The lovely Raquel Welch reached her eighth decade on September 5, 2020. It was a date worth celebrating for this much-admired star of stage and screen. Born Jo Raquel Tejada in Chicago 1940, she originally wanted to dance. Raquel’s legendary physique actually proved to be an obstacle! Speaking to the Sunday Post in 2018 she revealed she “worked hard until I was 17 – by which time I had grown quite a bit of course and my instructor broke it to me that I really didn’t have the figure for ballet.”
After triumphs on the beauty contest circuit, she moved to the small screen. Raquel wasn’t playing roles, but forecasting storms as a KFMB weather presenter. She married James Welch, who she’d known since high school, and they had two children – Tahnee (now an actress herself) and Damon.
It was only a matter of time before the bright lights of Hollywood beckoned. Raquel’s marriage ended and she decided to go to LA with her kids in 1963. The following year she made her movie debut in A House Is Not A Home with Shelley Winters. The Elvis flick Roustabout soon followed. By this time she’d met Patrick Curtis, her manager and second husband.
Curtis advised her to keep the name Welch, to sidestep typecasting as Latina characters. She switched from Jo to Raquel at an early age. “I think if you have an Anglo-Saxon background and you are of Latino descent, the Latin side wins out,” she said to Associated Press in 2015. “It’s something about your temperament and your essence.” Her father Armando was from Bolivia. Mother Josephine, who was white, gave Raquel her original first name.
Raquel’s first big job came with 1966’s sci-fi classic Fantastic Voyage. Swimming around a human body in a curve-hugging jumpsuit must have seemed an offbeat way to make a splash. The same year saw her taking one of her defining roles – cave queen Loana in One Million Years B.C. Ray Harryhausen supplied the animated dinosaurs, but for many Raquel was the true star of this prehistoric adventure. It was also released before Fantastic Voyage, further boosting her profile.
The image of her in a fur bikini captured the public’s imagination. Interviewed by Dick Cavett in 1972, Raquel was more than aware of why certain audience members loved the film. “I was surprised you didn’t introduce me as ‘Raquel Welch and here they come,’” she quipped to the host. She certainly coped with her fair share of attention on male-dominated talk shows.
Even decades on, she was regularly asked to autograph those scantily-clad publicity pics. For Raquel, remembering your beginnings was key. “I remember James Stewart telling me a long time ago never to avoid your fans or the things that your fans like about you,” she told the Post. “It was good advice.”
Eye-catching movies such as the spy flick Fathom and Peter Cook/Dudley Moore comedy Bedazzled cemented her rep for sizzling screen performances. Talking of construction materials, she acted in Lady In Cement opposite Frank Sinatra in 1968.
Other notable work includes Myra Breckinridge (1970), based on author Gore Vidal’s social satire. Raquel then made the drama The Beloved, aka Sin or The Restless. The seventies saw her play the title role in the Western Hannie Caulder (1971). She then went on to appear as Constance Bonacieux in Richard Lester’s Three Musketeers series.
Her last movie credit to date is 2017’s How To Be A Latin Lover. On TV she starred in 2013’s House of Versace. Raquel also trod the boards and belted out tunes in shows such as Woman of the Year, a musical co-written by Kander and Ebb.
Raquel made headlines over her supposedly difficult reputation. “I needed to be a little tough to break through,” she told The Scotsman in 2010. “But at one point I found myself being just a little too much. I told a few people off, and that wasn’t at all what I should have done.” She did a take-off in the nineties sitcom Seinfeld, portraying herself as an aggressive diva who physically assaults the cast.
After breaking up with Patrick Curtis in 1972, she was married to actor/writer/director André Weinfeld between 1980 – ’90. She wed Richard Palmer in 1999 and they divorced in 2004. Speaking on Piers Morgan’s Life Stories in 2015, she revealed, “’I had real feelings for all of those men. At the time I thought I was legitimately in love and that we could make a great life together, but it wasn’t in the cards.”
This strong personality always tried to play the game on her terms. “I’d taken the bull by the horns by liberating myself and creating a career,” she told The Scotsman. “It took guts – it was scary and chancy – but they discounted me as empty-headed, some little piece of fluff without any brain that happened to come along.”
How did she feel about her show business career as she turned 80? “I’m just content,” she told Life Stories. “I feel like I’ve had a very lovely, beautiful life.”
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Raquel Welch died in Los Angeles on February 15, 2023, after a “brief illness,” according to a statement from her manager. She was 82. Welch was a true and empowering icon of Hollywood.