WAMG Tribute: TURA SATANA Has Died
The Super-Sexy, Super-Violent, Super Vixen Tura Satana has died! If Tura had done nothing else in her life except star as Varla, the homicidal go-go girl in Russ Meyer’s 1965 masterpiece FASTER PUSSYCAT KILL KILL, the world would still be mourning the passing of a major cult movie icon for it was that great film which forever cemented her fame. Tura died Friday night of heart failure in Reno, NE where she lived with her daughter. She was somewhere between 72 and 78 years old (depending on who you believe)
If the gods could bestow perfect names on people, they would have named young Tura Luna Pascual Yamaguchi ‘Tura Satana’, a name that fit her like the black leather gloves she wore in FASTER PUSSYCAT, but they didn’t have to. Tura married John Satana when she was just 13 years old. Her first marriage didn’t last long but she kept that great name. Tura, whose exotic looks came from a Japanese father and Cherokee Indian mother, ‘developed’ early and began her career as a very popular Burlesque star at age 15, known on-stage, among other monikers, as ‘Miss Japan Beautiful’ and ‘The Living Statue’. In the mid 50′s she met Elvis Presley, before he was launched to mega-stardom. and the two became engaged. As Tura tells it, Colonel Parker pressured Elvis to break it off, fearing association with a stripper would hurt his career, but Tura continued to wear the engagement ring he gave her on her finger until her death. Her big bust and unusual looks caught the attention of film director Russ Meyer, who was moving from the ‘nudie cutie’ stage of his career to the berserk blend of sex and violence he became known for. Tura’s Varla was a shamelessly violent (Tura was an accomplished martial artist) yet sexy and feminine character who’s startling to watch in the film today and whose influence can be found in music, fashion and the work of other filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino (watch the way Kurt Russell gets beat up at the end of DEATH PROOF. Straight out of FASTER PUSSYCAT)
FASTER PUSSYCAT KILL KILL was Tura’s second film (after a role as an exotic Parisian streetwalker in Billy Wilder’s IRMA LA DOUCE in 1963). She worked for director Ted V. Mikels in ASTRO ZOMBIES (1968) and THE DOLL SQUAD (1973) and did some TV work, but her otherwordly looks and intimidating attitude were so far ahead of their time that she was offered few movie roles. She dropped out of show-biz, worked for many years as a nurse, and raised a family with her police officer husband. She was shot in the stomach by a strung-out hospital patient in the late 70′s but recovered. John Waters was an obsessive fan of FASTER PUSSYCAT KILL KILL (calling it “Not only the greatest movie ever made, but the greatest movie that will ever be made”) and tracked her down for an interview for his first book Shock Value in the early 80′s. That interview ignited her cult status and FASTER PUSSYCAT, which had been a b.o. flop in its initial release, received a theatrical revival in 1995. Tura spent the next decade and a half attending autograph shows and screenings of the film, attracting millions of fans all over the world.
I first became aware of Tura when I was a child and ASTRO ZOMBIES used to play here on television a lot in the early 70′s. I was mesmerized by the odd-looking woman who wore so much eye makeup I wondered how she could keep them open. She was far more compelling than the goofy zombies who held flashlights to their foreheads to maintain their power. I had the pleasure of spending some time with Tura in October of 2008 when she was a guest at the Kitbuilder’s Monstrous Weekend Convention here in St. Louis which I helped run. We flew her in a day early and had an ‘Evening With Tura Satana’ event at the Way Out Club the Thursday night before the convention. After a screening of FASTER PUSSYCAT KILL KILL, I interviewed Tura on stage and moderated a Q&A with the audience. This was followed by a burlesque show on the Way Out’s stage while she signed autographs off to the side. I treated Tura to Sushi at Crazy Fish and she talked about how thrilled she was to be back in St. Louis decades after she had been danced burlesque in our city’s legendary but long-gone gaslight square district in the Central West End, shimmying at clubs here like Peacock Alley and Starlight Burlesque. She talked at length and uninhibitedly about her many famous paramours. Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack buddies performed often at the Chase Park Plaza in those days and when their shows were over, they would head down Lindell Boulevard to Gaslight Square where they would take in the shows of Tura and the other girls followed by all night partying. Tura was a lot of fun and had amazing stories to tell. As a child, she lived for over two years at an internment camp in California with her father, and spoke of how her mother, who as an Indian was not interred, would visit and sing to her through the fence. She recently penned her autobiography titled My Kick-Ass Life but at the time of her death, it had not been published. The world was a more interesting place with Tura Satana in it and now, sadly, she is gone. Rest in peace Tura.
Check out Melissa’s WAMG interview with Tura from 2008 HERE