Va-Va-Voom: Raquel Welch’s Enduring Legacy As A Bombshell, Femme Fatale, And Rare Symbol Of Iconic Beauty
Throughout the history of the entertainment industry, there have been countless sex symbols and starlets who have left an indelible mark on society and culture. From Marilyn Monroe to Jane Fonda and Sophia Loren, Raquel Welch possessed a different kind of female influence.
She was a notable femme fatale on the silver screen. While she was an undeniably gifted actress, it was her looks, attitude, and personality that made her simply iconic. How did Raquel Welch get her start and become such a monumental and inspirational force in the world?
At The Beginning
On September 5, 1940, Jo Raquel Tejada was born in Chicago, Illinois. Her mother, Josephine Sarah Hall, attended the University of Illinois. She was raising three children while balancing her studies and career.
As the eldest of the three, it was clear that Raquel was meant for stardom since she was young. Nobody had any inkling, of course, that she would herald such fame and fortune in the future. Her family was supportive and only wanted the best for their oldest daughter.
Raquel Was Determined
Raquel always knew, even before adulthood, that she was destined for greatness. It helped that she had many advantages, such as a charismatic and energetic personality. She was undeniably magnetic and a hard worker. Also, she attended many dancing lessons.
Of course, she had many genetic advantages, as well. Raquel was morphing into a gorgeous young woman and more people began to take notice. Winning beauty contests was only the beginning of her path to fame.
The Roots Of Her International Heritage
Raquel Welch grew up in the United States and was fairly American in every way possible. But, her father’s international heritage added to her American identity. He was a Spanish emigrant who came to Bolivia and then America.
Naturally, Welch’s father only wanted what was best for his kids. Therefore, he decided not to teach them Spanish so they could fit in better. Welch, however, went on to learn more about her background and embrace her father’s side of the family. Even before that, there was something that came between her and this side of her family, and her desire for fame.
She Was Married At A Young Age
It’s no surprise that Raquel was more than popular with the gentlemen that surrounded her. Raquel’s natural good looks and pleasant demeanor lent her to have her pick of men. The one that she chose was her high-school sweetheart, James Welch, who captured her heart.
Raquel and James were two lovebirds that tied the knot at 18. At the time, Welch thought that was what her life would look like: happy and married. Yet, it was only the beginning.
Raquel Welch was at the height of her celebrity career during the hedonistic times of the sixties. There were parties always happening and wild behavior everywhere. But, many may be surprised to know that she was a dedicated, hardworking mother of two kids.
Damon Welch was the first child born in 1959. The second, Tahnee Welch, was born in 1961. It seemed as though everything was going swimmingly for Raquel and her husband. However, in actuality, there’s much more to her life story than what we thought existed.
No Longer A Happy Couple
While everything seemed to be going well in the late fifties and sixties for Raquel, she didn’t have a perfect life. Yes – her career was skyrocketing, and she seemed to have a wonderful marriage and a young family.
It was in the same year that the Welches split after their daughter, Tahnee, came into the world. Everybody was shocked and the media hive was buzzing. Early divorces weren’t too uncommon back in those days. This definitely wasn’t the end of Raquel’s love life; in fact, it was just the start.
The Next Chapter Of Life
During the period of divorce, Raquel began to think about what she truly wanted and aspired to be in her life. As a divorced mother of three children, she still had time in the years ahead to seize the opportunities that would come her way.
Although she had been working as a waitress in Dallas, Texas, her real passion persisted. Numerous modeling jobs on the side helped her out in the early stages of her career. Not much time had passed after the divorce that Raquel’s appealing smile, curvaceous form, and magnetic personality turned everything around.
Big Dreams Were Calling
Raquel was ready to leave her waitressing job and Dallas behind. Deep down, she knew that she had more to offer than only working as a waitress, booking the occasional modeling gig, and taking care of her kids. Hollywood was calling her and Raquel was ready to answer.
It didn’t take long for Raquel to pack up and head to the big city. She had no idea how successful and famous she would get, and, because of her persistence, it paid off.
Things Were Moving Fast
When she touched down in Los Angeles, Raquel wasted no time before taking her first steps. In 1963, she traveled halfway across the country to California, ready to make herself a star. First, she needed to make connections with the members of the showbiz industry.
Right off the bat, she got very lucky. She landed herself a manager, a quick three days after arriving in Hollywood. Patrick Curtis was his name and he recognized her undeniable talent immediately. Soon, they both became aware that the job would turn into more than just a managing role.
Cementing Her Name
Meeting Curtis was one of the best things Raquel could have done for her career. Hollywood isn’t only glitz, glam, and fun, it takes extreme work to get ahead and make something of yourself. With Curtis by her side, Raquel’s connections spread.
The two even launched their own promotions company, Curtwell Enterprises. For both their careers and personal lives, this was the mere beginning of their important bond that would develop and thrive over time.
Her Personal Brand Changed
As Raquel began to gain more recognition, she was still using her family name. She started to be pressured from the inside to change it to be more American-sounding. In her beststelling 2010 memoir Raquel: Beyond the Cleavage, she described that her familial name was too exotic and ethnic, and too hard to pronounce
At the time, Hollywood wasn’t the most open place for welcoming different ethnicities. Her first name, Raquel, was even considered too exotic. Even with the continual pressure, Raquel wouldn’t give in. With an already American last name, why would she also change her first name?
Paving Her Own Way To Success
The increasing pressure from the industry didn’t phase Raquel and she refused to change herself to please others. She admired her Latin roots and wanted to keep honoring that side of herself, even if she didn’t speak much Spanish.
Raquel wanted to create success on her own terms, without changing her name, attitude, or personality to fit in. She began to gain attention across Los Angeles in many ways. In 1965, she appeared in Life magazine and that was only the start.
Her Acting Career Begins
With the famous bikini photo in Life and her industry connections, all of the exposure she was receiving helped her gain more attention in Hollywood. She landed her first role on the ABC series Hollywood Palace rather quickly. Being gifted with head-turning looks and a classy persona only added to her uniqueness.
With more eyes on Raquel, the general public was also beginning to notice her. All across the country, people would tune in to watch her, and she knew the future ahead of her was dazzlingly bright.
Her Earliest Movie Roles
Around the same time that she was on Hollywood Palace, Raquel also made other appearances. She was in the Elvis Presley movie Roustabout and Do Not Disturb. Soon enough, her roles were becoming bigger and bigger.
Raquel wasn’t satisfied with the TV world. It didn’t take long for her to star in a pop musical movie called A Swingin’ Summer. Her popularity and fame were rising, giving her the exposure that she needed to land the next (and much more significant) role.
The Contract That Changed Everything
After her role in A Swingin’ Summer, all eyes were on the burgeoning starlet. Hollywood executives were taking notice and one particular company gave her a once-in-a-lifetime shot.
The company that offered her this life-changing contract was 20th Century Fox, one of the most powerful giants in the entertainment industry. Although her relationship with the company turned out to be a bit rocky, she felt that she couldn’t pass up the amazing offer.
Her Fantastic Voyage Begins
With her promising career in full swing, Raquel got to work with 20th Century Fox. Without hesitation, they cast her in the science fiction film Fantastic Voyage. The movie was a smash hit and launched Raquel to massive stardom. Thus, a lasting and prolific career seemed to be inevitable for her.
Raquel was at home in the Hollywood grind and certainly made many other starlets envious. She was a bright and shining star in the making until Fox made a surprising decision that shocked everyone.
Across The Pond
Regardless of the incredible showing in Raquel’s first feature film starring role, Fox decided to get her out of the States and send her to England. They contracted her with Hammer, the British film studio. While Welch was making a prominent name for herself in the United States, it was quite a surprise that she was traded like a sports athlete to a different studio.
It was also a very critical junction in her career where she would have been landing more big movie roles. Little did anybody know that this role would help Raquel’s career more than expected.
Going Back In Time
Raquel had no clue that she was going to turn into a phenomenon of the pop-culture world. Even though she might have not liked being sent to Hammer instead of starring in Fox films, her first major role for the B-movie studio changed her life. It was the 1967 prehistoric fantasy movie One Million Years B.C. that put her on the map.
However, her massive success wasn’t as much about her acting chops, but more about her costume. In the movie, she donned a fur and hide two-piece, which was marked as “mankind’s first bikini.” Not only did it make her famous for obvious reasons, but it was in line with the era’s changing style.
Taking On The Mainland
Raquel’s impeccable figure, her unmatched style and the revealing fur bikini is what truly made the One Million Years B.C. poster. It also became one of the highest-selling movie posters in history. In addition, the movie was also a moderate success.
Raquel became an overnight sensation across the world and gained status as a newfound pin-up girl. Despite this, Fox decided to keep her in Europe. The Biggest Bundle of Them All and Le Fate were some of the now-iconic films Raquel starred in. Fate had more in store for Welch’s career, as well as in her personal life.
A Perfect Pair
Raquel had one person, in particular, to thank for her phenomenal at this point. That person was Patrick Curtis, her manager who helped her land all of the perfect roles and other work that catapulted her to fame and fortune. Curtis was more than just a manager – he and Raquel also shared romantic feelings for each other.
They tied the knot in 1967, becoming one of the most powerful celebrity couples in the industry. And, very much in movie-star fashion, they got married glamorously in Paris.
Nothing Could Stop Raquel
Raquel wasn’t about to put her career on the back burner just because her business partner had become her partner for life. Her romantic life was important, but her career ambitions took more precedence. In 1968, she appeared in another iconic film role called Bedazzled, in which she played a saucy and seductive villain.
After her time in Europe, Raquel was happy to be back in the States. Fox didn’t hesitate to put their newest star to work. She worked with legends such as Frank Sinatra and James Stewart. No longer was Raquel a scantily-clad poster girl or a European sensation, she was being noticed for more than her appearance. She was an A-lister.
Splitting Up Her Time
Unfortunately, another divorce was in the cards for Raquel. As the tabloids were keeping track of her every move, they were waiting for any juicy gossip. Her strong relationship with Curtis was simmering down, and, in 1972, they announced their separation. In those days, Hollywood relationships wouldn’t last long. Raquel was onto the next.
Now an international sensation, Raquel started splitting up her time between Europe and the United States. She started spending time with other forms of media, as well as appearing at nightclubs and on TV shows as a guest star.
Standing Up For Herself
It’s no doubt that aside from Raquel’s charm and talent, her beauty and attractive figure made her appealing to people all over the globe. In 1979, she made her Playboy debut, but she refused to bare all.
Even Hugh Hefner tried to convince her otherwise, yet she stuck to what she believed in. Her determination to stand by her standards was a massive career asset. Not only was this a sign of standing her ground, but less than a month into the production of the movie Cannery Row, she was fired by MGM. She filed a lawsuit against them, in which she received 11 million dollars.
Third Time’s The Charm
Just as Welch didn’t give up her career dreams, she also didn’t give up on finding the right guy. She put that idea into practice and met another lucky guy, a movie producer named André Weinfeld. It takes a lot of audacity and courage to put yourself out there after two failed marriages, but the third time was the charm for Raquel
Her third marriage was full of constant joy and love. He also inspired her and pushed her to become the most accomplished possible actress that she could be. In the 1987 TV movie Right to Die, she undoubtedly gave the best performance of her whole career.
Living Worlds Apart From Each Other
Weinfeld has shared that his marriage to Raquel was a happy one. Sadly, geographical distances drove them apart. Although they enjoyed their time together, they separated after ten years of marriage. That didn’t stop Raquel.
Her third marriage may have ended, but her professional career kept blossoming. She starred in 1994’s Naked Gun 33 ⅓: The Final Insult, as well as appearing in infomercials and exercise videos.
Her Legacy Endured, But Her Fourth Marriage Didn’t
Although, on a smaller level, Raquel continued to dominate television screens. She also decided to take another gamble with a fourth marriage. Raquel got married to Richard Palmer, owner of a famous pizzeria chain in Los Angeles, in 1999.
This marriage was yet another in a string of failed marriages and only lasted a few years. They announced their divorce in 2008. Raquel was officially done with love and marriage. She felt it was time to move on to other things in her life.
Accepting The Direction
Raquel has been up-front about not wanting to become a pin-up girl, but she never regretted the fateful direction her career took. She also shared that she knew she wouldn’t get all the roles she was vying for due to her “exotic” looks. Her career was long-lasting and consisted of countless incredible moments. Remarkably, she never let anybody get her down or push her around.
She acknowledged in an interview that, “There are many Raquels walking around now.” Raquel served as an inspiration for many women everywhere. Additionally, she was one of the first “exotic” faces to become an international star during a time when it was primarily Anglo-Saxon and British actors.
Monumental Accolades For A Lifetime Of Beauty
Undoubtedly, Raquel was one of the most flawlessly gorgeous female figures in the entertainment industry. In 1995, Empire magazine even voted her as one of the sexiest stars in film history. And, she was also voted into the top twenty at number eighteen.
Men’s Health announced her as second on their “Hottest Women of All Time” list, behind only Jennifer Aniston. Not only was she the definitive girl of the sixties and seventies, but she was also an inspiration for brunettes, ousting blonde bombshells such as Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield.
Her Legacy Lives On
Her timeless beauty wasn’t the only important element of her career that made her a success, it was her acting skills, as well. In 1974, she won a Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture Actress in a Musical or Comedy for The Three Musketeers. She also received another Golden Globe Award in 1987 for her role in Right to Die.
She received a Hollywood Walk of Fame star in 1994. In 2004, she received the Imagen Foundation Lifetime Achievement award for her empowering promotion of Americans with Latin heritage. And, in 2012, the Lincoln Center’s Film Society presented a special retrospective of her filmography.