The tragedy of “The Most Beautiful Boy in the World”: How the movie condemned his teenage star to a life of despair
Acclaimed director Luchino Visconti roamed Europe in 1970 to find the “perfect beauty” to star in his upcoming film Death In Venice.
The successful candidate must have such a charming appearance that the audience could believe would be enough to drive the character of Dirk Bogard, the sick and aging composer, into a distraction.
But Visconti was not looking for a woman, but for a teenage boy. He found what he was looking for, casting 15-year-old Swede, Bjorn Andreessen, to play a Polish sailor-friendly boy named Tadzio.
A year later, in London, for the world premiere of the film in front of the Queen And the Princess AnneVisconti declared Andrésen “the most beautiful boy in the world,” a stunning accolade echoed by some film critics who have praised his mysterious blonde beauty almost on par with Michelangelo’s David.
He became an overnight star – the scariest face in the world – only for his fame which became a “living nightmare” that left him his whole life.
Visconti’s “prettiest boy” remark may have been primarily a marketing ploy, but it has become a millstone around Andersen’s neck for decades.
Because as revealed in a new documentary, The Most Beautiful Boy in the World, which delves into a tragic, desperate life, Andersen would have been happier had he never met Visconti before, whom he described as a “cultural predator” who took advantage of his youth and his looks ironically.
Picture Bjorn Andersen, a 15-year-old Swede playing a Polish sailor-friendly boy named Tadzio in Death In Venice. Become a star overnight – the scariest face in the world
The documentary revives troubling questions about the ethics of a production that has become a gay film. Bogard was openly gay like Visconti, who said his male lovers included Italian director Franco Zeffirelli and Umberto II, the last king of Italy.
He was 63 when he made Death In Venice (based on a novel by German writer Thomas Mann, Also Gay) with a gay cast as well. But Andrésen wasn’t gay – and even if he was, he was only 15 when he auditioned.
He says it’s so small that it turns into a sexual device that Visconti took to gay nightclubs, which later became a trophy for wealthy Paris men who showered him with gifts and meals so they could parade.
To make matters worse, he was an orphan – a shy kid whose grandmother had a fatal addiction to fame that made her the last person to be trusted to protect him.
After spending years battling alcoholism and depression, Andrésen remains a troubled soul. He now lives alone in a filthy apartment, smokes with a chain, quarrels with his long-suffering girlfriend, and gets into trouble with his landlord for letting his gas stove run.
Death in Venice is hardly a movie one would imagine Hollywood would now make. The documentary includes footage of Visconti measuring the rows of boys who come before him during a years-long search across Europe for Tadzio.
‘How old is he? Older, right? Visconti asks a Swedish-speaking director, as Andreessen self-consciously stands for them on a pre-call in Stockholm on a cold February day in February 1970. “Yes, a little. He’s fifteen years old. ‘Fifteen? She is very beautiful,’” she says. Visconti “Can you ask him to undress?”
Andrésen is clearly surprised but eventually strips himself of his stumps, while the photographer turns away and a beaming Visconti explains that he found exactly what he was looking for.
Now he and his family say it was a defining moment in Andersen’s life and not a good one.
I felt like swarms of bats around me. It was a living nightmare, Andersen says of the fame and attention he was tragically unprepared for. “I was a sexual being – a big game.”
The Curse of Fame: Bjorn Andersen with Dirk Bogard on Film. Andrésen’s relationship with Bogarde is not covered in the documentary, though the former told the Mail in 2003 that the star had always been very polite. . . very cute and very british”
Now 66, he still looks stunning – albeit nowadays he looks more like a skinny wizard who lit a fire with a nicotine-stained beard and white hair that reaches mid-back. Years before it entered the Visconti orbit.
His bohemian mother, Barbro, never told him who his father was (he still doesn’t know) and made no secret that she wanted more from life than being a mother to Bjorn and his half-sister.
He remembers standing behind her when he was a little kid as she stared silently out the window and thought, “When I grow up, I’ll save my mom.” He never had a chance – when he was 10 she disappeared and was found by police six months later in the woods after she had apparently committed suicide.
The children went to live with their maternal grandparents in Stockholm and the family never mentioned their mother again.
Young Björn never wanted to act but instead yearned to be a pianist. His grandmother, who wanted at least one of the sons to be famous, had other ideas.
He actually appeared in a movie, a 1970’s Swedish romantic drama, when he auditioned for Death In Venice. He earned $4,000 for his role in the movie.
Despite the frequent constant looks that Andersen and Bogard exchange in the film, Visconti publicly downplayed any idea there was anything sexual between them. It’s a love story, a pure story. “It is neither sexual nor aphrodisiac,” he said unconvincingly.
Andrésen’s relationship with Bogarde is not addressed in the documentary, though the former told the Mail in 2003 that the star had always been very polite. . . Very cute and very British. Bogard, the only foreigner who bothered to know how to pronounce his name correctly, instructed Andreessen how to bow to the Queen when he met her.
Two months later, the film was shown at the Cannes Film Festival. After the main banquet of the festival, Visconti and his friends took Andresen to a gay nightclub where he felt waiters and guests watching him and drunk himself in amazement ‘only to shut it down’.
Adding to his annoyance, he became a sex symbol – and for some – a gay symbol. He’s received heaps of fan letters from seasoned teens and older men alike.
Later, he visited Japan where he was swarmed by fans in scenes similar to Beatlemania and, in fact, recorded two songs.
Returning to Europe, he continued acting but struggled to get rid of the title of “the most beautiful boy in the world”. In 1976, he came to Paris for a movie. Nothing came of it but he stayed for a year despite being broke.
A series of rich people paid for everything, showered him with expensive meals and gifts, provided him with an apartment, and gave him 500 francs a week as pocket money.
“I must have been bloody naive because he was kind of like, ‘Wow! Everyone is so kind,” he says now. I don’t think they treated me out of the kindness of their hearts . . . I felt like [a] Trophy itinerant.
The documentary does not address the question of whether he succumbed to any man’s advances. He told the Post 18 years ago that he quickly became confused about his sexuality in his twenties and had one lesbian experience. I’ve done it more or less to be able to say I’ve tried it, but it’s not really my cup of tea. It couldn’t have been more serious than that, he said at the time.
Andreessen now envisioned in his sixties. His acting career proved so unsuccessful that he broke up with her repeatedly to work as a music teacher
He insists he has always preferred women, though he’s run into trouble even here. Having a habit of tapping his fingers and making girls run, he admits he never learned how to flirt.
However, he was able to marry a poetess named Susanna Roman after they had a daughter, Robin, in 1984. However, tragedy happened again three years later when their nine-month-old son Elvin died. Andersen was lying in bed beside him, almost unnoticed after a night of drinking, while his wife was taking their daughter to kindergarten.
Although it was the death of the cradle, he blames himself for the tragedy, saying that he was an improper father. “Their diagnosis is sudden infant death syndrome but my diagnosis is lack of love,” he says. The family collapsed. I’ve slipped into depression, alcohol, and self-destruction in every way imaginable—it’s been an ego ride. Poor me, me, me.
Andrésen’s acting career proved so unsuccessful that he broke up with her repeatedly to work as a music teacher. He disappeared so completely from view that some thought he was dead until he reappeared in 2003, when a picture of him was used to illustrate the front cover of Pretty Boy, Germaine Greer’s poem to the beauty of little boys.
Andrésen publicly complained that he had never given permission and said, after being exposed, that adult lust – by men or women – for teens is nothing to celebrate.
He still suffers from depression and, according to the movie, often cries.
If there is living proof that beauty can be a curse it is borne in the form of the boy whose childhood was stolen by a highly manipulative film director.
The Most Beautiful Boy In The World is in cinemas starting July 30th.