R.I.P. Tura Satana

by Emily Rems

Back when I was in high school, my brother from another mother was a kid named Rufus who would invite me over to his house every day after school to watch cult movies. We watched tons of deranged shit, but my favorite film he showed me by far was the Russ Meyer classic Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! The film’s star, Tura Satana, with her sneering lips and skin-tight cat suit, was such a powerful presence, she seemed almost superhuman. So when I heard that she’d passed away over the weekend at age 72, I was totally bummed and wanted to reach out to my old pal Rufus to share the pain. He responded with an eloquent obit of the bosomy burlesque beauty that I’d like to share with you all now. Give it a read, and if you’ve got Tura tributes of your own you’d like to share, leave ‘em in the comments!:

Remembering Tura

If Kali the destroyer wore black leather, she’d be Tura Satana. Born Tura Luna Pascual Yamaguchi in Japan to parents of Japanese-Filipino and Cheyenne/Scotts-Irish heritage, she grew up on the South Side of Chicago where as a girl, her ethnic heritage and womanly proportions brought her so much unwanted attention and abuse, she became an expert at karate and aikido. According to different stories related by Tura in various interviews, she was gang-raped at a very young age and spent years exacting revenge on each rapist. She was also sent to juvenile detention for beating up a girl-gang single-handedly. And both stories are absolutely believable if you’ve ever seen her career defining performance in Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

Her parents tried to cure her of her juvenile delinquency by sending her to reform school and arranging a marriage at age 13. But having none of that, Tura ran away to Los Angeles instead where she tried singing the blues in clubs and posing nude for amateur shutterbugs, including photographer Harold Lloyd, who told her she should be in moving pictures. She never forgot this vote of confidence, which gave her the self-assurance to travel the country as a successful exotic dancer under the very apt stage name Galatea, the Statue that Came to Life. Athletic, stacked, and exotic, the universe would have rebelled had she not danced burlesque. Dedicated to her craft, she even danced for the entire eight months of her pregnancy at age 19!

Returning to Hollywood, Satana appeared in television programs, such as The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and movies like the great Jack Lemmon and Shirley Maclaine musical Irma la Douce. She also dated Elvis for a few months, turning down his offer of a blue suede marriage. And it was probably for the best—if the King had told her to make him a fried peanut-butter-and-banana sandwich, she’d have likely broken his nose.

But Tura Satana really kicked out a place for herself in pop culture history as badass stripper/spine-cracker Varla in Russ Meyers’ 1965 classic Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! Somewhere between elemental spirit, decadent voluptuary, and ruthless hoodlum, her performance is the stuff of wet nightmares and is totally believable in every second. She was the sort of character who can stand 5’ 7” and still appear Amazonian in every way.

Meyers long regretted never using Satana again, but she appeared in two more cult classics by Ted V Mikels The Doll Squad and The Astro-Zombies where she really excels at looking pissed and making you not want to be the reason she’s pissed. In recent years, she’s made personal appearances at conventions, has been made into toys, and was the subject of a Rob Zombie cartoon and a handful of documentaries, including Tura!

The fact that Tura passed away on February 4th is still shocking, even days later; you’d be forgiven for thinking she was indestructible. She will likely be best remembered in black leather gloves, her bosoms exploding out of a skintight leather bodysuit, snapping the back of a preppy he-man who made the mistake of crossing her path in Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! To paraphrase the theme song from Faster, Pussycat!: Think you can forget her? Well just you try! [Rufus Flypaper]


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