“The only thing I can say to my fans is a very humble THANK YOU. If it were not for my fans I would have faded away a long time ago, but their love and devotion have kept me, not only alive, but KICKING ASS.” – Tura Satana
When I was 18 my parents were lucky if I got out of bed and could get through class without sneaking into the parking lot for a toke. By the time Tura Satana was 18 she’d overcome bullying, a stint with her family in a World War II internment camp, become an aikido and karate master, posed nude for film-legend-turned-photog Harold Lloyd, and toured the country as one of the most famous burlesque dancers in the exotic dance circuit. If all of those accomplishments weren’t enough, she also went on to date Elvis Presley, turned down his marriage proposal and kept the ring, of course.
If it weren’t for a tragic car accident that left her with a broken back and a debilitating gunshot delivered by a jilted lover, Tura’s star could’ve gone meteoric. Luckily for all of us there’s the screen-gold that is Russ Meyer’s Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill! to serve as the perfect encapsulation of everything I love about her. We lost not only a cult-goddess but a cultural treasure when Tura passed away at the age of 72 on February 4, 2011. While we can see her in classics like Our Man Flint and Irma La Douce (her cameos in both films aren’t nearly big enough but worth it just to see how gorgeous she looks on-screen) it was her iconic turn as tough as nails Varla in Meyer’s Faster Pussycat that made her every cult-fan’s wet dream come true.
With unforgettable lines like “I never try anything, I just do it… Wanna try me?” Tura karate chopped her way into my heart and I’ve had a ridiculously huge girl-crush on her ever since. It isn’t her beautiful face or amazing figure, though they help, there’s something primal about her badassery that hits you in the gut when you see her on-screen. It’s like anyone who starred alongside her might as well have used her screen time to grab a smoke break, she was that magnetic.
Working in the 100+ degree heat of the California desert, she and Meyer worked together to painstakingly craft what is arguably both of their best works. Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill! may not be the best cult film ever made (I’ll fight you on that point though), it’s definitely one of the most legendary and quoted, without many people even realizing it. Just sit through it once or for the millionth time if you’re me, and you’ll be surprised at how much dialogue has worked its way into mainstream movie vernacular with most of the people who quote it probably not even realizing that’s the film they’re quoting from.
While her work with Meyers remains her most notable (Meyers would later lament that he regretted not working with Tura on his future projects), it was her friendship with another cult-film legend that helped cement her place in film history. Director Ted V. Mikels featured her in the first three installments of his Astro-Zombies series and in the legendary The Doll Squad, which would inspire a little series called Charlie’s Angels and serve as Quentin Tarantino’s inspiration for the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad in Kill Bill. She remained closely tied to Mikels right up until her passing: her last screen appearance was as herself in the 2010 documentary The Wild World of Ted V. Mikels. Tura would’ve been 73 on Tuesday July 10th, but she could never be anything but timeless.