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Photos by Stephanie Santillan

Sex Icon Kitten Natividad Is Telling Her Own Story Now

Marla Bahloul

Marla Bahloul

Sex propelled veteran burlesque star Kitten Natividad to the upper echelons of cult cinema royalty. We met with Natividad in her Hollywood home to talk about her life and how she's documenting her extensive body of work.

Photos by Stephanie Santillan

To the legion of grindhouse enthusiasts, Kitten Natividad is the immortal vixen whose tenure in the erotic film industry earned the Mexican-born starlet the nickname "the body." The two-time Miss Nude Universe would get her start and notoriety for stripping, but it was her star turn in films by "king of the nudies" and longtime lover Russ Meyer that cemented her status. So prolific was her reign over late-'70s cult cinema that Roger Ebert would rewrite the script of his Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens for Natividad to act as both the lead and supporting role.

Sex propelled Natividad to the upper echelons of burlesque royalty, placing her among the likes of Tura Satana and the mononymous Haji. She would go on to star in films with Udo Kier and strip at Sean Penn's bachelor party for his marriage to Madonna. But before her late break, which came at age 30, Natividad was a doe-eyed stripper with industrial-grade silicone injections that would nearly cost her her life. While she publicly embraced the role of coquette, privately, Natividad would only narrowly escape the mortality of breast cancer and struggle with addiction and abuse. She somehow outlasted the expiry of the sex symbols of yesteryear, indulging in the immortality of her very literal and extensive body of work.

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"All my fans still love me," she says as we walk through a guest room adorned with fan art, nostalgic figurines, and movie prints of a much younger Natividad. "They think I look [the way] I used to look. 'Oh, you look great,' they tell me, but look at me, I'm hobbling."

In 2000, Natividad did phone sex work for income while recovering from reconstructive surgery as a result of a double mastectomy. But rather than conducting calls where she feigned orgasmic release, she spoke instead with eager fans, interested in hearing about her life, her relationship with Meyer, and what she thought of pornographic actor John Holmes' alleged involvement in the Wonderland Murders. She has a genuine and believable affinity for anyone who's interested in talking with her.

It's been a tough year for Natividad, though. Apart from undergoing a knee replacement that would render her immobile for three months, she's in the middle of selling Hollywood's historic London House complex that she acquired nearly two decades ago and says she fixed up herself. The property, which sits just blocks from Paramount Studios (where Natividad filmed the uncredited role of shimmying air stewardess in Airplane!), is home to an impressive bust of Jack London.

She explains that she's selling the home so she can afford to publish the book she's worked on for the last ten years.

"It's going to be hardcover and it's the kind you can read with one hand," Natividad says, flipping through the eponymous loose-leaf manuscript. "When I sell my house, I'm going to take $40,000 and publish it. And it's got all these." She points to photographs of herself with much smaller breasts, or tetas as she calls them; she sighs at photos where she says her "pussy looks fat." The coffee table–sized book is a pictorial anthology with roughly 300 pages and only a few set aside for her biography.

I'm tired of giving myself away.

"It'll be out next year and I'm doing it myself," Natividad says. "I went to Amazon and asked if they'd publish it and they said, 'Oh, yes,' but guess how much I would get? $1.95 every time they sold a book. Fuck them, I'll get the whole 45 [dollars it's worth]." While her stride is compromised, at 68, Natividad's ability to call bullshit is unscathed. "Why should I give them my life, honey? That's my life," she says. "It took me a lifetime to get all those pictures from my youth to now. I'm tired of giving myself away."

Natividad relinquished herself to a rather toxic trinity of men, alcohol, and sex for nearly three decades. By 20—and at the suggestion of club owners—she would subject herself to the Tijuana silicone rot caused by industrial-grade silicone injections; by 30, she would find herself in a committed relationship to her director Meyer, a functioning alcoholic who was 26 years her senior; by 40, she was a full-blown alcoholic with a cocaine habit and an extensive pornography resume; and by 50, she'd decided to get sober after being diagnosed with breast cancer and undergoing a double mastectomy.

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"That's the one thing I couldn't say no to," Natividad says. "I couldn't say no to drugs. At my lowest point, when I ended up with breast cancer, I said, 'I'm cleaning up my life.' I lost my money makers. I lost my identity. But you know what, I said to myself, 'I'm not just a pair of tits,' and I moved on. It didn't stop me from being a sex goddess."

Natividad's smile is as infectious as it was when Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens premiered, and while she is oblivious to her beauty, she is privy to the physical wear of age and abuse. "My nose is kind of weird because some guy broke it and flattened it. You know when they backhand you like that," she says casually, motioning the blow that would alter her face for the rest of her life. She instructs us to photograph her "good side," but from all angles, her beauty remains intact.

Her story is an erotic version of the hero's journey: She opted for a career in sexploitation film, fought with bouts of cancer, alcohol, and abuse, and won the battle, near into her seventh decade. Outside her home is a generic "for sale" sign, and the word "kitten" inscribed in a heart at the foot of her steps. As she prepares to embark on a new venture, her mark is left behind, signifying the permanence of Kitten Natividad.