While most will remember her for being one of Hollywood’s most notorious bombshells, Raquel Welch was a single mother raising two children when she first rose to fame. Even now, the Hollywood legend remains absolutely gorgeous – apparently, somebody forgot to tell her skin she was supposed to start aging at some point. We’re taking a look back at the stunning actors’ remarkable six-decade spanning career, and just what she’s been up to recently.
“Nobody would have believed it back then, not when they saw me in that skimpy fur bikini,” Welch wrote in her memoir, Beyond the Cleavage, as seen in an excerpt on ABC News. “Can you picture the girl in the poster with a baby in one arm and pushing a stroller with the other? Kind of destroys the fantasy, doesn’t it? Ironically, I am duty-bound and destined to do just that.”
Born in Chicago towards the end of WWII, Welch had a somewhat simple upbringing, growing up in “the projects,” which were governmental housing in Mission Bay Area, California. Her father, originally from Bolivia, worked as an aeronautical engineer, while her mother, Josephine Sarah Hall, was a homemaker. The eldest of three, Welch, described her family home as “strangely chilly,” thanks to her parents’ lack of tenderness and physical affection. Her relationship with her father had also been rocky, with the former actress admitting his strict demand for manners and following the rules “terrified” the whole family. She found solace in singing along to the radio tunes, an activity that would even prompt a rare break from her father’s otherwise moody self.
Eventually, the family purchased a T.V. set, and Welch quickly became hooked on comedy shows. “My fave was Jerry Lewis,” she wrote. “I used to squeal with laughter over his childish antics.” As she matured, so did her taste for comedy on the small screen, and so began her infatuation with the “suave, handsome crooner,” Dean Martin.
For Welch, performing had become an escape from her turbulent life at home, and so began her love for the stage. As a young child, her mother had already noticed Welch’s talent and enrolled her at the San Diego Junior Theatre. In her teen years, she met her first love, Jim Wesley Welch, an avid dancer who, much unlike her dad, would shower Raquel Welch with the affection she had long been “hungry” for. Not interested in academia, Jim Welch would drop out of high school and run away to Peru in his senior year, leaving Welch heartbroken.
Nonetheless, as the actress put it, “life went on.” Welch had already been regarded as a ‘beauty queen’ in her town, thanks to a pageant she had participated in – and won – the year prior. “My picture started appearing in the local papers, and complete strangers began to recognize me,” Welch wrote. “It was my first taste of small-town fame, and it was exhilarating!” That win would lead her to take part in many more pageants, which eventually led her to win the title for ‘Maid of California,’ the same year she received a scholarship to study theater at the San Diego State College.
After enrolling, Jim Welch returned from Peru and asked for her hand in marriage. Not wasting a second, Welch dropped out of college, and the two got hitched in Las Vegas. In the meantime, the young bride became pregnant just months after their wedding. Over the next two years, the couple would have two children: Damon, a son, and Tahnee, a daughter.
While Welch loved being a mother and wife, she still yearned for a career in acting and had been receiving offers left and right from Hollywood producers. She dreamt of one day moving to New York to pursue theater, but her husband was not as keen. After three years of marriage, the couple would divorce, and Welch would make a “precarious living” through modeling and as a cocktail waitress, barely scraping by as a single mother.
“My breakup with Jim remains the most painful decision of my entire life,” Welch admitted in her memoir.
As a young aspiring actor in Hollywood, Welch met one-time child star Patrick Curtis, who became her business manager, and made it his mission to turn Welch into a bombshell. Welch was finally approached by producer Cubby Broccoli, who offered her a long-term contract at 20th Century Fox after seeing her photo in a magazine and landed her first leading role in the 1966 sci-fi film, Fantastic Voyage. That same year, Welch would star in her most iconic role as Laona in One Million Years B.C., and with it become one of the most notorious actors in Hollywood. While Welch only had three lines in the movie, her doeskin bikini quickly made her a cultural symbol in both the USA and Europe.
The ’70s saw Welch shoot to international fame and star in many films such as ‘Kansas City Bomber’ (1972), ‘The Last of Sheila’ (1973), ‘The Three Musketeers’ (1973), ‘The Four Musketeers’ (1974) and ‘The Wild Party’ (1975). In 1970, Welch landed her first television special, Raquel! in which big names like Tom Jones and John Wayne made guest appearances. The show was an ambitious number, filmed in London, Paris, Acapulco, Mexico City, Yucatan, Big Sur, and Los Angeles, and featured both dance and comedic numbers. It is still considered to be a classic timepiece of the ’70s by many.
In 1982, Welch was cast to star in John Steinbeck’s film ‘Cannery Row,’ from which the production company, MGM, abruptly fired her without so much of a warning or reason. As a result, the actor took them to court and demanded reparations for breach of contract. According to the ‘Washington Post,’ the production giant had attempted to smear Welch’s name, claiming the only reason she was going through with the trial “was an actress over 40 and generally actresses in that age bracket can’t get roles anymore.” Welch won the case and was awarded $10.8 Million. Although a victory, Welch later admitted she would have rathered that the lawsuit never took place, as she believed it hurt her career as an actor. “I needed to clear my name,” she told ‘Hollywood Reporter.’
“But since that time, I’ve never starred in a major motion picture. That’s not the outcome I was looking for.”
The court drama saw Welch step out of the spotlight for some years, with the iconic actress having a short stint in fitness with the release of her book, “Raquel: The Raquel Welch Total Beauty and Fitness Program.” According to ‘The Los Angeles Times,’ the book featured tips on food and exercise Welch followed to maintain her physique.
“Every time I left the theater, there would be a crowd of women waiting to ask me questions, such as: ‘What do you eat?’ ‘What kind of exercises do you do?’ and ‘How do you look like that?’ Well, I wasn’t about to stand there and explain my daily hour-and-a-half exercise routine or what I had for breakfast,” Welch explained at the time.
“I decided to take a year off to write. For the first time, I had a chance to get outside my image as an actress,” she says thoughtfully. “And for the first time, I had something to say.”
In 1987, Welch made a comeback as Emily Bauer in the powerful film, ‘Right to Die,’ a psychologist with Lou Gehrig’s disease who desires to end her life through voluntary euthanasia due to her diagnosis. Her portrayal in the film would bag her a nomination for “Best Actress” in a small screen film that following year. Following ‘Right to Die,’ Welch continued to take up roles in T.V. films such as ‘Scandal in a Small Town’ (1988), ‘Trouble in Paradise’ (1989), and ‘Torch Song’ (1993). The late ’90s saw Welch make guest appearances in numerous classic shows like ‘Sabrina the Teenage Witch’ and ‘Seinfield.’ Around that same time, she made her big Broadway debut in the classic ‘Victor/Victoria.’
By then a veteran of the entertainment industry, Welch established herself as a Hollywood legend that had much more to offer than just looks.
She has since received many prestigious accolades for her mark on American culture, including a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1994 and an Imagen Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001 for her positive promotion of Americans of Latin heritage. The prestigious Film Society Lincoln Center presented a special retrospective of Welch’s films at the Walter Reade Theater in 2012 to celebrate the actors’ mark on show business.
Although Welch has somewhat retired from acting the last two decades, she occasionally makes appearances on screen. In 2017, the legendary actor starred in the sitcom ‘Date My Dad,’ for which she reunited with actor Robert Wagner 40 years after they first appeared together in ‘The Biggest Bundle of Them All.’
“The minute I got the script, I just thought it was great fun,” Welch told Fox News of the role. “And I loved the idea. It’s comedy. I’m good at comedy, if I can say so myself. And it’s something I enjoy doing. It was a no-brainer for me.”
The seasoned actor also said the chance to once again work with Wagner was an important incentive for her to take the role.
“There wasn’t a particular rapport [in the movie] except, of course, he’s Robert Wagner and what’s not to like?” Welch explained. “We had a really good time… It seemed like a perfect match in a sense… I had no objection. What possibly could I object to? We had a lot of fun. And people seem to enjoy our interaction. It’s all been very enjoyable, I have to say.”
The show follows Ricky Cooper, who is Welch’s character’s son-in-law, as he navigates life as a single father following his divorce. His three daughters become determined to help Cooper find love again, and his mother-in-law becomes his unlikely source of wisdom as he starts to date again. Welch portrays Rosa on the show, a sultry grandmother with a love for nightlife and a seductress whom men can seldom resist. The role is almost perfect for Welch – not just because of their fiery similarities, but because of her motherly instincts, too.
“I could be a grandmother myself. My children are not cooperating,” she said humorously. “But I am a mother and I have seen my son go through a marriage that failed… I was very interested and it’s not a real stretch for me…. I’m enjoying the whole darn thing.”
Perhaps one of the reasons Welch’s children “are not cooperating” is because they are busy following in their mom’s footsteps, like Tahnee Welch. Raquel Welch’s daughter Tahnee grew up across the world, due to her mom’s career. After attending an all-girls school, Tahnee moved to New York to study acting. However, Tahnee’s acting career did not take off in the states. Instead, she acted in Italy and Germany, having starred in series like “Disperatamente Guilia” and “Amarsi un po’.” According to Fan Carpet, she’s also appeared in several magazines, including Vogue, Vogue Italia, and the German magazine Bunte.
Judging by an excerpt from Raquel Welch’s memoir, the mom gets all the love she could ever need from her two children, despite them leading their own lives:
“Fortunately, my children and I have a good relationship, and they’re still my great joy,” Welch wrote. “My son, Damon, became a computer consultant engineer, and my daughter, Tahnee, a talented actress known for her role in Cocoon. They are a source of pride and hope to me because of the kind of people they’ve turned out to be. They have always grounded me and given me purpose, as well as the moral courage to follow my better convictions. Now if they’ll just give me grandchildren, I’ll be complete. That’s an ambition of mine only they can fulfill.”