Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #188
Seductive femme fatales are a frequent trope in the Tarzan
novels that producer Sol Lesser was happy to capitalize upon. Lea the Leopard
Queen, played by Acquanetta, provided the memorable menace of RKO’s “Tarzan
and the Leopard Woman” (1946).
Acquanetta claimed that she was born in Cheyenne Wyoming
to an Arapaho woman on July 17, 1921, and grew up with her father’s family
in Pennsylvania, named Acquanetta (“Burning Fire, Deep Water”) by her birth
She modeled for Harry Conover and John Robert Powers
in New York, before crafting her “Venezuelan Volcano” identity and traveling
to Hollywood, where she won a contract with Universal Studios. After small
roles in “Arabian Nights” (1942) and “Rhythm of the Islands” (1943), Universal
cast in in a female monster franchise, the films “Captive Wild Woman” (1943)
and the sequel, “Jungle Woman” (1944), in which she transforms into a gorilla,
but the pictures didn’t capture the public’s fancy like previous Universal
monster releases. “Tarzan and the Leopard Woman” was the high point of
her dramatic career.
Despite an invitation from Johnny Weissmuller to act
in his “Jungle Jim” series, she left Hollywood in 1948. She conceived a
son, Sergio, with Luciano Bashuk, a Mexican millionaire, but the child
died of cancer at age five, and Acquanetta was unable to produce any evidence
of a marriage when she sued Bashuk for support. Press coverage of the trial
further revealed that she was actually Mildred Davenport of Norristown
Pennsylvania, an alumna of West Virginia State College for Negroes, born
in Newberry, South Carolina.
Acquanetta rebounded by marrying painter Henry Clive,
68, but that coupling was turbulent, too. Her final marriage, to Phoenix
car dealer Jack Ross, lasted 25 years and produced four sons. Acquanetta
died of complications from Alzheimer’s Disease on August 16, 2004 in the
Phoenix suburb Ahwatukee. She was remembered for her flashy turquoise jewelry,
outsize personality, and philanthropical contributions. She maintained
her claims of a Native American origin throughout her life.