Celebrity Then And Now
Publication: Albany Daily News. Posted by Lexi Schwartz
Celebrity Then And Now
Posted by Lexi Schwartz
One Million Years B.C.
Currently Known For:
1960 - 1980
September 5, 1940
One Million Years B.C.
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“The mind can also be an erogenous zone.” Considered the most popular sex symbol of the 1960s and credited for raising the bar in Hollywood as a strong female lead amid submissive sex symbols, Raquel Welch first turned heads in 1966 when her role in Fantastic Voyage landed her a contract with 20th Century Fox. The same year, she appeared in One Million Years B.C. and skyrocketed to stardom not for her performance—she only had three lines, after all—but for her doe-skinned bikini highlighting her hourglass figure. With the scene plastered on posters around the country, she became an international sex symbol and went on to appear in over 40 movies while earning countless titles like “100 Sexiest Stars in Film History,” “100 Sexiest Stars of the Twentieth Century” and “Hottest Women of All Time.”
Still holding those titles today at 76 years old, Welch was born on September 5, 1940 as Jo-Raquel Tejada in Chicago, Illinois. The eldest of three children raised by a Bolivian aeronautical engineer and a mother with origins back to the Mayflower, Welch was only two years old when the family moved to San Diego, California. The youngster knew she wanted to perform and started studying ballet at seven years old, which certainly came in handy during her first beauty contests in high school. She won Miss Photogenic and Miss Contour at 14 years old and, after enrolling at La Jolla High School, was crowned Miss La Jolla and Miss San Diego’s “The Fairest of the Fair” at the San Diego County Fair. During this time, she gave up ballet after her instructor told her she didn’t have the right figure for it. However, the end of one passion opened a door to the next as Welch was crowned with her biggest honor to date—as the Maid of California.
Graduating from high school in 1958 and winning a drama scholarship to study at San Diego State College, acting wasn’t the only thing on the horizon for Welch as she married her high school sweetheart, James Welch, on May 8, 1959. Amid her starring roles in local theater productions, Welch balanced life as a new wife and mother of two before securing a job as a weather forecaster with San Diego’s KFMB. Eventually quitting college and divorcing James in 1964, Welch took her children and moved to Dallas, Texas where she modeled for Neiman Marcus only to return to Los Angeles a few months later with the hopes of launching her acting career.
Once in Hollywood, Welch met and hired Patrick Curtis—an agent and former child star—who proposed transforming her into a sex symbol to pave her own path in Tinsel Town. Doing exactly that and using her husband’s last name to avoid being typecast as a sexy Latina, Curtis’ plan worked as Welch landed small parts in films like A House is Not a Home and Roustabout before auditioning for the role of Mary Ann on Gilligan’s Island. Although she lost the part, she snagged her first major role in A Swingin’ Summer and was recommended to 20th Century Fox.
Signing a seven-year contract with Fox, Welch was certainly seeing her dreams come true when she starred in Fantastic Voyage in 1966, which was a huge hit among audiences and instantly made Welch a star. From there, Fox sent her to work with Hammer Studios in Britain where she was cast in what would become the role that launched her career in One Million Years B.C. While her character only had three lines, she took the silver screen by storm wearing a two-piece deer skin bikini in what was later described as “the definitive look of the 1960s” and “mankind’s first bikini.” The world went wild over Welch’s sex appeal with critics describing her as “a marvelous breathing monument to womankind.”
With the success of One Million Years B.C., Welch became an instant pinup and married Curtis months later in 1967 as her career flourished with notable films like Bedazzled, 100 Rifles and Myra Breckinridge. She divorced Curtis in 1972 and, while many accused her of only marrying him to advance her career, she proved the naysayers wrong when she won a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Actress for her performance in The Three Musketeers. From there, she caught Hugh Hefner’s eye and was named the “Most Desired Woman” of the 1970s despite her refusal to strip down for the legendary Playboy mogul. During an interview with Pierce Morgan, Welch admitted that turning Hefner down is one of the greatest moments of her career. “I am my father’s daughter and [stripping down] is just not the way you behave,” she said. “You don’t do that if you are a certain kind of a woman and that’s the kind of woman I was raised to be.”
Later posing for Playboy wearing a hi-cut red swimsuit and still getting paid despite Hefner arguing the layout was “boring,” Welch was an undeniable force in Hollywood and went on to appear in a string of television hits like Mork & Mindy, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman and 8 Simple Rules. Taking a hiatus from the silver screen from 1977 to 1994, her work in film has been sporadic over the years with appearances in Legally Blonde, Forget About It and, most recently, How to Be a Latin Lover.
Along the way, Welch has proven what it means to age gracefully in Hollywood at 76 years old and doesn’t deny what her looks have done for her career. “Beauty to me is a crutch,” she admitted to Rolling Stone. “It’s what I built my career on. To be accepted by other human beings was always my first insecurity… When the equipment arrived, about age 14, that was how I first knew people liked me… Up until that time, I was really quite frightened that people didn’t like me at all.” And to think, this is the same woman who wowed the world in a doe-skinned bikini!