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.