Laura Gemser bites off more than she can chew in z-grade zombie epic.
Finally! We've learned that the Italian poster artist who signed his work Aller was a man named Carlo Alessandrini, and we owe that information to a new book by Roberto Curti called Italian Gothic Horror Films 1970-1979. Above you see Alessandrini's work for the Laura Gemser sexploitation flick Le notti erotiche dei morti viventi, aka Sexy Nights of the Living Dead. Gemser started in erotica in 1974, and as the years wore on she basically traded on her name and did less and less actual performing, appearing in several films in little more than cameo roles. In this one she secures top billing for not showing up until the thirty-three minute mark, and not uttering a line of dialogue until probably forty minutes in.
Plotwise, a sailor takes a greedy gringo developer and his prostie companion to a deserted island where the American wants to build the finest resort in the Caribbean. The place is called Cat Island and whenever anyone mentions it to the locals who live on nearby islands they run out of the room. To normal people this would be a strong non-endorsement concerning travel to Cat Island, but such blatant hints are lost on lunkheads in horror movies. So a-boating they go. When the developer announces his plan to pave over the old island cemetery to build a heliport you just know he's sticking his dick somewhere he's likely to lose it—Gemser's mouth (see below). Her army of zombies are equally opposed to gentrification, and lodge their protests by chasing the living all over the place. But all is not lost. As the hero explains at one point: “The advantage we have is that they move at a snail's pace.”
So does the movie. One plus is that it was made primarily on beautiful beaches in the Dominican Republic, and several scenes were shot in Santo Domingo, which is interesting to see pre-tourist era. Another plus is that there's wall to wall sex featuring such beauties as Dirce Funari, who's the real star of the movie, and Lucia Ramirez. The unrated version goes all the way, and even treats viewers to a Tijuana donkey show-worthy routine involving a stripper and a Champagne bottle. None of the X action includes Gemser, who was strictly softcore her entire career, though her nudity is more explicit than usual here. Basically, it's all just as dumb as it sounds, but we'll admit it's accidentally funny in parts, which helps. Le notti erotiche dei morti viventi premiered in Italy today in 1980.
Schubert runs into trouble Nero and far.
Shot in the Dominican Republic, Il pavone nero is one of those voodoo and sex cocktails that were popular in international b-cinema during the 1970s. In fact, its English title is Voodoo Sexy, which tells you everything you need to know, just in case the promo poster doesn't. Other examples from this fertile genre discussed here on Pulp Intl. include Porno Shock, aka Voodoo Passion, and Al tropico del cancro, aka Tropic of Cancer. And of course queen b Laura Gemser had a few run-ins with santería as well.
In Il pavone nero an Italian engineer goes to Santo Domingo to help build a dam. His wife—the lovely Karin Schubert—surprises him in his hotel after he thought he'd left her in Italy. It's the first of many surprises. Rather than stay in the hotel the couple opt to inhabit an isolated beach shack on the border with Haiti, a domicile that was occupied by the previous dam engineer, who inexplicably disappeared. Uh oh. This is a classic case of thumbing one's nose at fate.
We quickly find that ethnic Haitians in the region are against the dam, and that voodoo rites are their weapon of choice to prevent its construction. But their leader Balaga, played by U.S. actor, musician, and sexploitation go-to voodoo guy Don Powell, carves out a little time from his resistance activities to pursue Schubert, possibly drawn by her astounding whitegirl afro. She in turn is drawn by the local santería rituals, which involve a bit of chicken chopping—poor chickens—and some humping of the fully explicit variety, depending on which version of the film you watch. Though Schubert would later delve into porn, her scenes here were performed by a body double.
Il pavone nero ends with the arrest of the voodoo environmentalists, which means the dam is no longer in danger. Can't stop progress, after all. There may be an environmental message buried in this film, or an anti-colonial message, or a racial harmony message, or even a spiritual message, but those are all secondary to the real point—for audiences to enjoy some vanilla Schubert getting freaky with the locals. The movie delivers ample opportunities, as you can see in the promo images below. Also, there's a cockfight. There's always a cockfight. Poor chickens. Il pavone nero premiered in Italy today in 1975.
Confidential dishes dirt but tries not to cross the line.
Confidential gives Kim Novak the cover and Lili St Cyr the inset on an issue published this month in 1965. Inside, the editors offer readers mostly lukewarm rehash, as was Confidential’s usual approach during its fangless mid-1960’s years, but there are also a few interesting tidbits. We learn that Lili St. Cyr took more than thirty Nembutals during her 1958 suicide attempt, yet still managed to survive though as few as three pills can be fatal. Ramfis Trujillo’s wild Parisian parties are detailed, including the time he and his entourage shot up the lobby of the Hotel George V. And we find out that Frank Sinatra paid a $400 fine in Spain for disturbing the peace when he blew up after a woman threw a drink on him.
But make no mistake—the once mighty Confidential was walking on eggshells after being on the wrong end of some costly lawsuits. Maverick owner Robert Harrison had sold the magazine to Hy Steirman, who realized the easiest way to avoid litigation was to take on targets that either wouldn’t fight back or couldn’t be bothered to care. Ramfis Trujillo, for example, was a mass-murderer and likely found articles about his crazed partying flattering. Thailand’s dictator Sarit Thanarat is also slammed in this issue, and you can bet he gave less than a shit about the write-up—if he was even aware of it. Editors sling mud at Marilyn Monroe, who was dead. Amorphous group targets, like the “limp wrist set,” the Mafia, real estate swindlers, and escaped Nazis make up the rest of the subject matter.
But even if Confidential wasn’t kicking ass and taking names in 1965, its visuals were still quite nice, with those impactful black, white and red graphics, and that super hip language that’s so much of its time but which is still amazing to read today. Try this on for size: “Call the men in the white coats and get the whacky wagon rolling, your favorite swinging correspondent is ready for Flipsville!” We’re always ready for Flipsville, and we’re always ready for mid-century tabloids, too. How many of these do we have left in our collection? You wouldn’t believe us if we told you. We’d sell some, but how could we possibly part with them? We’re stuck with them. And so are you. Twenty-plus scans below.
No matter how far we run the strings of our history are still attached.
How times have changed. Could one of the most brutal killers in the world openly hobnob with the Hollywood set today? We doubt it. But back in the day, a few rumors of murder only bolstered a man’s adventurous reputation, as proved by this November 1958 Whisper showing Rafael “Ramfis” Trujillo, Jr. charming Zsa Zsa Gabor and Kim Novak. One or both women, you may notice, actually appear courtesy an X-acto knife and glue, but what self-respecting tabloid has time to locate a legit photo when paste-up will do the job almost as well? Trujillo did date and bed both Gabor and Novak in real life, which makes this cover technically accurate, and makes him the second most enviable Dominican jet-setter in history.
Ramfis Trujillo reportedly gave most women that frisson some find irresistible, but his life wasn’t all starlets and champagne. Though he wanted nothing more than to be a playboy, there was an obstacle in the form of family baggage. Specifically, his father was a sadistic military dictator who had been put in power in the Dominican Republic by the CIA. Trujillo, Sr. expected his son to continue in the family business. This had been abundantly clear to Ramfis since the day his father made him a full general—with full pay—at age nine. For this and other reasons, he grew up with a warped sense of power and by the time of this Whisper cover had already ordered several murders and indulged in the occasional gang rape. He might have been considered a classic chip off the old block, save for rumors that Ramfis’s father was actually a Cuban named Rafael Dominicis—hence the “illegitimate dastard” tag in the banner. But the story about Ramfis being illegitimate was strongly denied by everyone involved (except Dominicis, who “disappeared”).
In any case, through the late fifties Ramfis tomcatted his way from Hollywood to Paris, and only occasionally let his urbane manner slip to reveal someone considerably less charming beneath. He seemed to have settled into his chosen lifestyle permanently when he married an actress named Lita Milan, below, who had starred opposite Paul Newman inThe Left-Handed Gun. But back in the Dominican, the impulsive Rafael Trujillo, Sr. was behaving less and less like the good lap dog the CIA had put in charge three decades earlier. Eventually, his U.S. benefactors turned against him and he died in a fusillade of possibly CIA-arranged bullets.
Junior succumbed to the pull of familial duty, as well as the desire for revenge, and flew back to the Dominican to restore order. This involved personally killing some of the participants in his father’s assassination. While this must have given him great satisfaction, it did little to stabilize the country. Under pressure from both internal enemies and the U.S., Ramfis Trujillo fled to Spain less than a year later with a casket containing millions in cash, jewels, bonds, and his father. By 1969 he was dead too, due to complications stemming from an automobile accident. In the end he presents an interesting question of nature versus nurture, i.e. was he meant to be a ladykiller, a real killer, or both?
He had a lot in common with the guy on those Dos Equis commercials, except he was real.
Today we’re back to the top dog of classic tabloids, the always-titillating Confidential. The above issue is from fifty-five years ago this month, July 1954, and as always the cover promises scandalous inside scoop—this time on champs, presidents, and filthy rich heiresses. But it’s the unassuming banner on the Rubirosa murder case that interests us, because it refers to none other than Porfirio Rubirosa, and if you’ve never heard of him, then prepare yourself to meet (cue grandiose flamenco chords) The Most Interesting Man in the World.
Rubirosa was born in the Dominican Republic in 1909 but raised in France, where his father, an army general, had scored the chargé d'affaires position at the Dominican consulate in Paris. When the young Rubirosa was seventeen he returned to the Dominican to study law, but enlisted in the military before finishing. In 1932, after a weeklong courtship, he married a seventeen year-old girl named Flor de Oro Trujillo, who happened to be the daughter of mass-murdering military dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina. For normal men, rush-marrying a dictator’s little flower would result in a one-way ticket to the torture chamber, but for the charming Rubirosa it meant a diplomatic post in Berlin.
In 1935, Rubirosa’s cousin, Luis de la Fuente Rubirosa, was accused of assassinating exiled Dominican politician Sergio Bencosme in New York City. It was Rafael Trujillo’s work, but de la Fuente Rubirosa was the triggerman, and Porifirio was suspected of being an accomplice. That’s the murder Confidential references, and if you’re asking yourself why they cared about it nineteen years after the event, it’s because by then Rubirosa was very famous. But we’ll get to that.
Rubirosa had developed passions for polo, racing, gambling, and other expensive upper crust pursuits. He excelled at all of them. Perhaps the only thing he wasn’t good at was fidelity, which led to his divorce from Flor in 1937. But his sheer magnetism—or perhaps the fact that he was a valuable hired gun—kept him in dictator dad’s good graces, and he continued to receive diplomatic posts. When World War II swept across Europe, Rubirosa made a stack of money selling Dominican exit visas to fleeing Jews. At some point the Gestapo imprisoned him, but he was released after six months. After that, he was allegedly recruited as a political assassin.
In 1942 he met and married the French actress Danielle Darrieux, who you see above. From then on Rubirosa traveled in cinematic circles, which meant a more public profile. A consequence of this was that tidbits of his personal life began to leak out. Suddenly everyone knew he was a great lover, and that he had a penis measuring anywhere from eleven to fourteen inches, depending on whom you believed. After a while the slang term “rubirosa” became popular in France. They used it to refer to the giant pepper grinders in restaurants, and still do to this day.
By now there were open questions about Rubirosa’s racial background. He was very dark, and was often described as “nut brown.” Rumors spread that he was part black—a devastating accusation in the 1940s, and one still used very effectively as a smear even in today’s supposedly post-racial age. But Rubirosa handled the gossip with the panacheyou'd expect from The Most Interesting Man in the World—he never addressed it all, at least not in public. His silence basically amounted to: “So what if I am?” And if the rumors bothered him, he surely derived ample compensation from the fact that legions of female admirers who’d heard about that pepper grinder of his didn’t care.
Because of the ease with which he was able to meet and bed women, Rubirosa found it impossible to remain faithful, even to an elegant beauty like Danielle Darrieux. They divorced in 1947, and the high-profile involvements began to pile up. There was Dolores del Rio, Ava Gardner, Rita Hayworth, Soraya Esfandiary, Veronica Lake, Kim Novak, Doris Duke (who happened to be the richest woman in the world), and Barbara Hutton (who was the second richest woman in the world). He fooled around with his first love Flor during his marriage to Duke, and with Zsa Zsa Gabor during his marriage to Hutton. When Duke divorced him he walked with $500,000, a string of polo ponies, some sports cars, a converted B-25 bomber, and a 17th century house in Paris. When Hutton divorced him—after only five weeks—he added a coffee plantation in the Dominican, another B-25, and $3.5 million to his holdings.
By now he was a professional celebrity. He was friendly with Joe Kennedy, Frank Sinatra, and Sammy Davis, Jr. One night in Paris, after teaching Davis how to properly kiss a woman's hand, the two went out to perfect the technique by flirting with women on the Champs-Élysées. Frank Sinatra once asked Rubirosa, “Rubi, have you ever held a full-timejob?” Rubirosa reportedly answered, “Women are my full-time job.” At some point he met Ian Fleming, and the novice writer came up with the great idea of basing a character on Rubirosa—a certain spy named James Bond.
Rubirosa’s fame made him tabloid fodder, and the scandal sheets dutifully tried to dig up dirt on him. They went back to the racial stuff, and whispered about that nineteen year-old New York murder. But the rumors that he had been an assassin just fed into his growing legend. He seemed to know everything, was one of the boys, one with the girls, and had already done more than most men manage in a lifetime. Truman Capote saw Rubirosa’s cock and rated it eleven inches. A female acquaintance pointed out a size twelve loafer in a shoe store and said Rubi had it beat. Rubirosa partied his way from Hollywood to Rome to Monaco, and wherever he went local women hung around his favorite hotels and bars, hoping to meet him.
He was racing his Ferrari professionally, and competed twice in the 24-hour race at LeMans. He was also looking for a relationship that would last, and in 1956 he married for the fifth time to actress Odile Rodin. She was nineteen and he was 42. He had mellowed—not a lot—but just enough to remain faithful. The marriage seemed to work. He was still boyish and exciting, and his biggest asset—that famous pepper grinder—showed no signs of diminishing with age. He began working on his memoirs. He was still young for that, but he had lived so much.
In 1965 Rubirosa was part of a team that won the Coupe de France polo cup. He spent the night of the victory celebrating at a Paris nightspot called Jimmy’s, then headed home in his Ferrari. The roads werewet, and he was a little drunk. He lost control of the car and died in a fiery crash. The Most Interesting Man in the World was gone—literally burning out rather than fading away. He never finished his memoirs, and today the closest the world has to a Porfirio Rubirosa is a fictional character in a Dos Equis commercial.
More than almost any man of his era, Porfirio Rubirosa represents the lost glamour and mystery of a time that can never be reclaimed. He was the product of a more innocent and refined—yet also crueler—age. Reading about his life is like reading about an event you’d give anything to have witnessed, even if it would have been dangerous to be there. Rumor has it a few Rubirosa-based scripts are floating around Hollywood. Supposedly Antonio Banderas has rights to one, and wants to play the lead role. Maybe it’s a lack of imagination on our part, but we don’t see it. There is no shortage of legends in history, but we can’t think of one whose shoes would be more difficult to fill. As much as we’d like to see a Rubirosa biopic, our advice is this: if it’s better to burn out than to fade away, maybe it’s also better to never try and rekindle the flame.
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