Screen Sirens of Hollywood: Raquel Welch

This article and other features about the stars of Tinseltown can be found in the Post’s Special Collector’s Edition, The Golden Age of Hollywood. This edition can be ordered here. 

It’s fabulous,” the real-estate saleswoman assured them. “It’s just divine. You can move in without changing a thing. The house is listed in MANSIONS OF BEVERLY HILLS as one of the most outstanding.”

Raquel Welch parked her Silver Cloud Rolls-Royce before the former home of the late David O. Selznick and got out. She wore a leather trench coat, form-fitting gabardine slacks and tan boots that clicked on the stone walk as she strode toward the ornately carved front door.

The Rolls had been a 25th-birthday present from her husband, Patrick Curtis, who followed a discreet two paces behind, nervously whistling “The High and the Mighty.” The $345,000 price tag on the two-acre estate was not, however, inconsistent with his wife’s increasing eminence.

During the previous year, her photograph had graced the covers of more than 200 overseas magazines. Her long brown hair, high cheekbones and lithe torso had captivated most of Europe.

French headline writers had christened her “La Plus Belle Fille du Monde”; in Rome, Raquel was known as “L’Attrice Piu Bella Dell ‘Anno.” Unable to scale the walls of her rented 13-room Appian Way villa, swarming paparazzi tried to bribe the help. They were competing for the 1 million lire that had been ordered for pictures of her two children—by a previous, secret marriage—who were hidden inside the villa. Raquel doused her antagonists with a water pistol.

A photograph of Raquel curtsying before Queen Elizabeth at a Royal Command Performance received front-page treatment in London; better-known entertainers, such as Rex Harrison and Julie Christie, went virtually ignored. In Spain, readers avidly followed “La Vida Secreta de Raquel Welch,” a newspaper serial enhanced by color illustrations of Raquel in bikinis.

“Europeans never realized that I was an American,” says the Latin-looking Miss Welch, née Tequada, whose parents claim Castilian-Spanish and English-Scottish descent. “They were sure I was French. They were sure I was Italian. They were sure I was Spanish. That’s why I was so popular in Europe. There is a very big anti-American thing going on over there.”

A more accurate explanation of Raquel’s popularity would be the shrewdly managed publicity campaign by which she quickly eclipsed many of the leading sex symbols of the 1960s. The producers of ONE MILLION YEARS, B.C., one of the six films she completed in a year and a half, helped promote her sex image, as well as the picture, by mailing out 10,000 unconventional Christmas cards—11-by-14 photographs of Raquel posing in a Stone Age swimsuit fashioned from barely enough chamois to clean a very small windshield.

Her glowing overseas press notices filled a 15-cubic-foot steamer trunk that cost hundreds of dollars to ship back to the States. It contained dozens of bulging scrapbooks, Manila envelopes crammed with newspaper and magazine stories, a plaque naming her “Star of the Sixties,” cans of television film, matchboxes decorated with revealing replicas of Raquel, and hundreds of loose snapshots of Raquel modeling hostess outfits
or introducing backless bikinis at St.-Tropez.

Now, after what the LONDON DAILY MAIL called “the most amazing personality buildup since Marilyn Monroe,” Raquel and Patrick Curtis were seeking a Hollywood headquarters for the steamer trunk, themselves, the children, the English nanny, the housekeeper and the five cars they had accumulated abroad.

“Isn’t it a magnificent house?” the saleswoman said as they all walked upstairs to the second story of the Selznick mansion. “You don’t find houses like this in Los Angeles any more. Steel and concrete. Fully air- conditioned. Copper plumbing. Your railing here is solid pewter.”

“That’s something we’ve kind of always wanted,” Patrick grumbled.

Curtis, 32, grew up in Hollywood as Patrick Smith, a child actor (he later played a priest in THE GREAT IMPOSTOR and borrowed his current surname from the picture’s star, Tony Curtis). He met Raquel three years ago.

“If you want to deal with Raquel, you have to deal with me,” Curtis says. “Because I push the buttons. I’m the guy who’s in control of the situation. And I make damned good deals.”

Under his guidance Raquel’s earnings have soared from $500 a week for a bit role in A HOUSE IS NOT A HOME to as high as $20,000 a day for a two-week stint on a German production. The contracts he masterminded in Europe required film companies to provide her with chauffeured limousines, air-cooled dressing trailers, personal hairdressers, makeup men, wardrobe attendants, lavish living quarters and the right to veto any photographs of herself that she deemed unflattering. She has rejected a $500,000 bid, Curtis claims, for her services in a sequel to ONE MILLION YEARS, B.C. and several lucrative offers for television series. “I don’t see anybody becoming a big star from TV,” he says. “Certainly not a girl.”

It was Curtis who suggested the daring amber-colored culotte outfit Raquel wore at this year’s Academy Award ceremonies. Appropriately enough, when she walked on stage, the orchestra played “You’re Gonna Hear From Me.” e $2,000 costume won Raquel décolletage honors for the evening (humorist Stan Freberg, gazing upon her 37-22-35 figure, described her as “The Thinking Man’s Twiggy”), though not the approval of all. “The lovely Raquel Welch deserves to be locked away for appearing in an out t that made her look like a sausage-stuffed sweatsock,” sniffed an unappreciative couturier.

Unlike the couturier and most film critics, who belittle Raquel’s limited acting ability, moviegoers seem pleased by what they see. It was her simulated striptease that highlighted A SWINGIN’ SUMMER, the low-budget beach movie that first brought Raquel to the attention of major Hollywood studios. Though critics roasted the film, its profits were more than triple its cost.

Clad in a skin-tight rubber wet suit for FANTASTIC VOYAGE, she played a technician aboard a miniaturized submarine cruising through the bloodstream of a stricken scientist. Twentieth Century-Fox made sums that were anything but miniature.

In ONE MILLION YEARS, B.C., Raquel’s only dialogue consisted of three words: “Akita!” (Help!), “Tumak” (her prehistoric lover) and “Seron” (her pterodactyl co-star). Sound-effect experts dubbed in the grunts and screams that made up the rest of her spoken performance. Again the film pained reviewers and delighted the viewing public.

Success, Not Without Work

Since their return from the Continent, the couple’s bedroom in a rented Beverly Hills home has seen considerable service. Their bedtime ritual centers upon the improvement of Raquel’s diction. Curtis has given her a leather-bound edition of THE COMPLETE WORKS OF SHAKESPEARE. Reading from it aloud, he reasons, will inject more emotion into her bland voice and help erase her irritating habit of dropping g’s. Sometimes Raquel recites a sonnet. More often Curtis prompts her with the opening lines of a familiar request of Hamlet’s: “Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue … .” Raquel continues, employing an affected British accent. By the time she has reached, “I would have such a fellow whipped for o’er-doing Termagant,” Curtis is usually asleep. “When you’re an old married man,” he says, “you run out of things to say.”

Raquel consults a voice coach three times a week (“The president should have a committee for pure American speech,” she says, “for recapturing the pride in our language”); to keep her stomach flat, she works out twice a week in a dance studio. She also believes in facial isometrics; driving her car, she constantly wiggles her ear muscles and makes her nostrils are. “In front of a camera.” she explains, “everything you do is magnified. I have to put so much of my energy into making myself an extremely dynamic, feminine person on the screen.”

When their house tour was over, Patrick took the real-estate woman’s business card, thanked her and followed Raquel into the Rolls.

“There have been lots and lots of people who have tried to manufacture stars.” Raquel said as she drove back down the winding driveway. “But it’s never worked unless the person has something. And there’s a certain pretentiousness about me that kind of lends itself to the business I’m in.”

“The way you can tell a movie star is whether they can be impersonated,” Curtis observed. “It’s easy to impersonate Cary Grant or Cagney or Jimmy Stewart because they all have their de nite mannerisms and personalities.”

A moment later he began to whistle cheerfully, as well he might given the family’s current circumstances. For the time being at least, Raquel Welch seems to be doing a splendid impersonation of a movie star.