Though she was never as famous as her contemporaries, racially diverse actress (and all-around buxom babe) Tura Satana entered the world a bad girl and left it as an even badder girl. Born in Hokkaido, Japan to a Japanese-Filipino father and a European-Cheyenne mother, Satana would face prejudice her whole life due to her diverse racial background. She was moved to America during WWII and spent a stint in a Japanese Interment camp as a child.
Despite being a straight-A student, Satana was bullied in school because of her Asian/Cheyenne background and thick body type. She would later take what she was harassed for and turn it into a successful career as an exotic dancer before being advised to go into film by friend and actor Harold Lloyd. Once she started acting, she became recognizable for her exotic looks and pronounced curves. According to Satana, “At the time, I was a novelty: oriental, well built and tall.”
After having bit parts in various movies and television shows here and there, she landed a starring role in the 1965 film Faster Pussy Cat! Kill! Kill!. The movie revolved around three go-go dancers who were led on an elaborate crime spree by Satana’s character Varla. In order to get in character for the role, Satana looked for inspiration from her own life. “I took a lot of my anger that had been stored inside of me for many years and let it loose,” she said. “I helped to create the character Varla and helped to make her someone that many women would love to be like.”
Following Faster Pussycat!, she went on to star in other cult films such as The Astro-Zombies and The Doll Squad. Though her film career slowed down, she didn’t, and kept herself busy by taking on a number of different jobs. She studied nursing and worked at a hospital for four years after being shot by a former lover and was briefly employed as a dispatcher by the LAPD.
While Satana never made another film that was as successful as Faster Pussycat!, her legacy lives on through her influence on filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino and Roberto Rodriguez. She opened up opportunities for girls of all races to take on a variety of roles, and has a bold distinction for being one of the first Asian women to play a non-stereotypical part in a major film. But while the allure of Hollywood may be strong, Satana made it a point to not get caught up in the glitz and glamour. In her own words, “Remember that life is not like movies. There is good and bad all around. Make sure you are never a victim but always a survivor.”