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Welch, Raquel: 1940—: Actress

Raquel Welch: 1940: Actress


After moving from Beverly Hills to New York City with her husband in 1985, Raquel Welch reflected in Ladies Home Journal that her big California home had been "a glossed-over paradise, a padded cell." The description might have been a metaphor for the first part of Welch's acting career, which trapped her in the role of sex symbol. Nearly universally known as a star, Welch has had few actual hits over her film career. Nevertheless, she has proven a durable figure in the ever-changing Hollywood scene and has carved out a niche for herself beyond the one afforded her by her natural allure.

The child of a Bolivian-born father and an American mother, Welch was born Raquel Tejada on September 5, 1940, in Chicago. While she was still a toddler her family moved to La Jolla, California, outside of San Diego, where her father worked as a General Dynamics Corporation engineer. She took dance lessons as a child and became a cheerleader in high school, while also performing in school plays. Thus blessed with the discipline to make the most of her natural good looks, she began to take home top prizes from California beauty pageants. In 1957 she won the title of Miss Fairest of the Fair, and graduated from La Jolla High School the following year. Her IQ was once measured at 140, but scholarly pursuits were not on her mind.

Appeared in Elvis Presley Film

In the spring of 1959 Raquel married her high school boyfriend James Welch, and the couple quickly had a son and daughter (daughter Tahnee has gone on to an acting career of her own, appearing in 1985's Cocoon, among other films). She tried to break into films and television, enjoying little success but landing a shot on the weather segment of a San Diego television station for a time. The marriage fell apart in 1964, and Welch deposited her children with her parents and lit out for New York, dreaming of stardom. She got as far as Dallas, where she modeled and worked as a cocktail waitress. She returned to California discouraged, but now began to land bit parts in films such as Elvis Presley's Roustabout.

Welch rocketed to stardom as a result of meeting a male American entertainment entrepreneur who made a career out of developing and promoting the talents of young female stars. Welch and publicist Patrick Curtis formed a company primarily devoted to the promotion of Welch's career; the pair married around 1967. Several more parts and a Life magazine photo spread brought Welch to the attention of the Twentieth-Century Fox studios; she was signed to a contract and was featured in the science-fiction film Fantastic Voyage (1966).

At a Glance . . .

Born Raquel Tejada in Chicago, Illinois, September 5, 1940; daughter of a Bolivian-American engineer father and an Anglo-American mother; married James Welch, 1959 (divorced 1964); married Patrick Curtis, 1967 (divorced 1971); married André Weinfeld, 1980 (divorced); married Richard Palmer, 1999; children: Damon and Tahnee; two adopted children. Education: Attended San Diego State College.

Career: Weather reader on a television station in San Diego, early 1960s; film debut in A House Is Not a Home, 1964; signed to 20th Century Fox studio, 1966; roles in Fantastic Voyage and One Million Years B.C., 1966-67; appeared on Broadway in Woman of the Year, 1982; many guest-star appearances on television, 1980s and 1990s.

Awards: Golden Globe award, 1974, The Three Musketeers.

Addresses: Agent Cunninghame, Escott, Dipene & Associates, 10635 Santa Monica Blvd., Suite 130, Los Angeles, CA 90025.

That film was widely acclaimed, but Welch's next few outings, mostly low-budget comedies made in Europe, were less prestigious. Still, Welch acquiesced in her growing image as sex symbol; she told Hispanic magazine that at the time she thought it was fun "to strut my stuff." That image grew into full flower with the 1966 British production One Million Years B.C., a remake of a tale set in prehistoric times that allowed Welch to strut her stuff in a bikini made of animal fur pelts. As a result she landed on the cover of over 100 magazines, although the film itself had been only a modest success.


Featured in Interracial Love Scene

After Welch toured South Vietnam with comedian Bob Hope, producers were typecasting her mostly as a representation of physical beauty. She found film work mostly in Europe, appearing in the United States in Bedazzled (1968) as a character who embodied the inspiration of Lust. Welch was in the news the following year because of the western 100 Rifles, which featured her in an early interracial love scene with former football star Jim Brown. There was a good-natured quality even to Welch's least ambitious film outings that bespoke a greater talent than she had yet been allowed to show, but her first lead role, in 1970's Myra Breckinridge, was a disastrous flop all around.

Attempting to salvage something usable in the film, Welch gained a reputation for being difficult to work withentirely undeserved in her view. "All I ever fought for was quality in my films," she was quoted as saying in Ladies Home Journal. "I really felt I was being penalized for being the sex symbol they had created, and that made my Spanish blood boil." Her appearance in The Three Musketeers (1973) and its sequel allowed her to show her considerable sense of humor. Nevertheless, her film roles of the 1970s were largely forgettable; they included the roller-derby drama Kansas City Bomber (1973). Welch had more luck with several television specials over which she could exercise more creative control. After divorcing Curtis in 1971, she married French producer André Weinfeld in 1977.


The year 1981 brought Welch serious disappointment, and then finally creative triumph and respect. She was dropped from the cast of the movie adaptation of John Steinbeck's Cannery Row in 1981 in favor of Debra Winger. The studio, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, claimed that Welch's behavior on the set had been unprofessional; Welch argued that the studio was merely trying to cut costs and sued for $20 million. After a long court battle she was awarded $10.8 million, but later even that award was overturned. The debacle did have a positive outcome, however: Welch fled Hollywood for New York and a starring role in the Broadway musical Woman of the Year. That appearance brought Welch the critical respect she craved, although its strenuous schedule may have caused her to suffer a miscarriage after she became pregnant with her third child.


In 1984 Welch marketed three successful fitness videos, and she increasingly found success with television projects. In the 1987 made-for-TV film Right to Die, she gave a widely praised and decidedly unglamorous performance as a woman suffering from a terminal disease. Welch occasionally appeared in movies, playing herself in the final installment of the Naked Gun spoof series, The Naked Gun 33 1/3, and found several guest star slots in both dramatic and comic television series through the 1990s. She often, as on one episode of Seinfeld, played herself and gently spoofed her image. She returned to the stage as a replacement for Julie Andrews in the comic musical Victor/Victoria in 1997. In 1999 she married pizza chain owner Richard Palmer, 14 years her junior. In 2002 Welch appeared in American Family, a television series featuring a Latino family.

Selected films

A House Is Not a Home, 1964.

Roustabout, 1964.

Do Not Disturb, 1965.

A Swingin' Summer, 1965.

Fantastic Voyage, 1966.

Fathom, 1966.

Shoot Loud, Louder, I Don't Understand!, 1966.

Bedazzled, 1967.

The Queens: The Oldest Profession, 1967.

One Million Years B.C., 1967.

Bandolero!, 1968.

The Biggest Bundle of Them All, 1968.

Lady in Cement, 1968.

Flare Ups, 1969.

100 Rifles, 1969.

The Magic Christian, 1970.

Myra Breckenridge, 1970.

Hannie Calder, 1971.

Bluebeard, 1972.

Fuzz, 1972.

Kansas City Bomber, 1972.

The Last of Sheila, 1973.

The Three Musketeers, 1974.

Wild Party, 1974.

The Four Musketeers, 1975.

Mother, Jugs and Speed, 1976.

L' Animal, 1977.

Crossed Swords, 1978.

The Prince and the Pauper, 1978.

Restless, 1978.

You and Me Together, 1979.

Stuntwoman, 1981.

The Legend of Walks Far Woman, 1982.

Right to Die, 1987.

Scandal in a Small Town, 1988.

Trouble in Paradise, 1988.

Hero for Hire, 1990.


Sources

Books

Dictionary of Hispanic Biography, Gale, 1996. Haining, Peter, Raquel Welch, St. Martin's, 1984. International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers,

Volume 3: Actors and Actresses, St. James, 1996.


Periodicals

Entertainment Weekly, June 20, 1997, p. 28.

Hispanic, April 1988, p. 20.

Ladies Home Journal, February 1985, p. 44; May 1989, p. 46.

People, August 2, 1999, p. 110.

Variety, June 30, 1997, p. 72.


On-line

Internet Movie Database http://us.imdb.com

All Movie Guide http://www.allmovie.com


James M. Manheim

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