Death of a Beauty Queen: Barbara Ann Thomason & the Dark Underbelly of 60s Hollywood Glamour

Barbara Ann Thomason was a pretty All-American girl who seemed destined for stardom. She adopted the moniker Carolyn Mitchell, and went off to Hollywood in pursuit of that elusive 1950s bleached-blonde fame. After marrying manlet movie icon Mickey Rooney, she seemed all set. However, an affair with Serbian gangster Miloš Milošević resulted in a premature and bloody death shrouded in conspiracy and controversy. What happened to Barbara on the night of Jan. 31, 1966 remains a gruesome mystery which implicates celebrities like Rooney, Alain Delon & Cary Grant; and this is just a haphazard attempt to decipher it.

California Girl

Born in Phoenix, AZ on January 25, 1937, Barbara was an impetuous and airy Aquarius who was always the center of attention. She was known as “the prettiest girl in Phoenix,” and would probably have been a top tier Instagram thot had she lived in our time. She was engaged to several different men in her youth, but none stuck. Much to her delight, her family moved to Inglewood, CA in 1951. L.A. fit ambitious Barbara like a glove, and she entered several beauty pageants. October of 1953 saw her win the “Miss Venus” contest, and a year later she attended the famous Hollywood Professional School.

“Miss Muscle Beach of 1954′, 20 June 1954. Barbara Thomason – 17 years (Morningside High School — winner). Thousand spectators watched the contest in which 30 girls where entered at Santa Monica. Other figures, (Barbara’s own): 5 foot, 3 inches, 110 pounds and 36-21 1/2-35 1/2. She is blonde with blue eyes.” (Photo by Los Angeles Examiner)

Barbara began weightlifting to perfect her already impressive physique, and she bagged many more interesting titles; such as “Queen of the Championships of Southern California” and “Miss Surf Festival.” At the April 1954  “Junior Miss California” pageant, judges told Barbara she placed second because she was supposedly 8 lbs. overweight. By June, she secured a win at the “Miss Muscle Beach” pageant, beating out 32 other contestants. She achieved this by only eating one meal every 48 hours. It’s tragic to see how rampant eating disorders run in Hollywood!

In 1955 alone, she won six different pageants. After high school, she worked at the Arthur Murray dance school, and modelled for pin-up magazines. That same year she played in an episode of the ABC anthology series Crossroads. Needing quick cash, she pin-up modeled for the lurid Modern Man magazine in 1957 under the moniker of Tara Thomas. In early 1958, 21-year old Barbara hit what she thought was a financial jackpot. Thanks to a car salesman named Bill Gardner, she was introduced to 38-year old Hollywood legend Mickey Rooney at a nightclub. He was only 5 ft 1″ and not much to look at, but he was an Oscar-nominated player who succeeded in charming tons of women.

“Miss Bay Beach Beauty Contest, 6 September 1954. Barbara Thomason, Morningside (Inglewood) High School senior, and winner of 14 previous beauty contest titles, who won first place today. They wore masks in initial stages of contest so judges could judge figures only.” (Photo by Los Angeles Examiner)

Dating a Movie Star

Mickey Rooney’s former flames included the likes of Ava Gardner (she referred to him as a “lecherous shit” and a “sex midget”), Martha Vickers and Lana Turner (who he claimed farted in his car). There’s even a gross story about him preying on 14-year old Elizabeth Taylor on the set of National Velvet (1944). There is no doubt that Mickey was a sleazebag, and he was even accused of predatory casting couch behavior. Barbara would become Mickey’s fifth wife, and by the time he died at the age of 93 he had been through eight marriages. She starred in her first movie in 1958; a forgotten B-motorcycle gang flick called Dragstrip Riot.

At the time that they met, however, Mickey was still married to red-haired firecracker Elaine Devry. Barbara demanded he divorce his wife, so he bought Barb a $4,500 fur coat to keep her mouth shut. Mickey ran back and forth between the two women. Elaine was once married to a basketball player named Dan Ducich, who was later convicted of armed robbery. He supposedly committed suicide by .22 caliber pistol in June of 1954, leaving a letter saying he was too deep in debt to live. Elaine and Mickey also had a turbulent marriage where she would hit him in the face after catching him flirting and slipping his digits to other women.

A beautiful and fed up Elaine Devry, just barely tolerating Mickey Rooney.

Elaine claimed he swore and verbally abused her, and that “our home was in constant uproar. I never knew when he was coming home. Sometimes he would call and say he would be home in half an hour, then he wouldn’t be home for at least three hours.” She received a nearly $400k settlement after divorcing, plus monthly stipends; which Barbara claimed Mickey was blackmailed into paying. In 1959, another boyfriend of Elaine’s would mysteriously die during a horseback riding incident.

Elaine Devry in A Guide for the Married Man (1967)

In 1967, Elaine would go on to say that:

“I entered my marriage to Mickey in all honesty. I told him I didn’t love him, that I was still in love with my first husband. He said he didn’t care. I was lonely at the time. I was on the rebound. I liked Mickey very much. We had first met at a golf driving range where I was taking lessons. He aroused the maternal instinct in me. I was young and foolish. I thought I could learn to love him. I gave the marriage everything I had. I tried everything Mickey suggested. After years and years I’d had enough. Living with Mickey is no bed of roses. Six wives can’t all be wrong.”

Why did so many men in her life seem to die prematurely? How strange that the ex-husband Mickey was jealous of ended up dead, as well as another boyfriend. His marriages also seemed to be perverse money-for-sex arrangements with much younger women.

Suicide Attempts and Other Troubles

On April. 12th, 1958, Barbara overdosed on sleeping pills at Mickey’s 12979 Blairwood Dr. home while he was at a dinner party. She called over her friends Pat Landers and Kiff Chance, who undressed her and dunked her into his pool to revive her. An ambulance then took her to North Hollywood Hospital, and she was discharged the next day after Mickey visited her. Barbara told the press “I’m madly in love with him and he with me.” But Mickey’s agent Red Doff told a different story:

“It’s all a publicity stunt cooked up by these three girls. Sure Mickey knows Barbara and has taken her out a few times. But Mickey likes all girls. After all, he’s not even divorced yet and here someone is trying to get him married already. I’m Mickey’s closest friend and you can quote me as saying that he enjoyed Miss Thomason’s company just as he did the many other girls he has been out with since separating from his wife. But that’s as far as it went! They’re just good friends. He has no thought of marriage.”

However, boxer Art Aragon spoke differently: “If Mickey says he wasn’t serious about Barbara, he’s not telling the truth. Pat [Landers], Mickey, Barbara and myself were out together just before the [Carmen] Basilio scrap and he couldn’t keep his eyes off her.” Still, many believed the suicide attempt was a sleazy PR stunt to get Mickey to marry her. The odd couple had a 17-year age gap which led to some very hysterical incidents. That same year, Barbara starred in Roger Corman’s low budget gangster film noir The Cry Baby Killer, alongside Jack Nicholson. That was unfortunately her second and last movie role.

Lobby card for The Cry Baby Killer (1958)

In June of 1958, she went to Club Largo with super rich billionaire hotel heir Conrad “Nicky” Hilton (the great-uncle of Paris Hilton). He was the first of Elizabeth Taylor’s eight husbands, as they married in 1950 and divorced eight months later due to Conrad’s alcoholism and physical abuse. Instead of learning from the past, Barbara decided to go on a date with Conrad… and of course they ended up getting into a fight. He left Barbara stranded at the club, and she got a ride home from singer Tommy Sands.

Despite Barbara’s flirtations with other men, she moved into Mickey’s rented 12979 Sherman Oaks home while he was still married to Elaine Devry. On August 7 of that year, Barbara attempted suicide for the second time. She took a bunch of sleeping pills when she was home alone, and Mickey was performing at a Lake Tahoe nightclub. An annoyed Mickey demanded she smooth things over with the press, and Barbara lied to reporters that; “I had been ill for a number of weeks with acute bronchitis. The doctor prescribed some sleeping pills. I reached in my purse and took some. I don’t know how many.” She went back to live at her mother’s house for a month after being discharged from the hospital.

A Toxic Marriage

Unfortunately, the deranged pair reunited in September. Barbara’s sugar baby methods worked, and she wed Mickey after he divorced his wife in June. They married in Mexico on December 1, 1958. Things weren’t exactly rosy, and the marriage was not a legal one. After Barbara became three months pregnant, she demanded Mickey to marry her in a real ceremony or face consequences. In March of 1959, the bipolar Barbara threatened to commit suicide once again. After she gave birth to their daughter Kelly Ann in September, Mickey finally announced their marriage to the press. In Dec. of 1959, the messy couple celebrated their one year marriage anniversary. But that same day, a drunken Mickey appeared on The Jack Paar Show and got into an embarrassing fight with the host; clearly indicative of some marital trouble.

Santa Monica, Calif.: Shown here at St. John’s Hospital is Mickey Rooney, wife Barbara Thomason and their new daughter Kelly Ann. As you can see, she is way out of his league.

The toxicity and drama lagged on, and Mickey took until 1960 to officially wed her in an L.A. church. Their marriage was like an incessant battle, full of explosive fights. Barbara gave birth to four children all together, getting pregnant almost every year of their marriage in a desperate attempt to keep the two together. Their lifestyle was not as glamorous as Barbara hoped it would be. Despite the fact that Mickey made over $12 million across his 35-year career; he was extremely mentally unstable, an alcoholic, and a gambling addict who compulsively spent and bet away his savings.

He once lost over $50,000 at the Riviera Casino in Las Vegas, and was indebted to the Mafia and numerous bookies. The Mob even wanted him dead, and writer Richard Lertzman said that “Mickey put everyone around him in jeopardy from the Mob.” Actor Wally Cassell added that Hollywood studios constantly protected Mickey from the Mafia because “it would be bad for business for them to put him in a cement block.” According to writer William Birnes, “Mickey attempted suicide when Barbara threatened to leave him. He had at least four suicide attempts as he battled lifelong depression.” 

Mickey glossed all his financial guilt over, and whined to the press that; “Out of the money I earned, I’d say $10 million went to taxes. The rest is an open book. I’ve been married five times and had four divorces.” He declared bankruptcy in 1962 and the IRS confiscated $100k in back taxes. Not only did Barbara have to deal with Mickey’s financial woes while dealing with four children, he also repeatedly cheated on her! In August of 1963, a pregnant Barbara accompanied Mickey to Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia to film the cheesy Roger Corman war movie The Secret Invasion. He took whichever role he was offered in order to pay the bills.

Even though she accompanied him during filming, Mickey always managed to cheat on her. He then found a stripper mistress who resembled Sophia Loren in Atlantic City, which caused a huge catfight between the two women on a 1964 TV set. Barbara was fed up, and went off on Mickey’s nasty ass. They nearly divorced, yet instead just moved out of glamorous Beverly Hills to a quieter Brentwood home. They bought it at a bargain of $65k, due to the fact that the previous homeowners died in a freak accident. This was another bad omen in an already red-flagged relationship.

A Lethal Affair

In 1964, Mickey Rooney became friends with similarly-depraved French actor Alain Delon, who constantly associated with violent criminals and the mafia. He then introduced Mickey to the suave 24-year old Serbian actor and gangster Miloš Milošević, who was also his stunt double and bodyguard. The defining moment came when Mickey went off to the Philippines to film a movie, and asked Milos to take care of Barbara while he was gone. Milos had been a good family friend for about a year, so Mickey felt comfortable leaving them together.

Milos Milosevics and Alain Delon, doing his best “sunglasses douchebag” gaze

This is where he messed up. Barbara was fed up with Mickey’s constant philandering, so she took on Milos as a lover to get revenge on him. Milos had a part in the cheesy 1966 war comedy The Russians Are Coming the Russians Are Coming, and Barbara shamelessly accompanied him on set in Fort Bragg. Mickey was infuriated. While he cheated on his wife, he expected her to stay loyal and to never embarrass him in public. Milos was described by a co-star as “very pleasant but nuts. He would drive sports cars and aim for people. They would have to jump out of his way. This was always a big laugh to him.” He was also accused of abuse by his ex-wife, Cynthia Bouron, and L.A. police had arrested him for domestic assault. Regardless, Barbara was attracted to the uncouth thug, and the two had an intense love affair and spent almost all their nights together.

Milos came from a prominent Serbian family from Knjaževac, where his grandfather was once the mayor and his father headed an exporting guild. Under communism, the family became reduced in its fortunes; so Milos and his cousin Stevan Marković turned to street fighting in Belgrade to make quick cash. In 1962, the rough pair met Alain Delon, who changed their life. There is a myth that Milos hired some hoodlums to try and attack Delon, after which he intervened and saved him. He then hired him to be his bodyguard and stunt double, and he received all the privileges that came with being in Alain Delon’s social circle.

Milos and Alain

Milos styled himself as a James Dean-like figure who wanted to make it in showbusiness. With his salary from Alain, Milos went to Italy to try and make it in showbusiness; but that attempt failed. He seduced several women, including Alain’s wife Francine Canovas AKA Nathalie Delon, who he met in Paris. Milos was known to have triggered Alain: he bragged about sleeping with Nathalie, and joked that Alain’s son Anthony was actually his. Milos also claimed he was a better actor than Alain. Rumor had it that Milos even had flirtations with Jane Fonda and Natalie Wood. He then married American grifter and alleged call-girl Cynthia Bouron after being introduced to her by Alain in 1964, and she helped him get into the U.S. in exchange for money.

The two had an open marriage, and the status-climbing Milos was struck by Barbara after seeing her at a restaurant with Mickey. Milos told a friend that he would surely win her over. He was a new breed of Yugoslav gangster: he dressed well, worked out, spoke good English, hung out with stars, drove a Bentley car and enrolled in an NY acting school. In 1965, Delon (perhaps having some secret knowledge on what was to unfold) warned Milos to return to Paris. Milos adamantly refused, and declared that he was in love with Barbara. There are rumors that Corsican gangster François Marcantoni was involved in the ensuing homicide, as he was Delon’s godfather and close associate.

Upon his return from the Philippines, the couple filed for separation and Mickey went to live at the Bel-Air hotel. To add insult to injury, Milos moved into the house which Barbara and her children had once shared with Mickey in December of 1965. After spending Christmas apart, Barbara decided to sue Mickey for monthly separation maintenance. Mickey countersued by filing for a divorce on grounds of mental cruelty in January of 1966. He also filed a restraining order to keep Milos out of his home, and for custody of their children.

Milos and Barbara

Once Barbara realized her children might be removed from her and that she would receive only a measly $1k a month from Mickey, she considered reconciling with him. The hot-tempered Milos was said to have freaked out at the idea of the couple reconciling and being left in the dust by his sugar mama. Barbara decided to hire a private detective named Herm Schlieske to help her tape a conversation with Mickey while he stayed a hospital for an intestinal bug he had gotten in the Philippines. Barbara asked her husband for forgiveness and offered; “If it makes you unhappy for me to see Milos, then I won’t even see him as a friend.” Surprisingly, Mickey seemed receptive to a reconciliation, and managed to convince Barbara as well; after which she shut off the tape recorder.

A Mysterious Demise

On the night of Jan. 31, 1966, an unsuspecting Barbara went to dinner at the glamorous Daisy restaurant on Rodeo Drive with Milos and her best friend Marge Lane. The dinner went normally, and the trio returned to the 13030 Evanston St home. Barbara then revealed that she had talked to Mickey about reconciliation the day before, and she played the recording for Milos, Marge, detective Schlieske, and another friend. At 8:30 p.m. Barbara and a seemingly calm and understanding Milos retired to the master bedroom, and sometime later that night was when the horror unfolded. It was supposedly the last time anyone saw them alive.

After the children went to sleep, houseguests Wilma Catania and Susie Sydney asked Barbara through the door if they could take her car to a lit Hollywood party. They received no reply, so the two just took the car regardless. How rude tbh! They returned home at 2:30 a.m. and noticed nothing out of the ordinary, except that the house lights were on. Wilma went to sleep in the guest house. That noon, the maid and Wilma were forced to break into the master bedroom with a screwdriver after there was still no response. Their bed was made and untouched, but in the bathroom there was a shocking sight.

13030 Evanston St today

Barbara and Milos lay dead on the floor; the former lying on her back with a bullet hole in her jaw, and the latter facedown over her with a bullet wound in his temple. Barbara wore a floral top and tan capris, and Milos was in a white shirt and black pants. They had been shot with a nickel-plated .38 caliber revolver purchased by Mickey Rooney in 1964. According to police, the jealous Milos had popped Barbara and then killed himself in a gruesome-murder suicide. He was painted as an O.J. Simpson type, who murdered his lover due to his criminal nature. But why had no one heard the sound of bullets that night; neither the maid, or the three children down the hall; nor the two other houseguests? How had Milos gotten access to Mickey’s gun? Why was the bed still made? The official story was fishy.

(Original Caption) Los Angeles: “Officials remove body from the home of the estranged wife of actor Mickey Rooney after Rooney’s estranged wife and a Yugoslavian actor were found shot to death in an apparent murder-suicide, according to police. Officers said that Miles Milosevic, 25, apparently had shot Barbara Ann Thomason Rooney with a .38 caliber revolver and then turned the gun on himself.”

Was Mickey Rooney Involved?

As usual, Mickey pulled out his agent Red Doff to cover his ass: “Mickey told me that he and Barbara had a very good talk and they were very close to reconciliation. I think Milos may have resented it.” Conveniently, Mickey was still in the hospital, which was his alibi; and he stayed in there for another day due to shock. The press was told that he was under heavy sedation. He later said “I died when she did. I am furious at what happened to her.” Oddly, he was never really considered a suspect in the investigation despite having obvious gangland ties. Mickey was once friendly with Samuel H. Stiefel, a B-movie producer and Jewish mafia figure (associated with gangsters such as Mickey Cohen and Bugsy Siegel) who ended up extorting him.

Attorney Harold Abeles escorts three of Barbara and Mickey’s children from the murder house. (Kimmy Sue was at her grandparent’s house in Inglewood)

Sam became his business manager in the 40s, and initially paid off Mickey’s gambling debts and loaned money to his mother. Soon, Sam demanded $$ payback with interest, as well as the $159k loan. The morphine-addicted Peter Lorre had also once been scammed by Sam. Mickey was forced to do several trashy movies under contract with Sam in order to pay him back. This story shows just how irresponsible Mickey was in associating with dangerous criminal figures, and suggests that those mafia connections may have lingered throughout his life.

There were also rumblings in Serbia that Milos had been killed by Hollywood insiders. According to the Yugoslav Kinoteka site, an autopsy found traces of violence against Milos; including a swollen face and blue bruises. There were no fingerprints on the gun, and he was also said to have a skull fracture and broken arm. An examination in Belgrade found barbiturate-laden whiskey in his body. The American media did not report this. In February, Barbara was buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, California. She was only 29, and had spent eight years of her life entangled with Mickey Rooney.

Milos’ family at his funeral in Serbia

The LA Times described Mickey as “grimly composed, but her mother… and sister sobbed throughout the ceremony.” Her funeral service was held by the same Reverend Douglas Smith who had once married her to Mickey. He gave a touching eulogy: “This beautiful girl was like a spray of roses, now only the fragrance remains.” Milos’ body was returned to Belgrade, Yugoslavia upon his mother’s requests. There are rumors that Alain Delon paid for Milos’ funeral costs, even down to the suit he was buried in. Milos’ family firmly believed he was innocent and that he had been killed because of his connections to Hollywood and the Corsican Mafia. Were they just in denial or was there a grain of truth to this?

Things got even stranger: that same year Barbara was murdered, Mickey married her best friend Marge Lane in a quickie Vegas wedding… the same woman who went with Barbara to her last restaurant dinner on her final night of life! Is this the behavior of a mourning husband or friend? As usual for him, their disastrous marriage only lasted 100 days. Barbara’s parents ended up raising their four children while Mickey continued his degenerate lifestyle. In 2005, their son Michael “Kyle” Rooney described the day his mother died, and how he and his siblings were quickly spirited away:

“I don’t remember a thing. I was about three or four. And my mum and my dad were going through a divorce. My mum was kind of seeing somebody on the side. But then my father and my mother decided to get back together, and the guy my mum was dating wasn’t having it. So he took the very gun that my father gave my mother for protection and killed her in our house. Then killed himself. It was a murder suicide. We were in the house when it happened. But I don’t remember a thing. We were scurried out and told we were going to see the movie Mary Poppins. It wasn’t like, oh, your mother’s dead upstairs.

Well, my father was going through a tough time in the 1960s, so my grandparents adopted us, my mother’s parents. It was stable after that. He doesn’t like talking about it at all. But we’ve talked a couple of times. He told me that my mother was one of the most wonderful ladies he had ever met, that she was really nice, a caring person, she was wonderful with us and loved us all. At that point, I really needed to hear that.”

Mickey had the decency to speak well of Barbara to the children, but he was an absent father who lived hedonistically and struggled to emotionally support all of his nine kids. He also told their children what they wanted to hear rather than the truth. Their daughter Kelly Ann was in denial that Milos and Barbara were lovers:

“My dad and [Milos] became friends. My dad was trying to help him in the business. And unbeknownst to my mother, he fell in love with her and became obsessed with her. … She and my dad had such a loving relationship. When you saw them together, it was that look of love. My mother loved him dearly. And my dad loved her dearly. She was a hands-on mom who taught us to say our prayers and brushed our teeth. We had a lot of love from my mom. Losing her put a real hole in our hearts. My dad called me in 1992 and said, ‘Kel, I want you to hear something. I have to apologize to you because I couldn’t save her. And I’m so sorry.’ I know he carried around a big bag of guilt about that.”

It is touching that Kelly Ann loved her parents, but they did not have a loving relationship at all. And the guilt Mickey held over Barbara’s death sounds kind of… suspicious… considering he married her best friend immediately after.

Occult Ties?

This morbid story has many odd side plots. Other than the dumb 1966 comedy The Russians Are Coming, Milos had one other cinematic role. I had discussed in a previous blog post the alleged curse around the 1966 horror film Incubus; a cool black and white B-movie filmed in Esperanto. The stars of the film were plagued by bad luck: starlet Ann Atmar committed suicide after the film’s release, actress Eloise Hardt’s 17-yo daughter Marina Habe was brutally murdered in 1968, and leading man William Shatner‘s wife Nerine Kidd was found drowned in his swimming pool in 1999. Nerine was an alcoholic who Shatner had attempted to divorce earlier that year. She was found naked in the pool and was drunk, drugged, as well as bruised with two cracked neck vertebrae; leading some to speculate that foul play was involved.

William Shatner and Allyson Ames in Incubus (1966)

The official story goes, however, that she was chronically drunk and that she dived into the pool without caution. Which Trekkie wants to believe Captain Kirk bumped off his wife? Not me. But the amount of death surrounding this movie is fascinating. The most cursed aspect of this film is of course Milos Milosevic. Filmed in 18 days on a shoestring budget, the horror flick tells the tale of a naïve Shatner trying to save the soul of a female succubus. While doing so, he encounters an evil and Satanic incubus (a male demon who seduces female victims) played by Milos; who rapes and murders his sister. The final scene of Incubus involves Shatner fighting a possessed Milos, who transforms into a monstrous Baphomet goat. Crazy stuff.

Milos as the titular incubus.

Critics praised Milos’ intense performance, with the 1966 San Francisco film festival describing a scene of him emerging from hell as “one of the most splendid pieces of horror since the late James Whale conceived the idea of Frankenstein’s electronic monster.” This was hearty praise considering that Milos only appears 47 minutes into the movie. Shortly after the film’s completion, Barbara and Milos were found dead in a presumed murder-suicide. Due to the postmortem scandal surrounding their lead villain, Leslie Stevens was unable to find theatrical distribution and his production company eventually went bankrupt. Incubus was released in France after being ignored in the U.S., and the original print remained lost until 2001. For those who are superstitious, it seems that Milos’ creepy appearance as a demon in a cursed movie couldn’t have helped his already dark and criminal image.

Milos’ performance as a wicked incubus basically cemented him as a psychopath in the public eye. Was it just a character he played or did it have a deeper significance?

The Bloody Trail Leads to… Alain Delon

Let us return back to Milos’ cousin Stevan Marković, a fellow Serb hoodlum, boxer and bodyguard of Alain Delon. In 1964, Milos introduced Stevan to Delon, for whom he became a bodyguard. Delon knew Stevan was a rough character, but he still bailed him out of jail for the job. In 1970, Delon defended his criminal ties to the press as “probably something you wouldn’t understand. It’s a question of origin. I myself am Corsican, and in places like that, they still have a sense of honor and the given word.” Ironic considering he sold out his friends despite his alleged honor.

Nathalie Delon and Stevan Marković

Stevan was a gambler and blackmail artist who threw lavish parties with upper class invitees; who he then secretly recorded in sexually compromising positions. Like Milos, he triggered a lot of people and they wanted him dead. Delon became upset after his bodyguard went haywire and attracted negative media attention. He also had an affair with Delon’s wife Nathalie, and they were often photographed in public together. A humiliated Delon tried to pay off Stevan to GTFO, but he refused and demanded even more money.

Stevan, Nathalie and a suicidal Alain

Stevan had somehow managed to attain pornographic group sex images of French prime minister Georges Pompidou’s wife Claude Jacqueline. On Sept 22, 1968, Stevan was last seen leaving his apartment and getting into a cab with a mysterious man. On Oct 1, a badly beaten Stevan was found shot dead execution style in a garbage dump in Yvelines, France, with his limbs tied up with rope and his body wrapped in a sheet. Delon had an alibi as he was filming La Piscine in St. Tropez, but he obviously had someone else do his dirty work.

Stevan looking flirty with Delon’s wife

After Stevan’s death, his brother Aleksandar publicly accused Delon of whacking him because he allegedly had footage of him having gay sex. He had a letter from Stevan that said, “If I get killed, it’s 100% the fault of Alain Delon and his godfather François Marcantoni.” The scandal rocked France because it implicated a well-known movie star and Pompidou, who would somehow manage to become president in 1969 despite being involved in a very public murder and cucking! It was labelled the Marković Affair; which ironically made Stevan infamous for all the wrong reasons.

Nathalie and Alain with their son

Delon, of course, has never been held responsible for any deaths. He finalized his divorce with Nathalie in 1969, who was no doubt aware of her bloodthirsty husband. Delon was extremely hypocritical and jealous that Nathalie slept with his bodyguards, despite the fact that he cheated on her with men and women alike. It is too odd to be coincidental that both Milos and Stevan ended up dead with bullets in their skull a mere two years apart, after serving as bodyguards for Delon and smashing his wife. Delon was overconfident and sleazy, not realizing his mob connections would come back to bite him in the ass. Ex-drug dealer Gérard Fauré even accused Delon of pedophilia at his former property in Morocco. Yikes.

Nathalie gazes fondly at Stevan

Who Killed Cynthia Bouron?

The final thread of this long, complicated, and sordid tale ends with Milos’ ex-wife Cynthia Bouron. To recap: he married her in 1964 in order to secure citizenship in the U.S., and treated their marriage as a revolving door. He cheated openly, and was also accused of assaulting her. They split up in 1966. But who was Cynthia and how did she get caught up in this noirish tale? And why was it that she met such a brutal end? Like her husband, she pissed off the wrong people. And sadly, they made her pay with her life.

Born Cynthia L. Krensky to Jewish parents from New York; she changed her last name after marrying Parisian dentist Robert Bouron. After their divorce, she went to Hollywood to try and make it. She had two sons: one from Robert, the other from Milos. Cynthia presented herself as a writer, producer, radio talk show host, and actress; but there were shady things going on behind the scenes. She was actually a call-girl escort for Hollywood celebs, and she had ties to the criminal underworld through Milos. After his death, Cynthia was arrested and charged with burglary. Some saw her as a conwoman, and others considered her a Hollywood groupie.

At least her baby was cute!

In 1969, 35-year old Cynthia had an ill-advised affair with 65-year old Hollywood legend Cary Grant, who had a thing for much younger women. A year later, Grant was up for an honorary Oscar. He had been rejected and sidelined by the Hollywood Academy for 12 years due to his refusal to be a contract studio player, and for instead working on his own independent terms. Just before he was about to appear onstage at the 1970 Oscars to accept the award, Grant was sued for paternity by Cynthia; who claimed he was the father of her seven-week old baby girl.

A geriatric Cary Grant with his fourth wife Dyan Cannon and their baby. He was 33 years her senior.

Many believed the lawsuit was an initiated bid to humiliate Grant by his numerous powerful detractors, and that Cynthia was a mere pawn in a larger game. Her daughter Stephanie Andrea was born on March 12, 1970, and appeared to be of African-American descent. Cynthia put down Grant’s name as the father on the birth certificate, and all hell broke loose. Grant demanded that the baby take a blood test to prove paternity, but Cynthia failed to show up and present proof three times. It was obvious that Cary Grant was not the father, but it was evident that he had an illicit affair with Cynthia.

Raquel Welch and Cary Grant circa 1970s

According to tabloids, Cynthia had an English collie dog whom she named Cary Grant, and she would’ve named her child after him too had it been a boy. A humiliated and enraged Grant was force to bow out of the ceremonies, and went to Bristol, England to visit his ill mother. He then flew to the Bahamas in Howard Hughes’ private plane, and lived in his luxurious villa until the hype died. But Cynthia wasn’t backing down. According to his biographer, Cary Grant was getting bullied by his ex-lover:

“During his absence, Bouron held a press conference to announce that she intended to show up at the Academy Awards, hold a press conference in front of the red carpet, reveal her new baby’s full name, and if Grant dared to show, hand him the subpoena that he had thus far been able to avoid.”

The paternity suit had larger implications: Grant feared he would be forbidden from visiting his daughter (also named Stephanie), who he fathered with much younger actress Dyan Cannon. He was also worried that his close friend Prince Grace Kelly of Monaco would have her name caught up in the bad press. Grace was supposed to have shown up after a long absence from the spotlight to present the Honorary Oscar to Cary Grant, but bowed out after his scandal. At the insistence of friends Gregory Peck and Howard Hughes, Grant showed up at the 1970 Oscars to accept the award anyways. Cynthia retreated from the public eye in defeat, and moved to a small house at 513 Mariposa in Burbank. She worked as a studio writer and department store saleslady to support her two sons and daughter. But the bad blood was not to be forgotten.

Cary Grant receives his pseudo-Oscar from a heavily toupee’d Frank Sinatra.

Before Halloween on October. 30, 1973, 39- year old Cynthia Bouron’s corpse was discovered in the trunk of an abandoned car outside Cali’s Market Basket grocery store on 11315 Ventura Blvd in Studio City. The body was discovered after employees and customers complained about a foul odor emanating from the vehicle, which had been parked there for six days. Cynthia was reported missing by her sons after she disappeared ten days earlier. Seven years after the mysterious California death of her ex-husband Milos Milosevic and his lover Barbara Ann Thomason, five years after the Parisian death of his cousin Stevan Markovic; Cynthia was also found deceased in a tragic and strange manner.

Market Basket Supermarket in the 60s – Source

The autopsy revealed that Cynthia’s body had decomposed for a week, and that she had been tied up and brutally beaten to death after being bludgeoned on the head. Whoever murdered her had an angry grudge against the poor woman. Her killer was never found, and no one was ever officially suspected of the murder. The news was devastating for her 17 and 14-year old sons, the latter of whom had already lost his father Milos. Her children were raised by a relative, and Cynthia Bouron’s lurid story lay forgotten in the treacherous annals of Hollywood history.

Was Cynthia’s murder connected to Barbara’s? Milos’ women both met untimely ends.

Similar to the Mickey Rooney and Barbara Ann Thomason case, people couldn’t help but wonder if Cary Grant was somehow involved in Cynthia’s demise. After all, wasn’t it suspicious that several players in this Hollywood social circle kept turning up dead? Was it too conspiratorial to assume that it was somehow all connected? Perhaps so. But when examining Cary Grant’s personal character, it was evident that the man had serious issues; just like Mickey Rooney did.

Cary Grant told Dyan Cannon not to bleach her hair blonde since they “were bubbleheads because peroxide is absorbed into the brain.” Lmao.

Grant took hundreds of acid trips which made him mentally unstable, had five wives (several of whom accused him of being abusive and a control freak), and was a cheapskate who billed his own guests and spied on his housekeepers. Dyan Cannon accused Grant of beating her and locking her in her room (for wanting to wear a miniskirt), and force-feeding her LSD, which he used to control and brainwash the 28-year old. According to Grant’s first wife Virginia Cherrill, she divorced him because he “drank excessively, choked and beat her, and threatened to kill her.” Hollywood is indeed a freak show.

Virginia Cherrill and Cary Grant in 1934. He was bisexual and could not stop cheating on her with longtime lover Randolph Scott.

Postscript

Ok, so the man was a jerk: but what proof is there that he was involved in Cynthia Bouron’s murder? Officially, none. Perhaps Cynthia had been done in by another client who she was blackmailing. Maybe she was bumped off by the same people who killed her ex-husband. It was impossible to know. The case of Barbara Ann Thomason is similar. There is no concrete proof that Mickey Rooney was involved directly in her murder, but he was never thoroughly investigated by police anyways.

This complex story is spread out over a large group of shady people mixed up in an orgy of crime and strange coincidental death in the 60s and 70s. Mickey’s wife Elaine Devry had a dead husband and boyfriend in her wake; with the husband Dan Ducich being shot in the head the way Barbara, Milos and Stevan were. Like Mickey Rooney in the hospital during the time of his wife’s murder, Alain Delon had a clean cut alibi that he was filming La Piscine in Southern France when Markovic was whacked. Mickey and Alain were good pals who both had mob connections, and Milos had slept with both of their wives and caused trouble for them.

Milos and his cousin Stevan Markovic met their demise only two years apart, after hanging around Alain Delon. Markovic and Cynthia Bouron had a habit of blackmailing powerful people. Mickey Rooney’s own personal gun somehow got into Milos’ hands, which he then shot Barbara with while their home was filled with people at nighttime. Nobody woke up. Mickey married Barbara’s best friend right after her death, as if nothing had happened. And then in 1973, the dead Milos’ ex-wife Cynthia Bouron was found killed in the trunk of a car; beaten just the way Markovic was.

Delon and Markovic

Cary Grant, who was accused of hitting his wives, had no reason to like Cynthia. Neither did Delon (who introduced her to Milos) or Rooney, who may have been blackmailed by her too. There is no way of knowing exactly what happened. There is only speculation and mystery. Were these legendary actors involved in the most underrated mass crime scandal of the 60s? Milos was also known as an abusive and unstable individual who beat women, and was certainly not innocent of crimes himself. But Serbian news sources depict him as the victim of a Hollywood conspiracy, and of latent American racism.

Perhaps Milos pulled the trigger on Barbara that murky night of January 25, 1966, out of rage and envious passion. Maybe he really was inconsolably mad that he was being dumped for Mickey Rooney. Or maybe Mickey the jealous and cucked husband arranged the death of the mentally unstable wife he had lived with for eight years; who fathered four of his children and once attempted suicide to bag him. Barbara was an emotionally turbulent Hollywood dreamer whose fantasy was cut short by an angry lover (or husband?). Her death was quickly forgotten and glossed over by Hollywood studios who were seeking to protect Mickey’s image, but it set off a wave of mystery and murder which puzzles and mystifies to this day.

Mickey Rooney once said: “Had I been brighter, had the ladies been gentler, had the scotch been weaker, had the gods been kinder, this could have been a one-sentence story: Once upon a time, Mickey Rooney lived happily ever after.” In this timeline, however, Barbara Ann Thomason certainly did not live happily ever after.

Seher Şeniz and the Melancholy Nature of Fame

Being a 1970s Turkish pin-up queen was no easy task. Just ask Seher Seniz; a stunningly beautiful belly dancer/actress who became famous and infamous in the Middle East and Europe for her boldness, dark-haired good looks, and free spirit. She gained notoriety during the golden era of Turkish film, whose Yeşilçam (literally translated to “Green Pine”) movie industry was Turkey’s answer to Hollywood. But despite all the fame and glory, Seher was a deeply tortured individual who dissipated mentally until she tragically took her own life in 1992.

She was born as Seher Başdaş in the district of Narlıdere, in the scenic Aegean coast city of İzmir on March 1, 1948. She was a sensitive and moody Pisces who learned how to survive without a father after he left her family at a young age. When asked about her youth, she stated, “We have never been a close family. I can say that I never had a family.” When she was 14, she started acting in bit part roles in movies. At the age of 16, Seher was forced into marriage with an older man who was obsessed with her. According to Turkish law, a girl came “of age” once she had married, regardless of how old she actually was. Showing her resolve and resistance, Seher managed to end the marriage after a month and used the law to her advantage to emancipate herself from her mother.

She despised being married to a man who was forced upon her, and said in a 1981 interview that:

When I got married, I didn’t even know the biological difference between a man and a woman. I was so embarrassed, my first night was a complete disaster. I was inexperienced, he was inexperienced. I couldn’t get out of the bathroom for 2.5 hours.

For 10 years, until I was 25, I couldn’t think about sex. I couldn’t touch a man. I started to doubt myself for a while… ‘I wonder if I’m a lesbian or do I like women’… Thank God I wasn’t… That 10-year depression is far behind, now it’s like a dream. Look, my shyness hasn’t gone away. Even today, I am ashamed to undress in front of a man. I blush when I undress. Among the men who come into my life, no one has sex with me in the light. My bedroom is always dark. I undress in the dark, I make love in the dark.”

In the 1960s. The bottom pic is pre-nose job.

Unusually, Seher’s husband’s family approved of their divorce, because he was then quickly engaged to a wealthy girl. They were divorced in one brief court appearance. This debacle no doubt tainted her view of life, sex and relationships, society as a whole, and even her own family. Her mother must have married her off early due to financial desperation or disagreements over her acting and modelling career, but the fiasco destroyed a part of her daughter’s soul. Seher chose to move with her mother, older brother and sister to Istanbul in hopes of establishing a better life, though after a certain point, she cut ties with her mother permanently because they did not see eye to eye. She retained relationships with her siblings, but they were never that close.

Pageant Girl

When she was 17 years old in 1965, she placed 4th in the Caddebostan Beach Beauty contest, and she dropped out of high school. A year later, Seher won 2nd place at the 1966 Turkey Beauty Contest. Famous for her fiery temper, she became angry at placing second so she threw her ribbon at the jury and stormed off. She yelled at them, “How can you choose me second, I’m a queen.” She also made some hilariously bitchy comments about her winning opponent:

“Sevtap is a beautiful girl. But she was not really in shape during the competition and it was my right to take first place. The audience shouted, ‘Seher… Seher…’ for minutes. I didn’t receive my prize.”

Psychedelic poster art for Katerina 72

The incident got her noticed, and from 1970 to 1975 her acting career peaked. At the urging of movie producers (who told her she was perfect except for her supposedly “large” nose), Seher underwent a rhinoplasty. This would lead to a lifetime of constant plastic surgeries, such as breast implants, Botox and more nose job revisions. She starred in mostly forgotten Turkish B-movies which were loaded with the smut, violence, and cheesiness that was typical of cinema at the time. Seher was usually casted for her face and body, something which she disdained. She claimed to be a shy woman who hated disrobing for cameras, and that she was even timid while undressing in front of her husbands, protesting:

A rare pic of her relaxing with no makeup on.

“Actually, you’ll be surprised again, but sex is not as important to me. I am one of the most romantic people in the world. Rather than making love, I like to sit for hours holding hands. If the liars who pour rose petals on the stage in buckets during my shows knew that I actually get more pleasure from a single rose that, it would affect me more…”

In 1971, she made her first and only famous movie: Tarkan: Viking Kani AKA Tarkan vs. the Vikings, which is now a cult classic. The low budget swashbuckler film was one in a series of several movies which detailed the tales of a Hunnic warrior named Tarkan, and his encounters with Vikings (played by random Turks in blonde wigs). Seher plays a Chinese queen named Lotus and she performs an impressive knife-throwing striptease dance. This oddball Conan the Barbarian-esque B-movie became a “so bad it’s good” staple of Turkish cinema, and was her only film to become popularized among western filmgoers.

The elaborate headdress she wore in Tarkan: Viking Kani (1971) was iconic.

Seher starred in 22 roles during her career, including a 1982 uncredited appearance as a belly dancer in the trashy American TV show Love Boat. She is often referred to as the first Turkish model to appear in Playboy magazine, but it was actually Nejla Ateş in 1955. As well as acting, Seher did nude modelling and danced at nightclubs throughout Europe to supplement her income. For a time she lived in Paris, and belly danced at the Moulin Rouge. It was perhaps here where she met her second husband; an American named Anthony Wilkins. This marriage was short lived, and next she married an Armenian named Teknur Kiraz.

Queen of the Nightclubs

When Seher was underaged and unable to obtain a work permit to dance in Turkish strip clubs, she used a fake ID which went by the name of “Zora.” Initially, she made 150 lira per night, but she was quickly promoted to 500 for her talented dance routines. For the time period, it was as much as a moderately successful civil servant. At first, Seher disliked being a belly dancer:

“For the first six years, I was disgusted with my job. I hated belly dancing and was ashamed of myself for doing it to earn money. Then I got used to it. I believed that belly dancing was an art. Now I dance with pleasure.”

“I dance to Arabic music. But not all. Generally, this music is very heavy. I stayed in Cairo for 15 days to find music for myself. It is difficult for me to work in Turkey. We have six musicians who can play Arabic style. It’s impossible to put them together and put them on stage. That’s why I dance with playback. But with playback, I can’t get in the mood, nor the audience. I’m in a quandary about it.

I am an ape-tempered person. I get bored quickly. Maybe that’s why I like traveling, different places, different people.”

Visiting Egypt helped Seher realize that belly dancing was an art form, and she devised new methods of dance techniques after learning from locals. Her greatest love was travelling, and she wanted to observe every hidden corner of the world, even if it was not always profitable. She said “I will visit without thinking of money. Drink and eat and I will dance. I’ll see, and what I learn will stay with me as the profit.” After awhile, the money seems to have dried up and she was obliged to go back home.

With two failed marriages under her belt, Seher returned to Turkey in the 1980s and began performing at high end casinos in Istanbul. She was one of the most sought after belly dancers of her time. Regardless, the 1980s were described as a time of “great spiritual depression” for her, and this is when her life went into a downwards spiral. She felt oppressed by the 1980 Turkish military coup, which saw censorship and cinematic decline. The 1970s were a sexually liberated and decadent time period for Turkish cinema, but things were about to change.

The Yeşilçam golden era had come to an end, and Turkey had come to be ruled by a far-right Islamist military dictatorship which saw half a million Turks jailed, and thousands killed and disappeared. Interestingly, the CIA was involved (as they always are). There is no doubt that all of this brutality negatively affected Seher’s already fragile mental health. After the military coup was reversed in 1983, she performed in her final film in 1985. Her acting career was, effectively, over. This was perhaps one of the reasons why she had tried to commit suicide a year earlier.

On June 29, 1984, a 35-year old Seher overdosed on four bottles of Mogadon, a benzo used for insomnia and anxiety. She was rushed to the American Hospital in Istanbul by a shocked journalist who had turned up for an interview appointment, and was revived with great difficulty. After a twelve hour coma, she came to and uttered “I want to die.” It is said that she attempted suicide after her affair with a married businessman had crumbled. Seher was the type of girl who always dated rich. She didn’t care how the guy looked as long as he was loaded. Unfortunately, these sugar daddies never lasted too long and often left her heartbroken. They only saw her as the “other woman.”

Three years earlier though, Seher had made this statement:

“Men don’t know how to get women. They fall for them too hard. Women run away from what falls on them. There should be a bit of ‘run to the rabbit, catch the bloodhound’ atmosphere. If I were a man, there wouldn’t be a woman in the world that I couldn’t get. I learned this so well…”

She seemed to be an odd mixture of bravado and frailty.

Unable to cope with aging, a flailing career, a string of shattered relationships, and crushing depression, she turned to pharmaceutical drugs to numb the pain. In movies, she had always played the beautiful, oversexed and self-assured femme fatale role. In reality, she was a vulnerable and emotional person who disliked being objectified and sexualized. But it wasn’t always that way. In 1967, a gutsy Seher gave an interview to Pazar Dergisi magazine before her acting career blew up. In it, she is quizzed about her antipathy towards the Turkish film industry:

“I am not against Turkish cinema. Turkish cinema is actually against me. To put it bluntly, I don’t like the roles they offer. Small roles, all the time… Yes, I am not considered an important name in cinema, but I have a name for myself onstage… Filmmakers came and said ‘Seher, there is a wonderful role for you in this movie. Madam, it’s a great role. You will get undressed in one scene of the movie. You’re going to strip, you’re going to have to go to bed and have sex.’ Come on, step up the better roles…”

“Besides, what is the money they offer for these roles? They can’t even give me the money that I want. Even if they try to give it, they put me under a debt to them. I swear they’d be embarrassed if they knew I didn’t have time to deal with controlling contracts. And they’d never mention it again. I don’t mind getting undressed. Thank God that my body is beautiful. I don’t have an ugly angle… In the movies, I can undress as they want. But give me the lead role.”

“My name is Seher Şeniz. I am one of the most famous names in the striptease field. I have over tens of thousands of fans. We are not dead if we have not become an important actor in the cinema. I don’t care about anything. I have money in the bank, I get by like a rose. What else do I want from God, more trouble? Whenever I have the opportunity, I also go to Europe. Every night I count my money in my palm. As you can see, I am in a good mood. I have direction. I don’t intend to go back to zero again.”

This interview is fascinating because it shows how bold and fiery she was as a person, and her high levels of ambition and drive. After being abandoned by her father as a youth and forced into an arranged marriage, Seher became hardened to life and was determined to support herself and succeed. Initially, she held strong principles about not wanting to act unless she approved of the role. Unfortunately, she never received the important lead role she had always desired and was relegated to mere eye candy. It is tough to find pictures where she is fully or even partially clothed.

In May of 1992, Seher told her older brother Turhan Başdaş “I am going to Europe,” and left him the keys to her Teşvikiye apartment. On May 14, due to the smell of her decaying body, suspicious neighbours informed the police and Turhan that something was wrong. When they broke down the door, they discovered that Seher had been dead for several days, maybe even weeks. It was a grim end for the 44-year old actress, whose second suicide attempt had succeeded. The autopsy discovered that she had died after drinking hundreds of morphine pills (!!!) with two bottles of whiskey. She left behind a heartbreaking suicide note which delivered a scathing indictment of society:

“No one is responsible for my death. I swallowed 100 synthetic morphine pills and took other sleeping pills. Thank god I managed to go. I am disgusted and always have been disgusted by all of you. When I was only 15, I understood what people in this world are worth. I finally managed to leave this disgusting world. It would be a joke if I said it was hard to die. I am not made to be a whore, I am sensitive and emotional, no one knows. Tell no one that I am dead. I don’t want to be buried according to Muslim traditions. Burn my wigs and scatter the ashes. Wrap me in a white robe and cover me up, that’s all…”

Seher in the 1980s

Unfortunately, her relatives did not honor her last wishes and buried her according to Islamic tradition. Seher left the property to her brother Turhan, who was a retired lieutenant colonel. Of her death, he said:

“She mostly lived abroad. Sometimes in France, sometimes in England. She wasn’t working, but she had no financial problems. Recently, she was saying that she was tired of everything, of the world and people. She had seen everything she could see in her life. Therefore, she was in a depressive mental space. She wasn’t alone, she had many friends.”

A Turkish newspaper wrote her a touching obituary in Sept of 1993: “Her dance was like willow branches swaying in the wind. In the slowly fading light of fire, a belly dancer, dressed in shawls and smiling, came, and turned the darkness into gold and then left this realm.” Sadly, Seher did not see the light she brought into the world or the goodness that was still possible, so she ended her life. Years earlier, she gave a very prescient interview in May of 1981 about her feelings on religion and the afterlife:

One of her last pictures.

“I believe in God. I also believe in being born again… And I know that I will come to the world as a man next time. That’s when women should be afraid of Seher… If he comes back to the world as a man, knowing how to get all the women, woe to those who will come… I love all animals except snakes and scorpions. I can’t keep animals because I love them too much. Because I can’t stand separation and death. I also love children very much.”

Not many people knew who she really was as a person, or the intelligent and creative side of her that longed to be a mother, an artist, and a normal woman. The detailed interview also described the journalist visiting Seher at her apartment in the chic and affluent Şişli district:

“Seher was ladylike… Her house is a charming, tastefully furnished penthouse. The highlights are books and musical instruments. She loves all kinds of music. She also likes to read. It’s time to read, when she goes to bed to sleep at night… But when she picks up a book, a thousand thoughts come to mind. She also likes to daydream. That’s why she was unable to finish the few books she started. Outside the stage, she has little to do with paint or make-up… Same with clothing… When you meet her on the street, it’s hard to think she’s a famous stage artist. Someone like you and us. Quiet, unpretentious…”

Seher Seniz was a woman of many talents, ideals, dreams and contradictions. On one hand she gave off the image of strength and self sufficiency, yet on the other hand the sexual exploitation of the 1970s seems to have taken its toll on her. She was a driving female force in the Muslim world, who inspired women to embrace their sexuality and to dress how they desired; yet she was also someone who was ashamed of nudity and who became fed up with being treated like a sex object for her entire career.

Inspiring pop culture: British producer S. Maharba uses rare images of Seher for his album artwork.

Her beauty was unearthly and rare, but she was deeply insecure to the point where she botched her nose with endless rhinoplasties. Her belly dancing influenced many performers after her, yet she had reservations about the profession. She loved her home country, but she disdained the manner in which women were treated within Muslim society; and her last wishes were a rejection of her faith. At the same time, she also expressed a profound belief in god. She believed in love and wanted children, yet all three of her marriages collapsed and a spoiled affair drove her to attempt suicide.

Seher was a captivating figure who entrances fans and admirers to this day. She had a star quality and charisma which attracted people to her, but she could not find peace within herself. Perhaps she has been reincarnated as a man, like she wished to be. Or maybe she is still dancing on, as a ray of brilliant light in the afterlife.

Jasmine Dhunna: The Vanishing of a Scream Queen

If you’re a fan of retro B-horror movies, you may have heard of the Ramsay Brothers; a family of innovative filmmakers who pioneered a new wave of Indian horror in the 1980s. Horror films are almost nonexistent in South Asia, but the Ramsay brothers managed to churn out a few sleazy low budget hits that caught the eye of cinephiles all over the world. The most famous of their underrated oeuvre is Veerana/ Deserted Place, a colorful and bizarre 1988 horror extravaganza directed by Shyam and Tulsi Ramsay.

The vibrant colour scheme resembles that of a Mario Bava giallo movie.

While most Bollywood movies are tame, PG-rated and reserved, Veerana tried its best to be as lurid and depraved as possible without getting censored. It’s almost like an Indian version of The Exorcist, but with Hindu mythology instead. Shyam claims he was inspired by his own alleged encounter with a witch on a highway in 1984. Featuring trippy neon lighting and a disco soundtrack by Bappi Lahiri, the film tells the tale of an evil witch named Nakita; who possesses a beautiful young girl, played by stunning and mysterious actress Jasmine Dhunna.

The witch Nakita was a memorable monster; grotesque in appearance, and based off the Indian myth of the Churel (चुड़ैल), a demonically-possessed sorceress who lives in the woods and who can shapeshift into an attractive woman. The special effects the Ramsay Brothers used to portray the Churel were supplied by British prosthetics artist Christopher Tucker, who had worked on Hollywood films such as The Elephant Man, The Company of Wolves, Star Wars: A New Hope and The Boys From Brazil. Although their movies were patently low budget, the Ramsays spared no expense on their chilling FX and masks.

Tfw you don’t moisturize…
Source: rhetthammersmithhorror

Jasmine is probably the most obvious reason for Veerana‘s success. In a country where the population is more interested in 3-hour family-friendly musicals than a quickie slasher gore flick, Jasmine packed the theater seats with her seductive dark-haired good looks and charisma. Although she was just a novice actress, her profile blew up after the film’s release, and Jasmine was hot property. So what happened to her career? Why did she just vanish from the public eye without a trace?

It’s because there is scarier shit out there than Churels, and that’s the Bollywood mafia underworld; a group of rather deranged fellows who run the Bombay film industry from behind the scenes. The irony is that in Veerana, Jasmine plays a powerful succubus who seduces and kills depraved men. The movie is one of the rare female-centric Indian films, and it explored uncharted territory in depicting a hypersexual and violent witch who rebels against traditions. But in real life, Jasmine was the one who fell prey to patriarchal misogyny.

Sarkari Mehman (1979)

Not much is known about Jasmine’s personal life. She starred in two little known movies before the Ramsay Brothers cast her in Veerana, which brought her acclaim and attention. For Indian standards, Jasmine’s role was considered very risqué. Full nudity and kissing aren’t allowed in conservative Bollywood, so directors supplant that with thotty outfits and dance scenes. For her role, Jasmine dressed in black silk nightgowns, bright red swimsuits and dresses, and even appeared in nude in a bathtub music sequence.

The haunting song “Sathi, Mere Sathi” was wildly popular upon its release, and still is even now with 10 mil Youtube views racked up by thirsty Jasmine stans. The supernatural lyrics feature the succubus attempting to seduce her victims with promises of otherworldly love. This tune alone cemented Jasmine’s popularity and perfectly captured her mesmerizing beauty; to the point where people are still obsessed with her to this day, even though she only has three acting credits to her name.

She was on top of the world: a bold new star on the horizon of Indian cinema, unafraid to depict her audacious sexuality in a culture that repressed women. What could go wrong? Sadly, everything. Jasmine caught the eye of some unwanted simps who wouldn’t leave her alone. And they weren’t just your average beta orbiters, but legit criminal underworld dons. It was said that they noticed her resemblance to the tragic 1950s actress Madhubala, often called India’s Marilyn Monroe due to her premature death at age 36.

Madhubala

Jasmine had not anticipated this bullshit. In a bravado-filled interview from 1987, she seemed cocky and full of zeal. Her measurements are described as 36-26-36 and her height 5 ft 5.” After Jasmine starred in her first movie Sarkari Mehman (1979) and it wasn’t a hit, she went back to schooling and worked as a model. When the interviewer alludes to her being a has-been, Jasmine matter-of-factly points out that “I was barely 13 then. I wasn’t fully grown and was pushed into the industry. Today I am 18 and know what’s what in tinsel world.” However the timeline doesn’t add up, so she may have been around the age of 21 at that time or even older.

Jasmine in 1978

Jasmine goes on to state that “if the leading man is able to excite me, I don’t mind kissing him. I’m even willing to shed my clothes if I get a director like Raj Kapoor.” In Veerana, Jasmine canoodles with Tarzan star Hemant Birje, which she probably didn’t mind. The article also mentions her doing a film with Dharmendra, but that never materialized. The vibe one gets from this interview is that Jasmine was a free-spirited, open-minded and ambitious girl who was probably too young to be pushed into acting, but who wanted to shoot her shot regardless.

A blinged out Jasmine seduces Hemant Birje.

Sadly, creeps were lurking. After Veerana was released, Jasmine was bombarded with daily solicitous phone calls from the Indian mafia. There was a Bombay underworld figure who was obsessed with her, and just straight up harassed her for sex. Although she contacted Bombay police and asked them to help, the cops were corrupt and useless. Jasmine was on her own and afraid for her safety. And she wasn’t just being pursued by just any two-bit thug. Infamous drug lord, mob boss and terrorist Dawood Ibrahim was after her!

Not every woman is brave enough to turn down Dawood’s advances. Picured above is him and his mistress Mehwish Hayat, a Pakistani actress 27 years younger than him. Methinks she is being held hostage.

Ibrahim and his violent D-Company gang were very well known in India for their lethal brutality and ready willingness to slaughter their enemies. Despite the fact that Ibrahim is only 5 ft 3″ and looks like a silly Mario Bro, he is guilty of some of the worst crimes in Indian history. Through his wealthy criminal empire, Ibrahim monopolized control of Bollywood by providing funding for movie productions. The industry was under his thumb, and actors, producers, and directors all did what they could to keep the manlet thug happy.

Ibrahim clearly had a “type,” and he was enraged that Jasmine declined his calls.

Jasmine was totally repulsed by the situation. If having a Bollywood career came at the cost of being a mob moll escort, she wasn’t interested. It was incredibly brave of her to reject Ibrahim’s perverted advances, as the deranged man was obviously capable of murder. Jasmine clearly had a sense of integrity. Other actresses, however, didn’t mind sleeping with a bite-sized psychopath to further their career.

Desperate to rescue her flailing career, Mandakini turned into a mob moll.

By 1989, beautiful Anglo-Indian actress Mandakini’s career had gone into a downwards slump. She was in her late 30s, and she wasn’t getting roles. In comes Dawood Ibrahim to save the day! He was thirsty AF for her after seeing her in the 1985 movie Ram Teri Ganga Maili. The pair had an affair after meeting at one of his lavish parties, as Mandakini hoped he could help her land some roles with a bit of blackmail here and there. Unfortunately for her, the association with Ibrahim tarnished her career and ended it for good. Within a year of meeting him, she became box office poison.

After his affair with Mandakini, Ibrahim probably felt completely entitled to Jasmine. Her rejection seems to have infuriated Ibrahim, and Jasmine completely vanished from the public eye to avoid his wrath. Veerana was her first hit, and last ever film. It’s impossible to know exactly what happened to her, or where she is today. There are nothing but strange rumours that are impossible to verify. Apparently no one knows her specific whereabouts except for the Ramsay Brothers, who say she is still alive.

In a 2017 interview, Shyam Ramsay allegedly said that “Jasmine is very much in Mumbai. Her mother had passed away, who she was extremely close to, which really affected her, and she took a backseat and no longer associated herself with the film world. In fact, we shall be making a sequel to Veerana, and then definitely I shall get Jasmine to play as a mother to the new girl who shall be playing Jasmine.” Sadly, he died before that could be possible, and Jasmine did not emerge even for his funeral.

However, according to this article, a purported friend of Jasmine claims that “she did not leave the Indian film industry. People distanced themselves from her because of the lies of underworld connection about her spread by the Ramsay brothers.” The friend says that Jasmine was naively pressured into filming a B-movie that tarnished her reputation. So what the hell is actually going on here?

There are also crazy conspiracies and rumours that Jasmine died a long time ago, perhaps in a car crash, that she was murdered by the mafia, or committed suicide. Some speculate that she fled to New York, and married an American man. There are reports that she settled in a Gulf country, maybe Dubai or Jordan. She is said to keep a low profile and is now married with a family. This is very unusual in Bollywood, as most celebrities are attention whores who try to soak up every bit of the spotlight as they possibly can until they’re dead in a gold plated coffin.

It’s hard to tell truth and myth apart in this case, but whatever scared Jasmine away must’ve been serious. She was beautiful and popular, yet she chose to live a life of privacy and isolation due to sexual harassment from thugs and being exploited by filmmakers. She isn’t even on social media either. This could be due to the fact that Dawood Ibrahim is still alive, and just as feared as ever so hopefully he doesn’t kill me for exposing him.

The perks of being a gangster? You can date way out of your league.

Ibrahim’s insanity skyrocketed after the Jasmine incident. He actually committed his most terrible crimes after accosting her. It was a good thing she followed her gut feeling and dipped out of Bollywood and away from psycho Ibrahim before the real shit went down. He moved onto his next high-profile mistress, Pakistani actress and model Anita Ayoob. She wasn’t a shy or quiet woman either. She was kicked out of Miss Asia Pacific Intl’s beauty pageant for stating that “Muslim women should be allowed to have four spouses, just as Muslim men can take four wives at any one time.” Apparently that’s controversial in Asia, I guess.

Anita Ayoob, femme fatale

In 1995, the small-time, hot-tempered actress was rejected for a role in a film by producer Jawed Siddique, so Ibrahim ordered the man shot dead. Like Mandakini, Anita’s career was soon over for associating with a criminal thug like Ibrahim. The gangster wasn’t afraid to have his enemies killed in broad daylight. Gulshan Kumar was a businessman who owned T-Series, India’s largest record label (best known in the West for its beef with annoying Youtuber PewDiePie). He was shot to death with 16 bullets in 1997 on Ibrahim’s orders, right in front of a temple of Shiva.

But Ibrahim’s most evil deed occurred in 1993. Enraged by sectarian violence against Muslims, he orchestrated the Mumbai bomb blasts along with his D-Company gang. 1,400 people were injured, and 257 people died; making it the worst terrorist attack in the city’s history. Ibrahim still remains on the lam today, and is hiding in Karachi, Pakistan with three fake passports, millions of dollars, and control over a massive criminal empire. He counts the late Osama bin Laden and a variety of other terrorists as his buddy. And yet, Bollywood still cannot stop making terrible movies about him and glorifying him.

After the terrorist attack, Ibrahim’s famous friends came under scrutiny. Mandakini was forced to go into hiding, and Anita Ayoob was accused of being a Pakistani spy. Conspiracy surrounds the entire affair. Luckily for Jasmine, she was far away from all of this bullshit and could not count herself as one of Ibrahim’s former mistresses or associates. Bollywood was a corrupt cesspool that she had narrowly escaped. Rather than join his sick and twisted criminal cult of death and mayhem, Jasmine escaped into a life of anonymity.

Divya Bharti: Dead at only 19. Was she killed by Ibrahim’s henchmen?

Other starlets weren’t as lucky. Divya Bharti was a teenage actress who was super popular and highly paid in the early 90s, but whose life was cut short bizarrely and mysteriously due to probable criminal circumstances. In 1993 (the same year as the Bombay blasts) she supposedly fell to death off of her fifth-floor apartment building balcony. She was dead at only 19-years old; perishing from head injuries and internal bleeding as the ambulance rushed her to the hospital. Mumbai police deemed her demise a suicide, but Divya’s parents objected to this. Why would a beautiful teen actress in the prime of her life kill herself?

Divya and her shady husband. Although he was 26, Sajid looked middle aged.

Divya had been married to Sajid Nadiadwala, a cheap hoodlum of a producer who operates on nepotism and mob links. She had even converted to Islam for him. He was also a buddy of Dawood Ibrahim, and Divya had just discovered his criminal connections and disapproved of them. Some say she threatened to reveal his mob ties, and that Sajid or his unsavory pals took revenge. Divya’s childhood maid Amrita who was present the day of her fall and who was the last person to speak to her died 30 days later of a supposed cardiac arrest. Other witnesses from that day are still too afraid to speak.

With all the carnage he left in his trail, Ibrahim remains the most brutal crime figure in India’s recent memory. Who knew the B-movie schlock and camp of Veerana had such a dark shadow lurking behind it? Jasmine managed to escape the whole nightmare unscathed, and probably watched in horror as she read about all the murders, terrorism, and intrigue that surrounded the industry she had once wanted so desperately to be a part of. Thankfully, Jasmine’s sharp intuition had warned her against getting involved with a psychopathic manlet gangster.

This movie is seriously aesthetically spectacular.

The Ramsay Brothers’ weird and wild brand of horror movies unfortunately never took off in the West, but the directors have a small cult following amongst Indian horror fans. Veerana still remains their most watched movie, and viewers are always captivated by Jasmine’s ghostly and eerie performance as a possessed girl. She brought the role to life with her bold ability to be sexy and scary at the same time. And she managed to avoid getting killed by India’s worst and most ruthless mobster, so that’s pretty impressive too. Jasmine may still be out there somewhere, but she remains a haunting specter forever on the outskirts of a sleazy film industry that tried to exploit her; and thankfully failed to do so.

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.

The Glamour and the Suffering of Marisa Mell

It is said that beauty is a gift bestowed only upon the truly blessed. For Marisa Mell, this initial blessing eventually turned out to be a bitter curse. She was a dazzling sex symbol and a style icon in the swingin’ 1960s, but her career later dissolved into poverty and tragedy.

She was born on February 24, 1939 in Graz, Austria as Marlies Theres Moitzi; later changing her name to one that was easier for non-German speakers to pronounce. Marisa was stunningly statuesque at 5’8″ tall and had a perfect body to match. Her face was structured like some ethereal Roman goddess; with mesmerizing green eyes, prominent cheekbones and a defined square bone structure. There are many gorgeous women out there, but Marisa was special. She just naturally had that It quality and hypnotic screen presence. It was obvious that she would be a star, and the Queen of B- Movies.

Rise to Fame

Marisa’s father abandoned their family when she was young, and she was smothered by her mother’s attentions. They resided in a housing complex inside the school grounds where her mother worked. Marisa appeared in her first film in 1954, at the age of 15. She was educated at a nunnery, and briefly attended a school of commerce in Graz. From 1958 to 1963, she was married to an Italo-Swiss man named Henry Tucci, but there is zero information on what type of person he was or what their marriage was like.

As a child, Marisa idolized Greta Garbo. After seeing Garbo’s 1936 film Camille, Marisa decided she too wanted to become an actress. She admired Dorothy Dandridge and found her beautiful, and had a crush on German actor Curd Jürgens. Some of Marisa’s hobbies were painting and studying archaeology. Her childhood was described as lonely. She often wore black, and girls admired her beauty from afar. Marisa was never seen without a man on her arm because she hated being alone.

Soon enough, Marisa went to Vienna and attended the Max Reinhardt drama school for four years to learn how to become a stage actor. The first time her lifelong friend Erika Pluhar saw her, she thought “I’ve never seen such a beautiful girl. In the movies maybe, but never so close and real… I envied her haughty untouchability, this insurmountable aura of beauty. ” Eventually, Marisa was offered more film roles.

She played in a ton of mostly forgotten West German movies that no one has seen (including Edgar Wallace Krimi pictures), and was then cast in legendary British director Ken Russell’s trashy 1964 comedy flick French Dressing. Russell (a talented director when not harassed by penny-pinching producers) knew that his first feature film was garbage, and later described the production as “a very unhappy film as far as I was concerned.”

French Dressing (1964)

Regardless, the film got Marisa noticed outside of Austria. She was the new Germanic Brigitte Bardot. When she was invited to the 1963 Buenos Aires film festival, she tried to seduce Psycho star Anthony Perkins. Unfortunately for her, Anthony was gay and more attracted to Julian Mateos, her Spanish arm candy. She was living the good life. But due to a freak accident, her success was almost prematurely botched.

Calamities and Bad Luck

In 1963, Marisa suffered a horrible car accident while shooting in France. Comatose for six hours, she almost lost her right eye in the horrific collision, and required extensive surgery for two years to repair her damaged lip. Due to good surgical work, the effects were almost un-noticeable. She was said to have a curled upper lip after the accident, which somehow made her look even more beautiful. Marisa believed she survived because “God was on my side.”

Applying make-up on the set of Casanova ’70 (1965)

After recovering, she returned to acting, moved to Italy and became a well known B-movie starlet. While filming the 1964 western The Last Ride to Santa Cruz on Spain’s Gran Canaria island, an athletic Marisa fell off her horse and suffered an intense nosebleed. She was rescued by a male passerby who immediately fell for her.

Marisa enjoyed the sunny climate and chic jet-set lifestyle of Rome over the austerity and gray cold of Austria. Her highest profile production at the time was Mario Monicelli’s light-hearted 1965 comedy Casanova ’70. She starred alongside Marcello Mastroianni, Virna Lisi and Michèle Mercier. She also played in the 1966 thriller Secret Agent Super Dragon, a lame James Bond knockoff that has the dubious honor of being featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, and having a 2.3 rating on IMDB.

From the flopped live performance of Mata Hari.

That year, Marisa was chosen to star as famed WWI spy Mata Hari in a lavish $800,000 Broadway musical adaptation, directed by Hollywood icon Vincente Minnelli. She was spotted by his wife Denise, through her photoshoots in magazines like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.

After a disastrously embarrassing 1967 preview in Washington, the entire production was sacked. Lady Bird Johnson was in attendance that evening, and had sponsored the performance. Only later did the Minnellis realize that Marisa could not sing, and neither could she speak English. She had spoken to Denise only in Italian, and she was said to have gotten the role after having a lesbian affair with her.

Critic Ken Mandelbaum wrote that “the show ran well past midnight, scenery collapsed and the virtually nude Mell was accidentally spotlighted during a costume change.” Theater programmer Max Woodward, who witnessed the performance, stated that “at the end, she’s tied to a pole. And then after they shoot her, she reaches up and scratches her nose.”

Yikes. The debacle effectively ended Marisa’s chances at a Hollywood career, and she fled back to Italy to escape the backlash. She claimed that she didn’t want to become the property of any Hollywood studio anyways, because their restrictive “contract was a whole book. I think that even to go to the toilet I would have needed a permission.” Previously, in 1964, she had refused a lucrative seven year Hollywood contract.

On the set of Danger, Diabolik (1968)

Regardless, the failure stayed in Marisa’s heart forever. Whenever Europeans asked her about her time on Broadway, Marisa would lie that Mata Hari was a great hit in order to save face.

Success in Italy

In 1968, Marisa starred in what is arguably her best known film: Mario Bava’s campy action-crime extravaganza, Danger, Diabolik. Based on the Italian comic book series (fumetti), the film was Italy’s flashy and psychedelic answer to Batman, and featured a hip soundtrack by Ennio Morricone.

Marisa and John in a promo shot.

Marisa was cast as Eva Kant, the sexy and stylish girlfriend of the Italian criminal mastermind Diabolik; played by handsome and chiseled American film star John Phillip Law. Together, the two made a formidably attractive onscreen couple, and had electric chemistry that kindled a brief love affair offscreen.

The Eva Kant character was supposed to be blonde, so Marisa donned a very high-quality wig to play the role. Unlike the Eva of the fumetti, who dressed more conservatively and wore her hair in an up do; Marisa’s adaptation of the character called for more slutty and revealing outfits and long, flowing, golden hair. The film was an instant hit and a cult classic, and so was Marisa.

Marisa Mell and John Phillip Law make out on a pile of cash in Danger, Diabolik (1968)

Initially, Catherine Deneuve was cast, but she was fired after a week of filming. Mario Bava lamented how she was too much of an “ice princess” and not sexy and uninhibited enough to play the role of Eva Kant. John Phillip Law said that she was nice, but they had no sexual chemistry.

Ironically, Catherine refused to perform the famous scene where she and Diabolik make love on ten million dollars of cash; but later starred in the explicit 1967 Luis Buñuel film Belle de Jour. It was of no matter, as Bava would find a new actress. His initial choice was Italian actress Marilù Tolo (fashion designer Valentino called her the love of his life), but producer Dino De Laurentiis liked Marisa much more. And so, the rest was history.

The lovers share a passionate onscreen kiss.

John Philip Law said that when he and Bava saw Marisa, “we knew everything was going to work out. We fell into each other’s arms on the first day, and had a really great relationship on — and off-screen, after a while.” The photogenic pair shacked up together, and even adopted a stray black kitten found on a beach in Anzio whom they named Diabolik.

The flame was fickle, and their affair ended after shooting wrapped. John was a notorious playboy, and Marisa wasn’t short of lovers herself. Fun fact: Diabolik the cat eventually became the property of Jane Fonda, and she took him back to Paris with her after she co-starred with John in the 1968 sci-fi cult classic Barbarella.

Virna, Ursula, Marisa and Claudine.

Marisa’s next film was 1968’s Anyone Can Play, a romantic comedy in which she co-starred with Virna Lisi, Ursula Andress and Claudine Auger (the latter two were famous Bond girls). Despite the cast of classic beauties, the film was a flop and faded into oblivion.

With 1969 came Marisa’s second most famous film; a giallo by infamous horror gore-exploitation director Lucio Fulci called Una Sull’altra (One on Top of the Other). While Fulci’s later films were mostly bloody and disturbing, this one was tame and restrained in comparison, and extremely well made. The film also has an outstanding jazz soundtrack by Riz Ortolani.

Marisa Mell gives Jean Sorel a bj in Una Sull’altra (1969)

In this giallo classic, Marisa stars in a suspenseful double role, and again dons a glam blonde wig to play her character. It is very reminiscent of the 1958 Hitchcock film Vertigo, and explores the nature of infidelity, lascivious sexuality, morality, fate and mistaken identity.

In some countries, the film was released under the skeevy title Perversion Story. Her co-star was dashing French actor Jean Sorel, and the pair had fantastic chemistry onscreen. While he does not appear on Marisa’s long list of lovers, I bet my life that they smashed irl.

Looking like a perfect 10 on set.

Dating a Bad Boy

In 1969, Marisa also suffered a miscarriage. The child had belonged to her boyfriend, an Italian nightclub owner, drug dealer, mobster and producer with aristocratic roots named Pier Luigi Torri. He was like the real life Diabolik, except uglier. Marisa and Pier Luigi dated on and off for six years from 1965 onwards, and he was her longest boyfriend.

Through Pier Luigi, Marisa accessed a world of wealth, parties, drugs, glamour, power, intrigue and excitement. He was a jet-set member of Roman high society, and an eligible bachelor whom many gold-diggers wanted to nab. He occasionally produced films; many of them being softcore pornos.

With her sugar daddy Pier Luigi Torri.

He could often be seen driving his Ferraris and Rolls-Royces around Monte Carlo casino, and gambled away millions of lira at a time. He owned several villas and beachfront properties, as well as one of the most luxurious yachts in the world. When Prince Rainier of Monaco propositioned Pier Luigi for his yacht, he turned the Prince down. From then onwards, Rainier had a flaming hatred of him.

It is presumed that Marisa met Pier Luigi through her friendship/fling with fellow Austrian actor Helmut Berger. Berger himself was having a gay love affair with director and nobleman Luchino Visconti, who was a permanent fixture in the Roman aristocracy. To be anybody in Italy, you had to navigate the complex social web of who’s who.

Pier Luigi, his producer friend Bino Cicogna and a man named Vassallo all co-owned Number One nightclub, the hottest place to be in Rome. Cocaine circulated freely among the clientele, some of whom came from the most prestigious families in Rome; as well as entertainment industry and political names.

In December of 1971, Bino was found dead in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had supposedly committed suicide by placing a plastic bag over his head and sticking it in a gas oven, due to his despair over pending criminal charges and an addictive cocaine habit. But Pier Luigi suspected foul play.

Soon after, Number One nightclub was raided by cops and busted for cocaine. There is no doubt that Marisa used coke as well, but who didn’t at the time? As the cops began to close in on Pier Luigi, Roman tabloids went wild trying to link Marisa to the scandal.

In 1971, he fled Italy on his yacht to avoid the criminal charges pending against him. He escaped to Monaco, but bitter Prince Rainier ratted him out. After an arraignment in Nice, France, he was allowed to leave. Pier Luigi then escaped further to London. It is thought that his and Marisa’s relationship cut off around this point.

Marisa in The Devil’s Ransom, a 1971 film that Pier Luigi Torri produced as a starring vehicle for her.

She stood by him however, until he was arrested once more in London for a $300 million dollar scam. Pier Luigi then ingeniously escaped Scotland Yard by crawling outside through a bathroom ventilation shaft, and then scaling the rooftops to safety.

He vanished for 18 months, but was re-arrested in New York 18 months later. Though he was extradited back to Italy and sentenced to seven years in prison, he never served any time. Pier Luigi went on to marry a different woman, had two children, and died in 2011 at the age of 85.

The troubled couple dine at a Roman restaurant.

Where does this wild crime drama leave Marisa? The relationship took a major toll on her. Pier Luigi had a violent and abusive temper and often beat her. That could possibly be why she had a miscarriage in 1969. Regardless, she wanted to marry him and settle down. But that never occurred because he was too busy being an international criminal. The fiasco also murdered her reputation.

Thotting Around Europe

Still, Marisa did not learn her lesson and continued to date or have one night stands with many sleazy fellow actors. Her list of lovers is long and varied, and includes Alain Delon, Warren Beatty, Helmut Berger, Stephen Boyd, Robert Evans, Michel Piccoli, John Phillip Law, Roman Polanski, and even the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. And these are just the ones worth noting.

The two undoubtedly would’ve made a great couple, except I think Marisa has better bone structure than Alain.

Her love affair with Alain Delon seemed to have been mostly one-sided. In her 1990 autobiography Coverlove, Marisa discusses the hook-up in gratuitous detail. Delon, however, never even mentioned Marisa in his own book. The two met in 1962 on a plane to Yugoslavia. She was immediately attracted to Delon, and described him as “passionate and animalistic” in the sack.

Unfortunately, Delon was a massive lothario (read: manwhore), and Marisa turned out to be just another notch on his list. But hey, this was the guy who broke Romy Schneider’s heart. Hilariously, Marisa claims to have had sex with Delon leading up to the press conference announcing his engagement to Francine Canovas (later known as Nathalie Delon), and after it!

Poster art for Marta (1971)

Seduced and Abandoned

In 1971, Marisa met Stephen Boyd, the man who was perhaps the love of her life. Stephen was a handsome Irish rogue best know for his iconic role in the 1959 sword and sandal epic Ben-Hur. He was eight years older than Marisa, and had already broken a lot of women’s hearts.

She gave a detailed account of their passionate romance in her book, and described it as “so difficult, strange, beautiful and sad that I can hardly bear to think of it.” The pair first met on the set of the 1971 psychological thriller Marta. Marisa described the meeting as electric, and claimed upon first glance she realized that he was “the man of my life.”

Stephen Boyd treated me like a piece of prop! she complained.

Stephen, however, did not feel the same way and ignored all of Marisa’s advances, much to her chagrin. Even though the film had many sex scenes, she could not get Stephen to react. Marisa said the experience wastorture. I spent eight weeks showing him only my best side – sweet, cute, seductive, open, mysterious – everything! It was no use.

Stephen resisted Marisa all the way through the filming of Marta with a will of iron. She was pissed, and never wanted to see him ever again. After all, which man in his right mind could resist Marisa Mell? Six months later, the pair returned to Madrid to shoot another film called The Great Swindle.

Historia de una traición (1971)

Marisa gave up her attempts to seduce Stephen. This time, it was his turn to try and put the moves on her. He began courting Marisa, and sent her roses and asked her out. She couldn’t resist, and jumped at the chance to go on a date with Stephen at a flamenco bar.

His glances made her “weak in the knees,” and she said that helooked like a god.” After the date, they spent the night at Stephen’s place. It was clearly a satisfying lay, since Marisa described him as “just so awesome in his passion, his tenderness and his masculinity that I completely lost my head.”

Stephen admitted that he had initially rejected Marisa because he was scared of getting involved with a “dangerous woman” like her, and that he had just gotten out of difficult love affair. And yet, he snapped and proposed marriage that very same night. They decided to have a Gypsy wedding, probably for the shock value of it.

The couple went to a Gypsy camp in the morning, and rode in horse-drawn carriages. Marisa wore a silk dress and Stephen wore a linen shirt, and the observers sang and danced flamenco by a fire. During their wedding ceremony, the pair took a blood oath. A priest cut their wrists with a dagger, and mingled their blood together to bond them as husband and wife. 

The altar of Sarsina Cathedral, where they received an exorcism.

 Eventually, they realized that their relationship had become too obsessive, so the superstitious pair went for a ritual exorcism at the 10th century Cathedral of St. Vicinius in the Italian village of Sarsina. The couple apparently felt that they had been “possessed by an evil demon. Our demon was our passion. A Catholic priest blessed them and recited the exorcism rites.

Marisa didn’t care if people thought they were crazy, and remarked “sometimes love is like a deadly disease, sometimes it makes you feel that you are damned for all eternity. Trying to explain the reasons for this is impossible. There are things in our lives that are too high for our philosophy.

 Soon after the exorcism, Stephen fell ill and decided to end the relationship. He had a high fever, but doctors couldn’t tell what was wrong with him. They believed it was a psychosomatic disorder caused by their love affair. He told Marisa “I must leave you, for I know full well that one day you will go. I could not endure it. She cried and begged him to stay, but he left on a flight to Belfast and she never saw him again.

 After Stephen’s death in 1977, she claimed that his spirit often spoke to her from beyond the grave. She explained that “we both believe in reincarnation, and we realized we’ve already been lovers in three different lifetimes, and in each one I made him suffer terribly… But sometimes I have the feeling that he is speaking to me – from another world.

Marta (1971)

I like the supernatural/occult touch to their romance, but it most likely dissolved due to Stephen’s inability to commit to Marisa. He was a player who constantly bragged about being an individualistic bachelor, and was not yet ready to be tied down by marriage. Nevertheless, the year-long fling was quite intense while it lasted and Marisa never forgot him and the memory of their ephemeral love.

A Fading Star

It was obvious by now that Marisa had bad luck with men. Should she have just avoided these toxic romances and focused instead on building her career? She once proclaimed that “movies are my life, and my life is a movie.” But she was also dismissive of her profession, stating “I have a higher goal than making one stupid picture after another.” Whatever that goal was, it never materialized.

Sette orchidee macchiate di rosso (1972)

In 1972, she played a small role in Umberto Lenzi’s Seven Blood-Stained Orchids, a gory yet dull giallo that has since become a B-movie classic. While it was not exactly Lenzi’s finest work, the film has some gruesome death scenes that stand out. Marisa is murdered by a killer wielding an electric power drill in the movie’s bloodiest sequence.

By the late 1970s, Marisa’s career hit a steep decline. She continued to star in films until her death, but most of them were D-list movies that were way beneath her talent level. Although she was only in her 30s, she appeared ten years older than her actual age. This was most likely caused by excessive drug use and hard living.

La belva col mitra (1977). The bisexual Helmut once said that Marisa had a very pleasant androgynous face, and would’ve made a beautiful man.

In 1977, she starred in her last notable film: Beast with a Gun AKA Mad Dog Killer, a shockingly explosive crime thriller that bordered on exploitation due to its violent and sexual content. She starred alongside her former lover Helmut Berger; who gave a hilariously over the top yet masterful performance as a sick and depraved criminal on the loose. They were still close friends offscreen, and often partied together.

The film was based on the antics of Italian mafioso Renato Vallanzasca; a criminal so perverse he once decapitated an informer during a prison riot. The movie perfectly captures the maniacal spirit of its subject, and is fast-paced and action-packed with an awesome soundtrack by Umberto Smaila.

Helmut Berger literally deserved an Oscar for his performance.

Beast with a Gun was classified as a “Video Nasty” in the U.K., and declared an obscene film that could be confiscated by police if it were to be re-released in theaters. Quentin Tarantino later lifted the soundtrack and used some clips of Marisa and Helmut in his supremely unoriginal 1997 movie Jackie Brown.

Sadly, more tragedy struck that year in 1977. Marisa became a mother-to-be once again at 38 years old. She was photographed by paparazzi in Rome while heavily pregnant, and was accompanied by her Afghan Hound Rocco and actor Gianni Macchia. She looked to be in the late stages of pregnancy, yet she was still smoking cigarettes. Strangely, Marisa believed that Rocco was in the incarnation of somebody she once knew and had telepathic powers.

On November 26, 1977, Marisa gave birth to a premature baby girl she named Louisa Erika, after her mother. Sadly, her baby died the very same day. Marisa was heartbroken, and never attempted to have a child again. Neither did she ever reveal the identity of the father. Louisa Erika was buried in Rome’s Camposanto Teutonico cemetery; a graveyard reserved only for those of German descent.

A Dismal Downfall

Marisa’s life was on a steady downhill course. In the 1980s, she was almost a nobody. She was in her 40s, and producers now considered her too old to be a lead actress. She struggled to find work, and became mired in poverty and depression. Marisa drank and used drugs, and appeared in porno mags to churn out an income.

Marisa appeared in a 1983 edition of Men magazine, a hardcore publication.

She was never shy about showing her body for money, but these were not the glitzy and tasteful Angelo Frontoni Vogue photoshoots she had started off with early in her career. These pictures were more on the vulgar side, and she was ashamed that she had to resort to nudie mags to make an income. In 1986, a cynical Marisa reflected back on her life and looks, stating that “I was never proud of my beauty, I was rather bothered by it. It was a tragedy. Every man wanted me, but no man wanted to keep me.”

Despite all her attempts to do so, she never found true enduring love. The whole world had wanted her, but when she grew old she was cast aside. When she lost her looks, she lost everything. Yet she was confident in herself and refused to get plastic surgery; something which is very admirable and rare in this day and age.

She was forced to return back to Austria so she could receive some much-needed welfare money. Italian porn directors had offered her roles, but Marisa refused to take that dark road. Outside of nude modelling, she tried to make money in other ways but wasn’t too successful at it. She was still friends with Helmut Berger, and he would often ring her doorbell late at night which annoyed her.

Marisa did poetry readings, starred in low budget independent movies, sang (she was terrible at it), and made art. She painted and drew, but her exhibitions were not very popular. In Christmas of 1991, mere months before she died; Marisa was back in Vienna and so desperate for money that she took a job as the cook of Father Laun, a pastor from Kahlenbergerdorf. When she died penniless, this kind priest paid for Marisa’s grave.

The artist and her works.

At Death’s Door

A lifelong smoker, Marisa was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 1991. She received many different treatments including chemotherapy, but none eased her symptoms. Some female friends took her a on a trip to India to cheer her up, since she was fascinated by eastern spirituality. Marisa enjoyed herself immensely, and began wearing saris back in Austria. She also started worshipping the Indian saint Sai Baba.

Marisa was a superstitious woman, and used alternative medicine to try and cure her cancer. She enjoyed parapsychology, tarot readings, necromancy and fortune telling. She was also a classic Pisces, stating that “I believe in astrology but I don’t need it…It ruins your nerves if you take it daily.” Marisa continued to have flings with younger men like a cougar until her health prevented it.

During a palm reading in the 1960s.

On May 16, 1992, Marisa finally succumbed to throat cancer at the age of 53 and died alone at the Viennese Wilhelminenspital. Her funeral was attended only by a few close friends. None of her former film colleagues showed up, or the many people she once knew in Italy. In the end, she had nobody who was truly there for her. It was a sad ending to a once illustrious life.

Actress and friend Christine Kaufmann remembered Marisa as “a strong woman with who you could eat spaghetti with at home, but could also appear with at high end cocktail parties where she would wear fragile golden shoes because she had very beautiful small ankles with a stunning face.” Sounds ideal.

Her gravestone at the Kahlenbergerdorfer Friedhof cemetery, courtesy of The Marisa Mell Blog.

Though most people only cared about her looks, Marisa was an intelligent woman on the inside. She enjoyed the works of Rainer Maria Rilke, Jean de La Fontaine and Honoré de Balzac, and her favourite novel was Dostoevsky’s The Idiot. She read poems by the medieval German lyricist Walther von der Vogelweide, philosophy by the Chinese Taoist Lao-Tze, and of course, she was into Friedrich Nietzsche.

Her favourite artist was Modigliani, and her most-loved classical piece was Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2. Marisa was also a great cook, had a sizeable record collection (she liked Edith Piaf and The Beatles), and loved vodka and Winston cigarettes. Her favourite films were Bergman’s The Silence and Truffaut’s Jules and Jim.

In an interview from the 1960s, Marisa dismissed her sexpot image and described herself as “a very good girl” who is “shy, sensitive, ambitious, intelligent and good-natured.” Her dream role was to play Anna Karenina. She had yearned to becoming a serious actress, but was more often chosen for “sexy” roles. In her school days, she had considered herself an existentialist and wanted to become a philosopher. And instead, she is now beloved by geeky cult and exploitation fans for her exciting and glamorous B-movie roles and knockout face and bod.

Marisa’s close pal Erika Pluhar gave a touching eulogy for her deceased friend:

“You died in poverty. But maybe a little richer, I think, than when you were paid large salaries. When your body was being exploited and you didn’t have the strength to resist and look for love instead of competing. Who is the most beautiful in the whole country, this eternally pernicious question ruined your life too.”

Beauty made Marisa into a pop culture icon, but it also destroyed her. The callous Roman film industry she had worked for and gave all her youth to had discarded her once they considered her to be too old. She was an attractive mature woman and still a fine actress, but she wasn’t given the chance to prove it in her later years.

Marisa Mell was a gorgeous, smart and multi-talented actress who also partied hard and had a self-destructive streak. She loved with passion and gave all of herself to her relationships and performances. Sadly, her acting career fizzled out and she died of the terrible cancer that ravaged her body; alone and forgotten in a Viennese hospital.

Audiences now remember Marisa for her vibrant onscreen presence and striking one-in-a-million looks. But we should also remember who she was outside of her films, and the way she suffered and struggled with quiet strength and dignity. Marisa Mell is a tragic B-Movie Queen for the ages; the Austrian princess of sleaze, charisma, and style, and there will never be anyone like her again.

The Ecstatic Rise and Bitter Fall of Barbara Bates

Hollywood: it chews you up, and then spits you out. This proverb was never more true than in the case of Barbara Bates; a psychologically fragile Old Hollywood actress who managed to withstand several career disappointments, until a final tragedy drove her to grim suicide.

Born in Denver, Colorado in 1925, Barbara always had a gift for glamour. She was a dark-haired, shy and demure enchantress, who modelled as a teen and studied ballet, eventually winning a beauty contest that changed her life. The prize? Round trip tickets to Hollywood, of course.

In 1944, Barbara and her mother went to L.A. in search of fame and glory. Two days before they were due to return home, they met a publicist for United Artists studio named Cecil Coan.

Barbara was only 19-years old, and Cecil was 45 and married with four children. None of this deterred the pair, who began a torrid affair that unexpectedly turned into a successful 22 year marriage. He divorced his wife as soon as possible to marry Barbara, 26 years his junior. Despite the initial creepiness of the pairing, they were deeply in love and would stay together until Cecil’s death.

Immediately, Cecil began working his magic and turned Barbara into a budding starlet. In September of 1944, Barbara signed a contract with Universal Pictures.

Cecil had introduced her to producer Walter Wanger, who was looking to cast “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” for his upcoming picture Salome Where She Danced. Barbara received a role as one of the seven dancing girls, alongside Yvonne De Carlo. She seemed set for stardom, but her career would stall in the next few years.

In 1947, producer William T. Orr convinced Barbara to dye her hair blonde. After she did, however, he told her, “You are not the blonde type. Be yourself.” Asshole, much?

Blonde Barbie

At this time, she also began pin-up modelling on the side to make some extra cash. Shy and reserved Barbara resented doing sleazy cheesecake shoots, but they caused her to catch a thirsty Warner Bros. rep’s eye, and she received her first big role alongside Danny Kaye in the 1949 musical comedy The Inspector General.

Sadly, much of her part was lost on the cutting room floor. To add insult to injury, Warner Bros. tried to force Barbara to go to New York to promote the release of The Inspector General, but she was too proud to submit to the studio’s whims and they fired her. An exasperated Barbara then attempted suicide, but the studio managed to cover it up and hide this from the press. This was the beginning of a repeated series of suicide attempts by Barbara, prompted by either personal or career lows.

Barbara (middle) pretends to play chess with Julie London and Daun Kennedy in a 1945 pin-up

In 1949, she discussed the ins and out of being a star with a newspaper. She described how:

 “Every Hollywood newcomer goes through a sex school. They have regular exercises to bring out your…uh…fire. They told [drama coach] Sophie Rosenstein to ‘put some sex into me.’ She did. Sophie made me throw back my shoulders and stick out my chest.

Then I had to sit in front of a mirror and breathe deeply—for hours and hours… They want you to become conscious of your body and to…well…to throw your curves at the world. And all the while you’re supposed to be thinking sexy thoughts. They don’t tell you what. That’s one thing they leave up to you.” 

If that sounds grotesque to you, you’re not the only one! Barbara was already in a unstable state: she was known to suffer from depression and mood swings from the very start, clearly due to untreated mental illness. Instead of being honest with her about realistic career goals, various Hollywood studios treated Barbara like a cheap floozy, giving her only tiny insignificant bit parts as a meager reward for signing on with them.

Barbara had also developed a reputation of being difficult on set. Jeffrey Hunter, who co-starred with Barbara in 1952’s Belles on Their Toes, claimed that she was “very disturbed. I felt uncomfortable in her presence and felt she was a very troubled young woman.” However, Ray McDonald, who starred alongside her in the 1953 Mickey Rooney musical All-Ashore, claimed that “she was easy to work with but had moods of depression.”

In May of 1949, another sleazy yet typical Hollywood incident occurred: Notorious lech Harry Cohn (head of Columbia Pictures from 1919 to 1958) offered to sign a contract with Barbara on one condition: she divorce her husband. She refused. He called her two nights later, and drunkenly invited her to his yacht. She refused again.

In E.J. Fleming’s book The Fixers, he describes how Harry Cohn “was said to have verbally or physically raped every woman that ever worked for his studio.” Harry was a known pervert who was rumored to have forced the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth and Kim Novak to sleep with him in order to be cast in starring roles. His track record makes Harvey Weinstein seem chaste in comparison, and would be definite cause for a #MeToo hashtag in the 21st century.

However, it was the late 1940s, and since Barbara refused to play Hollywood’s licentious game of casting couch bingo, she would never gain the big-name stardom she had always dreamed of.

But alas, there finally came a small light at the end of the tunnel: Barbara managed to land a contract with 20th Century-Fox, who cast her in the biggest picture of 1950, the Bette Davis classic All About Eve.

Barbara in All About Eve

Barbara’s role was minor, but it was the one she would always be remembered for. The Hollywood Reporter described her memorable appearance in the final scene as “sum[ming] up the whole action and point of the story. It’s odd that a bit should count for so much, and in the hands of Miss Bates all the required points are fulfilled.”

With the money from her big role, she bought a 51-foot yacht named The Bayadère, which cost $45,000 (adjusted as $480k for modern inflation). Barbara spent 8 months learning how to sail and navigate the yacht at a Coast Guard School. Hollywood did have a few perks after all! The studio even installed a radio-telephone on the yacht to enslave contact her at all times.

Barbara had a few more notable roles left: the 1950 cheesefest Cheaper by the Dozen, and the brainless 1953 Jerry Lewis-Dean Martin comedy The Caddy. She was frustrated with these moronic films, lamenting to gossip columnist Erskine Johnson on how “I thought great things were going to happen [after All About Eve]. So far—nothing. They keep casting me as a 16-year-old; I can’t seem to get up to 20.”

Enjoying a sandwich and coke on her yacht

Then came her dream role: Barbara was screen tested for the suicidal ballerina character in Charlie Chaplin’s 1952 comedy-drama Limelight. As a former childhood ballerina, she would have been perfect for the part. Chaplin was delighted with her audition, and offered her the role himself.

Unfortunately, dictatorial Fox refused to loan Barbara out to United Artists to film the picture, due to the fact that they resented Chaplin for his supposed communist ties. Barbara was left heartbroken and destroyed after losing the role of a lifetime.

After this, Barbara’s career tanked. She was fired from the 1954 sitcom It’s a Great Life for “erratic behavior.” What set her off? Well, let us examine an interview Barbara gave columnist Lydia Lane on the set of the TV show, just months before she was canned:

 “I have had such trouble keeping thin. I dearly love anything sweet—especially chocolate—and to say no really takes discipline. But it isn’t healthy to be dieting all the time… The thing to do is find the weight at which you are comfortable and level off.

I keep a check by weighing in every morning, and if I’ve gained even a pound, I start cutting down. I have a calorie chart which I carry in my handbag and this helps me limit myself to 500 calories a day until I’m back to normal. I haven’t had to diet for quite a while, and it’s a wonderful feeling.”

On the set of Rhapsody (1954)

500 calories a day? Who wouldn’t feel like shit on this diet? Obviously, Hollywood has an obsession with thinness and actresses are required to stay in shape. But this was eating disorder territory, and it was no wonder poor Barbara was losing her mind from the pressures mounting all around her.

Out of work and desperate, Cecil arranged for Barbara to go to England and sign on with the Rank Organisation in 1956. The studio felt she was too old at the age of 31, and advertised her as being a 24-year old. She was cast in a few films, but suffered a nervous breakdown and health issues which caused her to abandon the sets while filming. Many suspected that Barbara attempted suicide once again. Nevertheless, she was fired by Rank in 1957, and was forced to return to the USA.

She played in several TV commercials to make some quick cash, as the couple had lost money due to bad land investments in Spain. Barbara’s old friend Rory Calhoun landed her a final movie part in his 1958 western Apache Territory. Her last TV appearance was in a 1962 episode of The Saint. An unceremonious end for a troubled career.

In 1960, the couple converted to Catholicism and moved to a modest Beverly Hills apartment. Throughout her chaotic life, Cecil had proven to be an unmoving rock of support for Barbara. He was her manager, agent, husband, lover, best friend and closest confidante for most of her adult life. Tragically, Cecil was diagnosed with cancer, and the last sane threads of Barbara’s life quickly unraveled.

She put aside her career to loyally care for the ailing Cecil, but the stress of being his constant nurse caused Barbara to snap. She attempted suicide by slitting her wrists, but survived yet again. These were very dark times for her, and the final straw was when Cecil died in January of 1967. She was at his bedside, romantic and steadfast until the very end. But when Cecil passed, something in Barbara died with him.

If she was already suicidal even in the presence of Cecil, now she was completely lost. Feeling aimless, Barbara left California for good and returned home to Denver. To her credit, she did attempt to rebuild a life: she attended a secretarial school by night, and worked as a nurse’s aide in the daytime. She was also a dental assistant at one point, and often volunteered at church.

What does this tell us? Barbara was dead broke. Cecil’s hospital bills must have drained her Hollywood fortune. Being relegated to the boring common life of a wageslave after starring alongside Elizabeth Taylor in films and purchasing half a million dollar yachts was disastrous.

At the end of 1968, she remarried: to a sportscaster named William Reed, who also happened to be a childhood friend. The marriage did not seem to be very romantic, and was most likely just an arrangement of convenience to prevent the onset of late-age loneliness.

So here was Barbara: back in her hometown, aging, married to a man from her youth, her Hollywood career totally faded; as she worked obscure random jobs to rake up pitiful sums of cash she would have laughed at in her days as a top actress.

It was all too much.

On March 18, 1969, Barbara’s mother returned to their suburban home, and found the garage was locked and sealed from the bottom. Upon unlocking the door, she found Barbara dead in the front seat of her Volkswagen. She had committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning at the age of 43.

This came after a mere four months of marriage, indicating Barbara’s unhappiness in her newfound relationship. There are also reports that she was pregnant at the time and that this may have set her off. She was quietly buried in Crown Hill Cemetery, Colorado.

Barbara once said “I have no illusions about being a star. Every time I did something really important, they ended up cutting it.” This was an accurate summation of her life and career: she lived a brief, painful and beautiful existence full of heartbreak and malady. Hollywood had drained her and then tossed her aside when they deemed her too old, mentally ill, and washed up. She was the victim of the monstrous machine of cinema, but she managed to free herself with death.

Karen Lancaume: A Tale of Suicide, Sex and Violence

Karen Lancaume was a French porn star who despised her profession and committed suicide at the age of 32. To be fair, not many female porn actresses enjoy their job: 69% of women in the sex industry report suffering from PTSD. For a sensitive and intelligent woman like Karen, her psychological wounds proved to be fatal.

She was born in Lyon to a wealthy family who would later disapprove of her career choices. Her real name was Karine. Her mother was Moroccan, and her father was French.

Karen was raised in the placid and serene countryside, spending much of her time with her brother and several pets. Her existence was sheltered, but as a child, the shy girl enjoyed playing in the forests and exploring nature.

She graduated college with a Communications degree, and considered a career in advertising. Karen lost her virginity at the age of 17.

The path she went down was antithetical to the promise of her youth. Attractive, educated, and rich; she was not your stereotypical “bimbo” pin-up queen. What forced her hand into the adult film industry?

It all began when she started working weekends at a nightclub to pay off her college debts. It is odd to note that her wealthy parents didn’t help her out financially.

When she met a disc jockey named Franck Ceronne at the club, Karen fell head over heels and the couple quickly married. He promised her a life of domestic bliss with several children. Unfortunately, the pair somehow managed to amass crushing debts and were struggling to pay them off when Franck came up with a bright idea: they should start filming pornos for quick cash.

At first Franck promised Karen that they would only make adult films together, and she would not have to engage with other men on screen. The couple quickly discovered that Franck could not perform in front of a camera, and he wasn’t sizable enough phallic-wise to impress producers.

Karen was then pressured into having sex with other partners on screen. She would later go on to say that “a man who truly loves you would never make you do that.”

The couple divorced in 1997, and Karen continued filming porn to pay the bills. Porn producers and directors adored her. She rose to stardom; working with the biggest names in the European adult film industry, and was even nominated for a Hot d’Or award.

Karen wrote of her work: “Double penetrated at a freezing 5 ° C, followed by an ejaculation. Covered with sperm, soaked, dead cold, no one handed me a towel. Once you have shot your scene, you’re worth nothing.” The lack of empathy she faced on set only fueled her distaste and disillusionment.

In 1995, Karen was gang raped: “I went to buy cigarettes at two in the morning after work, and three guys trapped me.” This was no doubt a brutal experience which scarred her psyche. Sex had become a tool of suffering in her life, which others used to brutalize and punish her for being attractive.

In 1999, almost four years into her porn career, Karen received an offer that would change her life. Writer and former sex worker Virginie Despentes was looking for someone to star in her new and explosive film project Baise Moi (Fuck Me), and required actresses who would consent to perform unsimulated sex scenes.

Virginie approached Karen and a fellow porn actress named Raffaela Anderson at Cannes Film Festival after seeing them in a documentary. She immediately knew they were perfect for the role, with co-director Coralie Trinh Thi noting how: “These two were really different from the other girls. The little one, Raffaela, was very funny. The big one, Karen, looked like she could beat someone up.”

Raffaela’s character is raped during a scene in the film, and it was emotionally difficult for her to perform since she had already suffered assault in real life, just as Karen had. She was raped by two men who recognized her from her adult film career. Outrageously, the public prosecutor told Raffaela not to complain about being raped, since she was a porn star and therefore deserved it.

Raffaela and Karen on set

The plot of the film centers around two angry women who go on a gory killing spree. There is even a a rather interesting scene where an abusive male bar patron is sodomized with a gun. Baise Moi was cathartic for its two stars, functioning as a satisfying rape-revenge movie in which the perpetrators receive scathing doses of violence in return.

For anyone who’s seen it, Baise Moi is unforgettable. It isn’t the type of film to win any awards, but it is a classic of the New French Extremity movement. It caused a massive controversy upon its release, and was initially banned in Australia, Canada, Singapore and the U.K. for its excessive depictions of sex and violence.

Critics were flabbergasted, calling the film “Thelma and Louise on crack.” To be quite frank: Baise Moi makes Natural Born Killers look like a children’s cartoon. French right-wing parties associated with Jean-Marie Le Pen attempted to have the movie banned, but it was finally released with an X-rated certificate for 18+ audiences.

The iconic bar scene

Karen’s performance was powerful and charismatic: she was tall, dark, gorgeous, intimidating, and great with a gun; the personification of badassery. Audiences, however, were not prepared to see two former porn stars headlining a film. Director Virginie Despentes claimed that:

“The real problem is that Baise-Moi is a film about violent ‘lower class’ women, made by supposedly marginal women. The mainstream doesn’t want to hear about people with nothing, the disenfranchised, the marginals, taking up arms and killing people for fun and money. It happens, of course, but we’re not allowed to acknowledge it.

Then there’s the question of the actresses. Of course it’s fine to have porn films and porn actresses, but when you put them in a naturalistic drama that causes all kinds of problems. Why? Because you’ve destroyed the idea that they are sexual toys and brought them to life.

We really took the brunt of a lot of prejudice and paranoia. We didn’t realise just how much fear and hatred it would arouse, but it definitely stoked up a lot of nasty stuff. Not least because it’s about poor, non-white women. In France, there’s real conflict between the white majority and the Arabic population.

Our two lead actresses both have African roots – one is half-Moroccan, the other half-Algerian – and in France, don’t harbour any illusions, it’s visceral, this problem. A lot of people really don’t want to see two North African women who have been raped taking up arms and shooting European men. That’s a little too close to historical reality.”

Despite starring in an attention-grabbing incendiary film in which her performance was praised, Karen’s acting career never really took off. She was tired of porn and done with the industry, but she could not shake off the restrictive shackles of her past. The six years she spent doing adult films had taken its toll on her.

In an interview, she railed against gender inequality: “Why are women grabbed by the ass and not men? All we ask for is understanding, equality. In porn, guys enjoy the mouth of girls, the woman takes it on the face. Baise Moi, it’s the opposite.” Karen eventually wanted to write an autobiography about her life in the adult film industry, but sadly she never got the chance to.

On January 28, 2005 at midnight, Karen committed suicide in her ex-boyfriend’s apartment in Paris, with the aid of sleeping pills and alcohol. She left a note addressed to her mother, writing only the words “too painful.”

The final scene of Baise Moi

It was a week after her 32nd birthday. She died alone on a Friday night, with her friends returning later that weekend only to find her deceased. They claimed she had been in a good mood, and shown no signs of wanting to harm herself.

Associates described Karen as somber and introverted, often dressed in black. Virginie said of her; “She’s the only girl I knew whose big dream was to be a housewife. The first time she told me that, I preferred to put it aside, but knowing her better, I understood that it existed as a dream. It was her thing. We do not always do what we want.”

Karen had dreams that lay way beyond her porn career: to star in mainstream films, to fall in love, to have children, to write a book about her life, and to live with financial security and happiness. She did not manage to make these dreams materialize, and gave in to the psychological torment which had plagued her for years.

When you search “Karen Lancaume” on the internet, you are flooded with hordes of obscene photos and videos. Where are the stories of her life and humanity, outside of the pornographic industry?

In death, Karen deserves to be respected, regardless of what she did for a living. This written piece is a tribute to her life, and a lamentation for the things that could have been.

Let us end with the words of her friend Virginie, who said that Karen had “a sweetness, an incredible femininity. And at the same time one felt she was ready to take an ax and destroy a wall.”