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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

K’tut Tantri

Muriel Stuart Walker was born in Scotland in 1898, but as a young adult, she moved with her mother to Hollywood, California. Watching people change names and characters as often as they change their clothes appealed to Walker so much that she ultimately packed up her paints and brushes and took off for Bali, where she died her red hair black and took the name K'tut Tantri.

After hob-nobbing with the Balinese royalty for a time, Tantri opened a hotel for tourists in a small fishing village and settled in for the long haul. During the Japanese occupation in World War II, "Mrs. Manx," as she was known by her customers, went to Java, but didn't escape the pains of war. Some believe that she was imprisoned, raped and tortured by the Japanese. Others are not so sure, at least partly because Tantri re-invented circumstances (and herself) so many times, choosing to keep much of her past both contradictory and shadowy, it's hard to say.

When the war was over and Tantri took on the personna of "Surabaya Sue," broadcasting propaganda in support of the radical guerrilla armies fighting to free Indonesia from its Dutch colonizers, the Dutch ordered her shot on sight. Nevertheless, her fearless in-your-facedness earned her many subsequent opportunities to write speeches for and consult with various Indonesian leaders, including Sukarno.

Still, ever an outsider, Tantri went from there to Australia and back to the United States, wrote Revolt in Paradise about her adventures as a revolutionary, and then spent thirty years trying to get it made into a movie, which would have closed the circle of her life from Hollywood and back. Unfortunately, the movie was not to be and Tantri died secluded and bitter. In-your-face women get really crabby when they don't get their due.

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