Haji: The Original Barbarella

One of the glories of Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965) is that the starring super-trio contains both Tura Santana AND Haji. In a Hollywood movie at that time, and frankly up to the present day, the standard was that in any sort of gang or group dynamic there’d be one token “exotic” in the cast for seasoning, but that’s the utmost, proportionally, or so it was thought, the structure would bear. Having his trio contain two somewhat similar seeming exotics seemed symptomatic of the delightful excess Meyer brought to everything, in particular the brassiere size of his heroines. It was like that three-way showdown in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. It was mathematically unprecedented. Can ya do that? Let’s find out.

We are only just now entering the stage in American storytelling where the formula is catching up to Russ Meyers, and directors and producers are adding more than just a token presence of color to their portraits of humanity (be they sublime or be they ridiculous), and it simply feels right. Not just as in morally just, but as in more accurate. It looks more like the world we live in. Haji was a pioneer of a kind and I’m pretty sure she knew it.

Haji was Barbarella Catton (1946-2013), a Filipino-Canadian from Quebec. I find it HILARIOUS that someone in her line of work with a real name as good as “Barbarella” would feel the need to change it for show business, especially given that there is actually a famous campy movie about a busty-sexy space slut by the exact same name, that’s how good the name is, but this is a world of wonders. Apparently an uncle called her Haji, and she went with that. By age 14, she was working as a topless dancer. By age 15, she was an unwed mother (her daughter is named Cerlette Lammé). And at 19, she was discovered dancing in a club called Losers with Tura Santana by Russ Meyer, who put them both in Faster, Pussycat! Then came Motorpsycho (1965), Good Morning…and Goodbye (1967), Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970), and Supervixens (1975). Apparently, Haji was also a practicing witch and brought elements of her craft to some of her roles such as the Sorceress in Good Morning…and Goodbye.  She was multi-skilled, and also contributed to the Meyer production team by performing casting, make-up, wardrobe and still photography duties.

As The Sorceress

Haji was the rare Meyer discovery to get cast in more films outside his ouevre than within it. She is also in the movie Bigfoot (1970), Up Your Alley (1971), Wam Bam Thank You Spaceman (1975), The Amorous Adventures of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza (1976), Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks (1976),  Hughes and Harlow: Angels in Hell (1977), Demonoid (1980), Taxi Dancers (1994), The Double D Avenger (2001), and Killer Drag Queens on Dope (2003).  Her most “legit” movie, though still an independent, experimental one, was John Cassavetes The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976). She was only 67 when she passed away. The cause of death wasn’t publicly announced.

 

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