Rita Hayworth spent the last few years of her life not knowing who she was anymore, painting when she did, and mostly staring out her window at Central Park. She died with many people thinking that alcoholism had robbed her of her career when the truth was Alzheimer’s had impacted her final years and back then, the world didn’t understand that disease at all.
Before she slipped away, she made a movie with William Gréfe, which blows my mind, and that movie is 1970’s The Naked Zoo, which was originally called The Grove, named for Coconut Grove, a former artist’s colony in Miami.
So how did Gréfe — the maker of movies like Sting of Death and Whiskey Mountain — get a big star like Hayworth into a movie made for just $250,000? Well, her agent originally wanted all of that cash, but they were able to make a deal for $50,000 for two weeks of shooting. Her parts were shot in a deserted house near the Pirate’s World theme park (of my dreams, as well as movies like Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny and Musical Mutiny).
Once known as “The Great American Love Goddess,” Hayworth’s life was filled with men who wanted her to be the seductive woman she was in films only to learn that she was a real person. Or, perhaps even worse, men who only sought to control her, like first husband Edward Charles Judson, a twice her age businessman who remade her into a sex symbol that he could buy and sell to Hollywood. Her marriages to Orson Welles, Prince Aly Khan, Dick Haymes and James Hill were also marked with mental and physical abuse, with only Welles not outright beating and humiliating her in public*.
By 1972 — two years after this film — her health and mental state was so bad that she had to read her lines one at a time while making The Wrath of God. She was to be in Tales That Witness Madness, but left the set before she appearing in one scene.
Back to Willian Gréfe. He had hoped to make a movie closer to The Graduate, but you know, as seen through the Florida drive-in movie haze of sex, drugs and crime. And still, this was edited by its distributor, with cuts made to add a masturbation scene and the band Canned Heat playing at a party. Those scenes were filmed by Barry Mahon, pretty much making this movie a team-up of Florida’s two top exploitation experts.
The film itself concerns Hayworth playing Mrs. Golden, a rich woman who lives with her cockolder, wheelchair-bound husband Harry (Ford Rainey, Dr. Mixter from Halloween II!). She sleeps with an author named Terry Shaw (Steve Oliver from Peyton Place) and when her husband finds out — and tries to gun them down — Terry stops him, but despite the death of the old man being in self-defense, Mrs. Golden starts blackmailing him.
That’s really the whole story, although there’s also plenty of party scenes and romance between Terry and Nadine (Fleurette Carter, who was also in The Hookers) and Pauline (Fay Spain, Dragstrip Girl).
You can get this as part of the He Came from the Swamp box set that Arrow Video has just released. Diabolik DVD has it for sale now.
*Welles would say, a day before her death, that she was “one of the dearest and sweetest women that ever lived.