Huh? Raquel Welch as a Cult Siren? And why not? Two of her more popular films in the sixties remain One Million Years B.C. and Fantastic Voyage, which justifies her inclusion in this dossier. These productions were phenomenal hits at the time and still enjoyable today, with Raquel’s photos of the first title still considered legendary.
Once again, I must beg for your indulgence, as I now open a totally useless and syrupy sentimental digression (completely gratuitous, of course). The second photograph at your left (from the top) is probably the most erotic picture I have ever seen in my entire life. I had the privilege of encountering this jewel in my youth and that holy vision plunged me into a state of juvenile bliss. As a kid, Raquel Welch and Brigitte Bardot were my two favorite actresses, both having a strange fascination for me. And when I sometimes heard that Raquel was “difficult” or that her body was completely made of plastic, it revolted me deep inside. But what can you do on these matters when you’re a 10-year old kid?
So, one of the sexiest woman of all time (and one of the main reasons bikinis were invented, in my eyes) was born on September 5, 1940, in Chicago, under the name Jo Raquel Tejada. Her exotic beauty is no doubt due to her father Armand’s Bolivian origins. The young girl would soon take dance and acting lessons, soon becoming Queen in many beauty pageants (like Miss Photogenic, Miss San Diego, etc.). A brilliant student, Raquel fell in love with a fellow student, James Welch, and eventually married him at the age of 18. They would have two children together, Damon and Tahnee, but the couple would divorce in 1961.
At this point, the young mother strongly considered a career in show business, after having been for some months Miss Meteo at a local TV station. Let’s agree that her decision to do some modeling for a time in Dallas was a good idea to get herself noticed. She finally moved her small family to Hollywood in 1963 and rapidly found an agent, Patrick Curtis. The two would form Curtwell Entreprises (10 points to anyone who can discover the true origin of that name).
In a very short time span, numerous pictures of Raquel wearing bikinis popped up everywhere. Life Magazine published some, which allowed Raquel to be hired by ABC to be a Billboard Girl for the show Hollywood Palace, and eventually appear in small roles in TV series like Bewitched. Her first movie role was for Roustabout, rather small but with the opportunity to meet main star Elvis Presley. Raquel would audition for the role of Mary Ann in Gilligan’s Island, but enjoyed her first real movie character in 1965 for A Swingin’ Summer, playing an intellectual in this rather insipid musical beach comedy typical of these years. As a brainy type, she wore big sunglasses but eventually some fetching bikinis. And she even sang. Even so, this role and her measurements of 37-22½-35 got her a contract with 20th Century Fox and being the only female cast member of Fantastic Voyage, an excellent science-fiction movie where she and other scientific types are miniaturized and injected into the body of an injured diplomat, victim of an assassination plot. Their goal is, of course, to put him back on his feet. A miniature Raquel! Is it possible! Can I have one? And she’s even attacked by nasty antibodies! Conflicting shooting schedules would not permit Raquel to take part in Goldfinger or Our Man Flint. But what a Bond Girl she would’ve made…
Immortality was just a role away, this time for One Million Years B.C., where once again we find proof that the bikini (even made of fur) remains an inspiring invention. Raquel has three lines of dialogue: Akita, Tumak and Seron. With a highly original score, classic special effects by master Ray Harryhausen and precise cinematography, this movie was a great success and producers Hammer Studios would try to repeat the prehistoric formula with When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth, Prehistoric Women and Creatures the World Forgot. Raquel became a top sex-symbol, and stayed in Europe for her future movie projects, including The Biggest Bundle of Them All, the first film I ever saw with her and the beginning of a long obsession. She even go-go danced with Edward G. Robinson. She married her agent in Paris, in a whirlwind of raging paparazzi. Many fans were disappointed, asking themselves what she could’ve found in this very average-looking fellow.
In the British comedy Bedazzled, Raquel portrayed Lillian Lust. Co-star Dudley Moore would name her the 8th Wonder of the World. She returned in the USA to join the cast of a western, Bandolero, and a thriller with the Chairman of the Board, Frank Sinatra, Lady in Cement. She refused to star in The Valley of the Dolls, angering many movie producers. Another bizarre English comedy, The Magic Christian, proposed Raquel in a gladiatorial costume whipping some lucky/unlucky fellows on a galley. For another western, 100 Rifles, Raquel posed with former football star Jim Brown in steamy publicity ads, which resulted in a mini-scandal for this unexpected interracial coupling. In Flareup, Raquel was at her more sexy, playing a go-go dancer targeted by an insane killer. Around all this, she found the time to visit U.S. troops in Vietnam with Bob Hope. Her presence was VERY appreciated.
In 1970, Raquel starred in Myra Breckinridge, playing a transsexual (?). Numerous clashes with co-star Mae West would trouble this doomed production, which would be a complete failure. Whispers were now made, telling that Raquel was difficult to work with. Farrah Fawcett in her first movie role would admit that Raquel was bitchy with her. The accused defended herself, proclaiming to try to make the better with the pitiful scripts offered to her. At that point, the majority of people aware of her were seeing a lot of Raquel in the media and not necessarily going to her movies. She then decided to create her own productions, believing in finding success in having more control.
Hannie Caulder was first on the list. This is some sort of female Charles Bronson western, where Hannie finds vengeance against the scum that raped her. A bit slow, but still interesting. In 1972, Raquel produced and starred in Kansas City Bomber, with a script focusing on the life of a roller derby star. A real trouper, she broke her wrist during shooting. For the very first time, critics applauded her performance, even with modest box-office results.
Raquel divored Curtis soon after and went to Europe to shoot Bluebeard with Richard Burton. She also was part a huge international cast for back to back shootings of The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers, playing Constance, a clumsy but good-hearted girl. Once again, she was awarded for outstanding work, receiving a Golden Globe Award for this supporting part. In 1975, Raquel got another of her best roles for The Wild Party. The following year, she plays Jugs in Mother, Jugs & Speed, parodying her own image. It would be her last Hollywood movie for quite some time.
She returned in Europe in 1977 to shoot The Prince and the Pauper and L’animal with Jean-Paul Belmondo, the latter viewed by this writer in a theater at the age of 13 (and I still can’t get over her leopard-spotted costume). She would eventually wed her translator for the movie, André Weinfeld, in 1980, again not necessarily a physically attractive guy. In that period, Raquel found time to record a variety special for TV and even performed some Las Vegas shows.
Raquel faced great disappointment in 1980 as MGM fired her from the set of Cannery Row, a short while after shooting began, accusing her of lack of professionalism. She would be replaced by Debra Winger (?!?!) and she sued the studio. After many months of battle, she would win her case and gain 11 million dollars. Raquel made her Broadway debut, replacing Lauren Bacall in the musical Woman of the Year, which still remains one of her biggest personal and critical triumph. Following on Jane Fonda’s footsteps, she released a videocassette on physical fitness, discussing yoga and quality diet, her own beauty secrets. Her acting career went forward, this time on television projects, beginning with the miniseries The Legend of Walks Far Woman. The best role of her career is for the TV-made Right to Die in 1987, playing the touching role of a woman suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease. For the role, Raquel was shot without any makeup to make scenes more believable. She received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a series or movie drama. And in 1990, she divorced for the third time.
For The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult, Raquel made a surprise cameo playing herself in an hilarious scene where Frank Drebin wreaks havoc on an Oscar telecast with his usual acrobatic clumsiness. She still looked as sexy as 30 years ago. Another Cult Siren that never ages! Is this website the equivalent of the Picture of Dorian Grey? More recently, Raquel made fun of herself in parodying her bitchy side in a Seinfeld episode, after the real failure of Victor/Victoria where she replaced Julie Andrews. In 1998, she had small roles in two films, Chairman of the Board, with the unbearable Carrot Top, and in a French movie, Folle d’elle, with the also unbearable songstress Ophélie Winter. Ugh. Will Raquel ever find quality roles? At least, she was part of a recent big box-office hit, Legally Blonde. And remarried for a fourth time, this time with a restaurateur… and divorced him just recently.
After a recent viewing of her biography on A&E, I still found that she hasn’t aged a bit. Secondly, this viewing left me very moved (but should you care about that?). She candidly talked about her career and the fact of being a sex-symbol, which resulted in never to be taken seriously when fighting to get better roles or trying to contribute on a set. As mentioned, with Brigitte Bardot, Raquel remains a true female symbol of my youth. Any way you slice it, she’s an Immortal.
1964 Roustabout; A House Is Not a Home 1965 A Swingin’ Summer 1966 The Queens; Shoot Loud, Louder… I Don’t Understand; One Millions Years B.C.; Fantastic Voyage 1967 Bedazzled; Fathom; The Oldest Profession 1968 Lady in Cement; The Biggest Bundle of Them All; Bandolero! 1969 100 Rifles; The Magic Christian; Flareup 1970 The Beloved; Myra Breckinridge 1971 Hannie Caulder 1972 Fuzz; Kansas City Bomber; Bluebeard 1973 The Last of Sheila; The Three Musketeers 1974 The Four Musketeers 1975 The Wild Party 1976 Mother, Jugs and Speed 1977 L’animal 1978 The Prince and the Pauper 1994 Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult 1998 Chairman of the Board; Folle d’elle 2001 Tortilla Soup; Legally Blonde 2006 Forget About It