“I would prefer that the story of my love for Stephen Boyd not be told. It inspires me today, and it hurts me today. It was so difficult, strange, beautiful and sad that I can hardly bear to think of it.” (Marisa Mell from “Cover Love”, 1990)
Stephen Boyd’s whirlwind romance and marriage with actress Marisa Mell had elements of the truly bizarre and mystical in it, including exorcisms, a gypsy ritual blood exchange and reincarnation.
Where to begin? This story begins in 1971, an era steeped in all sorts of social occult phenomena. “There has always been a current of magic and mysticism under the mainstream of Western culture…for a few years in the 1960’s and early seventies this exploded into a fully fledged ‘occult revival’, involving some of the most famous people in the world, like the Beatles.” (“Turn off Your Mind; the Mystic Sixties and the Dark Side of the Age of Aquarius” by Gary Valentine Lachman) The sixties saw it all, from drugs to rock n roll to magicians to Charles Manson. In Lachman’s preface he explains that by the late 1960’s, magical ideas and the occult had reached an unprecedented audience through all forms of media.
“Marta”, a lush, Giallo film which starred Stephen Boyd and Marisa Mell, was filmed in Spain in late 1970. Marisa Mell recalls first seeing Boyd when they met to begin the filming of the picture, and she felt immediately attracted to him, as if she had known him from before. Boyd was reluctant to engage Mell during this time. As she was desperately trying to begin an affair with him, he was cold and dodged her attempts. The hooks were already set, but Boyd was not willing to acquiesce to Mell’s more than obvious attempts to seduce him. He was friendly and professional above all. Amidst all of this underlying tension, Mell and Boyd were called upon to act out a few very intense, graphic love scenes for the film. According to Mell, it was torture. She longed for Boyd, but yet he would not succumb to her charms off-screen.
After the movie was over, Mell and Boyd were apart for about 6 months. When they were reunited for their next film, “The Great Swindle”, Boyd was now interested in pursuing Mell, who was still hurt from his previous rejections. Boyd was gentle and persistent, according to Mell’s account, wooing her with flowers and dinner dates. Eventually on one of these dinner dates, Boyd invited her back to his apartment, and then the love affair began in true earnest. Mell was a stunning beauty and Boyd had always seemed to fall for exotic brunettes. But this relationship was far beyond a whim. After years of enjoying bachelorhood, Stephen Boyd suddenly proposed to Marisa Mell after the first night they spent together. Mell describes a whirlwind marriage in a gypsy camp, including horse carriages, a bonfire, singing, dancing and a blood exchange between her and Boyd as their wrists were cut and pressed together to seal their bond as husband and wife. She also describes how they both became obsessive about each other afterwards, spirituality intertwined to the point of being inseparable. It is a heart wrenching account to read. After the “Great Swindle” was a wrap, the two actors didn’t even stick around to complete the English overdubs. They immediately left for Rome. Once there we can assume they stayed in Mell’s Rome apartment for several weeks.
At some point, concerned that their obsessive passion was somehow ‘evil’, Mell and Boyd took a trip up to a small Italian town called Sarsina. It was here they tried to expel the ‘evil’ from their relationship by partaking in the local cult exorcism ritual of St. Vicinius. This involved wearing a mystical metal collar around their necks and receiving a blessing from the priest. This type of blessing is used to free people from ‘evil spirits’.
“Perhaps you smile today over such hocus-pocus. At that time I felt is was not ridiculous, although I see myself as a clear-headed woman. But my connection to Stephen just had something very mystical, inscrutable in itself, and he felt the same way. Sometimes love is like a deadly disease, sometimes it makes you feel that you are damned for all eternity.” (Marisa Mell, “Cover Love”, 1990)
To explain the Sarsina visit and the ‘collar blessing’ which Boyd and Mell partook in, you can read more about the cult of St. Vicinius here.
Pilgrims visit a church in Italy where a priest puts the relic on them and says a prayer. ‘You feel protected from the forces of evil,’ one says. ….In rural, Roman Catholic Italy, many people remain very religious, and very superstitious. The two belief systems coexist, tightly intertwined and surprisingly complementary.The cult that has emerged here in Sarsina, a town in the hills between Tuscany and the northern Adriatic Sea, centers on the metal collar. Legend has it that St. Vicinus, bishop in Sarsina around AD 300, used it first as a form of self-castigation when he prayed. It resembles a shackle that might be used on a slave. He would put it around his neck attached to a heavy stone to focus his mind in penitence. Eventually he began to use it to ward off evil spirits. St. Vicinus became one of the church’s early exorcists, and the fame of the collar and its purported powers have endured. (The one used now is not said to be St. Vicinus’ original but is believed to date to the 8th or 9th century, roughly the same time the church was built.)
Stephen Boyd was into his share of mystical religions and peripheral interests, including Scientology and astrology. From even as far back as 1957 he used to consult a clairvoyant in London concerning his film choices and life decisions. “I am superstitious, though, even to the point of having a clairvoyant in London to whom I turn for suggestions. This man usually contacts me every week…He’s an amazing person who is incredibly right most of the time.” (Stardom Magazine Stephen Boyd Interview, 1960)
Stephen was also attuned to astrology, which attracted his interest in in the mid-1960’s. “I’m Cancer, and Leo rising, and if you want to get a clue to my character you must read up on Cancer and Leo and combine the two…I take it quite seriously. We Cancers tend to attract strong people. We open our arms to them, and then strangle and crush them. They can’t breathe….The Water is Cancer, see. It embraces the key, but the key can’t breathe.” (1967 El Paso Herald Post Stephen Boyd interview)
Marisa Mell herself was a Pisces (a water sign like Cancer), and also very in touch with astrology. “I believe in astrology but I don’t need it…It ruins your nerves if you take it daily.” (Marisa Mell Daily Press Interview, Oct 8, 1967) Mirko di Wallenberg, a blogger who has intensely studied Marisa Mell’s life, shared this: “Marisa was very religious by upbringing, less during her career, but picked it up again when she came back to Austria after her career ended in Rome. She was very into spiritual things like hand reading, parapsychology, fortune telling, talking to the deceased… and even at the end of her life she became a follower of Sai Baba; she hoped that this would turn her life around and when she became sick with throat cancer hoped to be healed by him.”
Marisa Mell getting her palm read. Above photos courtesy Mirko di Wallenberg. Visit Mirko’s amazing Marisa Mell blog
Apparently the exorcism did not work as Boyd and Mell had hoped. In fact, Stephen Boyd became physically ill and feverish because of the intensity of their ‘passion’, as Mell explained it. He literally picked up his bags one day and walked out the door in order to extricate himself from the relationship. Mell begged him to stay, but to no avail. Boyd hopped on a plane to Belfast and she never saw him again.
Marisa Mell, in early 1972, after Boyd’s departure, had this to say about the break-up of their relationship. It was not your usual explanation. “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.” (The Akron Beacon Journal, June 16, 1972)
Marisa Mell was so overpowered by her brief relationship with Boyd that she dedicated an entire chapter about it in her autobiography, “Cover Love”. I am indebted to Mirko di Wallenberg who runs a fabulous Marisa Mell blog for sending me this chapter. You can read the full account here.
To compound the mysticism of this relationship, Marisa Mell would end her chapter about Boyd in the 1990 autobiography “Cover Love” by saying that after Boyd’s death in 1977, she could feel his spirit speaking to her from another place. Considering the bizarre and occult nature of this love affair, you have to consider the possibility of this. It seems Marisa Mell and Stephen Boyd were destined for each other, but tragically could only find a very brief interlude together in this lifetime.
Above three photos by Frontoni, Angelo
Above photo by Gianni Ferrari during filming of Marta, 1971
Stephen Boyd, obviously aglow during his brief love affair with actress Marisa Mell.