Tura Satana

d. February 4, 2011

Tura Satana, cult performer whose limited filmography includes an episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. but whose fame rests entirely on her role in the Russ Meyer sexploitation film “Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!”, died Feb. 4 of heart failure in a hospital in Reno, Nev. She was 72.

She was born Tura Yamaguchi in Hokkaido, Japan. Her exotic looks came from a Japanese-Filipino father and an American mother of Scots-Irish and Cheyenne Indian background. The family moved to America, was sent to a California internment camp during World War II and finally settled in Chicago.

Early development of her voluptuous figure led Satana into underage work as a pinup model, exotic dancer and stripper. Although it sounds like the perfect stage name, she acquired her surname from her first husband, who she married and divorced while she was still a teenager in the early 1950s.

Working in Hollywood clubs and posing for nude photos taken by silent films star Harold Lloyd brought her to the industry’s attention. She made her acting debut in a bit part as one of the Parisian prostitutes in Billy Wilder’s 1963 comedy “Irma La Douce.” The same year, she was typecast and uncredited as a stripper in “Who’s Been Sleeping in My Bed?”, a comedy starring Dean Martin and Elizabeth Montgomery.

She turned to television in 1964, appearing in the two fun and clever mystery-adventure series then on the air. In the Burke’s Law episode “Who Killed the Paper Dragon?”, she had only one scene and one line of dialogue as an exotic dancer in a Chinatown nightclub. Her first real supporting role was in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode “The Finny Foot Affair.” As Tomo, the primary agent of a Japanese warlord searching for a deadly chemical created by World War II German scientists, Satana dogs Napoleon Solo and a 12-year-old boy played by Kurt Russell through Scotland, England and Norway. When Solo inevitably comes out on top, he asks her if she intends to follow her employer into death through hara kiri. Satana gives him a withering glance and replies, “You’ve got the wrong century, Jack.”

Meyer displayed that attitude to its fullest in “Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” Released to drive-ins and grindhouses in the summer of 1965, the picture was just another of the director’s fast, cheap and lurid exploitation flicks featuring impossibly buxom babes doing nasty things (while keeping their clothes on in his mid-60s black-and-white films). Satana played the leader of a trio of go-go dancers on a robbery and killing spree.

The film came and went with no notice, but gathered a large cult following over the years, with directors John Waters and Quentin Tarantino and film critic Roger Ebert among the aficionados of trashy cinema who praised the picture and Satana’s performance. But oddly, Satana never worked with Meyer again.

Her next role was barely visible on screen. Director Daniel Mann, who cast her as the stripper in “Who’s Been Sleeping in My Bed?”, gave her another stripper role, again with no screen credit, in the popular spy spoof “Our Man Flint.” As a dancer in the Marseilles nightclub where Flint and Agent 0008 stage a fight, Satana’s brief appearance is all long shots and cutaways, leaving her unrecognizable.

Her last TV role came in 1966, playing another villain’s henchwoman in an episode of The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. Unfortunately, “The Moulin Ruse Affair” was a typically idiotic example of the U.N.C.L.E. spinoff series, giving Satana no chance to display the dangerous screen presence seen in “Finny Foot” and “Pussycat.” The villain was played by comedian Shelley Berman, who spent the show on his knees in a protracted takeoff of Jose Ferrer’s portrayal of Toulouse-Lautrec in “Moulin Rouge.”

Satana made only two more pictures. “The Astro-Zombies,” released in 1968, was an atrocious sci-fi-horror cheapy with John Carradine and Wendell Corey, who both must have been in desperate need of work. “The Doll Squad” (1973) starred Michael Ansara and Anthony Eisley, with Satana as a member of the title group, a band of female commandos employed by the U.S. government to hunt down the super-villain played by Ansara.


Top: The inimitable Tura Satana as Varla in “Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” Above: With director Billy Wilder shooting “Irma La Douce.” Left: In “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” episode “The Finny Foot Affair,” filmed in October 1964.

Above: Tura Satana as a 1950s pinup girl. Left: Manhandling another victim in “Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!”

Tura Satana, left foreground, played the security chief of diminutive villain Shelley Berman in “The Moulin Ruse Affair” episode of “The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.”