One of the questions that regularly pops up on European Cinema Boards concerns the tragic story behind the death of Austrian actor William Berger. Berger, of course, is a cult favourite nowadays, thanks to his appearences in Sabat, Sartana and so on. Well.. the facts, as far as I’ve been able to ascertain, are as follows:
On the night of the 4th August 1970, in the course of an antidrug operation in the Neapolitan area William Berger lived with his wife, Carolyn Lobravico – also an actress – the police broke into their villa, where there were seven guests, and discovered half a gram of hashish. Berger swore he didn’t know where it had come from. The actor, with his long hair, rebellious attitude and extravagent nature, argued that the Neapolitan police must have done it in order to incriminate him and his guests, so much so that both he and his wife were taken to recover in a criminal hospital in Pozzuoli, despite there being no concrete proof of their guilt, of their mental instability and, more importantly, despite the fact that Carolyn was suffering from hepatitis.
In the asylum, William was seperated from Carolyn, who began suffering from terrible abdominal pain, but it was decided not to make a surgical intervention because it was thought she was suffering from a minor condition. It was soon clear the condition was getting worse and, when the doctors decided that there was nothing much more they could do, the decision was made to hospitalise Carolyn in a ward for the terminally ill. Berger – escorted by a squadron of policemen – was only able to see her on the 9th october, by which time she was in terrible agony and close to death, for a harrowing farewell.
The autopsy, requested after an outcry from certain quarters of the press, was able to clarify the cause of death of young Carolyn as acute peritonitis, but nothing was posted after the intervention of the police. Berger, meanwhile, was transferred to a prison in Salerno, from which he would only be released in March 1971. He refused to follow the advise of his lawyer, that he should blame his dead wife for the crime of which he was accused. In this dark period, distributors with neither feelings or scruples took the film La lama nel corpo out of storage; the film, in which Berger played a doctor suspected of homicide, was released with a cruel new publicity tag: ‘Berger, innocent or guity?’.
I have a long document about the whole case, a report on the police investigation into the whole farrago, but I haven’t had the opportunity to translate it into Italian. If anyone want me to mail them a copy, just ask… Carolyn Lobravico, by the way, had just appeared in Mario Caiano’s very strange Ombre rovente alongside her husband.