27 May 2015

Imported from the USA: Raquel Welch

In the following months we will continue our series 'Imported from the USA'. Posts about Hollywood stars who worked intensively in the European cinema. Many did that at the end of their careers. Others became stars in European productions and later returned to the US. We start with one of the icons of the 1960s and 1970s, Raquel Welch (1940). She first won attention for her role in Fantastic Voyage (1966). Then she made in Great Britain One Million Years B.C. (1966). Although she had only three lines in the film, a poster of Welch in a furry prehistoric bikini became an amazing bestseller and catapulted her to stardom.

Raquel Welch
German postcard, no. 100 / 125.

Raquel Welch in Le plus vieux métier du monde (1967)
Vintage postcard. Photo: publicity still for Le plus vieux métier du monde/The oldest profession (Michael Pfleghar, 1967).

Raquel Welch
Spanish postcard, no. 11.

Miss Photogenic

Raquel Welch was born Jo Raquel Tejada in 1940 in Chicago, Illinois. She was the first of three children born to Bolivian Armando Carlos Tejada Urquizo, an aerospace engineer, and his Irish-American wife Josephine Sarah Hall, who was the daughter of American architect Emery Stanford Hall.

At age 14, Raquel won her first beauty title beauty title as Miss Photogenic. She graduated from high school in 1958 and a year later, after becoming pregnant, she married her high school sweetheart, James Welch. Seeking an acting career, Welch won a scholarship in drama, took classes at San Diego State College and won several parts in local theatre productions. She got a job as a weather forecaster at KFMB, a local San Diego television station.

After her separation from James Welch, she moved with her two children to Dallas, Texas, where she worked as a model for Neiman Marcus and as a cocktail waitress. In 1963, she went to California, where she met former child star and Hollywood agent Patrick Curtis who became her personal and business manager and second husband. They developed a plan to turn Welch into a sex symbol.

After small roles in a few films and TV series, she had her first featured role in the beach film A Swingin' Summer (Robert Sparr, 1965). She landed a seven-year nonexclusive contract at 20th Century Fox and was cast in a leading role in the sci-fi film Fantastic Voyage (Richard Fleischer, 1966) opposite Stephen Boyd. Welch portrayed a member of a medical team that is miniaturized and injected into the body of an injured diplomat with the mission to save his life. The film was a hit and made her a well-known name.

Fox Studio loaned her to Hammer Studios in Britain where she starred in One Million Years B.C. (Don Chaffey, 1966). Her only costume was a two-piece deer skin bikini. Gary Brumburgh at IMDb: "Tantalizingly wet with her garb clinging to all the right amazonian places, One Million Years B.C. (1966), if nothing else, captured the hearts and libidos of modern men (not to mention their teenage sons) while producing THE most definitive and best-selling pin-up poster of that time."

Raquel Welch
British postcard by Klasik Kards, no. 1541. Photo: publicity still for Fantastic Voyage (Richard Fleischer, 1966).

Raquel Welch
Italian postcard, no. 100/116.

Raquel Welch
Spanish postcard, no. 597.

Romanian postcard by Casa Filmului Acin.

Ground-breaking sex scenes

Raquel Welch stayed in Europe for the French comedy Le Plus Vieux Métier du monde/The Oldest Profession (Michael Pfleghar a.o., 1967), a typical European anthology film of the 1960s. A collection of sketches on prostitution through the ages, made by a pan-European cast and crew. Some of the most sensual stars of the era played the leads: Michèle Mercier, Elsa Martinelli, Anna Karina, Nadia Gray, Jeanne Moreau and Welch.

She played Nini in the episode La belle époque/The Gay Nineties by German director Michael Pfleghar. When Nini discovers by accident that her antiquated customer (Martin Held) is a banker, she pretends to be an honest woman who has fallen in love with him. She even pays him, just like a gigolo!

Varlaam at IMDb: "Raquel Welch stars in the most amusing episode, relatively speaking. It's apparently set in 1890s Vienna (Emperor Franz Josef is on the paper money). One could probably say that Raquel's greatest classic role was as the injured party in the Cannery Row lawsuit. Finely nuanced she was not, normally. But she makes an appealing light comedienne here, and she can really fill a lacy Viennese corset. The Belle Époque it assuredly was."

Next, she appeared in the British seven-deadly-sins comedy Bedazzled (Stanley Donen, 1967). She played the deadly sin representing 'lust' for the comedy team of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. In Britain, she was also the title secret agent in the sexy spy spoof Fathom (Leslie H. Martinson, 1967).

In Italy, she starred with Monica Vitti and Claudia Cardinale in Le Fate/The Queens (Mauro Bolognini, 1966) and with Edward G. Robinson and Vittorio de Sica in The Biggest Bundle of Them All (Ken Annakin, 1968).

Back in the United States she appeared in the Western Bandolero! (Andrew V. McLaglen, 1968) with James Stewart and Dean Martin, which was followed by the private-eye drama Lady in Cement (Gordon Douglas, 1968) with Frank Sinatra. She caused quite a stir in her ground-breaking sex scenes with black athlete Jim Brown in the Western 100 Rifles (Tom Gries, 1969).

Raquel Welch
Romanian postcard by Casa Filmului Acin, no. 43079.

Raquel Welch
Italian postcard in the Artisti di Sempre series by Rotalfoto, Milano, no. 347.

Raquel Welch
Romanian postcard by Casa Filmului Acin. Photo: publicity still for Bandolero! (Andrew V. McLaglen, 1968).

Raquel Welch
American postcard by Coral-Lee, Rancho Cordova, Ca., no. Personality 21. Photo: Douglas Kirkland, 1978.

Breaking the mould of the submissive sex symbol

Raquel Welch's most controversial role came in the comedy Myra Breckinridge (Michael Sarne, 1970), based on Gore Vidal's 1968 novel. She took the part as the film's transsexual heroine in an attempt to be taken seriously as an actress. The picture was controversial for its sexual explicitness, but unlike the novel, Myra Breckinridge received little to no critical praise. It is cited in the book The Fifty Worst Films of All Time.

Jason Ankeny at AllMovie: "Her situation was unusual; she was certainly a star and a household name, yet few people ever went to see her movies." Welch took a measure of control over her screen persona, producing and starring in Hannie Calder (Burt Kennedy, 1971), the first film in which she carved out a place in movie history portraying strong female characters and breaking the mould of the submissive sex symbol. She altered the image further with Kansas City Bomber (Jerrold Freedman, 1972), insisting on doing her own stunts as good-hearted roller derby star Diane 'KC' Carr.

She followed that with a series of successful films in Europe that included the thriller Bluebeard (Edward Dmytryk, 1972) starring Richard Burton, the swashbuckler The Three Musketeers (Richard Lester, 1973) - for which she won a Golden Globe, the sequel The Four Musketeers (Richard Lester, 1974) both with Oliver Reed and Michael York, and The Wild Party (James Ivory, 1975).

A big hit in Europe was the French action-comedy L'Animal/Animal (Claude Zidi, 1977) starring Jean-Paul Belmondo. Raquel Welch's unique persona on film made her into one the reigning icons of the 1960s and 1970s. Later, she made several television variety specials. In 1980, Welch planned on making a comeback in an adaptation of John Steinbeck's Cannery Row (David S. Ward, 1982), but was fired by the producers a few days into production. The producers said that at 40 years old she was too old to play the character. She was replaced with Debra Winger. Welch sued and collected a $10.8 million settlement.

She starred on Broadway in Woman of the Year, receiving praise for following Lauren Bacall in the title role. She also starred in Victor/Victoria, having less success. In 1995, Welch was chosen by Empire Magazine as one of the 100 Sexiest Stars in Film History.

Raquel Welch
Romanian postcard by Casa Filmului Acin.

Her later films include the hit comedy Legally Blonde (Robert Luketic, 2001), starring Reese Witherspoon, and Forget About It (BJ Davis, 2006) with Burt Reynolds. Welch was married four times and is the mother of Damon Welch (1959) and actress Tahnee Welch (1961).

Trailer One Million Years B.C. (1966). Source: John Kelly (YouTube).

Trailer Fantastic Voyage (1966). Source: beowulfooo (YouTube).

Trailer Myra Breckinridge (1970). Source: Sleaze-O-Rama (YouTube).

Sources: Jason Ankeny (AllMovie), Gary Brumburgh (IMDb), David Carless (IMDb), Bob Taylor (IMDb), Varlaam (IMDb), TCM, Wikipedia and IMDb.

1 comment:

Bunched Undies said...

Thank you! Pics of Raquel _ from any era - are always welcome!