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13 February, 2011

Bobbie's Essays: Tribute to Tura Satana, 1938-2011

Tura Satana, best known for her appearance in Russ Meyer's cult classic FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! has died at the age of 72.  Born Tura Luna Pascual Yamaguchi on July 10, 1938 in Japan, to a Japanese silent film actor father and an American Indian-Irish circus performer mother, the family immigrated to America after World War 2.  After a stint in the Manzanar interment camp, the family moved to the Westside of Chicago, IL.  Developing early, she claimed to have been gang raped at the age of nine.  According to Tura, her attackers were never caught but this attack prompted her to learn martial arts and karate where she obtained a gold belt.  This talent also served her well against her physically abusive father.

Sent to reform school as a teenager, she became the leader of a girl-gang.  At 13, she was briefly married to a 17-year-old boy in an arrangement made by her parents.  However, married life wasn't for Tura and, leaving her husband behind, she moved to Los Angeles and, fake ID in hand, tried her hand at blues singing, became a bathing suit model, and at age 16 posed nude for silent screen comic Harold Lloyd, who was unaware that she was under-age, in a photo titled Black Widow.  It was Harold Lloyd, impressed with her photogenic and exotic looks, who convinced Tura to try her hand at acting.  However, tiring of Los Angeles, she returned to Chicago to live with her parents and performed as an exotic dancer, touring with Tempest Storm and Rose La Rose.  At age 19, Tura became pregnant but continued dancing until in her eight month for a salary of $1500 a week.  Her career as an exotic dancer took off and soon she was traveling around the country with her act, meeting various other traveling acts such as a young Elvis (who she dated for some time, eventually turning down a marriage proposal, though she kept the ring) and Wayne Newton.  It was during this time that Tura married briefly for a second time.

Returning to Los Angeles in her early 20's, Tura appeared in two movies, IRMA LA DOUCE (1963) with Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon and WHO’S BEEN SLEEPING IN MY BED with Dean Martin (1963).  She also had bit roles in several TV programs such as Burke's Law and The Man From UNCLE.  In 1965, Tura met the man who would change her life and her status from an uncredited bit actress to a cult icon...  Russ Meyer!

Meyer, a veteran war photographer, came home to a job of photographing early Playboy centerfolds.  Meyer had always had an interest in film and had directed EVE AND THE HANDYMAN and THE IMMORAL MR. TEAS, two early nudie-cuties.  It's at this time that Tura and Meyer's path's crossed.  Meyer, taken with Tura's exotic good looks and athletic abilities, asked her to star in his up-coming movie FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL!

Tura played Varla, the lead of a gang of three strippers, out for a day's racing in the California desert.  There, they meet a young dating couple and, after Varla dispatches the boyfriend with some kicks to the head, they take as hostage the young woman, Billie.  Having heard of an old man who reputedly has a lot of money, they decide to rob him.  Once at the old man's house, they seduce his sons and search for the cash, not knowing the old man, who refers to Varla as being, “more stallion than mare,” has sinister plans of his own.  In this movie, Tura's martial arts training becomes obvious as she kicks and stomps her way through both the movie and most of the cast!  Oddly, for a Russ Meyer movie, this has no nudity.  Director John Waters says this is beyond a doubt the best movie ever made.  Filmed on a budget of only $45,000, it's made millions.
After FASTER PUSSYCAT, Tura made five more movies, all for director Ted V. Mikels.  The first as Satanna in ASTRO-ZOMBIES, the second was DOLL SQUAD, which is believed to have inspired TV producer Aaron Spelling to create Charlie's Angels, a TV program that ran for five years and the first to feature an all-female lead cast.  The final two were MARK OF THE ASTRO-ZOMBIES and ASTRO-ZOMBIES: M3-CLONED both of which went straight to video.

But tumultuous times continued for Tura.  After DOLL SQUAD, Tura was shot in the stomach by a boyfriend and spent some time in the hospital, ending her career as an exotic dancer.  She worked in a hospital, managed a doctor's office and worked as a radio dispatcher for the LA police department.  A car accident in 1981 broke her back, left her unable to walk for some months, and required several operations.  Marrying for a third time, this time to a retired policeman (who passed away in 2000), she was in talks with Russ Meyer to do a sequel to FASTER PUSSYCAT but those plans ended with Russ Meyer’s death in 2004.  Still, had Tura not done any movies other than FASTER PUSSYCAT, she'd still be remembered today for her trashy, tough-talking, butt-kicking woman of sexual abandonment in the greatest sexploitation movie in history.

Tura Satana died Feb. 4, 2011.  She leaves behind two daughters, three grandchildren and thousands of mourning fans—and a legacy as one of the strongest, most assertive women in the world of Exploitation Film.

Senior Correspondent Bobbie Culbertson

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