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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Kitten Natividad, movie star in Russ Meyer’s bawdy world, dies at 74

Ms. Natividad in 2011. In her later years, she had small parts in mainstream movies like “Airplane!”

By Neil Genzlinger

Kitten Natividad, who brought audacity and ample physical attributes to some of the final films of Russ Meyer, whose over-the-top sexploitation movies acquired a certain cachet in some quarters and influenced John Waters, Quentin Tarantino and other directors, died Sept. 24 in Los Angeles. She was 74.

Eva Natividad Garcia, her sister, said the cause was complications of kidney failure.

Natividad had little film experience and was working as a go-go dancer and stripper when, in the mid-1970s, she met Meyer, who was by then near the end of his notorious filmmaking career.

In the 1960s Meyer, who died in 2004, became known for outlandish films like “Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” and “Vixen,” most of which featured absurd plots and insatiable naked women with large breasts.

According to Jimmy McDonough’s “Big Bosoms and Square Jaws: The Biography of Russ Meyer, King of the Sex Film” (2005), Meyer was already editing his 1976 feature, “Up!,” when he decided to add a part for a dancer who had been suggested to him by an actress from one of his earlier films. He asked film critic Roger Ebert, who was one of the writers of “Up!,” to throw together some dialogue for a character he named the Greek Chorus.

“It doesn’t matter what she says,” Ebert recalled Meyer saying. “She just has to say something. And it should sound kinda poetic.”

The newcomer was Natividad, and what Ebert wrote for her paraphrased Imagist poet Hilda Doolittle.

“Armed with Ebert’s lofty gobbledygook,” McDonough wrote, “Meyer took the New Girl out in the woods, stripped her down, and made her recite all this complex, arcane narration while she hung from trees and hid in bushes.”

Meyer also fell for Natividad, who was married at the time, and they began a relationship that lasted for the rest of the 1970s. And he made her the star of his next movie, which would be his final feature film: “Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens” (1979).

Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune, Ebert’s television partner on the film review show then known as “Sneak Previews,” wrote that Meyer’s “Vixen,” released in 1968, had been “an enjoyable nudie film because it featured the first joyfully aggressive woman we’d seen in a skin flick.” But he added, “Meyer hasn’t grown up in 10 years; if anything, he’s deteriorated.”

“Beneath the Valley” would be Meyer’s last hurrah, but it held a special place in his heart. In a 1999 interview with Pop Cult magazine, he called Natividad his favorite leading lady.

“She could just go and go and go,” he said. “It was just marvelous. You really had to measure up to this girl, or you caught hell.”

McDonough said that Meyer had “met his match in Kitten Natividad.”

“Meyer’s productions were mercenary boot camps, with the woman inevitably in an adversarial role,” McDonough said by email. “And in 1979’s ‘Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens,’ Meyer puts Kitten through the usual insane challenges, perching her buck naked atop mountains, in rivers at the bottom of canyons, and shot from below a metal bed frame (sans mattress) while she bounced vigorously atop metal bedsprings.

“She blew through Meyer’s challenges like a marathon runner, always a wide, gung-ho smile across her face, and try as he might, Meyer could not vanquish her. That movie is a dazzling, obsessive tribute to Natividad.”

Francisca Isabel Natividad (she later used the first name Francesca) was born Feb. 13, 1948, in the Mexican state of Chihuahua to Juan and Delia Davalos Natividad. In 2018, when she received the Legend of the Year award from the Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas, she told an audience that when she was growing up along the U.S. border, she would gather other children and make clandestine trips to a disreputable stretch of road where they would peek in on strip shows.

“When I looked in there and I saw these beautiful women with the big breasts, the red lipstick, the big hairdos,” she said, “I wanted to grow up to be just like them.”

Her mother later moved the family to the United States, and at 14 Natividad worked as a house cleaner for actress Stella Stevens, getting a taste of the Hollywood crowd.

She got a job as a key punch operator, but when she learned that a neighbor who worked as a stripper was making twice as much as she was, she changed careers, taking her first job as a go-go dancer in 1969 and soon moving to stripping. When an agency urged her to adopt a stage name, she chose “Kitten,” she said, because she was considered the shyest among the dancers she worked with.

In 1973 she won the Miss Nude Universe title in San Bernardino, California.

She was dancing at the Classic Cat, a club in Hollywood, when a fellow dancer, Shari Eubank, who had starred in the 1975 Meyer film “Supervixens,” suggested she introduce herself to the director. She is said to have done so by poking him in the back with her bare breasts.

That got her into “Up!,” which she once described this way: “I’ll skip over the plot, which had something to do with Hitler’s daughter and sadomasochism. The film starts with me perched in a tree, nude.”

Meyer paid for her to have breast augmentation, replacing an earlier enhancement. He also paid for a voice coach to help her lose her Mexican accent. (Her dialogue in “Up!” was dubbed.)

When she and Meyer were together, he would revel in the attention her body and her bubbly personality brought. In 2004 Natividad joined three other Meyer favorites in a round-table discussion for The New York Times; one of them, Erica Gavin, the star of “Vixen,” recalled the couple’s entrance at her birthday party.

“Kitten walked in first,” she said. “Russ loved to walk behind Kitten, because then he could see all the reactions after she passed people. She was wearing a nude-colored chiffon sheer outfit with no underwear at all.”

After Meyer’s career died out, Natividad appeared in numerous other movies, including some hard-core pornography, and had small parts in “Airplane!” (1980), “My Tutor” (1983) and a few other mainstream films. She had a double mastectomy in 1999 as part of treatment for breast cancer.

Natividad was married and divorced three times. In addition to her sister and her mother, she is survived by six half siblings, Teresa Natividad, Amelia Natividad, Diana Ramirez, Victor Ramirez, John Natividad and Estella Ramirez.

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