Greetings, readers. As you may know, cult actress Tura Satana (best known as the villainous Varla in Russ Meyer’s FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL!) passed away February 4th, 2011, reportedly of heart failure. Ms. Satana was truly a larger-than-life figure whose film roles reflected a personal strength and perseverance.
Born July 10th, 1938 (some sources say 1935) in Hokkaido Japan, to a Japanese/Filipino father and Cheyenne/Scots-Irish mother, Tura and her family soon moved to America. Following WWII (and a brief stint in an internment camp) they came to Chicago. Developing breasts very early, she was teased for her figure and her heritage, and was gang-raped at the age of nine. The five rapists were never prosecuted, and rumors persisted that the judge had been bribed. As Tura told it, the incident led her to studying Aikido and Karate, and exacting vengeance herself.
She was soon sent to reform school, where she became the leader of a gang at the age of 13. Getting out of reform school, she traveled to Los Angeles and became a bathing suit model, as well as posing nude for silent film comic Harold Lloyd, who was unaware of her age. From there, it was a short jump to becoming a go-go dancer, then a stripper. In 1963, she made her first film appearance, as Suzette Wong, a Parisian prostitute in IRMA LA DOUCE.
In 1965, she starred in Russ Meyer’s gritty-yet-comedic “ode to violence,” FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! Showing canny business-sense, Satana owned the likeness of her character. Meyer reportedly regretted never casting her in another film.
Following PUSSYCAT, Tura made a number of films with director Ted V. Mikels, including THE ASTRO-ZOMBIES, MARK OF THE ASTRO-ZOMBIES, and ASTRO-ZOMBIES: M3 – CLONED. Additionally, in Rob Zombie’s 2009 animated epic THE HAUNTED WORLD OF EL SUPERBEASTO, Tura made a cameo appearance as Varla, arguing over beer and beer nuts with Otis B. Driftwood of THE DEVIL’S REJECTS.
Even after her traumatic start, Tura’s life was anything but ordinary. She dated Elvis Presley, and turned down a marriage proposal from the King (and during the early months of their marriage, Priscilla Presley wore her hair and make-up in imitation of Tura’s). In 1973, a former lover shot her after she wrapped production on Mikel’s THE DOLL SQUAD. She found work at the hospital, and later as a police dispatcher. In 1981 a car accident broke her back, requiring two major surgeries and fifteen additional surgeries.
Tura was as much a fighter off-screen as she was on. She took every curve-ball life threw at her, hit them back, and spat in life’s eye. When asked what the “most important secret of all” was, she had this to say:
I’ve always told Ted [Mikels] that you can’t let anything get you down. Look at the positive side. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Keep the negative side buried.
April, 2010, I had the great pleasure of meeting Tura Satana at Chiller Theatre in Parsippany, NJ. Her handshake bespoke a firmness of character and strength of spirit as well as flesh. We conversed a bit — she was a bit miffed about being stuck at a corner table without much leg room, but was grateful that she had been able to requisition a standing fan, as the previous day (I’d only been at Chiller for that Saturday) had been sweltering — and I got an autograph, and asked if I could have my picture taken with her as well.
She pushed back her chair, motioned me to step around the table and said in that astonishingly brassy, commanding voice, “SIT IN MY LAP, BIG BOY!” I balked a little — I am a big guy, and heavier than I look. I tried to tell her that, but she would have none of it. Fearing that she’d break my neck with a set of 20 judo chops if I didn’t do as she said, I “sat” in her lap, while still keeping most of my weight on my feet.
Good night, Ms. Satana. I hope you’re judo-chopping the Angels into line.