Haji, the Quebec-born actress who most famously starred in iconic cult film Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! passed away last night, according to longtime friend Kitten Natividad’s Facebook page. She was 67.
Haji was born with the equally exotic name Barbarella Catton in Quebec, Canada in 1946. At 14 she began her career as an exotic dancer, always fearing arrest and prosecution due to the fact she was underage. After she moved to California to be near the ocean, famed director Russ Meyer discovered her dancing in a topless bar.
She first appeared in Meyer’s Motor Psycho, their first of five collaborations. Haji worked in more of Meyer’s films than any other woman, including his third wife Eve Meyer and longtime companion Natividad. In addition to starring in Meyer’s films, Haji also acted as talent scout, seeking out the voluptuously proportioned women that the former Playboy photographer’s cinematic work was known for.
Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, essentially a remake of Motor Psycho featuring a female car gang in lieu of a male biker crew, is the film for which both Meyer and Haji are most famous. It stood out among the pussycat movie theater crowd for its lack of nudity, lush cinematography capturing California’s rural desert and a frank exploration of female violence and sexuality. Haji played Rosie, the lesbian lover of bisexual protagonist and anti-hero Varla, played by Tura Satana. She claimed to not know the character was supposed to be a lesbian and did not play it that way, despite explicit references to the fact in dialogue. In addition to working with Meyer on Supervixens, Good Morning… And Goodbye! and his Roger Ebert-penned Hollywood studio debut Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, she appeared in ’70s cult classics such as Bigfoot, Wham! Bam! Thank You, Spaceman! and Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks, as well as John Cassavettes’ The Killing of a Chinese Bookie.
After the ’70s, Haji mostly disappeared along with the drive-ins and grindhouse cinemas that brought her a limited degree of fame. The 21st Century, however, saw her and low-budget ’70s fare rise again in tandem, with cheap DVDs and the Quentin Tarantino / Robert Rodriguez collaboration that bore its name making grindhouse popular again. In 2001, she appeared in the direct-to-video retro camp effort The Double D Avenger. The year 2003 saw her in Killer Drag Queens on Dope. Steve Sullivan’s Glamorous Girls of the Century listed her as one of the 1,000 most glamourous women of the 20th Century, while B-movie actress Jewel Shepard interviewed her for her book Invasion of the B-Girls.
She’ll best be known for a film about cat fighting, go-go dancing and drag racing. But Haji was a shy and private woman who preferred the natural landscape of Malibu and the seclusion of her home to city life. She was mostly unaware of her own popularity until the final years of her life.
Haji never married and only had one biological daughter, Cerlette Lamme, but you can catch her spiritual children shimmying and shaking their tail feathers at burlesque clubs, bikini bars and drag nights from West Hollywood to Echo Park. Try as they might to channel her raw female sexuality, they’ll never be her equal. When Haji created herself, she broke the mold as soon as she was done.