Bad girl rule-breaker Tura Satana’s name is pretty much synonymous with the film that propelled her to fame as the ass-kicking, man eating “Varla,” in Russ Meyer’s 1965 Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!. And if you know anything about Satana’s background you already know that she lived up to one of her famous lines (which I’m riffing on here) in the flick by never trying anything. She just did it.
Born Tura Luna Pascual Yamaguchi in Hokkaido, Japan in 1938 (or 1935 according to some sources) both of Satana’s parents were performers. Her father (who was part Japanese and part Filipino) was an actor who appeared in silent films. Satana’s mother performed in circuses as a contortionist and was of a mix of Native American and Scottish descent which further contributed to Satana’s exotic and unique look.
After moving to the U.S. in 1942 when Tura was only four, she and her father were sent to an internment camp in California for Japanese-Americans where they lived for two years until they reunited with her mother in Chicago. As the feelings of resentment toward the Japanese were still high following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 Tura (as well as other U.S. residents of Japanese descent) was the object of harassment and routinely subjected to bullying at school. At the age of ten Tura was brutally gang-raped by a group of teenagers. Despite her age and the horrific magnitude of the crime the five assailants were never prosecuted for the despicable assault. As a response to help protect his child, Tura’s father apparently tutored her in various martial arts such as Aikido and Karate so that she would always be able to protect herself. According to Satana herself for her portrayal of Varla she drew from the internalized rage from her rape which would further immortalize her face-smashing character in Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!.
Tura Satana as ‘Varla’ in Russ Meyer’s ‘Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!’
At thirteen, her parents entered her into an “arranged” marriage with a family friend John Satana that would end only nine months later while Tura was starting her career as an exotic dancer. Not long after her marriage ended Satana found her way to the city of broken dreams, Los Angeles and was quickly discovered while performing her special blend of burlesque dancing mixed with martial arts moves. She got her first acting role in the 1959 ABC television series Hawaiian Eye. This led to many other acting roles one of which was with one of Satana’s rumored love interests, director Billy Wilder in 1963’s Irma La Douce and a role that same year opposite Dean Martin (where she played a stripper) in Who’s Been Sleeping in My Bed. And if super-groupie Pamela Des Barres is to be believed (detailed in her 2008 book Let’s Spend the Night Together: Backstage Secrets of Rock Muses and Supergroupies), it was Tura herself who taught The King, Elvis Presley (another of Satana’s boy toys) his signature dance moves.
Satana ditched her dance routines when California changed the laws governing exotic dancing which allowed clubs to require dancers appear topless and instead turned to straight jobs such as nursing, and in her later years even working as security detail for a Hilton casino in Reno, Nevada under the name “Tura Jurman” after marrying former police officer Endel Jurman in 1981. I’ve posted a variety of incredible photos of Satana from when she was known as “Miss Japan Beautiful” (a nickname that would follow her throughout her career) that were taken during her days as a burlesque dancer for you to oogle below. I’ve also included footage from Tura showing off her dance moves in the 1973 film The Doll Squad. Naturally since this is Tura Satana we are talking about, please assume that many of the images that follow are NSFW. Much like the woman herself.
Tura Satana in ‘Burlesque Magazine’ when she was only nineteen, 1957.
At the Spider Pool, shot by silent film comedy great Harold Lloyd
Tura Satana strutting her stuff in the 1973 film ‘The Doll Squad.’
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Cult actress Tura Satana has died