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.

A Murder on Mulholland Drive: Marina Habe and the Twisted Odyssey of 1960s L.A. Crime

Marina Elizabeth Habe was a 17-year old college student who was violently murdered in L.A. in 1968. Her murder remains unsolved and has prompted endless speculation and theories, many of which include the rather fantastical allegations of involvement by the Manson Family.

Hollywood breeds many children of privilege, and most grow up to become bratty party queens. Enter Marina Habe. She was a dark-haired, blue-eyed beauty- by all accounts a shy, quiet, and moral Catholic girl attending college at the blissfully located University of Hawaii.

Her mother was B-movie bit part actress Eloise Hardt, and her father was author Hans Habe, a Hungarian-Jewish refugee of WWII who fled Europe after publishing the unflattering original name of Adolf Hitler’s father Alois (it’s Schicklgruber, if you’re curious). Her parents made an odd couple, and went on to divorce promptly. Hans moved to a beautiful Swiss village and married a 6th wife, leaving Marina in the care of her mother. He wrote dozens of bestselling books until his death in 1977.

Aftermath (1948) by Hans Habe, a critique of the “empancipated” postwar American woman

Eloise was always busy filming roles for the silver screen and TV. In fact, her IMDB credits show only a 2 year hiatus period after her daughter’s death. She was never a big star, but she was committed and reliable in performing small roles.

Marina was sent off to Hawaii after graduating high school, and she seemed to have no complaints about relocating to the sunny paradise. Her future seemed bright. She was attaining an arts degree, and planned to become an actress. With her mother being an industry veteran, this would have been a piece of cake.

At the close of 1968, Eloise had Marina return home to L.A. for the holidays. The pair spent Christmas together, and New Year’s Eve soon approached. Little did they know that Marina would not live to see 1969.

Eloise Hardt, actress and mother

It was the night of December 29, and Marina was out on the town partying with friends. She was accompanied by her date, 22-year old John Hornburg, who was 5 years her senior. The pair were with two other couples at the Troubadour nightclub, watching Larry Hankin’s stand up comedy act. Personally, this is not the comedian I would have selected for my last night on earth.

The couple left the club at 11:30 PM, and hung out in Marina’s expensive sports car for a couple of hours, parking near John’s Brentwood home. They most likely engaged in a heavy makeout sesh and other R-rated activities.

At 3:15 AM, Marina changed out of her swanky date ‘fit and into a white turtleneck sweater, a lux fur trim coat, and brown capris. She began her drive home. This is where the mystery of her fate begins.

The Troubadour Nightclub

At her West Hollywood home on 8962 Cynthia Street, Eloise was awoken by noisy muffler exhaust sounds from a car engine – an unknown black vehicle was parked in her driveway. Marina’s car was parked right next, but she was nowhere to be seen. Eloise then saw a young man in his 20s running towards the black car yelling, “Let’s go!” The driver gunned the engine, and the occupants of the vehicle took off.

Marina disappeared without a trace, kidnapped by ominous men right out front on her driveway. When her car was examined, police claimed that the handbrake was set with such force that it was impossible for petite Marina to have done so herself.

Marina’s yearbook photo

Eloise was hysterical with worry, and called the police. According to her stepson’s dramatic account, she paced her bungalow screaming “Why don’t you take me [instead]?” Hans Habe left Switzerland to return to L.A. immediately. They waited in vain for a ransom note from the kidnappers, but there was only silence.

Two and a half days later on Jan. 1, 1969, a couple walking on Mulholland Drive noticed a discarded purse. Inside, there were Marina’s credit cards, makeup and a small amount of cash. This did not bode well, as it showed that whoever kidnapped her had clearly had no interest in money or extortion.

A passing civilian’s dog then discovered Marina’s mutilated corpse 30 feet off the side of the road down a ravine. Puzzlingly, the dog’s owner requested that police ensure that his name would appear in the newspaper. His wish does not appear to have been granted.

Lover’s Lane on Mulholland Dr, 1950s

There was so much overgrown foliage in the ditch that detectives had failed to spot her body from the search helicopter which circled above Bowmont Drive for days. She was found only 4 miles from her home, and very close to the house of Robert Goulet, AKA the weird turtleneck singer guy Will Ferrell does impressions of.

There are many conflicting reports online as to the condition of Marina’s body and the time of her death. Some allege she was killed the same night she was kidnapped, mere hours later. Others claim she was held captive for over a day and fed by her captors.

While many sensational news outlets claim she was raped, the official coroner’s report pointed to the conclusion that Marina had recently had consensual sex, most likely with her date John Hornburg during the parked car rendezvous. There were no signs of sexual assault or forcible entry on her body. Either way, it would prove impossible to tell with complete certainty exactly what had happened to Marina after she was abducted.

Marina bled to death after being stabbed by several attackers

The autopsy report from Jan. 2, 1969 says that she was found lying supine near dense brush. She was fully clothed, with the exception of her shoe, which was tossed nearby. Marina was 5’5 and 128 lbs, and had alcohol in her system at the time of death. Her last meal was vegetarian-based.

There are rumours that she was burned and found nude, but these allegations are categorically false.

Marina’s wounds were extensive and sordid. She had two black eyes caused by a man’s fist, as well as blunt force trauma inflicted with a small hard object. Her throat was cut so violently that her left carotid artery was severed, and her liver was lacerated.

She was also stabbed numerous times in the chest and neck, with one deep slash penetrating her breastbone through her sternum. None of these wounds were fatal, however, and her cause of death is listed as exsanguination, or death by excessive blood loss.

Notably, there were no defense wounds on her body. This indicates that Marina was either physically incapacitated (by her injuries, or due to being restrained by her captors), or she was just too afraid to fight back.

Marina’s grave at Holy Cross Cemetery in L.A.

The report also said that an old motorcycle frame was found near Marina’s feet, which is strange because newspapers never dished this rather juicy clue and cops never discovered its origin. Was this the case of a biker gang gone mad?

The coroner determined that at least two different knives were used in the frenzied attack. By now, it was certain that there was more than one person involved in Marina’s murder.

Marina’s Catholic funeral was attended by 350 mourners at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills. A priest by the name of Father Acton gave a rousing speech:

“We wonder about a society, the products of which can be… capable of such heinous crimes. There you have the perfect formula for bitterness, resentment, hatred, perhaps despair. This we must guard against.”

It is said that Eloise was never be able to recover from the murder of her only child, and spent years obsessing over it, full of guilt and despair. She was 99 years old when she died in 2017.

Hans and Eloise at their daughter’s funeral

Marina Habe’s homicide was never solved, despite the fact that there were 6 detectives and 20 deputies on the case. At the time, Sherriff Harold White claimed that the LAPD was “trying very hard. But we have turned up nothing that is even remotely interesting.” There appears to have been no official police suspects as released to the media.

Enter the Manson Family: There is zero concrete evidence to link Charles Manson & Co. to Marina’s murder, but that hasn’t stopped true crime enthusiasts from coming to far-fetched conclusions. It seems that every late 1960s unsolved California murder is blamed on the Mansons, without actual proof.

When interviewed about his whereabouts on the night of Marina’s murder, Manson stated he was at a New Year’s eve party thrown by John and Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and Papas. Lucky him!

The low IQ Manson Girls sing songs in court while on trial for the Tate & LaBianca murders

There are harebrained claims that Marina was friendly with certain Manson Family members, such as Bruce Davis, Bobby Beausoleil or Tex Watson. These three men were known as the Family lotharios: they would befriend women (sexually) and then attempt to recruit them into the Family, all at the behest of Charlie M. LSD-fueled orgies were said to have followed.

Friends claim Marina was too “square,” and too rich and high-class to associate with hippie hoodlums like the Family. The time frame in which she would’ve befriended them is skewed as well: Marina was attending college in Hawaii for most of 1968.

It is worth noting, however, that Angela Lansbury’s daughter Deidre joined the Manson Family in the 1960s, much to her mother’s chagrin, despite also being a wealthy and famous celebrity child. Though unlike Marina, there is actual evidence of her doing so.

Charles Manson and other Family members are arrested in a 1969 raid on Spahn Ranch

In 1968, the Manson Family ran an illegal car and motorcycle chop shop in the desert, next to Spahn Movie Ranch. They bought and recycled stolen auto parts, and were involved in the death of a 16-year old supplier named Mark Glen Walts. He was shot to death and dumped in Topanga Canyon near Mulholland Drive.

Coincidence, or not? Does the motorcycle frame found on Marina’s corpse point to the Mansons? Or was it some other biker gang gone haywire, such as the Hell’s Angels? It is glaringly evident that the police failed to investigate her case properly.

Marina’s death is also tied to several other unsolved murders, such as the Nov. 1969 homicide of Reet Jurvetson, a 19-year old girl dumped on Mulholland Drive, very close to where Marina was discovered. She was stabbed over 150 times, and like Marina, her carotid artery was severed and she was discovered in a ravine.

Reet Jurvetson: does she resemble Marina, or am I crazy?

In the same month of the same year, Scientologists Doreen Gaul and James Sharp were found gruesomely butchered to death in L.A. Their eyes were cut out, they were run over with motorcycles, and they had been whipped with chains. They were stabbed nearly 60 times each, and Doreen had been raped.

Like Reet and Marina, their cases are still unsolved, and the only suspects anyone can come up with are, you guessed it, The Manson Family.

It is very likely that all of this could have been the work of an unknown serial killer who was active in the late 1960s, or a rogue biker gang. L.A. was in the midst of a hippie flower-power revolution, and any number of creepy psychopaths could have taken advantage of this cultural chaos to kill young, beautiful and vulnerable women. Charles Manson was just one among many.

19-year old Doreen Gaul

To muddle the waters even further, let us return to Marina’s actress mother, Eloise Hardt. In 1966, she starred in a hauntingly atmospheric horror film named Incubus. This was one of Eloise’s larger roles, and she received top billing.

Incubus is a must see for vintage B-movie fans, as it was filmed entirely in Esperanto and starred William Shatner in all his pre- Star Trek glory. It was directed by Leslie Stevens, creator of the spooky TV series The Outer Limits. What does this nerdy trivia have to do with the murder of Marina Habe, you ask?

Simple: the film is said to be cursed. It sounds ridiculous, but the horrific occurrences that plagued the stars of Incubus makes for interesting reading.

Eloise Hardt in Incubus (1966)

Shatner claimed that while on set in Big Sur, a weird hippie approached the cast and crew, asking too many questions and irritating the actors, who responded curtly. The hippie was indignated, and loudly recited a curse that was supposed to have damned all those involved in production. Did he really? Or was he just high as shit?

In another odd link to the Manson Family, Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski attended the San Francisco Film Festival premiere. Sharon would be slaughtered by the Family three years later in 1969.

Mere weeks after filming wrapped, actress Ann Atmar committed suicide. She was a part time girlie mag pinup who killed herself at only 27 years old, before the film even premiered.

Ann Atmar, victim of the incubus

There is no further information available on her death, or why she killed herself. Could it have been due to the disturbing part she played in Incubus? Her character was that of a naive blind girl who is brutally raped by a demon, played by Serbian actor Milos Milos.

Born Miloš Milošević, the hot-tempered Serb was a streetfighter and former bodyguard of Alain Delon. Shortly after Incubus’ release, he murdered Barbara Ann Thomason, wife of Mickey Rooney, whom he was having an affair with. He then shot himself. Some suspect ol’ Mickey was in on the crime, enacting revenge for his cuckoldry.

Eloise and Milos attempt to kill Shatner in a tragicomic scene from the film

This bad publicity basically tanked the film in all regards. And then, years later, the curse was completed with the unsolved murder of Eloise Hardt’s daughter Marina. The film itself would be lost until 1993, when it was discovered archived in a French cinematheque.

With the case of Marina Habe, everything must be taken with a grain of salt. The Manson Family and Incubus curses aside, her story is a dark one that seems to have uncorked all sorts of evils in its wake.

Whoever killed Marina Habe on that dark New Year’s Eve of 1968 is possibly still out there, or has died unpunished. But her story lives on, and that of so many other women whose lives were claimed in the crazed frenzy of late 1960s L.A.

The Wild Life and Sad End of Arnella Flynn

Arnella Roma Flynn was the free-spirited youngest daughter of Errol Flynn, consummate Hollywood star and libertine of the 1930s. She inherited her father’s glamorous good looks, and his penchant for alcohol, drugs and partying. This led to an early demise for the both of them.

When Arnella was born on Christmas in 1953, her father was already 44 years old and had a grand total of 4 children by 3 different women. His crazy lifestyle had started to take a toll on his health, but he refused to yield to old age. He was nicknamed the Tasmanian Devil for good reason: after he was barred from drinking on set, he injected vodka into oranges and consumed them during filming. He was incorrigible, and also known as a sexual pervert and opium addict to top it all off.

Arnella’s mother was the reserved and picture-perfect Patrice Wymore, an American actress almost 20 years Errol’s junior. She cut her career short in 1953 when Arnella was born, to care for her new baby- and her alcoholically destroyed husband.

Errol, Patrice, Sean and Arnella

Errol was content with his new wife at first. He described Patrice as:

“attractive, warm and wholesome… She could cook Indian curry, she could dance, she could sing, she was reserved, she had beauty, dignity… homebody qualities that go toward making a sensible and lasting marriage. She typified everything that I was not. Nobody ever tried harder than Pat to make me happy.”

Apparently, he had to break off an engagement to a Romanian princess in order to marry Patrice. Errol had his housekeeper inform the princess via phone call.

The marital bliss would not last, due to Errol’s roving lecherous eye. When Arnella was just a few years old, her father left the family for his 15-year old girlfriend Beverly Aadland. Patrice and Errol separated, but never officially divorced. He died of heart failure in 1959, when Arnella was 6. Errol’s chaotic, drug-and-alcohol-infused, womanizing life was cut short prematurely.

Mother and daughter

With such an absent and infamous father, Arnella never stood a chance. Her attorney claimed that:

“One of the problems Arnella had growing up was that everyone around her knew her father, but she didn’t. She had a lot of problems to cope with growing up. And having this famous father you don’t even know hanging over you is not easy.”

The extended Flynn family was no stranger to tragedy either. Her older stepbrother Sean mysteriously disappeared in Cambodia in 1970, while covering the Vietnam War as a journalist. He was never heard from again. Arnella was said to have always spoken of him fondly and missed him very much.

In 1942, Errol went sailing on his beloved luxury yacht, the Zaca. During a storm, he washed ashore on Port Antonio, Jamaica. He fell in love with the island nation immediately, calling the landscape “more beautiful than any woman I have ever known. When God created Eden, this is what He was aiming at.” He bought Navy Island, a hotel resort, and a 2,000 acre plantation where he grew coconuts and raised cattle.

Errol on the Zaca

When Errol died, the savvy Patrice struggled to take control of his paradisaical Jamaican estates. She wanted to remove her daughter from the chaotic world of L.A. paparazzi and media hounds and give her a “more enduringly satisfactory way of life.”

Patrice was also worried about Arnella’s love of partying and hard living, which must have set off alarm bells that recalled her late husband. She said of her daughter: “I had to get her away from Sunset Strip and all its temptations. She was in danger of becoming a flower child.” Her hippie days in L.A. came to an end.

At the age of 13, Arnella went to live on the placid, tropical, crystal-blue shores of Jamaica. Her mother was an intelligent businesswoman who opened up her own boutiques and gift shops, and managed the hotel and farmed the plantation at considerable profit margins. Their life in Jamaica was, quite surprisingly, simple and free of modern degeneracy: Patrice refused to own a telephone or TV until the 1980s.

Gorgeous Port Antonio

None of this placidity could subdue the energetic teenage Arnella, who had a penchant for chugging Jamaican white rum down raw, and smoking the marijuana that grew plentifully along the islands. She also enjoyed athletic activities like water skiing, boating, collecting seashells and swimming.

When she was 18, Arnella went to London and New York to become a model. She was blonde, thin, beautiful and looked the part, and it was easy to nab contracts through Flynn family connections. She grew close to her stepsister Rory, who was also a model. She married a photographer named Carl Stoecker, and in 1976, they had a son named Luke who, you guessed it, went on to become a model.

The marriage dissipated, and Arnella grew disillusioned with the hustle-bustle of the big city. It was time to return to Jamaica, and to live in tropical peace. Or was it?

Arnella in Vogue Paris, 1974

Upon her return, Arnella partied like her life depended on it. Along with rum and weed, she took on cocaine, which she soon became uncontrollably addicted to. Her friend circle consisted of laid back Rastafarians, who were content to party with her, but advised her to lay off the white powder.

Her friend Anthon recalled her fondly:

“She was one of us, man. She preferred to spend her time here than with the others. She was cool like that. She was one of the best people. She was flexible. When she was with us, she talked like a Jamaican, but when she was with the others she talked like an American. She wasn’t stuck up; she wasn’t all high and mighty. She loved the Rasta. She loved the long hair. She had several Rasta boyfriends. That was her thing. 

But she was our friend too. We tried to stop her from doing the coke, but you can’t stop doing that stuff until you die. I shared smoke with her, but none of the coke. That stuff messes with your head.”

Arnella became an aimless beach bum, with no concern for commerce or career. Her mother was ashamed, and wanted her to get a grip on her life and raise her son Luke, which she had been relegated to doing since Arnella was unfit herself.

But the demons that were plaguing her would not let go. She would destroy herself just as her father had. Islanders watched sadly as Arnella stumbled around drunk and high, night and day, with no apparent concern for her own well being. Ironically, even Errol diluted liquor, whereas Arnella would just drink it down straight.

Patrice stopped giving Arnella financial allowances, as she squandered all the money away on cocaine. She was banished from the main property to a smaller plot on the island. Arnella began growing carrots and tomatoes, which she sold to tourists for drug money. When that floundered, she stole coconuts from her mother’s plantation to fund her addiction. The girl who was raised as Hollywood royalty was now relegated to petty thievery.

By 1998, only 3 years after she officially moved back to Jamaica, Arnella was washed up and near death. An islander named Doris Brady mourned how “she used to be such a pretty girl, but at the end she was just a bag of bones. She looked like an old woman, older than her mum.” Errol suffered from the same issue: by the end of his life, his addictions had left him looking horribly aged and like a mere shadow of his former self.

Arnella on the cover of Oui magazine, 1982

Patrice tried using “tough love” tactics on her daughter, but it was to no avail. Arnella’s Rastafarian boyfriend Willard Hearne was concerned about her, but nobody could help. He called Arnella:

“a very sweet girl, but she had a lot of problems. It is a shame she and her mother couldn’t get along. Just days before she died, Arnella got a letter from her mother’s attorney telling her she had to leave the estate, she was being kicked out. She told me she was sad because she had nowhere to go. Then three days later she was dead. I’ll miss her.”

Arnella was discovered dead in her bed by horrified plantation workers on Sept. 21, 1998. She was only 44. Her body was completely emaciated. The remains were flown back to L.A., to be buried next to her father at Hollywood Hills cemetery. Arnella and Errol now rest in peace together under the sun.

After his death, Errol’s teenage girlfriend Beverly claimed that he hated California, and had always wanted to be buried in the lush Jamaican tropics. Arnella seemed to have had the same love affair with Jamaica as well.

Said Errol in his autobiography: “My dream of happiness — a quiet spot by the Jamaican seashore, looking out over the ocean, hearing the wind sob with the beauty and tragedy of everything…”

Though they had not spent much time together in life, Arnella and her father were connected by obscure threads of fate. Many say that addiction is passed along genetically. This was never more true and tragic than in this case. Despite having it all, this father and daughter gave up and sedated themselves to death.

Jean Spangler’s Eerie 1940s Hollywood Disappearance

It was October. 7, 1949, and 26-year old actress and model Jean Spangler was living out her last known day on earth. After this, she would vanish like a mirage, without a trace. She left behind a mystery more tangled than a film noir plot.

Jean asked her sister-in-law Sophie to babysit her five-year old daughter while she went out that evening. It was 5 pm in autumn L.A., and the sun was setting on the city of dreams. Where was Jean going?

Jean claimed she was meeting her ex-husband Dexter Benner, to discuss an increase in child support payments. One can imagine he wasn’t too happy with that. Their marriage had ended in a messy divorce three years earlier, with a dramatic custody battle in which Dexter declared Jean an “unfit mother,” and threatened to take her daughter away from her forever.

Jean cries during her 1948 custody battle

She was known to be a party girl who ran in a rough crowd of mobsters, wannabe bit-part players, and Hollywood B-list stars. Jean was like a slightly more successful Elizabeth Short, although they both shared the same jet-black hair, sea-blue eyes and ambition for stardom. And they would both have their lives snuffed out much too early.

Before Jean’s disappearance, actor and friend Robert Cummings had claimed she had told him “I have a new romance,” and when asked if it was serious, she had said “Not really, but I’m having the time of my life.” Jean was known to be terrible at choosing men, as every relationship she had would end in financial, legal or physically violent disaster.

Later on, stumped detectives would complain how “The only thing we’ve been able to find out, is that this girl really got around.” 

Even more troubling, Jean was believed to be three months pregnant before she vanished. And she was not ready to deal with another child. Her friends had claimed she was searching for a doctor to perform a back-alley abortion, as the procedure was illegal at the time.

The troubled girl originally from grim Seattle, who wormed her way into glamorous L.A. and Hollywood supporting roles, could not steer clear of dangerous men. There would be far too many suspects in this case, and far too few answers.

Two hours after Jean left home that cool autumn evening, she phoned Sophie and let her know she would be coming home late because she was filming on a movie set. Later on into the investigation, the Screen Extra’s Guild would inform police that they had found no evidence she was working that night.

The last confirmed appearance of Jean was at a farmer’s market near her home at 6 pm. An employee said Jean appeared to be waiting for someone. Her whereabouts afterwards remain a mystery.

Sophie grew alarmed when Jean didn’t return home the next morning, and reported her disappearance to the police.

Jean’s discarded purse was soon found in a park 9 km from her home, with the straps nearly torn off, indicating some sort of violent force. Her body would never be found, and she seemed to have vanished into thin air.

The purse with the broken straps

In her purse was a cryptic note:

“Kirk: Can’t wait any longer, Going to see Dr. Scott. It will work best this way while mother is away.”

Police took this to mean that Jean was aborting the baby of a man named Kirk, and Dr. Scott was the abortionist she had snuck away to see that night. Or it was a bizarre Star Trek reference.

Her mother had gone away to visit family in Kentucky at the time, but other family members were still present at the home. It seemed absurd to think that she would’ve been able to hide a bloody and messy illicit abortion from her mother, daughter, sister-in-law, and brother.

The theories of what happened to disappearing Jean are as follows:

No# 1. The killer was Kirk Douglas, alleged to have a mean streak towards women (read about his supposed rape of Natalie Wood). Jean had a bit part in Young Man with a Horn, a corny 1950 musical starring Kirk, Lauren Bacall, Doris Day, and Hoagy Carmichael. She was on her way up, climbing the map of stars, but somebody would tear her down.

Kirk claimed to not have known Jean, then later recanted that they had talked a bit on set. Jean’s mother claimed a man named Kirk had once picked her daughter up from home, but had chosen to wait in his car rather than come inside. Many claim the coincidence in name was too odd to be true, as how many women out there get down with a Kirk? Perhaps they had a secret affair, and things went sour when he found out she was pregnant.

Kirk Douglas and Lauren Bacall on the set of Young Man with a Horn

2. Ex-husband Dexter Benner and his new wife Lynn had killed Jean due to her requesting more ample child support payments, and for being a hindrance in general for the couple. Lynn was supposed to be a friend of mobster Mickey Cohen, and Dex was still bitter about having lost custody of his daughter. This makes for a toxic formula.

Jean had also cheated on Dexter with a man named Scotty during their marriage, which caused the couple to divorce. Dex could have been holding a humiliation and rage-fueled grudge for this, and finally exploded in violence. However, Lynn covered for Dexter and gave him an alibi, saying they were together when Jean’s disappearance occurred.

3. Scotty, the man Jean had an affair with. Like in the plot of From Here to Eternity, Jean had met Scotty while her husband was stationed in the army in the South Pacific.

Spurned ex-husband Dexter Benner

He was said to be a tall and handsome air corps lieutenant, who was much better at giving her a good time than her stuffy manufacturer businessman husband. Jean seemed to have only married Dexter for the financial stability he had given her, and looked for excitement outside of the marriage.

The tropical romance with Scotty had turned violent, and he eventually beat Jean and gave her a black eye. Scotty threatened to kill her if she ever left him. This was the last straw for Jean, and she ended the affair. Scotty’s lawyer claimed they hadn’t spoken since 1945. Some suspect the “Scott” in the note is damning evidence, but the lieutenant was nowhere close to being a doctor.

4. The suspicious “Dr. Scott” mentioned in the letter was an abortionist Jean had gone to see that night. The risky procedure went wrong, and Jean had died, causing the doctor to panic and dump her body somewhere secret. The police were never able to find this elusive suspect, or any other abortionist or doctor who they could link to Jean.

The infamous note

5. Mobsters had killed Jean. She was romantically linked to gangster Davy Ogul, who himself disappeared two days after Jean had. He was the henchman of mob boss Mickey Cohen, ironically also a friend of her ex-husband’s wife. Some say he had turned against his former boss, and planned to testify against him in court. Months after Jean’s disappearance, a hotel clerk would claim she saw her in the company of Davy and other mob men in Texas.

Despite all these leads, police could not piece together any coherent resolution. The case was more muddled than a Raymond Chandler noir novel, and even worse, no more physical evidence was found after the discovery of Jean’s purse and the brief note.

Police search for Jean’s remains at Griffith Park

Dexter gained custody of the couple’s daughter Christine after his wife’s vanishing, though Jean’s mother attempted to gain visitation rights. Defying court orders, Dexter and Lynn took the girl to Florida and never returned.

As for Jean’s mother, she said about her daughter “I’m sure she would have communicated with us if she was alive and free. And nobody can tell me she’d have left her baby unless she was forced to.”

Mother Florence mourns her daughter

The case went stone cold, and no more useful evidence was discovered after 1950. Some even claim she was murdered by the same unknown killer who had taken the life of the Black Dahlia a few years earlier. The dark-haired beauties remain symbols of lost dreams in the nightmarish and crime-filled landscapes of 1940s L.A.

Jean was the prototypical Old Hollywood starlet searching for fame and fortune on the silver screen, but instead she sunk down into the harrowing and hellish depths of tinseltown, and was mostly likely kidnapped, murdered, and disposed of by a cruel individual. And so what else could have been said by 1949 newspapers other than this: Jean Spangler has vanished and we will never see her beautiful black and white silhouette onscreen as a lead.

Jean’s five year-old daughter Christine would never see her mom again

How the Black Dahlia Became a Gruesome 1940s Beauty Icon

 Elizabeth Short AKA The Black Dahlia was a gorgeous young woman found murdered in an empty lot in Los Angeles in January of 1947, at the age of 22. She was naked, bruised, severed in half at the waist, and mutilated. Her face had been cut ear to ear in a hauntingly perverse Glasgow smile. She had been beaten, tortured and possibly raped. Horrific photos of the crime scene and autopsy are plastered rather distastefully across the internet.

 Even during her time, the media was captivated by her. They quickly picked up on the fact that the young girl was an aspiring actress, and endlessly reported on her many love affairs and striking looks. The American news press couldn’t get enough of her. The fame that Short had desired in her lifetime had only come to her in death, and it had become a national morbid obsession.

An alluring mugshot of Beth taken in 1943. She had been nabbed for underage drinking at a bar.

 People who knew her described her luscious mane of black hair, her stunning blue eyes, her mysterious and charismatic presence, and of course, her immaculate sense of style and penchant for dark, heavy makeup. The Black Dahlia quickly became a bizarre and disturbing 1940s fashion icon.

Short’s friend Lauretta recalled “how Beth was drawn to the unusual, such as the brooch she wore in the shape of a large black flower with a sterling silver Egyptian face in the center. When asked where it came from, Beth just smiled and wouldn’t say.” – From“Severed: The True Story of the Black Dahlia Murder” by John Gilmore.

Other passages from Severed continue to depict Short’s penchant for beautiful and strange personal effects: “Once she showed Lauretta an ivory colored cigarette case in the shape of two clasped hands, which she used to keep business cards in. ‘She was unusual wherever she went, and for Hollywood, especially at that time, that’s a bold statement.’

Lauretta also recalled giving a fine piece of lingerie to Beth: ‘She adored black lace. Elizabeth was of the night. She was of the dark…’” 

By all descriptions, Short looked and acted like a film noir heroine. She was mysterious with everyone she knew, and refused to divulge intimate secrets even to lovers or friends. Nobody was ever truly close to her. She was cool, attractive and impossible to get to know.

Veronica Lake in The Blue Dahlia

It’s also worth noting that her “Black Dahlia” nickname was ascribed to her after the 1946 Alan Ladd film noir The Blue Dahlia, starring the similarly tragic and femme fatale-ish Veronica Lake.

Short wanted to break into Hollywood badly, and was an avid fan of film who went to watch movies in theaters whenever she could fork up the money for it. It’s possible that one dark and lurid L.A. night, she could’ve walked by a poster for The Blue Dahlia plastered on a wall by some lonesome alley, and thought: Will this ever be me someday? Will I see my name on the marquee? She had yet to know her name would be scrawled across newspapers for something much more terrifying.

And now, let’s take a look at Short’s make up routine.

 Crime historian Joan Renner described how:

  “rather than following the post-war vogue for a natural looking makeup, Elizabeth Short used a heavy hand to create a dramatic contrast between her complexion and her hair color. If anything, her look leaned more towards Goth girl than glamour girl.“

I’m seeing a little Siouxsie Sioux in her

 Short’s roommate Linda Rohr, who worked in the Rouge Room at Max Factor, stated that:

  she was always going out and she loved to prowl the boulevard. She had pretty blue eyes but sometimes overdid with makeup an inch thick. She dyed her brown hair black, and then red again.”


She also said Short’s makeup was startling, “like a geisha… The way she fusses over details and spends three times as long as anyone I know with her makeup. I can come and go and she’s still in the bathroom putting on her face.” 

Beth and her handsome army beau Matthew Michael Gordon, Jr.
He would die in a plane crash in 1945 less than a week before the end of WWII. Beth never forgot him.

Short’s roommates did not appreciate the immense amount of time she would take getting ready in the bathroom, but her dates sure did. Men would come knocking on the door late at night asking for her, while she hid inside and pretended not to hear.

 One of Short’s most fabulous beauty secrets was using candle wax on her teeth to fill in cavities and to make her teeth shine, since she could not afford dental work. She was constantly broke and had to rely on the kindness of others to stay stylish and camera ready.

Beth in front of what seems to be a poster for the 1943 film adaption of Elvira Madigan

The brutal Black Dahlia murder symbolizes the loss of innocence and beauty in 1940s L.A. (just as Sharon Tate’s murder at the hands of the psychotic Manson family did for the 1960s), and has become a sort of myth or legend. Underneath the evil of her murder, there was just a unique and fascinating young woman trying to make it in a literal cutthroat industry, which took her life too soon. We are left only with the mystery of what could have been, and with pictures and stories of the 22 year old’s hypnotic beauty and grace.

Jean Wallace: Hollywood Starlet Gone Bad

  Jean Wallace was a 1940s film actress who led a troubled and wild life. She was born to Polish parents in Chicago, but after graduating high school she moved to Hollywood and married sleazy actor Franchot Tone. He was 36 and she was 18.

 They stayed married for 7 years and had 2 sons together, but the marriage was unhappy and rife with infidelity. In 1946, Jean attempted suicide with sleeping pills. She claimed Tone was “jealous and violent,” and he claimed she was having sex with mobsters. The following year, she would dye her hair opalescent pink.

Jean and Franchot in a rare moment of bliss

 In 1949, she attempted suicide by stabbing her abdomen with a 14 inch knife after Christmas shopping with her sons. When asked why, Jean said “I just did it for laughs.” Then on Christmas eve, Jean crashed her car because Tone did not invite her over. 

 Jean claimed that police at the scene told her, “If you had been a nice girl to us we wouldn’t have arrested you,” and requested sexual favors from her. The police in turn complained that Jean had flashed her “black lace panties” at them. Jean claimed they were incorrect and that her panties “were actually blue.” 

  After 2 additional failed marriages, she gave up on men and lived in Beverly Hills with her pets: two snakes, a Chihuahua, a parrot, two rabbits, a tarantula, and a duck. She died alone in her home in 1990, at the age of 66.