Wednesday 18 October 2017

Amazonian actress who starred in cult director Russ Meyer's films

Haji, who has died aged 67, was part of the on-and-off-screen coterie of the high-camp film director Russ Meyer, taking a lead role as one of a destructive female trio in his cult classic Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1966).

An exotic dancer, in every sense of the term, she embodied the Amazonian female archetype Meyer favoured in five of his films. Well-endowed, and clad throughout Pussycat in tight trousers and leather boots, she spoke in a curious continental accent, sometimes accompanied by stereotypical Italianate gestures.

Her accent, and affinity with nature, led to a misunderstanding during the making of her second film for Meyer, Good Morning... And Goodbye! (1967), in which she played The Sorceress, clad in the type of cavegirl bikini Raquel Welch had recently popularised. Asking what she had in what appeared to be a box of cookies, the assistant director, George Costello, misheard her reply as a "snack", and put his hand inside – only to find a live snake. Terrified, Costello hurled it away, and in Haji's words: "The snake landed on the benches and was slithering on the seats. Everybody cleared out."

When interviewed, she insisted: "I came visiting here with my family from another galaxy, and we landed in Quebec," adding: "You Earthlings are very strange people."

Credited under her real name, she did the make-up for Supervixens (1975), in which she played a barmaid. The actor Charles Napier remembered her as "a little distracting – she used to do make-up with only sneakers on".

In his biography of Meyer, Big Bosoms And Square Jaws (2005), Jimmy McDonough observed that Haji was none the less "one of the guys. When Meyer had a reunion of combat buddies, it was Haji who brought the fellas beer." Several of Meyer's other leading ladies were cast on her recommendation.

From 1962, she had a residency at The Losers, a Los Angeles strip club. Haji likened it to "a Las Vegas revue show", and she was second in importance among the club's dancers, the first place belonging to her Pussycat co-star, the even more imposing Tura Satana. Their relationship repeated itself in the film; at one point the third Pussycat claims the pair "make the Mafia look like Brownies".

Haji was born Barbarella Catton on January 24, 1946 in Quebec, Canada, and claimed Filipino and British parentage. She also claimed to have barely attended school, leaving after becoming pregnant aged 15 – she gave birth to a daughter, Cerlette. She had started dancing when she was 14, and quickly moved to California to ply her trade in strip clubs, keeping quiet about her age. Her speciality dance was to 'The Girl From Ipanema'.

After being spotted by Meyer in a San Fernando Valley strip club, she made her film debut for him in Motor Psycho (1965). Top-billed, she was first seen shouting at her husband: "I need you like a hole in the head!"

Wearing only black body paint and a chain around her neck, she was among the partygoers uttering ridiculously overwrought dialogue in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970), which Meyer made for 20th Century Fox.

There was a reputable credit, albeit still as a stripper, in John Cassavetes's The Killing Of A Chinese Bookie (1976).

Along with several other Meyer heroines, she voiced concerns to McDonough that the director was not being cared for properly as his health declined. Her last years were spent quietly in California.

Her daughter survives her.

Irish Independent

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