The Sacrifice of Karin Schubert
A golden girl gone blue.
Karin Schubert’s face was made for the camera. With her perfect bone structure, cool demeanor and stunning eyes full of both strength and pain, she looked the epitome of a Hitchcock blonde. She came out of nowhere and sailed high into an international career opposite Richard Burton, Yves Montand and another tragic blonde star, Dalida. She gave fine performances in everything from period dramas to sexploitation classics. After these successes, Schubert shocked audiences when she abruptly moved into hardcore sex films in 1985 before vanishing from the public eye without a trace a decade later.
What would prompt an actress who appeared alongside international superstars to suddenly move into the no-holds-barred world of European pornography? A mid-life crisis? Turning 40 and wanting to feel sexy and desired? Those would be understandable motivations, but the truth is far more basic and twice as heartbreaking. It was the love of a mother for her child that turned a once flourishing film career into one of decline into hardcore sex and mental illness.
Karin Schubert was born in Hamburg, Germany in 1944 and by 1969 had begun a film career in Italy. Her first roles were small parts in saucy comedies (alongside stars such as Edwige Fenech) but it wasn’t long before she attracted notice and graduated to the international screen. Her earliest major success was in the role of the Queen of Spain in Gérard Oury’s comedic classic DELUSIONS OF GRANDEUR (1971). Soon after came Edward Dmytryk’s BLUEBEARD (1972) a worldwide hit which found Schubert sharing the screen with Richard Burton, Raquel Welch and Joey Heatherton.
One particularly interesting outing is THE PUNISHMENT (1973) where Schubert showed her acting range in a psychologically demanding role. In the film she plays a prostitute punished by her pimp in a series of increasingly brutal ways for failing to satisfy an important client. Her performance will undoubtedly be a revelation to anyone used to seeing her merely in light, sexy roles.
More international projects would follow, but the now-married mother stayed close to her adopted Italian home for much of the 1970’s. During this period Italian cinema was beginning its long decline from the highs of the previous two decades into the cinema of muck and guck. To survive, the industry relied more and more upon sex and shock to lure audiences away from the bigger-budgeted American imports that were flooding out domestic product. Willing to do what it took to keep working, Schubert un-draped for a number of sexploitation outings. Among the most notable, two films in the Black Emanuelle cycle: BLACK EMANUELLE (1975, Bitto Albertini) and EMANUELLE AROUND THE WORLD (1977, Joe D’Amato) opposite cult siren Laura Gemser.
As the curtain fell on the 1970’s, Italian cinema truly hit rock bottom and Karin Schubert found herself struggling to find work. Divorced by this point and hard up for money, she took what roles were offered to made ends meet. Soon, though, her young son’s life would take a turn that would change the course of her own forever.
As the 1980’s hit their midpoint, cinema fans were shocked to find Karin Schubert laid bare in numerous hardcore sex layouts in adult magazines. While Schubert had appeared nude on film and in magazines before, to see a mainstream actress in hardcore (often alongside fellow mainstream actress-turned-porn star Paola Senatore) was unheard of. She would also lend her voice to phone sex lines in Italy.
What the public didn’t know was that Karin Schubert’s segue into hardcore wasn’t a capricious choice on her part. Her son, who was desperately addicted to drugs, had become so out of control that his mother became the target of his violent outbursts. Schubert left her career behind and fled to Spain initially before agreeing to pose for the hardcore pictorials to earn the money needed to get her son treatment. When the money ran out she took the inevitable next step into hardcore films. Using her notoriety as leverage, Schubert negotiated a 180,000DM contract and began to appear alongside major X-stars such as Roberto Malone, Ilona Staller and John Holmes.
The money she made making these films may have helped treat her son’s drug addiction, but no amount of money could shield Karin Schubert from the depression that was descending upon her. It was a darkness she had battled since she was 11, as she relayed on a talk show that she had been the victim of sexual abuse.
While all of her performances in hardcore films are competent and professional, each successive film found a hardness creeping into view. This wasn’t a loss of beauty from aging, Schubert was as striking a presence in her 40’s as she had been in her 20’s, but more the hardening of a woman’s heart as she sinks into an abyss. She was a huge star once again and making money, but it wasn’t enough.
In 1994 Schubert abruptly vanished from the screen.
On September 1st of that year, just weeks before her 50th birthday, Karin Schubert chased a handful of barbiturates with a half-bottle of Vodka. Rescued by concerned neighbors she survived the suicide attempt, telling the world: “I have no family, friends, money, or future. I wanted to die because I missed everything. In everyone’s eyes I’m nothing but a whore.”
Karin Schubert, the radiant presence that had enchanted moviegoers with her sparkling blue eyes and golden hair in the 1970’s, never appeared onscreen again. She did, however, make news one final time in May of 1996 when neighbors found her unresponsive in her car, attempting to kill herself by carbon monoxide poisoning. Though rescued, she was expected to survive but a few weeks.
Miraculously she did eventually recover and was placed under the care of a psychiatric hospital. This sad story is the last confirmed information that can be found about Karin Johanna Schubert, the beauty from Hamburg, Germany. Various online articles have latterly suggested she is living a life of solitude with her dogs in rural Italy. Hopefully that is true. Fans of her work may never hear from the now 73-year-old actress again, so we can only hope she has finally found the peace out of the limelight that she never found under its glare.