Haji, an actress best known for her work with Russ Meyer in the 1960s and ‘70s, has died at the age of 67. The news was first announced by fellow Meyer leading lady Francesca “Kitten” Natividad at Natividad’s Facebook page.
Born Barbarella Catton, Haji was working as an exotic dancer when she was discovered by Meyer. As she later recalled in an interview with David Michael Brown, “Russ saw the show and said he was a director with a small part in a film, and would I read for it. I read the opening of Motor Psycho and ended up getting the lead.”
The star with no previous acting experience went on to make five films with Meyer, including the grindhouse classic Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965), the big-studio lark Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls (1970), and the 1975 Supervixens. In addition to appearing on screen, she also pitched in on casting chores and “worked behind the scenes as production assistant, hair, make-up, and wardrobe,” saying, “It was a great education on how to make movies with a five-man crew.”
Haji’s brief but lively film career also included appearances in the bikers-versus-Sasquatch movie Bigfoot (1970); John Cassavettes’ The Killing Of A Chinese Bookie (1976); the S&M sexploitation sequel Ilsa, Harem Keeper Of The Oil Sheiks (1976); and The Amorous Adventures Of Don Quixote And Sancho Panza (1976). Of all the filmmakers she worked with, Haji singled Cassavettes out as “always a gentleman.”
After a 20-year retirement, Haji appeared alongside Kitten Natividad and Raven De La Croix in a direct-to-video “homage” to Meyer, The Double-D Avenger (2001). Still, her legacy remains tied to her role in Faster, Pussycat!, where her combination of mysterious, exotic beauty and amused, seen-it-all sanity provide a wry counterpoint to the kick-in-the-face appeal of her co-star, Tura Satana, who died in 2011. Asked to explain the film’s enduring popularity, Haji said, “Well, because we all have large breasts! And there are lots of fast cars, female domination, lots of fantasies for men, but without the women being taken advantage of, so it was for women also.”