An Interview with Tura Satana
Tura Satana, ass kicking goddess and star of Russ Meyer's classic film "Faster Pussycat, Kill!Kill!" answers a few of Libby's questions.
Tura Satana is best known for her portrayal of Varla in Russ Meyer’s timeless classic “Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill!” The tough talking leader of a gang of go-go girls who create mischief and mayhem wherever they go, Varla stands as one of the most memorable female villians in film history. The film continues to attract new audiences every day and its stars (Haji, Lori Williams, and Satana) have become cult figures over the years. “Pussycat” was Satana’s only Meyer film, but she also appeared in several of B-director Ted V. Mikels films such as “The Doll Squad” (1974) and “Astro Zombies”(1968), as well as the Jack Lemmon/Shirley McLaine classic “Irma La Douce”.
The half-Cherokee/ half-Japanese Satana grew up on Chicago’s West side after being relocated from Manzanar Relocation Camp in California after World War II. She had a rough time because of her exotic background and developed early on. At age 10, she was gang raped by five guys and forced into an arranged marriage at the age of 13. After the rape, her father forced her to learn Karate to protect herself and she eventually earned a gold belt in Ikido. After a stint in reform school, she started dancing at age 15 and joined the Burlesque world. Her career spanned over 18 years. After being noticed by directors and producers in LA, her film career began in the early 60’s with bit parts in films and television. Some of her career highlights include the James Coburn vehicle “Our Man Flint” (1966) and “The Man From U.N.C.L.E”. From there, Russ Meyer cast her in the lead for “Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill!” and the rest, shall we say, is history.
Married three times with two daughters and three grandchildren, Tura lives in the Los Angeles area where she makes occasional appearences.
You are most well known for your portrayal of Varla in Russ Meyer’s Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill! one of the most unique female villains in film history. Did you realize at the time that she would become such a feminist icon?
No. I didn't think that she would become so important to a lot of the women out there, but it is good that she has. In my portrayal of Varla, I wanted to make her strong and independent. I think that I did!
Varla was a prototype for many of the dominatrixes of today (I was a Mistress Varla for awhile). Do you think the go-go dancers of FPKK would be dominatrixes if the film were made today? (Might be an interesting twist on a remake!)
I think that Varla would have made a very good dominatrix. I still have some fans who write after seeing the film and request that I might like to try all of those moves on them.
Are you surprised at the long-term success of Faster Pussycat? New generations discover it everyday and it still doesn’t seem outdated, no matter how many times I watch it.
Yes, i am surprised about how long the film as remained a cult icon. We all thought that it would be a short lived film, but it just keeps going because it's message is one of power for women, ( The guys love it too!)
Do you still get recognized from the role (Varla)? What is the strangest occurrence you’ve had?
when I am recognized as varla, it is the guys who want to try and see if they can beat me. Some try, all fail.
Do you have a favorite line from the movie?
I don't beat clocks, just people!
Would you compare the burlesque dancers of yesteryear to the strippers of today? Was there a lot of competition between women in the field?
Back in the days of burlesque, there was a lot of competition among the headliners, but when you carry a show, they become your family. Everyone watched out for each other. Once the stopped using their talent and started flashing the fuzz, that was the end of burlesque. The women wouldn't come any more, because they didn't want to see that. They wanted to see talent. Then they made the men stop going.
You have a very interesting and unique look. What insecurities have you ever felt about your appearance and how have they affected you?
Growing up in Chicago, I was constantly being harassed by the other kids because I was oriental and it was after the war. I was constantly fighting just to go to school. Because I developed at the age of 9, there was a lot of problems connected with that as well. Everyone else in my neighborhood was not developed yet. I was always ashamed of my body and big boobs.
Have you had problems with men being too intimidated by you in the past because of the way you look? What about women?
Yes, most men were intimidated by my looks and by the fact that they thought they would be rejected if they tried to ask me out. The brave ones found out differently.
What have been some of the hardest obstacles you’ve had to overcome in your life and career?
Being raped at 9 yrs old, by 5 guys who were in there 20's. Finally when I started dancing at 14 1/2 yrs, I had to overcome racial issues. The loss of some very close and intimate friends. The fact that most men wanted to go to bed with me, but few wanted to make a commitment. Being Oriental, big boobed and not bad looking created a few problems as well. I only had one enemy that I can think of in burlesque and that was Princess Domay. She and I had a nice knock down and drag out when I worked my first burlesque theater. She went to the hospital, I became the star of the show.
Would you consider yourself a feminist?
Not really. I think that women should be paid the same as a man when they do the same job, but I like men opening doors for me, lighting my cigaretttes when I did smoke. I love being a woman. I like being soft when I am with a guy, unless he wants it otherwise. I still think that women are getting the short end of the stick when it comes to work places. That is something that I would like to rectify, but it is a man's world, only he doesn't know that we women rule it.
Also, please tell us about any projects or films that you are working on currently, as well as appearances you are making.
Well, I finished Mark of the Astro Zombies for T.V. Mikels in 2001. Currently I am getting ready to do a film called, Please sign it, Love! that is kind of based on my life and the lives of other Russ Meyer ladies. There are several other films that I am looking at right now to determine if I want to do them or not. I would love to work with John Waters. I think that we could make beautiful music together.