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Tura Satana, RIP. 1938 - 2011.

Photo of Eric Kohn By Eric Kohn | Eric Kohn February 5, 2011 at 9:08AM

Above: Shade Rupe and Tura Satana.
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Above: Shade Rupe and Tura Satana.

Just a day after my interview with "Dark Stars Rising" author Shade Rupe comes news that "Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!" star Tura Satana passed away last night in Reno. Since Rupe listed Satana as one of his favorite interviews from the book, I asked him to share some thoughts, which he graciously supplied. You can find his reminiscence below.

Tura Satana, born Tura Luna Pascual Yamaguchi, July 10, 1938, in Hokkaido, Japan, grew up in an Italian, Jewish, Polish neighborhood on the west side of Chicago, IL after her family were released from the Manzanar relocation camp for Japanese-Americans after the war. Asians didn't mix well in the neighborhood and Tura found herself constantly fighting with the African-American girls on her way to and from school, skills that would serve her throughout her life. At age nine an a half Tura was brutalized and raped by five boys from the neighborhood. She then formed a girl gang with her Italian, Jewish, and Polish girlfriends called the Angels. After her parents placed her with an abusive uncle, Tura walked away to start her own life, becoming a cigarette girl at the Moulin Rouge on Hollywood Boulevard.

By age 15 she was a burlesque dancer with a fake ID. She was discovered by Turk Prujan who hired Tura for his Trocadero nightclub, also on Sunset. She also earned money modeling, becoming a favorite of famed actor Harold Lloyd, with results printed in Harold Lloyd's Hollywood Nudes in 3-D. During her tour in New Orleans, Tura performed down the street from Lili St. Cyr before working for Harold Minsky, who was married to Lily's sister. While performing in Chicago at the Follies Theater, Elvis Presley became infatuated and the two started an affair resulting in a marriage proposal. She declined, but kept the ring.

While working the Follies Theater in Los Angeles, a Warner Brothers scout approached Tura and she earned her Guild card on Hawaiian Eye. Subsequent television roles including The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Girl from U.N.C.L.E., and Burke's Law. While working at the Pink Pussycat in West Hollywood, Billy Wilder and his wife came in one night and enraptured with Tura's performance realized they had finally found the girl to play Suzette Wong in the Shirley Maclaine-starring Irma La Douce. Tura's performance earned her additional roles as the nightclub dancer in Dean Martin's Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed? and the job of Carol Burnett's choreographer for the film.

Tura earned her most visible role while performing in Irma La Douce. She got a call from her agent to come read for Russ Meyer. She didn't have time to change so she showed up in the wedding dress she was wearing for Irma La Douce. Russ handed her the script for "Leather Girls," the original title of Faster, Pussycat! Kill Kill! and asked how she would play her. Tura replied, "I'd make her kind of feminine, but also a bitch on wheels." After her cold reading Russ told her, "You are definitely Varla."

Ted V. Mikels gave Tura two more classic roles in Astro-Zombies, and Charlie's Angels precursor The Doll Squad, where she starred alongside Francine York and Michael Ansara.

Deciding to spend her time raising her two daughters, Tura left show biz and returned to her nursing career which she first studied while in high school, and continued to go to nursing school while dancing. One night, a druggie who had been turned in to the police by one of the doctors came looking for him and shot Tura twice but only hit her once, in the stomach. In 1981 she was hit by a driver without a license, heading at her at 60 miles per hour in a 25 mph zone. She spent two years in the hospital. They told her she would never walk again but she told the doctor, "Not only will I walk again, doc, but I'm going to do everything else I used to do." She made that promise shy of her martial arts moves.

When I interviewed her, I asked her if she had any words to live by. "One of the things that I always said, and it was one of my father's favorite sayings, 'Always be good to the people on the way up, because you're going to meet them on the way down.' I have always lived by that philosophy.

"The one thing you've got to remember is that you just never accept defeat. Remember to never let life get you down, because there is always something new to learn tomorrow. Life is to be lived, and lived well."

Tura Satana passed away February 4, 2011, in Reno, NV.

A press release from her manager will be released in a few days.

This article is related to: Pop Culture, Independent Cinema