Remember Raquel Welch

My first and perhaps most vivid memory of Raquel Welch wasn't watching her on the big screen, but listening to my uncle describe the indelible impression she left on his mind during the '60s.

During the late '90s, Baywatch was shown interminably on TV.  During one run, my uncle remarked, "For your generation it is Baywatch, for ours, it was Raquel Welch."

His voice rose a few decibels as he pronounced her name.

"The movie was One Million Years B.C.  There was a giant poster of Raquel wearing a very skimpy outfit at a key location in the city."

"The poster was removed because it was a distraction for drivers," he recalled, chuckling.

"The poster caused such a sensation that shows ran to full houses.  There were cheers and whistles when Welch appeared on screen."

"Many watched the film multiple times."

"I watched it twice," he said, whispering.

His face lit up as he recounted the experience.  He cautiously refrained from being graphic, hence words such as "siren," "bombshell," and even "shapely" were used.

This was the pre-internet era.  Despite our eagerness, we couldn't download an image of Welch or search for One Million Years B.C. on YouTube or any other streaming platform.

Years later, when Bedazzled (1967) was shown on TV, I remembered my uncle's words.  Welch truly had a ravishing and tantalizing presence.

It was easy to comprehend why Welch became one of the most sought-after stars throughout the '60s and '70s.

Sadly, the era came to an end yesterday when it was announced that Welch passed away at her home in Los Angeles on Wednesday following a brief illness.

Welch began her career on TV during the early '60s, appearing briefly on shows such as The VirginianMcHale's Navy, and Bewitched, and on the big screen with Elvis Presley in Roustabout, and Doris Day in Do Not Disturb.

When she played an air hostess in Bewitched, they didn't even show her face.

She was noticed by audiences and film bosses in the comedy A Swingin' Summer (1965); it caused her to bag the leading part in the Hammer Studio's 1966 remake of One Million Years B.C. (1940).

The movie was the standard campy "B-picture" fantasy adventure of its time.  But Welch, despite having only three lines, rose above the film due to her screen presence and set the box office on fire.  The role also catapulted her to international sex symbol status.

In 1966, Welch starred in the sci-fi adventure Fantastic Voyage.  The film received positive reviews.

In 1967, Welch starred in the British comedy film Bedazzled.

Also in 1967, Raquel played the title role in the James Bond spoof Fathom.  Perhaps this was compensation for missing out as the leading lady in the 007 film Thunderball in 1965 due to scheduling conflicts.

Welch also starred in westerns such as Bandolero! (1968) and 100 Rifles (1969); both films didn't do well with audiences or critics, but it was an opportunity for Welch to broaden her horizons by playing an action star in a new genre.

Next, Welch did the unthinkable for the time, playing the title role of a transgender woman in Myra Breckinridge (1970).  It was based on a novel by Gore Vidal and was fiercely rejected by critics and at the box office. 

Welch spoke about the film during an interview with Dick Cavett:

She returned to Westerns as the avenger in 1971 with Hannie Caulder, and the film did well at the box office.  Quentin Tarantino said the film was one of his inspirations for the Kill Bill series.

In 1972, she received acclaim for playing a single mother of young Jodie Foster in the sports drama Kansas City Bomber.

In 1973 she played Constance Bonacieux, the dressmaker of the Queen in The Three Musketeers.  Welch received great acclaim for her role and was honored with a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Actress in a Musical or Comedy.

Also in 1973, Welch starred in The Last of Sheila, which went on to be regarded as one of the best murder mystery movies ever made.  It was the inspiration for the Knives Out mystery films.

Welch was nominated for a Golden Globe in 1987 for Best Actress in a Television Film for her role in Right to Die, about a woman who is diagnosed with ALS and who ultimately finds her living situation impossible to endure.

Raquel parodied herself as a fire-breathing prima donna in a memorable appearance in the season 8 finale of Seinfeld in 1997.

Raquel also appeared in Legally BlondeSpin CityCSI: MiamiHouse of Versace, and How to Be a Latin Lover.

Welch also performed a one-woman nightclub musical act in Los Angeles for many years.

Raquel was named one of the "100 Sexiest Stars in Film History" in an issue of Empire magazine in 1995; she ranked #3 in Playboy's "100 Sexiest Stars of the 20th Century."  In 1996, she was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Yet the peril of a sex symbol is that audiences and critics seldom take the star seriously.  Few realize that projecting sexiness on screen requires acting skills; it isn't only about showing skin.

She seldom played the damsel in distress or the empty-headed sexpot.  Welch's sexiness was part of her character, not the whole of her character.  Her characters were confident, tough, resourceful, and smart.  Despite being a sex symbol, she never engaged in any sexually explicit scenes or nudity.

Welch always rose to the occasion when presented with an opportunity.  She had a great aptitude for comedy.  She was also excellent in dramatic roles.

But talented performers need a great director and screenwriter to display that of which they are capable.  Unfortunately, serious filmmakers either didn't see that potential in Welch or thought her sex symbol status would diminish the seriousness of their works.  Hence, Welch was never part of any film that was masterful or memorable, and her ample talents were underused.

Even Quentin Tarantino, who was a fan of Welch and is known to cast actors who are in the twilight phase of their career, never cast Welch in any of his films.

Even the tributes paid to her are mostly her life in pictures, where readers get to browse through photos of the very stunning Raquel, but few describe her talents as a performer.

Welch was aware of this and had made peace with it.

"Part of being a sex symbol is very flattering and it does help you get success in the business — but only to a point," Welch said during the release of her 2001 film Tortilla Soup, adding that "it does cloud people's imagination."

Off-screen Raquel dedicated a significant amount of her time entertaining U.S. troops stationed abroad and touring with Bob Hope during the '60s and '70s.

She also launched her line of jewelry, beauty, and fitness products, such as her video promoting yoga.

But she will be remembered as an icon who illuminated the screen with her sultry presence.

Following the news of her passing, tributes poured from critics, fans, and former co-stars.

Image: Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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