Saying goodbye to 2011 I thought I’d feature a lesser known Icon that we lost this year, Tura Satana. Every good girl wants to be bad. And Tura Satana represented the best of Bad Girls.
Born, Tura Luna Pascual Yamaguchi on July 10, 1938, in Hokkaido, Japan to a silent movie actor and a circus contortionist. She is probably most famous for her 1965 role as Varla in Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!
Tura’s family moved from Japan to the west side of Chicago after World War II, a very unwelcoming time for someone of Japanese decent. A child of mixed race, her father was Japanese and Filipino, her mother Scottish/Irish and Cheyenne, Tura was raised in internment camps. She was harassed for her nationality as well as for being very developed at an extremely early age.
Tura was raped at 9 and as a result, her father taught her karate. Sent to reform school after no justice was given to her attackers, she joined a gang and started wearing leather. She said of her rapists, “I made a vow to myself that I would someday, somehow get even with all of them.” She did, “they never knew who I was until I told them.”
At 13 she married a boy in the Navy of 17. The marriage lasted nine months. The same year she traveled to Los Angeles to do modeling. Returning home to Chicago after suffering from makeup poisoning, Tura began dancing in a nightclub in Calumet City, IL as a “Spanish dancer” and not long afterward started her career in burlesque.
An accomplished martial artist Tura used acrobatics in her burlesque routines, elaborate Asian costumes and a Buddha she gained a lot of attention. Tura’s burlesque aka was Miss Japan Beautiful. She was also known for squabbles among other dancers and ill-behaved patrons.
| On April 18, the day the above ad was published, the Toronto Star
reported the “statuesque Eurasian” was set to retire in two weeks.
|Satana as Suzette Wong in Irma Le Duce starting Shirley Maclaine|
She was romantically linked to Billy Wilder while filming Irma La Duce in her first American film role in 1963, Joe DiMaggio, and Rod Taylor. Before that she had turned down the marriage proposal of Elvis Presley.
When it came to making Faster Pussycat, Tura was as instrumental to the film as her character Varla. Having come up with many of the most famous lines from the film, director Russ Meyer credits Tura referencing that “she and I made the movie.” Not only did she do all of her own fighting, but she created much of the visual design, her own makeup, and costuming. And she was also responsible for the iconic image of spinning tires used to kill the main male character in the film.
Something of a visionary, Satana could not have predicted how her extraordinary life would change the face of women in film. The 1973 film Doll Squad starring Satana would inspire Charlies Angels. And evidently Satana’s real life inspired Tarantino’s Kill Bill, three decades later.
After completing the grindhouse film, Doll Squad the tough-as-nails Satana survived a gunshot wound to the stomach by an ex-lover. She also survived a broken back after being hit by a speeding car in 1981. Hospitalized and several surgeries later she worked as a nurse and for the police department as well as devoting time to her family before she returned to entertainment in 2002.
At 72, on February 4th, 2011, Tura Satana passed away of heart failure in Reno Nevada. An amazing woman who lived an amazing life, kicking ass and taking names.