Tura Satana is usually remembered as Varla, the ultimate bad girl from Russ Meyer’s 1966 cult movie Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!
Only true schlock aficionados are also familiar with her parts in Ted Mikels’s 1968 sci-fi horror effort, The Astro-Zombies, and his madman-against the-world trash feast, The Doll Squad (1974).
Through her stunning looks and otherworldly presence, Tura made any potboiler worth your while and could turn a solid b-movie like Faster Pussycat into a classic. Sexy and tough, charismatic and intimidating all at the same time, she remains one of the most unforgettable actresses in film history.
I had the opportunity to ask her a few questions about her career in the movies and her life before and after.
ZZ: Where did you grow up, Tura?
TS: I grew up in Chicago, Illinois… on the West Side of Chicago.
ZZ: I heard you were a tough kid and member of a girl gang.
TS: Yes, I was in a girls gang after I was raped at the age of 10. It was a girls gang that could take care of themselves, but we didn’t go around looking for trouble. Usually we went looking to prevent trouble, especially to other girls.
ZZ: Some sources claim that you started go-go dancing at the age of thirteen. Is that true?
TS: No, no. I started dancing as a legitimate dancer at the age of 14. At the age of 15 I became an exotic dancer in the clubs of Calumet City, Illinois, because I had left home due to a bad situation stemming from when I was raped. Instead of the guys who raped me going to jail, I was sent to reform school because they paid the judge one thousand dollars to get off. So I went instead, supposedly because I enticed them to rape me. You will hear more about this when I finish my autobiography.
ZZ: How did you first get involved in movies?
TS: I appeared in film first on the TV series Hawaiian Eye. The producer happened to catch my show in the burlesque theatre in Los Angeles. Because he had heard that I was a well-built oriental, which was very unusual to say the least. He offered me a part in the series, and I got my S.A.G. card by doing that show. After that, it was fairly easy to get parts because there were not that many oriental females that are built like I am. Especially being 100% all natural.
ZZ: Tell me about your first experiences with acting.
TS: When I appeared on Hawaiian Eye, it was very cut and dry. The cameramen found that I was very photogenic and that the camera used to make love to me. I can truthfully say that the camera has always been good to me. Of course, the men on the set were very nice to me as well. I was a novelty: oriental, well built and tall.
ZZ: In the opening scene of Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill, were you actually dancing to the title tune, or did you dance to different music when the scene was filmed?
TS: Actually, we danced to some other tunes when we did the go-go scene. I think we picked out some tunes that we were familiar with, but I don’t remember what they were.
ZZ: What do you think was special about Faster Pussycat – why do you think has it achieved such a huge cult status? And why do you think it is that you’re still an icon 40 years later?
TS: Well, I’m thrilled with the status Faster Pussycat has received when it was first released and at all the additional releases. I think the popularity that it has is because we gave them something that they really wanted to see. I also hope that it is because it shows that women don’t have to be weak and helpless to be sexy. We can be in control and still be feminine. I think that I remain a cult figure even after 40 years because the public like what they see on the screen. At least on the film, I will be forever ageless.
ZZ: Were there any similarities between the character you played in the movie and your real personality at that time?
TS: There are a great many similarities between Varla and myself. Varla was an outlet for some of the anger I felt growing up. She was also a statement to women all over the world that you can be a take-charge person and still be sexy. She also showed the women world-wide that women don’t have to be weak, simpering females. They just go after what they want and usually get it.
ZZ: Do you think women had been waiting for a role model like Varla in those days?
TS: Yes, I definitely do think that. Women in those days were looking for someone to emulate that was strong and female at the same time. I think I accomplished both of those standards in Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!
ZZ: Was there a strict dialogue script or did you improvise some lines?
TS: No, the dialogue wasn’t that strict. We were able to improvise some of it. Some of the written dialogue wasn’t realistic and didn’t fit the characters. When that happened, we just said what came to mind and seemed natural.
ZZ: By 1966, Russ Meyer had already achieved some fame for what was then known as ‘nudies’. Did he originally intend a nude scene for you in Faster Pussycat?
TS: No, the only semi-nude scene in the picture was the bathing scene by the water tower. This picture was not the usual Russ Meyer film. But the moral was still in the film: good vs. evil. Evil always gets done in.
ZZ: Is there anyone from the Faster Pussycat crew that you’re still in touch with today?
TS: I still stay in touch with Haji. And until recently with Stuart Lancaster and Russ. Every once in a while whoever is left will meet with us and we go out for dinner and discuss our lives of today. Every so often there is a tribute to Russ and I am asked to appear. Which I usually do, because through the years I have still stayed friends with Russ.
ZZ: You also starred in a sci-fi horror movie called Astro-Zombies. What can you tell me about it?
TS: Astro-Zombies was a film that was basically written for me by Ted Mikels. This occurred after he had seen my show in Las Vegas at the Silver Slipper. He was so captivated by my performance on stage that he told me he had to have me in one of his films. Of course, he never used my full potential in any of the parts that I played for him. He had his own hang-ups.
ZZ: Can you tell me a bit more about your memories of Ted Mikels?
TS: I have some very fond memories of Ted Mikels. He was a very strict director, but he could be gotten around. He was always more regimented to dialogue. He was always very tense on the set and sometimes would have to be taught to loosen up. Of course it didn’t help that his girlfriends or female friends were on the set as well.
ZZ: Your last screen appearance was in a movie called Doll Squad, right? I haven’t seen that one myself, is it worth watching?
TS: Oh no, the last film I did was titled Who’s Been Sleeping In My Bed? with Dean Martin, Carol Barnett, Elizabeth Montgomery, Martin Balsam, and so on. It was a fun movie to make, and I also choreographed the strip routine that Carol Barnett did in the film.
As for Doll Squad, yes, I would recommend that you see it. If for no other reason but to know how Aaron Spelling came up with Charlie’s Angels! I invited Aaron to the initial screening of Doll Squad. Once he saw the film, the next few months later he came up with the Charlie’s Angels TV series. I don’t have a very large part in the film, though.
ZZ: Then you suddenly disappeared from the screen. What did you do when your acting career was over?
TS: I quit acting and went back to dancing for a while as a tassel twirling go-go dancer. It was a combination of my strip routine and go-go dancing. I stopped because I was not one to go sleeping with any of the casting directors. If my resume was not good enough to get the part I would just say thank and leave. After I quit dancing, I decided to stay in California and raise my daughters. I went to work in an emergency room in North Hollywood and worked there for approximately four and a half years. Then I took over the management of a doctors office for the next eight years. During that time, I was injured in a car accident that kept me in the hospital for a couple of years on and off. I got married in 1981 and have remained so since. We are now in the engine rebuilding business and are doing okay. Once the business is doing very well I will sell it and retire for good.
ZZ: I read somewhere that you were pals with Elvis in the early years of his career – or that you were even dating him?
TT: Yes, Elvis and I dated for a little while when he was starting out. He used to love to watch my dance routine, just so that he could copy some of my moves for his routine on stage. When he wanted to get married, that’s when we stopped seeing each other. I had my career and he had his. He was a very lonely person, even though he was surrounded by people.
ZZ: What type of men are usually attracted to you, and what type of men are you attracted to?
TS: The men that are attracted to me are varied. There are those men who to be dominated and subservient to women. These men love me as Varla. Then there are men who think they can tame me, or they think they can make me submissive. I think that to them I’m a challenge, but I guess I will always be then. I love men who are strong but gentle, who want to make me feel safe, but who know that I can usually take care of myself.
ZZ: When I first got in touch with you, you introduced yourself as “the actress, dancer and singer” Tura Satana. “The singer” was a new one to me. Are there any recordings of your singing?
TS: You see, I originally started out as a singer in the entertainment field, beginning in grammar school. I used to have a four-and-a-half octave range in my voice and there wasn’t any song that I couldn’t sing, but I never recorded anything. Sometimes when I felt like it, I would sing during my strip routine, but people weren’t interested in my singing voice. They wanted to see skin and boobs. The public wanted to see movement, not vocal chords. I sang lite opera, hymns, blues and popular music. I loved musicals of all types.
ZZ: Are you aware that you are very popular with the punk rock scene? Motifs from Faster Pussycat are frequently used on record sleeves, and there are even songs paying tribute to you.
TS: No, I didn’t know I was popular with the punk rock scene. I heard some of the songs that have been written about me, and I’m very flattered someone thinks enough of me to write and sing about me. I hope that I’m a good influence on the punk rockers.
ZZ: Do you like punk rock?
TS: I like all music, but I really like to hear what is being sung and what the lyrics of a song have to say, and that can’t happen if the music is being shouted out.
ZZ: What music do you like to listen to at home?
TS: I listen to country and easy listening music at home, but I dance to any kind of music. Music is my way of feeling what the world is all about. I usually do what the music makes me feel, so I really love music with a good beat.
ZZ: Do you often go to the movies these days?
TS: No, I don’t really go to the movies much these days. I don’t really like the movies of today.
ZZ: What do you think was different about the movies back in your day?
TS: There is too much violence, blood and gore now. I think that the big difference between the movies of today and the movies of my era is that the movies of today don’t leave anything to the imagination. Everything is right there in front of you, so there’s just no mystery.
Back then we also tried to show that good beats evil, but the films of today just show that there is no moral to them.
ZZ: Is there anything else that you’d like to say to the readers, Tura?
TS: I want to thank the readers and all of my fans for making me who I am today and for being fans of mine throughout the years. A few years ago, I received a lifetime achievement award as the Femme Fatale of the 20th Century. I thank you all for that to. I love you all, keep kickin’ butt. Remember that life is not like movies. There is good and bad all around. Make sure you are never a victim but always a survivor.
(c) Zuri Zone