Acquanetta in costume for , 1946
July 17, 1921
Newberry, South Carolina, U.S.
|Died||August 16, 2004 (aged 83)|
Ahwatukee, Arizona, U.S.
|Children||Sergio Bashuk, Lance Ross, Tom Ross, Jack Ross Jr. and Rex Ross|
|Parent(s)||William and Julia Davenport|
Acquanetta (July 17, 1921 - August 16, 2004), nicknamed "The Venezuelan Volcano," was a B-movie actress known for her exotic beauty.
The facts of Acquanetta's origins are not known with certainty. Although accounts differ (some giving her birth-name as Mildred Davenport, from Norristown, Pennsylvania), Acquanetta claimed she was born Burnu Acquanetta, meaning "Burning Fire/Deep Water", in Ozone, Wyoming. Orphaned from her Arapaho parents when she was two (or three), she lived briefly with another family before being taken in by an artistic couple with whom she remained until she made the choice to live independently at the age of fifteen. Other accounts suggest her ethnicity was African American; her career was followed closely by the African American press. In 1942, LIFE magazine noted her mysterious origins, but reported that she lived with a Spanish family in Spanish Harlem posing as a Venezuelan before moving to Mexico, then Venezuela to obtain citizenship. The article suggests that the Arapaho orphan story was invented because she was unable to produce any identification for the Screen Actors Guild.
According to the 1940 US Census, she had 5 siblings, including a sister, Kathryn Davenport, and a brother, Horace Davenport, who was, according to the Pennsylvania Bar Association, "the first African-American judge in Montgomery County."
Acquanetta started her career as a model in New York City with Harry Conover and John Robert Powers. She signed with Universal Studios in 1942 and acted mostly in B-movies, including Arabian Nights, The Sword of Monte Cristo, Captive Wild Woman and Jungle Woman, in which Universal attempted to create a female monster movie franchise with Acquanetta as a transformative ape.
After her contract with Universal expired, Acquanetta signed on with Monogram Pictures but did not appear in any movies; she then signed with RKO where she acted in her only big-budget movie, Tarzan and the Leopard Woman.
In 1948, Acquanetta and "Mexican-Jewish millionaire" Luciano Bashuk had a son, Sergio, who died in 1952 at age 4, after the couple's bitter divorce in 1950, where she lost her suit for half his fortune when no record of their marriage could be produced.
In 1950, Acquanetta married painter and illustrator Henry Clive and returned to acting. She retired from films in 1953 and became a disk jockey for radio station KPOL (AM) in Los Angeles the same year. Her husband Clive died in 1960.
After marrying Jack Ross, a car dealer who later ran for governor of Arizona in 1970 and 1974, the couple settled in Mesa, Arizona, and she returned to a degree of celebrity by appearing with Ross in his local television advertisements, and also by hosting a local television show called Acqua's Corner that accompanied the Friday late-night movies. The couple were prominent citizens, donating to the Phoenix Symphony and the construction of Mesa Lutheran Hospital and founding Stagebrush Theatre. She and Ross had four children, and divorced in the 1980s. In 1987, Acquanetta sold the Mesa Grande ruins to the city of Mesa. An apocryphal Phoenix legend has Acquanetta, upon learning of her husband's infidelity, filling the interior of his Lincoln Continental convertible with concrete.
Acquanetta also wrote a book of poetry, The Audible Silence, illustrated by Emilie Touraine (Flagstaff, Arizona): Northland Press, 1974. She did not smoke, and did not drink alcohol, tea, or coffee.
In 1987, the all-girl band The Aquanettas adopted (and adapted) their name from hers.
Acquanetta's obituary inspired the composer Michael Gordon to collaborate with librettist Deborah Artman on the opera, Acquanetta (2005/2017). Produced by Beth Morrison Projects, the Chamber Version received its World Premiere at the Prototype Festival in Brooklyn, NY, in January, 2018.
|1943||Rhythm of the Islands||Luani||as Burnu Acquanetta|
|Captive Wild Woman||Paula Dupree - the Ape Woman|
|1944||Jungle Woman||Paula Dupree - the Ape Woman|
|Dead Man's Eyes||Tanya Czoraki|
|1946||Tarzan and the Leopard Woman||Lea, the High Priestess|
|1951||The Sword of Monte Cristo||Felice|
|Lost Continent||Native Girl|
|Callaway Went Thataway||Native Girl with Smoky||(uncredited)|
|1953||Take the High Ground!||Bar Girl||(uncredited)|
|1990||The Legend of Grizzly Adams|