“Tura Thursday” is a regular series celebrating the legacy of the late, great Tura Satana, best known as Varla in the 1965 Russ Meyer cult classic Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!. This series is curated by Tura’s longtime manager, friend, confidant and CEO of Tura Satana Productions, Siouxzan Perry.
Billy Wilder and Tura Satana
This week another excerpt from Tura’s soon to be published memoir, My Kick-Ass Life! Tura discusses how she was cast in legendary director Billy Wilder’s film Irma La Douce: I have to tell you how I got the part as Suzette Wong in Irma La Douce. I was working at the Pink Pussycat nightclub for Alice and Harry Schiller. Alice was the real brain of the outfit and one tough business lady. She knew what was good for club and she liked to keep things that worked well there. My friend Paul Reid was playing there as well and we had quite the show for just a quartet. I liked the stage at the Pink Pussycat, because it gave me room to move, but it was high enough so that not too many people could reach up and grab you like at the Body Shop. One night while I was dancing, a large crowd came in and I knew they were important because Alice was fussing over them. She normally didn’t fuss over anyone. It turned out that it was I.A.L. Diamond, Billy Wilder, Walter Mirisch and their wives (note: Diamond was Wilder’s writing partner at the time and Mirisch their producer). Of course I didn’t find this out until later, but I knew we had someone important in the audience. So thinking they might be relatives of Alice’s, I played up to them. I did all of the acrobatics that I could on the stage and then I was twirling the tassels every which way but lose. The wives with the group loved the way I talked to the audience and played back and forth with them. I found out later that Billy Wilder’s wife looked at him and said, “Hey, there is your Suzette Wong!” It seems Billy agreed because I.A. L. Diamond and Billy Wilder both sent back their business cards and said that I should come and see them. No reason why–just that I should come by their offices. I almost threw the cards away, until my friend Paul Reid said, “Hey, don’t be a nut case. What can it hurt to go and see them? Go have your agent call them and see what they want. From what I understand Billy Wilder is getting set to do another film. Don’t be a dope!” “Okay, I’ll have my agent set everything up. I guess it can’t hurt to go and see what it is that they want me for.”
On the set of IRMA LA DOUCE
The following day, I called my agent and told him that I had received cards from both Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond and that they wanted me to come to their offices. I told him to find out what they wanted and to make an appointment with them once he found out the reason. I got a call back about an hour later stating that I was wanted to read for the new film with Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon. He asked me if I wanted to go on the interview and I told him, “Are you kidding? Of course I want to go on the interview. I would love to be in that film.” So everything was set up and I went on the interview the following day. I first met I.A.L. Diamond (Izzy for short). He was a wonderful person to talk to. He had a great sense of humor.
On the set of IRMA LA DOUCE
The next interview was with Billy Wilder. I was a little intimidated by him because I was unsure of his sense of humor. He had a very dry sense of humor and it was something you had to get used to. He asked me to read for him and I did. He told me that I would make a wonderful Suzette Wong. I replied I appreciated the opportunity to work with him. He looked at me and smiled. “ I hope that we have a chance to do more than work together.” I cocked my head to one side and looked at him. I could see that he was curious about me in more ways than one. I asked him, “have you ever been with a Japanese woman?” “Not one built like you!” “Well, we will have to see what develops during the time together, won’t we?”
Billy Wilder

* Tura’s character Suzette Wong has captured the fantasies of many fantastic artists, including one of our favorites, the exceptionally talented Doug Waterfield. To see more of Doug’s art visit him at: www.dougwaterfield.com

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