Peering from beneath a thicket of false eyelashes, the ageless Acquanetta carefully scrutinizes a publicity photo of the four young women who call themselves the Aquanettas.

"It's been very strange," admits the 69-year-old one-time horror movie starlet as she examines a cassette copy of the Aquanettas' Love With the Proper Stranger, the New York-based pop quartet's debut album. "All of a sudden, everybody's been calling me and telling me about this band with my name. Naturally, I've been very curious to find out what they sound like."

But not curious enough to venture to the nearest record store.
Still, Acqua recently jumped at the chance to "rate-the-record" during a one-on-one platter party at her sprawling home on East Camelback Road.

"They're a good-looking group," she says. "But they need wigs--and a little Max Factor."

If anyone knows wigs and Max Factor, it's Acquanetta, best remembered by a generation of moviegoers as Captive Wild Woman and by a generation of Valley TV viewers as the exotic pitchwoman for then-husband Jack Ross' Lincoln-Mercury dealership. But the Aquanettas? That's a whole different tube of lipstick. Clad in skin-tight jeans, a white blouse, jewelry and full make-up (a look that suggests The Big Valley gone Vegas), the Valley's resident glamazon answers the door carrying a bowl of cereal. "Late breakfast, early lunch, whatever," she explains, corraling her two toy poodles back inside the hacienda. After the usual chitchat chez Acqua--her half-sister's botched-up breast augmentation surgery, the importance of positive thinking as a beauty aid, her disappointment when all her close-ups were edited out of last year's video feature The New Adventures of Grizzly Adams--we finally get down to the business at hand: Acquanetta on the Aquanettas.

"Hmmm, they left out the c," notes Acqua, as she skims the liner notes. "Oh, well, everyone does that. I still get mail from all over the world and they almost always spell my name wrong. They don't pay attention to the screen--they just spell it phonetically." Armed with the Aquanettas' cassette, the lady of the house leads an expedition to the TV room. "This isn't going to work, is it?" she asks as she prepares to plunge the tape into the VCR. Realizing her mistake, she smiles broadly. "Well, we can always go outside and listen to it in the car," she laughs while scanning the room for a stereo system that evidently doesn't exist.

"I usually just listen to the radio," she explains. She disappears from the room and can be heard carrying on an urgent conversation with her non-English-speaking maid. Moments later, she triumphantly returns, carrying a portable tape player and a stereo speaker. "Now, will one of these work?" Striking a pensive pose as she settles back on the couch, Acqua listens thoughtfully when her rockin' namesakes launch into "Beach Party," a salty ode to fun in the sun. Although it's doubtful that she (or anyone else) can make out the lyrics during one listening, she smiles appreciatively as lead singer Debby Schwartz wails, "The sand bears the footprints like pocks on its face/With beer cans and paper all over the place."

Midway through the song ("Girls in bikinis need something to wear/Shaking the beach sand out of their hair"), a well-manicured hand sways to the tempo. And by the time the song nears its end ("Larry and Pete are just typical guys/Blasting their music and watching the thighs"), she's totally into it in more ways than one: Her necklaces providing a tinkling rhythm section as she nods her head, Acquanetta has temporarily become a fifth member of the quartet.

Granted, rhyming "guys" with "thighs" is not exactly Acquanetta's style. A poetess in her own right, Acqua answers to a higher muse. "Left to rot/Haven for worms/She lives no more!" is a typical verse from The Audible Silence, a 1971 anthology of her work that still occupies a prominent spot on the living room coffee table. The woman Universal Pictures called the "Venezuelan Volcano"--according to a 1942 Life magazine story, she hails from Ozone, Wyoming--is often confused with the hair spray, and with good reason.

Asked whether she has any connection with the equally misspelled Aqua Net, Acquanetta claims the hair-care company lifted her name without permission shortly after seeing the Life photo spread about her role as a harem girl in The Arabian Nights.

"The studio told me to drop it," she reports. "They said it was good publicity." A spokeswoman for Chesebrough-Ponds, meanwhile, reports that the product was actually introduced in 1953--two years after The Jungle, Acqua's silver screen swan song.

The music ends, and Acquanetta's necklaces fall silent. She has nothing but praise for her fellow artistes. "They've got a good sound," she announces. "It's a lot better than some of the stuff I've been hearing on the air. I love all types of music but I don't like wild noise." Ironically, it's the wild-noise hater herself whose voice shatters the serenity of chez Acqua. "You want to take pictures?!" she whoops. "I wish I'd known--I can't have people see me looking like this!" Despite the fact that she looks better than most women thirty years her junior, the erstwhile B-queen bolts for the boudoir to change clothes, leaving her guests to amuse themselves by watching a poodle paw at a turquoise earring entangled in the carpet.

Twenty minutes later, Acqua re-emerges, resplendent in a black-and-white cocktail dress of her own design. Clutching the portable tape player in one hand, she stations herself under a beaded curtain and prepares to pose. "I still photograph great," she announces. "It's unreal."

Egged on by the dance-happy strains of her misspelled legacy, Acqua rocks, popping her fingers while executing some of the finest twisting seen this side of the Peppermint Lounge. "You know, these girls aren't bad," she laughs. "Let's give 'em an 8. Hey, they've got my name, that's the least I can do for them."

Then she asks how she can get in touch with the band, sweetly purring, "I'd really like to talk to these girls."

As it turns out, the girls wouldn't mind talking to her, either, even though their band's name has nothing to do with her. "We just wanted a name with a Sixties Motown feel, like the Marvelettes," explains drummer Stephanie Seymour, who claims the band's moniker has nothing to do with hair spray, either.

"But we're aware of who Acquanetta is," says Seymour, who is unable to name one of the actress's films. "From everything I've been told, she's this very glamorous, flamboyant, gracious lady." Told that Acquanetta was equally aware of the Aquanettas, Seymour replies, "Cool!"


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Dewey Webb