There are many heroes of the ‘Spanish Transition’ – the era post-Franco when the country entered the modern, open world of the 1970s with a bang – but one of the most interesting is Angela Susana Pereda Estrada, better known (to the Spanish public, at least) as Susana Estrada.
Estrada was one of the most gloriously liberated women to emerge from the dark days of repression, leading the way for sexual freedom and expression. Prior to Franco’s death, she’d worked as an actress, with small roles in films like Armando De Osssorio’s Night of the Seagulls and Jorge Grau’s La Trastienda, but it was in 1976, while the country was still adjusting to life after the demise of the dictator, that she really made her mark. In Madrid’s Theater Videoset, she appeared in Historias de “Strip-Tease”, becoming the first actress in Spain to appear completely naked on stage. This set the scene for a career as the nation’s most notorious sex symbol and erotic revolutionary. This was not without consequence for Estrada – hauled through court for causing a public scandal, she found herself fined, stripped of her passport, banned from public office and unable to vote until 1988. At this time, she had to hire four bodyguards for her own personal safety.
Nevertheless, while others might have buckled under such persecution, Estrada continued regardless. She was a sexologist for Play Lady magazine, and appeared nude in various softcore magazines like Interviú, Lib, Climax and Papillón, as well as erotic fotonovela El sexo de Susana. Her late 1970s movies include erotic comedies and dramas like El jovencito Drácula, Sexy… amor y fantasía and El maravilloso mundo del sexo. And she was a prolific recording artist, releasing singles with provocative titles like Hagámoslo juntos (Let’s Do It Together), Tócame, Voy desnuda (Touch Me, I’m Naked) and Quítate el sostén! (Take Off Your Bra) – the latter as much a cry for liberation as a sexual provocation. At this time, Estrada would tell the press that she believed equality for women began with their freedom to display their bodies and be publicly sexual, and that she stripped because she liked it. A level of revolutionary feminism and commitment to sexual freedom perhaps lost on current generations.
Her provocations also included ‘popping out’ in front of political leader Enrique Tierno Galván at a 1978 awards ceremony, where the unruffled politician advised her “don’t catch a cold, young lady”.
At the same time as being Spain’s most provocative sex star, Estrada was also within the mainstream in a way that seems incomprehensible now, performing less controversial songs on TV variety shows. Surprisingly little of this footage seems to have survived, but there is one fantastic clip from 1977, where she sings three rock ‘n’ roll numbers that seem to have been transcribed by the same people responsibly for the Sex Pistols covers from Los Punk Rockers. Here you can enjoy a scantily clad Estrada singing what sounds like “Bibabaluba, don’t eat babies”, “she’s the girl in the red blue jeans” and “tutti frutti my beauty”. In the middle, there’s a Spanish version of Jailhouse Rock that, I am assured, has been even more haphazardly translated. There are ineffectual backing dancers and a bored-looking audience. It’s all rather magnificent.
Estrada didn’t stop as the Seventies gave way to the Eighties. In 1981, she appeared in the musical Machos, which was classified ‘S’ (the Spanish version of the X rating), in which she became the first actress to explicitly masturbate on stage. This was followed some years later by the Machos 87 Supershow, in which Estrada fucked male backing dancers with a giant phallus before being crucified. We need more theatrical spectaculars like this today. In 1984, the author of her biography, Susana Estrada húmedo sexo, was sentenced to a month in prison and handed a 40,000 peseta fine for publishing such an explicit book.
By the end of the 1980s, Estrada seemed to put her scandalous days behind her – or at least, Spanish culture had developed to the stage where she was no longer as controversial. But she didn’t quite slip away into obscurity. She concentrated on singing, and making the occasional film and TV appearance – in 2008, she played (with a knowing sense of irony) an anti-porn campaigner in the film Los años desnudos (Clasificada S). At the age of 68, in 2017, she released a compilation album, The Sexadelic Disco-Funk Sound of Susana Estrada – a title that neatly references the work of that other great Spanish sexual revolutionary, Jess Franco.
“I was considered too much of everything for everything, which means that I was light years away from what was socially politically correct”, she told La Vanguardia‘s Jessica Martín in 2017. Now based in Benidorm and – in her own words – “still thin, still pretty” at 69, the woman known as ‘la musa del destape’ (‘the muse of the unveiling’) seems as unrepentant as ever. We salute her.
With thanks to Jorge Kinkysima for posting the clip of Estrada that first sent us down this fascinating rabbit hole.