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Tura Satana: 'Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!'s Buxom Movie Star

Icons | May 3, 2019

Tura Satana in 'Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!' (1965) and 'The Astro-Zombies' (1968). Source: IMDB

Sometimes a single image from an obscure source breaks through into the mainstream -- such is the case with Tura Satana in the movie Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965). The Russ Meyer movie -- like much of his risque filmography -- is lurid, sensational, and not everyone's cup of tea. It's classified as an exploitation flick and was billed as "Russ Meyer's ode to the violence in women." Varla, its unmistakable anti-heroine -- sort of an evil Bettie Page with a Japanese mystique -- has endured as a figure open to interpretation.

Is Varla a strong feminist icon? Or is she a masochistic male fantasy? Could she be... both?

Born Tura Luna Pascual Yamaguchi in Hokkaido, Japan, Tura Satana became a legendary cult figure with just one performance. Even if you’ve never seen her star turn as Varla in Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! you might recognize her for her Japanese, Native American and Scottish heritage and the jet-black bangs, cat eyeliner, and skin-tight leather outfits that made her a pin-up star.

Satana’s Bettie Page meets Dita Von Teese style has been inspiring groovy rockabilly gals since 1965. Even though she only appeared in a few films, and she died in 2011, Satana’s influence looms large even today. 


Satana Spent Her Formative Years In A Japanese Internment Camp

Tura as Varla in 'Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!' Source: IMDB

After moving to the states in 1942, the Yamaguchi family was placed in the Manzanar War Relocation Center, a WWII internment camp for Japanese Americans near Lone Pine, California. Following the end of the war, the family relocated to Chicago, although it’s unclear whether the family was moved to the city by the US government or they did so by their own volition.

Satana later said that her life in Chicago was full of abuse and danger and that she experienced frequent racial harassment:

[I] fought my way going to school and coming back. I was constantly taunted about being a Tojo, a monkey-person.

After A Sexual Assault Her Father Enrolled Her In Martial Arts Classes

Source: (RM Films International)

Aside from the racism and contempt that Satana faced on a daily basis while growing up in Chicago, she says that she was the victim of a heinous sexual assault at the hands of a group of young men, and the police did nothing about it. Allegedly, one of her assailants was related to a member of the Chicago PD.

Satana says that following the sexual assault her father enrolled her in aikido and karate classes, and that she earned a black belt in the latter martial art. She also claims that she formed a girl gang to watch over her neighborhood. She said:

We patrolled the neighborhood to keep that kind of thing from happening to anybody else. 

The World Of Burlesque Was Not Ready For Satana

'Striparama' magazine and a publicity photo from Tura's dancing years. Source: Pinterest

Before she was 18, Satana was working as an exotic dancer in Chicago where she appeared as “Galatea, the Statue That Came to Life” at the Rendezvous Club in Calumet City. She told the Chicago Tribune:

The people who came to Calumet City were mostly people who worked in the factories and stuff around there. It was mostly blue-collar workers and roughnecks. When you got too old to dance there, then they moved you down the road to a row of houses for extracurricular activities. I didn’t stick around for that. I wore a Japanese kimono… I wore a huge headdress, and I carried my own Buddha. He would sit on a stool on the stage. After the dance routine, I’d take a very small hara-kiri knife and [pretend to] kill myself.

Satana Felt That She Embodied Varla In Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

Source: (RM Films International)

Even though Satana appeared in B-movies like Astro Zombies (1968) and The Doll Squad (1973), her most famous role is Varla from Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! In the film, Varla is a kick-ass go-go dancer who lives fast and drives faster. While speaking with the Chicago Tribune she explained that the killer babe in black had been lurking inside her since her days in Chicago. She said:

Basically Varla was a part of my character from when I lived in Chicago. It was hard, and it helped develop a lot of anger in me that I never realized I was holding inside until Russ [Meyer] and I got going on the part. That basically is where Varla came from, some of the anger over what happened to me.

Satana Got Along With Everyone On Set Except For Sue Bernard

Tura Satana on lobby card: the legit movie 'Who's Been Sleeping In My Bed?' (1963) starring Dean Martin and Elizabeth Montgomery, and the exploitation flick 'The Doll House' (1973). Source: IMDB

Behind the scenes of Faster Pussycat, Satana was fairly easygoing, in spite of her devilish onscreen demeanor. But she didn’t get along with Sue Benard, the actress tasked with playing Linda, the kidnapped waif in the center of the action. Satana later explained:

Susan didn't get along with us. She had her mother with her, who was one of those types of women, 'Don't come near my daughter, you're liable to give her something.' The only way I could get anything out of her acting-wise was to literally make her hate me. I had to get very physical and brutal, pulling teeth to get a reaction. But it seems like any of the good stuff she did in that film was when I was getting nasty with her. The rest of the time, all she did was cry.

Satana Did Whatever She Wanted On The Set Of Faster Pussycat

Satana in a still from Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!' and the movie's poster. Source: IMDB

Director Russ Meyer was known to run his sets like a military operation. Even though his films were mostly classified as sex-fueled violent romps about bikini girls and machine guns, he expected his actors and his crew to behave professionally. Not only did Satana flaunt the director’s rules by sleeping with assistant cameraman Gil Haimson, but she argued with Meyers over how to stage many of the scenes.

Meyer said that while they would argue over the scenes, he had to explain to her that they could shoot the scenes however she wanted but that he would edit them however he wanted. But in spite of the argumentative nature of their relationship, Satana helped Faster Pussycat get distribution rights in Europe which likely netted everyone a few bucks more. 

She Laid Out A Lot Of The Fight Scenes In Faster Pussycat

Girl with guns: Satana in 'The Astro-Zombies' (1968) and on an episode of 'The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.' (1967). Source: IMDB; Twitter

Even though Satana and Meyer argued throughout the filming, the one thing she definitely had control over was her fight scenes. Because of her martial arts experience, she was able to block out the film’s action so it looked realistic. She said:

Everybody [on set] did everything from moving props to marking scenery and marking spots where we had to be in the next take. I had to stage the fight scenes because nobody else knew how to do them, and so literally when I did the fight scenes, I really had to pick up each and every one of those guys and carry them through in order for them to look realistic. Basically I had to lay one guy on the floor because he was afraid he was going to get hurt. A lot of it actually had to be done in reverse, so try to imagine doing a fight scene that way.

She Supposedly Dated Elvis Before He Hit It Big

Tura Satana, artists' muse. At left, a poster for a Satana appearance by Mitch O'Connell; at center, the cover of a Tura Satana comic book by Mike Hoffman; and another poster by Mitch O'Connell. Source: IMDB, Amazon, tikiroom.com

Much of Satana’s early life is a thing of rumor. One tale she told, consistently, dated Elvis Presley before she ventured to Hollywood. She claims that she taught The King to dance, and how to kiss. She said:

I didn’t do a French kiss at first. I wanted to show him the beginnings of it. Then when he felt my tongue going around his lips, he went ‘Mmmm,’ and he opened his mouth and I showed him how to French kiss. Once I showed him the difference between how he was kissing and how I kissed, he said, ‘Oh God, that feels so good.’ When I said, ‘Yeah, it feels good all over too,’ his eyes lit up.

According to Satana, Presley was so enamored of her that he proposed to the young burlesque dancer, presenting her with a diamond ring. Satana said that she declined the offer, she kept the gift

Tags: Career-Defining Moments | Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! | Ladies | Russ Meyer | What Did She Do?...

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Jacob Shelton

Writer

Jacob Shelton is a Los Angeles based writer. For some reason this was the most difficult thing he’s written all day, and here’s the kicker – his girlfriend wrote the funny part of that last sentence. As for the rest of the bio? That’s pure Jacob, baby. He’s obsessed with the ways in which singular, transgressive acts have shaped the broader strokes of history, and he believes in alternate dimensions, which means that he’s great at a dinner party. When he’s not writing about culture, pop or otherwise, he’s adding to his found photograph collection and eavesdropping on strangers in public.