She became known as a singer and dancer as well as an actress, but most of all, Raquel Welch was a sex symbol—though she found that idea a little strange. To celebrate her 78th birthday, here are 50 photos that illustrate why it isn't strange at all.
Becoming Raquel Welch
She was born Jo-Raquel Tejada on September 5, 1940. Her father was Bolivian, her mother an American WASP, but her agent Patrick Curtis told her to go by Raquel Welch—using the last name of her soon-to-be ex-husband—to avoid being pigeonholed as Latina. Curtis later became her second husband.
Studio Execs Didn't Like the Name
The brass at 20th Century Fox talked about changing her name to "Debbie Welch." They thought "Raquel" would be hard to pronounce.
She Considered Her Looks 'Passable'
Before her career took off, young Raquel saw many flaws in her appearance. She thought her hair was too fine, her eyes set too deep, her mouth too wide and her nose less than cute. But she acknowledged that she had a great body, thanks in part to 10 years of ballet training.
You Might Have Caught Her on TV
Before becoming a movie star, Welch appeared on "Bewitched," "McHale's Navy" and "The Virginian." She also served as a "billboard girl" on "The Hollywood Palace," assisting guest hosts like Sammy Davis Jr. and Groucho Marx.
She Tried Out for a Bigger TV Role
In 1964, Raquel auditioned for the role of Mary Ann on "Gilligan's Island." But she lost out to a former Miss Nevada, Dawn Wells.
She Crossed Paths With Elvis
Also in 1964, she had an uncredited part in the Elvis Presley movie "Roustabout." To Raquel (second from the right), that was a bigger deal than it sounds. As she recalled, "When I was 13, I saw [Elvis] perform live and I suddenly understood what sex is all about."
She Was More Than Just an Actress
In 1965, Welch donned a pair of white go-go boots and performed a cover of "Dancing in the Street" on "Shindig!" No one rushed to give her a record contract.
'Fantastic Voyage' Put Her on the Star Map
In her 1966 breakthrough role, Raquel played a member of a medical team that gets miniaturized and injected into the bloodstream of an ailing patient. Here, she appears with Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali in a publicity shot for the film.
Then Came 'Mankind's First Bikini'
Later that year, Welch stepped out as the star of "One Million Years B.C." Despite her top billing, she had just three words of dialogue and one costume—a deerskin bikini—and her grunts and screams were dubbed. Still, the photo of her seen in movie posters became a best-selling pinup.
She Wasn't Thrilled With That Role
Welch (seen here during a lunch break) was less than happy with her part in the prehistoric fantasy. "I even complained to the studio," she recently recalled. "I was like 'Please, please don't make me do the dinosaur movie.' They were like 'No, Raquel, you don't understand. It's a classic. It'll live on forever.' Turns out they were right."
She Showed Up on a Christmas Card
To promote the movie "One Million Years B.C.," producers mailed out 10,000 Christmas cards featuring this image.
She Didn't See Herself the Way Fans Did
It took her a while to catch up with the Raquel Welch image. As she put it, "I was a bigger-than-life persona before I was anyone in my own mind."
She Tried to Keep Things in Perspective
"The whole sex symbol thing is part of what I do as an actress," said Welch, seen here in 1967's "Fathom." "It's a kind of character I play. It's part of me, but not the whole me."
She Got to Meet the Queen
In London, Welch and Julie Christie practice curtsying before a 1967 photo op with Queen Elizabeth. Two years earlier, both were considered for the part of the lead Bond Girl in "Thunderball."
She Was the Toast of the Town
Although Julie Christie was by then a bigger star, it was Raquel who landed on the front page of London newspapers.
She Also Went to Vietnam
Here, Raquel dances with soldiers in Da Nang, a stop on Bob Hope's USO tour.
She Found a Novel Way to Discourage Paparazzi
Paparazzi hounded Welch (seen here styled for a photo shoot in Spain) while she was in Europe. She responded by drenching some of them with a water pistol.
She Brought Back Curves
Back in the U.S., satirist Stan Freberg called her "the thinking man's Twiggy."
She Became the Embodiment of Lust
And we mean that literally. Here's Raquel as Lilian Lust in "Bedazzled," a Swinging '60s retelling of the Faust legend.
She Had Mixed Feelings About Her Image
Promoting Welch as a sex symbol was Patrick Curtis' idea. To Raquel, "Being a sex symbol was rather like being a convict."
She Had Her Own Idea of What's Sexy
"You know what's the sexiest thing of all?" Welch once said. "A little mystery."
She Found 'Bandalero' a Welcome Departure
"No one is going to shout, 'Wow, it's Anne Bancroft all over again'," Welch said of her performance in the 1968 western, "but at least I'm not Miss Sexpot running around half naked all the time."
She's of Royal Descent
Raquel is the 21st great=granddaughter of King Edward I, who ruled England from 1272 to 1307.
She Got Distracted by Sinatra
She didn't get many raves for her acting, but Raquel herself thought she was "awful" in the 1968 detective movie "Lady in Cement." In a recent interview, she admitted that she didn't even realize her character was an alcoholic until she saw the film. How is that possible? "I think I was just so enamoured with Frank Sinatra, you know. He's hypnotic."
She Turned Down Some Big Roles
Welch declined the title role in 1968's "Barbarella," which became a campy but iconic part for Jane Fonda. Raquel also rejected prominent roles in "Valley of the Dolls" and "Lenny," as well as the chance to play Paul Newman's girlfriend in "The Towering Inferno."
She Didn't Always Get the Parts She Wanted
Raquel reportedly had her sights set on playing Elaine Robinson in "The Graduate," but the part went to Katharine Ross.
She Starred in What Some Call the Worst Movie of All Time
Raquel played the title role in 1970's "Myra Breckinridge," which some critics have singled out as the worst movie ever made. The story of a gay man who undergoes a sex change and then goes wild in Hollywood, it's certainly one of the weirdest. Years later, when the film came out on DVD, Welch provided commentary, at one point saying, "Man, I can't believe I was in this."
She Had an Odd Theory About Mae West
Mae West co-starred with Welch in "Myra Breckinridge," and the two sex symbols—one of them in her late 70s—reportedly didn't get along. In 2012, Raquel revealed that at one point during the filming, when she looked at the aging icon's hand, she thought, "Oh, I'm getting a vibe. I really think she's a man!"
She Became a Global Phenomenon
Posing on the edge of a fountain. Rome, circa 1970. That year Welch starred in a lavish TV special called "Raquel!" Filmed in cities ranging from Paris to Acapulco, the big-budget extravaganza featured Raquel singing songs like "The Sounds of Silence" and (with Bob Hope!) "Rocky Raccoon."
She Got Married—and Divorced—Four Times
Around the time of her second divorce, Raquel explained: "I couldn't stand that my husband was being unfaithful. I am Raquel Welch—understand?"
She Dated Her Costume Designer
Raquel was romantically linked to Ron Talsky, who created the outfits she wore in "Kansas City Bomber," a 1972 box office hit, and "The Last of Shiela," which came out the next year.
She Was Witty at the Oscars
Welch would never win an Oscar, but she had a nice moment at the 1973 Academy Award ceremony, the one where a Native American sent by Marlon Brando delivered a protest speech. As Raquel opened the envelope before presenting the Best Actress award, she said wryly, "Hope they haven't got a cause."
She Wasn't a 'Classic' Mom
Attending the 1974 Oscars with her son Damon. "I was not a classic mother," says Welch. "But my kids were never palmed off to boarding school. So I didn't bake cookies. You can buy cookies, but you can't buy love."
She Was Hot for Alice Cooper
As the shock rocker tells it, Welch pursued him just after he fell in love with Sheryl Goddard, now his wife of more than 40 years. "Raquel was the greatest sex-symbol bombshell on the planet," Cooper said in a recent interview. "But I was in love. And that made Raquel a little bit crazy, to the point where she became obsessed."
She and Ed McMahon Were Once Neighbors
When McMahon revealed this on "The Tonight Show," Johnny Carson asked him, "Weren't you ever over there to borrow a cup of ... anything?"
She Considered Brains Essential
As Raquel once put it, "The mind can also be an erogenous zone."
She Took a Break From the Big Screen
After co-starring with Jean-Paul Belmondo in the 1977 action-comedy "Animal," Raquel didn't appear in another feature film until 1994's "Naked Gun 33 1/3." But she showed up frequently on television and—along with Elizabeth Taylor and Sophia Loren—was considered for the part of Alexis Carrington on "Dynasty."
She Was Even Sexy on "The Muppet Show"
Just check out her dance with the Big Spider on this 1978 episode.
She Was Considered for the Title Role in "Norma Rae"
But the part went to Sally Field, who won an Oscar for her performance.
She Kidnapped Mork
In a 1979 episode of "Mork & Mindy," Raquel played Captain Nirvana, leader of a band of female aliens who abduct Mork (Robin Williams) and take him to their spaceship. Pam Dawber, aka Mindy, recalled Welch as a demanding diva. "You wouldn't believe the things that were done for her," she told People magazine. "These women are terrors."
She Went Clubbing
Raquel mingles with disco entrepreneurs Steve Rubell and Mark Fleischman at Studio 54 in the early '80s.
She Sued—and Won
Welch won a $10.8 million judgement against Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1986, four years after the studio fired the actress from "Cannery Row" and replaced her with Debra Winger. "What they did," Raquel said, "was use me to get financing for the movie, then they dumped me for Debra, which they'd been planning all along."
She Released a Dance Club Single
Raquel tried to launch a singing career In 1987, more than two decades after her appearance on "Shindig!" She released "This Girl's Back in Town," which peaked at No. 29 on Billboard's dance club chart.
She Saw an Upside to Turning 50
With daughter Tahnee at a 1993 charity auction. "Change excites me," Welch said a couple of years earlier. "I am 50 years old. It's when the mind catches up with the body."
Reaching 60 Was Another Matter
"Turning 60 was not a happy time," Raquel said. "I didn't think, 'I'm falling apart,' but I did re-examine my priorities."
She Likes to Do Comedy
With Kramer (Michael Richards) on a 1997 episode of "Seinfeld." When she was 17, Raquel's dance teacher told her she'd never become a classical ballerina. "She thought I would make a better comedienne.," Welch recalled. "Although I was crushed, she turned out to be right."
She's an Entrepreneur
Raquel Welch wigs, marketed by HairUWear, have been a phenomenal success since they were introduced about 14 years ago. The collection has contributed significantly to Welch's net worth, which is reportedly in the neighborhood of $30 million.
She Sees Irony in the Way We Think of Her
Welch—seen here signing a copy of her 2010 book, "The Secrets Of Timeless Appeal"— was surprised by what made her famous. "I was not brought up to be a sex symbol, nor is it in my nature to be one," she said. "The fact that I became one is probably the loveliest, most glamorous and fortunate misunderstanding."
She'd Like to Make One Thing Clear
The last line of a 1974 letter she wrote to Rolling Stone reporter Timothy Ferris:
"I'm not a phenomenon who exists out of time, an anachronism of sociological significance. I'm a person."
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