Raquel Welch first won attention for her role in Fantastic Voyage, after which she won a contract with 20th Century Fox. They lent her contract to the British studio Hammer Film Productions, for whom she made One Million Years B.C. Although she had only three lines of dialogue in the film, images of her in the doe-skin bikini became bestselling posters that turned her into an international sex symbol. She later starred in Bedazzled, Bandolero!, 100 Rifles, Myra Breckinridge, and Hannie Caulder. She made several television variety specials.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words and with only three lines in the film One Million Years BC, Raquel Welch said considerably fewer than that. Yet the image of her in a two-piece deerskin bikini was far more eloquent. The New York Times called the shot “a marvellous breathing monument to womankind” and, even before the film reached cinema screens, a publicity still of Welch in her cave woman outfit became a bestselling poster and had turned her into one of the world’s most alluring sex symbols.
Even some feminists approved of the image. The academic Camille Paglia declared that she represented “the indelible image of a woman as queen of nature, a lioness, fierce, passionate and dangerously physical”, who stood for “the pagan ideals of sensuality and glamour that contemporary feminism has prudishly edited out of its vision of female power.”
Before the tape sticking the poster to the walls of countless adolescent bedrooms had begun to peel, Welch was symbolically playing one of the seven deadly sins in Bedazzled, a comic retelling of the Faust legend. No prizes for guessing which sin central casting had her playing.
“I must say she has quite a body,” said the veteran Edward G Robinson who co-starred with her in The Biggest Bundle Of Them All. “She has been the product of a good publicity campaign. I hope she lives up to it because a body will only take you so far.”
Welch’s own relationship with her sex goddess status was complicated. She feared she was “being manipulated without my consent.” Yet she admitted that at the same time she was “addicted to the attention and the opportunities that came with it”.
Her first lead role, in the 1967 spy film Fathom, cast her as little more than “a blown up Barbie doll”, as she put it. When she was permitted to keep her clothes on in the 1968 western Bandolero!, in which she starred with James Stewart and Dean Martin, she noted gratefully, “At least I’m not Miss Sexpot running around half naked all the time.”
The Hollywood publicity machine simply billed her as “The Body Beautiful”. But despite the numerous scenes she played déshabillé, she turned down an offer of one million dollars to appear naked. When she posed for Playboy magazine in 1979, she similarly insisted on remaining semi-clothed. Hugh Hefner was disappointed and accused her of breaching her contract, but conceded that she was “one of the last of the classic sex symbols from the era when you could be considered the sexiest woman in the world without taking your clothes off”.
That there was an intelligent woman behind her appearance was her persistent message, although few were prepared to listen. When she told one director she had been reading the script and had been thinking, he cut her short and told her, “Well, don’t.” Many years later she pointedly titled her memoir, Raquel: Beyond The Cleavage.
Hoping to establish herself as a serious actress, she took the title role in the 1970 adaptation of Gore Vidal’s Myra Breckinridge, playing a transgender woman. Explaining the casting, the film’s producer Robert Fryer suggested that “if a man were going to become a woman, he would want to be Raquel Welch”
Unfortunately, despite a convincing performance by Welch, the film was a stinker. Vidal disowned it and the critics panned it. Instead of winning Welch awards, as she had hoped, the film earned her a reputation for being “difficult” after she clashed with co-stars Mae West, coming out of retirement to make her first picture since 1943.
She finally won a Golden Globe award in 1974 for best actress in Richard Lester’s witty adaptation of The Three Musketeers. Playing D’Artagnan’s lover Constance, she revealed an unsuspected talent for comedy, despite reports of further clashes on the set. It was the only major film award Welch won.
She was a presenter at the Academy Awards several times yet the closest she got to an award herself was when she accepted the best supporting actress statuette on behalf of Goldie Hawn, who was unable to attend. Playboy dubbed her the “Most Desired Woman of the 1970s”, but it was scant compensation for the lack of recognition in the field in which she most desired it.
It was a measure of her glamour rather than her acting abilities that, along with Elizabeth Taylor and Sophia Loren, she was considered for the role of Alexis Carrington in Dynasty. In the event, all three missed out and the part went to Joan Collins.
Not winning a part was one thing and went with the territory. Being sacked on set was quite another. In 1981, a few weeks into shooting an adaptation of John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, in which she was playing the bordello girl Suzy DeSoto, Welch was summarily fired for being “difficult” and replaced with Debra Winger.
The studio claimed she had broken her contract by refusing early-morning rehearsals but Welch counter-sued, claiming she was the victim of a conspiracy to falsely blame her for the film’s budget over-runs and delays.
The court sided with Welch and she won a $10.8 million from MGM. But it was a hollow victory. She was blacklisted by Hollywood for her temerity and it was 13 years before she appeared in another feature film, in 1994’s Naked Gun 331/3: The Final Insult.
That same year she had a non-performing role in The Shawshank Redemption, when the famous pin-up image of her in One Million Years BC was displayed prominently on the prison cell wall of Tim Robbins’s character. The prison warders in the film referred to her as “Miss Fuzzy Britches”.
She turned to television, flirted with a pop singing career, became a one-woman nightclub act in Las Vegas and launched a series of fitness and beauty videos. There were also signature lines in jewellery, cosmetics and wigs – sold under the rubric “Hair U Wear” – in a business reported to have been worth £300 million.
If appearances in The Muppet Show and Mork & Mindy were not highlights of her television career, her appearance in the 1987 drama Right To Die was considerably more memorable. Playing a woman dying from a wasting disease and looking unrecognisably pale and haggard, it was perhaps the strongest claim she made in her career to be taken seriously as an actress. It earned her a Golden Globe nomination and it was the performance of which she remained most proud.
She continued working into old age, keeping her good looks, she said, by not drinking or smoking, practising yoga every day and using Bag Balm, used to soothe cow udders, as a skin moisturiser. “All my life, it’s been my job to look like Raquel Welch and I’ll do it for as long as I can, otherwise I’m out of work,” she said.
Despite her status as one of the world’s most desirable women, there were no celebrity marriages and she sought – for the most part successfully – to live her private life out of the spotlight of the gossip columns.
She married at the age of 19 when she discovered she was pregnant by James Welch, her high school sweetheart, who became a fisherman and later a property developer. They separated four years later, and struggled for several years as a single mother, until she met Patrick Curtis.
Having made an early start in show business as Olivia de Havilland’s baby in Gone With The Wind, he had become a Hollywood agent and helped launch Welch’s career, playing a major part in selling her as a sex object by carpet-bombing the studios with glamour photos of his latest “client”. They married in 1967 and divorced five years later.
She met the French producer André Weinfeld in Paris in 1977. He moved to Los Angeles to be with her and they married three years later. He directed her TV special From Raquel With Love and her Las Vegas shows before they divorced in 1990. Nine years later she married Richard Palmer, the owner of a chain of pizza restaurants. Twenty years her junior, they divorced in 2008. She did not remarry. “I go on platonic dates but I haven’t found anyone to swoon over,” she said on her 75th birthday.
She dropped teasing hints about flings with the likes of Warren Beatty and Richard Burton, but when pressed would neither confirm nor deny.
She is survived by two children from her first marriage – Damon Welch, a computer consultant, and Tahnee Welch, an actress who followed her mother in appearing on the cover of Playboy. She later regretted “too many neglectful moments and absences”, dumping the children in day care while she was on set and autographing birthday cards that had been placed in front of her as if it were anonymous fan mail. On one occasion Tahnee was taken to hospital and her mother was not told because she was filming and could not be disturbed.
The nearest Welch came to a celebrity wedding was not as a bride but as the mother of the groom when Damon married Rebecca Trueman, the daughter of Freddie Trueman, the Yorkshire and England cricketer. The couple separated 15 months later.
Born Jo Raquel Tejada in September 1940 in Chicago, Illinois, the eldest of three children, her father, Armando Carlos Tejada Urquizo was an aeronautical engineer from Bolivia and her mother, Josephine (née Hall), was the daughter of an architect who traced her family ancestry back to the Mayflower.
The Windy City was hardly a suitable environment “for a newborn baby girl with thin Mediterranean blood,” she later wrote in her memoir and when she was two the family moved from Illinois to San Diego. Her mother took her to the local Presbyterian church every Sunday and enrolled her for ballet lessons but her father was a domineering and tyrannical figure. When she was 16, she intervened when he assaulted her mother and picked up a poker from the fire until he backed off. Her parents divorced soon after.
By the age of 14 she was winning beauty competitions, rising from Miss San Diego to the state title of “Maid of California”
At 18 she won a scholarship to study the theatrical arts San Diego State College, but within a year had become pregnant. She abandoned college and to supplement the family income took a job as a weather girl on a local television station.
As her marriage fell apart, she moved with her two children to Dallas, Texas, where she briefly worked as a model for a department store and as a cocktail waitress. By 1963 she was back in Los Angeles, where she met Curtis, who landed her small parts in various films, including Elvis Presley’s musical Roustabout. When the singer made a pass at her she declined, not wanting “to be just another notch in his gun.”
When Curtis signed her to a seven-year contract with 20th Century Fox, executives who struggled to pronounce her first name pressured her to change it to Debbie. She refused.
After appearing in the 1966 sci-fi adventure Fantastic Voyage her breakthrough came when 20th Century Fox “loaned” her to Hammer Studios, which was filming One Million Years BC on location in the Canary Islands.
She recounted with a deliciously deadpan humour how the iconic bikini image came about as they were shooting against the volcanic backdrop of Lanzarote. “You see that rock over there? That’s rock A. When I call action, you start running to rock B, which is over there,” the director Don Chaffey told her. “When you get halfway between the two, pretend you see a giant turtle coming at you, and you scream. Then we break for lunch. Got it?”
It was winter and the entire cast and crew apart from the shivering Welch were dressed in parkas. She went down with a severe case of tonsillitis.
“I didn’t want to do a dinosaur movie, I thought it would end my career,” she said looking back on the role. “But I like that she was how women should be, a female animal. You know, get out there and mix it up.”
Raquel Welch, actress, was born on September 5, 1940. She died of undisclosed causes on February 15, 2023, aged 82.

Top 10 Films

A Swingin’ Summer (1965)
Director Robert Sparr
A comedy film in the beach party genre. Raquel Welch stars in her first featured film role and makes her singing debut in the film. Although she received sixth billing in the U.S. release, Welch received top billing – with her name above the title – on posters for the Italian release, which was renamed The Warm Night.

Fantastic Voyage (1966)
Director: Richard Fleischer
Co-star: Stephen Boyd

One Million Years B.C. (1966)
Director: Don Chaffey
Co-star: John Richardson

Bedazzled (1967)
Director: Stanley Donen
Co-star: Peter Cook & Dudley Moore

Bandolero! (1968)
Director: Andrew V. McLaglen
Co-star: James Stewart & Dean Martin

100 Rifles (1969)
Director: Tom Gries
Co-star: Burt Reynolds & Jim Brown

Myra Breckinridge (1970)
Director: Michael Sarne
Co-star: John Huston, Mae West & Farrah Fawcett

Hannie Caulder (1971)
Director: Burt Kennedy
Co-star: Robert Culp & Ernest Borgnine

Kansas City Bomber (1972)
Director: Jerrold Freedman
Co-star: Kevin McCarthy

The Three Musketeers (1973)
Director: Richard Lester
Co-star: Michael York, Oliver Reed, Frank Finlay & Richard Chamberlain

Source: thetimes.co.uk, en.wikipedia.org
Image: Hammerfilm Productions

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