movies, erotic films and violent giallo), but these women became underground stars in their own right.

Spanish magazine ‘Personas’, number 67 from December 15, 1974

La Principessa del Cinema Italiano

In 1974, a 24-year old Laura starred in her first film called Amore libero (Free Love). It was an Italian production shot on the gorgeous French island of Seychelles. Described as an erotic adventure film, it was considered pedestrian and tame compared to her later films. Despite its mediocrity, the movie did the trick and got Laura noticed. Perhaps unaware of what she was in for, she moved to Italy to pursue her newfound acting career.

Softcore porn was rife in 1970s Europe, and the most infamous film of 1974 was Just Jaeckin’s X-rated Emmanuelle, starring Sylvia Kristel. Based on the autobiographical smut novels by French-Thai libertine Emmanuelle Arsan, the film caused a stir in France upon its release and was followed by two more sequels. Laura played a small role in Emmanuelle 2 as a kinky masseuse.

Like a sheep wandering into a pack of wolves, Laura had no idea what she was getting into:

“I wanted to be a model. I was still a little girl. I came to Italy specifically to shoot ‘Amore Libero,’ because someone was impressed by my photographs and therefore made contact with my agency. Even the part I did later in ‘Emmanuelle 2’ was born because the director Francis Giacobetti was a photographer with whom I had already made several nude and fashion shoots. I remember the day when he asked me if I wanted to do a part in the film he was going to make, ‘Emmanuelle 2.’ And I replied: “Why not?” 

Emmanuelle II (1975)

Love, Fame and Scandal

This was a first in a long chain of sleaze films for Laura. In a way, cameoing in Emmanuelle 2 was like selling her soul to the devil. Afterwards, she was offered the lead role in a series of Italian grindhouse spin-offs named Black Emanuelle. The Italians removed an “m” from the name so their French counterparts would not sue. Directed by Bitto Albertini, 1975’s Black Emanuelle turned Laura into a cult film star. He had seen a poster of her while at a travel agency in Kenya, and was mesmerized by her knockout looks.

Despite having limited prior acting experience, Laura was cast in the main role. One of the pros of starring in the film was that it was shot in scenic Nairobi, Kenya. Laura said that she “didn’t really read the script, but they told me I was doing it in Kenya, so I said yes. That’s the only idea– to go to Kenya, and that for me was okay. I don’t care about the script.” One of Laura’s favourite things about her acting career was that it allowed her to travel and to see new places. She had an adventurous and bold spirit, and she brought this carefree attitude into all her performances.

Impossibly beautiful in Black Emanuelle (1975)

She also met the love of her life on the set of the film. Laura’s handsome co-star Gabriele Tinti was infatuated with her ever since spotting her at a production office in Rome, and the two later began a passionate affair while filming in Kenya. She was a Libra, and he was a Leo- it was meant to be! Laura said “it was meeting Gabriele that pushed me to leave my homeland to come and live here in Italy… to always be close to him.

Gabriele was a B-list Italian actor with matinee idol good looks that led the press to dub him “the Italian Alain Delon.” He grew up poor, so this pushed him to have an extraordinary drive to succeed as he grew older. Gabriele starred in dozens of movies each year all across Europe and in Hollywood, and eventually began to foray into erotic films.

Gabriele Tinti and his piercing gaze.

Despite the fact that he was 18 years older than her, Laura loved him immensely. The couple married in 1976 and stayed that way until his death in 1991. Gabriele also starred with Laura in all of her Emanuelle films, except for Emanuelle Around the World. It was strange that they both had such a strong bond despite performing in graphic sex scenes with other actors as well.

Laura and Gabriele had an understanding that while they performed in vulgar films, they still had an unbreakable attachment between them. Indeed you can see the chemistry when they perform together: the couple light up the screen and you could genuinely tell they were in love! Rather than working bum 9-5 jobs, the pair travelled the world and starred in films together. It seemed a small price to pay because it allowed them a luxurious lifestyle at the cost of getting naked onscreen. They were like the Onlyfans thots of their day.

Crazy in love!

While Black Emanuelle may have brought Laura love and a career, it’s technically a terrible film. It is a weird and haphazard porno flick with a cheesy soundtrack and just so many ridiculous moments. It was also tough for Laura to get used to stripping down on film. Her agent complained that Laura could barely pose for a picture, so it would be even tougher teach her to perform in movies.

Director Bitto Albertini claimed “it was difficult to make her act, and she thought it was a game. She didn’t take it seriously at first, then she became pretty good.” The contention may have come from the all the nude sex scenes she was compelled to do. In many moments, Laura looks awkward and downright uncomfortable. But this was her new job, and she steeled herself to it.

Laura and Karin Schubert on set.

Another thing that infuriated Laura was the fact that Albertini had added in hardcore porn footage during the editing stage- without her approval! Laura never performed in hardcore acts on screen, and vehemently refused any requests to do so. Yet Albertini had inserted random stand-in scenes without her permission. This was something Laura would always feel very icky about. She described the nightmare of finding out about what had happened:

“Any excuse is good to get naked. I saw the one– the first Emanuelle, because I was curious. But then I felt baaad, because I didn’t expect to see… I refused a lot of scenes. They put in a stand-in, and I didn’t know. So when I saw the movie, I felt rather bad. There was a scene in a train. I think it was… she was making love with a whole football team. I don’t remember. But, I refused that scene, and they used stand-ins, and– I don’t know what are the scenes… I forgot. Really, I forgot…”

The Misfortunes of Karin Schubert

The beautiful and tragic Karin Schubert.

While Laura always had the leverage throughout her career to refuse hardcore porn, her co-star Karin Schubert did not. Karin was an attractive German actress who starred in French and Italian cult films throughout the 1970s. When the roles dried up and she began aging and facing financial difficulties, Karin’s life turned into a nightmare.

While her role in Black Emanuelle was already embarrassing enough, it was about to get worse. Karin’s son was a troubled drug addict, and it was up to her to pay for his psychiatric treatment. In her 40s, a middle aged Karin posed for nudie magazines. In the 1980s, she was eventually forced to do hardcore porn to pay her debts. She acted in over 20 pornos, and it broke her mentally.

Karin and Laura in Emanuelle Around the World (1977)

Having already suffered sexual abuse in her youth, Karin attempted suicide three times yet she survived them all. She was then interred in a psychiatric hospital. She lamented I have neither family nor friends, neither money, nor future. I wanted to die because I missed everything. For people, I am a whore.” She now lives in an isolated area of Germany; faraway from the media and alone except for her pet dogs who keep her company.

The King of Sleaze

Thankfully, Laura never fell into the trap that poor Karin did. It was the constant love and support of Gabriele Tinti that kept her strong throughout her career. Black Emanuelle was a smash hit, and Laura signed a contract with director Aristide Massaccesi AKA Joe D’Amato for five more films. If you’re a geeky cinephile, you’ll definitely be familiar with the infamous D’Amato. He was the most well-known exploitation film director in 1970s Italy, and churned out hundreds of low budget films that left audiences in awe of how perverse and depraved they were.

Joe D’Amato and Laura Gemser in Venice, on the set of Emanuelle in Bangkok (1976)

D’Amato really knew how to sell a film: just add copious amounts of sex and gore. Bitto Albertini’s Black Emanuelle looked like a joke compared to D’Amato’s sequels. He directed every genre of film possible, from horror to fantasy to westerns to straight up porn. And quality wise, you couldn’t exactly say his movies were good. But they were shocking and attention-grabbing, and the charming and goddess-like Laura Gemser became his most valuable asset.

Laura was his muse and inspiration. The camera adored her, and D’Amato captured her at her best angles. He described Laura as a shy, wonderful and sweet person who was very private and liked to keep her life hidden from the media. While the Emanuelle character she portrayed onscreen was very kinky and hedonistic, the real life Laura had a very committed relationship with Gabriele Tinti.

Ely Galleani and Laura Gemser in Emanuelle and the White Slave Trade (1978)

Co-star Ely Galleani said Laura was sometimes hard to work with because she seemed “very upset” during their lesbian lovemaking scenes. Indeed, Laura would go on to say that “it’s hard to make love with a [woman]. I mean, it’s… it’s really hard. But, you know, you get paid for it, so you do it. You just do it!” So despite the Sapphic scenes she performed in onscreen, Laura was not bisexual in real life.

D’Amato depicts Emanuelle as a strong, independent, and promiscuous photojournalist who travels the world and gets down with almost everyone she comes across, be they male or female. Cue in lackluster sex scenes every five minutes and feature some horribly dated and corny musical scores by Nico Fidenco. He was certainly no Ennio Morricone.

The bella donna in Venice, on the set of Emanuelle in America (1977)

Emanuelle is also extremely oversexualized, and is shown to enjoy gangbangs and group sex- and even gang rape! Wtf. In the post AIDS era, these films come off as very twisted and obscene. The only redeeming properties of the Emanuelle films are Laura Gemser and her many interesting co-stars. If not for her, these movies would be discarded as nothing more than repetitive, abject trash. Laura said herself that:

“It seemed like one long, long movie that didn’t end. You know, it was always the same story, the same things happens.. I was a journalist… a photographer… and they always sent me out to to find some drug criminals. There was a lot of drugs, right? And then.. there was always the same situation… always had to get myself undressed to get something… I don’t know….

Bloody & Extreme Grindhouse Cinema

Then why did she continue doing the sordid Emanuelle films? Well the fact that she was able to travel to Thailand, Morocco, Hong Kong, New York, Venice, Washington, San Diego, Egypt, India, Iran and China could have contributed to it. Most of the films were garden-variety and forgettable, but two 1977 classics stand out for their offensive and wildly violent plots: Emanuelle in America and Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals.

In Emanuelle in America, Laura plays a journalist who goes undercover to bust a snuff film ring. There is an array of nauseating scenes; such as horse bestiality, orgies and random, terrible hardcore porn inserts. 1970s Italian filmmakers had a serious problem with exploiting their stars. D’Amato had tried many times to make Laura film hardcore porn scenes, but she always gave him a resounding NO!

Emanuelle in America (1977)

Penthouse magazine founder and producer Bob Guccione had cut porn scenes into Tinto Brass’ 1979 disasterpiece Caligula without telling anyone, much to the chagrin of stars Malcolm McDowell, Peter O’Toole and John Gielgud. After watching Caligula in theaters Malcolm said “I felt like a woman after she’s been raped.” This strongly echoes Laura’s sentiments about her own films.

The worst parts of Emanuelle in America, however, are definitely the hyper-realistic, gory snuff film scenes. For some reason, D’Amato thought it would be a good idea to include graphic torture in a literal porno. The film was seized by an Italian court because they thought the disturbing footage was real, and one of the traumatized actresses in the snuff scenes sued production but lost the case. The things Italian directors got away with back then were mind-blowing. The horrific sequences inspired David Cronenberg’s amazing 1983 classic sci-fi body horror flick Videodrome, so at least it was good for something in the end.

Laura and Gabriele. This is probably my fave Emanuelle outfit.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, mondo movie Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals was even worse. Just look at the title. Thankfully, this film had no hardcore porn inserts. But it was still marketed as an erotic film, despite the fact that it was literally about cannibalism. Another one of D’Amato’s bright ideas. His vomit-inducing film went on to inspire Ruggero Deodato’s even more nauseating and infamous 1980 horror film Cannibal Holocaust. I strongly advise you not to watch these two back to back.

The plot is trite: Laura the journalist and Gabriele the anthropologist go on a cute New York date to discuss cannibals and to make love, and then D’Amato cuts to them watching a tribal castration scene. It didn’t make for a good romance movie, but it did give the film an air of bizarre infamy. The duo then head out to the “Amazon jungle,” which is really just the forests of Lazio, Italy. Racism ensues (the “native” tribe is played by Filipino tourists!), as well as graphic scenes of cannibalism, gutting and dismemberment. Skip the popcorn when you watch this one.

Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals (1977)

Going Mainstream

With movies like these under her belt, is it any wonder Laura grew disillusioned with her career? She did have a few roles in some “respectable” movies, such as the 1977 Terence Hill and Bud Spencer comedy film Crime Busters, and the 1976 Hollywood disaster flick Voyage of the Damned. Director Stuart Rosenberg said he wanted an actress who looked Cuban, and personally chose Laura for the role. She called the experience “unreal.” Unfortunately, she had no lines and just played Orson Welles’ arm candy. Laura gave a fascinating account of him in an interview and said he was:

A big guy (laughs)… he walked very badly because of his size. I remember that he spent his days locked in his room, he never wanted to talk to anyone. Even when Faye Dunaway went to look for him because she wanted to talk to him, Orson drew back, he didn’t want to meet her. Poor thing, she came to the set on purpose because she wanted to talk to him. But Orson would lock himself in the room after the take.

Orson Welles and Laura Gemser in Voyage of the Damned (1976)

The least awful D’Amato film starring Laura was 1976’s Black Cobra Woman. This was the closest he ever got to making a decent movie, and the presence of Hollywood star Jack Palance added a little class to the production. And unlike the terrible musical scores the other Emanuelle films had, this one had a pleasant soundtrack by maestro Piero Umiliani.

Black Cobra Woman is a strictly softcore film that doesn’t have any trademark disturbing D’Amato scenes (other than a snake being skinned alive and eaten at a Chinese marketplace). Set in Hong Kong, Laura plays an exotic snake dancer who is wooed by sugar daddy Palance. In the film, Laura performs sensual snake dances and looks effortless while doing it. In real life, Laura had a fear of snakes and one even defecated on her when she was handling it!

Nothing comes between a girl and her snake ♥

The Private Life of Laura Gemser

It’s tough to find an interview of Laura from the 1970s, but I managed to discover a rare newspaper clipping from that era. The article is in Spanish and was an interview done when she had a stopover at El Prat airport in Barcelona to meet a movie producer (this is a rough translation btw I did the best I could). In the clipping, Laura reveals that she wants to stop getting naked on camera because “everything has a limit” and that she has other plans for the future. Surprisingly, she says that she has studied archaeology, and even passed two pharmacy courses as she wanted to pursue a medical career.

We also find out that she is bilingual and speaks five languages (Dutch, Indonesian, English, Italian, and I’m not sure of the other one). When quizzed about the upside of the Emanuelle film series, Laura admits it gave her “fame and a comfortable economic position.” The reporter also mentions that she is happily married to Gabriele Tinti, who accompanied her on the trip. This is all very interesting because not much is known about Laura’s private life outside of her film career, so it’s fascinating to see she had other ambitions that sadly never came true.

B-Movie Extravaganza

Laura’s career slogged on into the 1980s as she starred in trash films of all genres: sexploitation, women in prison films, nunsploitation, sex comedies, an erotic biopic on Caligula, more pseudo-Emanuelle sequels, a martial arts flick with Toshiro Mifune, Sonny Chiba and James Earl Jones, a zombie movie, horror, fantasy, and other questionable films I don’t recommend watching. The girl had to make a living somehow.

On the set of 1982’s Violence in a Women’s Prison, the no-nonsense Laura clashed with her haughty co-star Lorraine De Selle. She had some harsh words for her:

“She was someone who put on incredible intellectual airs. But she was a pseudo intellectual in my opinion. I mean if you make a movie like “Violence in a Women’s Prison” you can’t be an intellectual… you can’t be a busy theater actress when you’re shooting such bullshit. In short, the story is what it is, it’s definitely not Shakespeare… let’s have fun, right? “

With Mónica Zanchi on the set of nunsploitation film Sister Emanuelle (1977)

In 1980, Laura recorded a song called “Crazy Eyes (And We’ll Love Again)” in Germany and surprised everyone with her vocal talents. She had a beautiful singing voice and it was a shame she didn’t record more music because that track is actually very dreamy and well produced! It was also bizarre that Laura’s voice was dubbed in almost every film she ever appeared in, despite the fact that she spoke good English but with a slight Dutch accent.

In 1983, Laura co-starred in the cheesy hit American TV movie Love is Forever with the king of corniness, Michael Landon. The director and producers forced Laura to hide her identity on set:

This was at the behest of the director and the production. They didn’t want my ‘erotic’ past to connect with the film, which was a story for the whole family. So they gave me the name of Moira Chen, but it didn’t help because everyone wrote: Moira Chen is Laura Gemser (laughs). Hall Bartlett, the director, was an American who wanted to change my life. It was a little bit nasty… He was a moralizer. It forced me to deny even in the face of evidence. When in Thailand people said to me: ‘Are you Laura Gemser?’ I had to say: ‘No… no, I’m Moira Chen’. It was embarrassing.

Stills from Looking Good with Laura Gemser, a weird 1980s workout video.

Laura tried to turn a blind eye to the hardcore porn that was being inserted into the films she made with D’Amato, but then she realized these scenes were literally being filmed right there on a parallel set. At least she had a sense of humour about it:

“I’ve always believed that Aristide [Joe] made porn films at the same time as ours. But not that these were scenes to be included in the films themselves. I realized it late, on the set of 1982’s ‘Caligula the Untold Story.’ There is a scene in that film in which Emperor Caligula, David Brandon, and I walk to a bedroom. As we walk, a long, incredible porn scene starts, and after half an hour of wild sex, the scene resumes with us entering the bedroom. I remember when I saw Aristide, I said to him: ‘Fuck, Ari,’ this bedroom was really far away!”

Caligola… la storia mai raccontata (1982)

Laura Gemser: Goblin Costume Designer

From 1988 onwards, Laura worked on Italian low budget D-movies as a wardrobe and costume designer. After all, she was an ex-model who had studied fashion in college. She worked on D’Amato’s films as the two had a close friendship throughout their careers. Most famously, she helped create the costumes for 1990’s Troll 2, often called the worst movie ever made. The film was shot in Utah with an all-Italian production crew. None of them spoke fluent English except Laura, which caused the shoot to be a total mess.

She did her best with the low budget, creating goblins out of Halloween masks and burlap sacks. Ever the penny pincher, producer D’Amato would go on to re-use these costumes in 1982’s Ator: The Fighting Eagle. Even so, Troll 2 was a disaster that was universally panned, and the special effects were mercilessly mocked. It is tragic that this movie is associated with Laura, but at least she had fun on set.

Laura at work on the set of Troll 2 (1990)

And she didn’t have to strip naked on screen anymore! Phasing out her acting career was like a breath of fresh air for Laura. She described the discomfort she felt the first time she had to disrobe:

“The first few times I had to undress in front of the camera were a traumatizing moment… but then I got used to it. Sure, everyone on the set looks at you like that (she widens her eyes and sticks out his tongue, panting like a dog), then it’s a bit embarrassing, but if you take it as a job, it all goes away. You say: I have to do it, they pay me. And frankly, I didn’t do particularly rough scenes, even if once, in Italy, it didn’t take much to cause a scandal…

Notti porno nel mondo (1977)

When my first Emanuelle came out, there was this big poster with me on it, and I was naked ’til here… and they censored it. They took it down, and so people were curious to see it… So nowadays, you see everything… I mean, even in TV you see everything. In those days it was rather… How do you say it? Uh, scandaloso… [I got] a little bit tired of doing this, and I was trying to do some other kind of movies. But… I had that label on me, and it’s very hard to get out of it. So I said ‘I hate it,’ so I stopped doing it.”

The End of Love

Another factor that contributed to the end of Laura’s acting career was the death of her beloved husband Gabriele Tinti. With him by her side, Laura was full of confidence and strength. But when he passed away in Rome on November 12, 1991, she was heartbroken. He was only 59 years old, but he was a lifelong smoker who died of a myocardial infarction before leaving on a flight to France to star in a new film. The couple had been married for 15 years. Since they never had any children and her family was split between the Netherlands and Indonesia, Laura was left on her own.

Laura and Gabriele in Hong Kong, 1976.

Laura and Gabriele were both enigmatic and mysterious people who kept their personal lives out of the public eye. But in 2016, Laura agreed to be interviewed for a documentary on his life called Come in un film: La Vera Storia di Gabriele Tinti. In this film, she recounts rare info about his life. He was originally named Gastone, and was a poor boy from the Bolognese village of Molinella. When he became famous, Gabriele returned home in a white suit and sports car, which the poverty-stricken villagers soiled with their own blackened hands and clothes.

Even though he was 20 years younger than her, Gabriele seduced legendary Italian actress Anna Magnani in the 1950s and she fell madly in love with him. He was also married to Brazilian actress Norma Bengell for seven years during the 1960s. Gabriele was an attractive and charismatic playboy, but Laura was the woman who had stolen his heart. In the documentary, Laura tears up talking about him and remembers him fondly and with great love. She had Gabriele buried in his hometown of Molinella, in a grave next to his father’s.

Electric chemistry: the couple in Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals (1977)

After his death, Laura disappeared from the screen, but continued designing costumes until 1993. To those who asked her why she retired, Laura joked about not wanting to play “Emanuelle’s grandmother” because she was now in her 40s and a widow. Laura and Gabriele had lived together at a villa in Saxa Rubra, a solitary village 14 km away from Rome. They had a small wooden house with a wild garden set in a fairy tale landscape. After his death, she found life there to be lonely and painful, so she moved to a different location in Rome.

Retirement and Isolation

The last time Laura was spotted at a public event was at Joe D’Amato’s 1999 funeral, which she was said to have become emotional at. Despite all he put her through in those weird movies he made, Laura still had a soft spot for D’Amato. Nowadays, the man would be #metoo’d in a minute. She had given a compelling account of him in a 1997 interview:

On the set of Emanuelle in Bangkok (1976)

“In my opinion Aristide is a born actor, a comic actor, because he has this face that makes you laugh immediately when he speaks. At the time I didn’t understand Italian well, but every time this funny little man said something to me I inevitably burst out laughing. I had a really good time with Aristide…

Today it would be unthinkable to make films like those… Working with Aristide was an adventure. He did everything: he was the director, the cinematographer, the producer -and an actress very often also had to be a costume designer and a seamstress. In the last period of our collaboration I was a costume designer because I had had to learn how to do it already when I was shooting the other films. Everyone had to be able to do a little bit of everything.

Gabriele, D’Amato and Laura in 1976

But thinking about it was funny and Aristide made me laugh a lot… laughing is important. He always had such agitation on him… he was always anxious and he forgot everything on time: his shirt, his shoes, a mess like few others! A great professional but also a great mess. When he got angry then I don’t tell you!

Aristide, however, did not get angry a lot, usually he always did it with irony. The few times he really got angry I went away because then it was unbearable: he screamed, cursed and so on and so forth… One thing that Aristide and I have in common is that we fall asleep everywhere, we sleep easy. It also happened to me in the breaks between takes. But he too was no less.”

A rare still from The Lost City, a D’Amato film that was never completed.

Laura now lives a quiet life somewhere in Rome, far away from all the movie cameras. She is in her 70s, and she rarely takes interviews. In 2000, director Alex Cox interviewed her in A Hard Look, a documentary on the Emanuelle films (I have transcribed the interview into different sections of this article). She was still pretty and glowing at the age of 50, but seemed disappointed and conflicted about her acting career.

In 2016, Laura appeared in the Gabriele Tinti documentary. And in 2018, Severin Films released a short interview with Laura called I Am Your Black Queen as a featurette on a DVD release set of hers (yet I can’t find it… RIP). Information about her is scarce, but I raked up as much as I could from Italian cinema sites. She proves to be a tantalizing enigma for fans who want to get to know more about the real Laura Gemser.

Laura discusses her late husband in Come in un film: La Vera Storia di Gabriele Tinti (2016)

Unlike many other actresses who crumbled in the face of fame and abuse by the film industry, Laura managed to hold up under all kinds of pressure and bow away gracefully from the screen. Countless starlets succumb to suicide, substance abuse, botched plastic surgery, poverty, mental illness, and other afflictions. Yet even as a widow, Laura managed to keep herself together and settle into a private life in Rome.

She enjoys craftsmanship, and makes her own furniture out of recycled material. Laura still designs her own clothes as well, and often sells them at the grand market of Porta Portese by the Tiber river. She is a very low-key and a level headed person, which is remarkable considering all she’s gone through.

Laura seems to want to distance herself from her smut career, and that is understandable. The Emanuelle movies truly were exploitation in many more ways than one. They were films that exploited Laura herself, and forced her to do unimaginable acts (everything shy of actual penetration) onscreen. She is a wonder to watch in movies; as she is extremely gorgeous and slender with long black hair, a stunning smile and the It quality of a star. Yet the content she was forced to do was way beneath her.

She was an intelligent and unique woman who deserved much better than the sleazy roles she was given. There is a feeling of wasted talent when reflecting on her filmography. Laura was much more than just her pleasant face and body, and her acting ability and beauty as a person shine through in the gritty grindhouse films she drifted above. To her fans, Laura Gemser will always be a bright and glorious diamond glittering in the rough of 1970s erotic B-movie cinema.

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