Raquel Before She Ruled

Raquel Welch did not exactly come out of nowhere. Potential audiences had probably seen her image without necessarily knowing her name. In retrospect, she had one of the cleverest build-ups of any new star. Of course, it wasn’t unknown for glamor pictures to pave the way for a new sex-queen, Marilyn Monroe had posed for plenty cheesecake pictures before she hit the screen.

But those kind of pictures did not break out of the confines of cheesecake magazines. Raquel Welch was different. Although she had taken the usual route of an ingenue, bit part in movies and television programs, there was no obvious sign that she was made for bigger things.

Not what you’d expect when you see the term “cover girl.”
And hardly the magazine men were going to buy.

Blink and you’ll miss her debut as a call-girl in A House Is Not a Home (1964). You wouldn’t have seen much more of her in Roustabout (1964) or Do Not Disturb (1965). When she won a role on television, she wasn’t credited much more than as saloon girl (The Virginian, 1964), stewardess (Bewitched, 1964), beauty queen (The Rogues, 1964) or the billboard girl in three episodes of Hollywood Palace (1964-1965).

There might have been an inkling of something in A Swingin’ Summer (1965). Reviews said she “shows promise” and “it’s hard to look away when she’s in view” but this was a low-budget beach movie with little chance of becoming a breakout. (Though by the time it reached Britain in October 1966, she was miraculously the denoted star.)

Amateur photogrpahers of course lived the dream.

And although Welch would later claim all the fuss over One Million Years B.C. took her by surprise, that she was just an ordinary mother of two, that was far from the case, as she was actively involved in trying to expand her movie career, whether with the help of studios like Fox and MGM, or as an independent producer. I mentioned in a previous article that the company she ran with her husband Patrick Curtis – Curt-Wel Productions – was attempting to put together starring vehicles for her. Long before Twentieth Century Fox entered the equation Curt-Wel announced that production would start in fall 1965 of The Other Side of the Fence, an original musical comedy.

Yet, even as her best efforts to improve her career prospects faltered, somehow she seemed to get far more coverage than other young women in her position. You were as likely to find her photo in a newspaper with Salvador Dali (involved with Fantastic Voyage) or Groucho Marx. But while her face adorned the covers of ordinary magazines in the U.S. – Real Story, Intimate Story, U.S. Camera & Travel and she modelled for adverts for Wate-On, it was a different story abroad. Magazines in Europe could not get enough of her, either adorning their covers, or given a full-page feature inside, parading in a bikini or skimpy clothing. No photographic editor on a European magazine turned down the opportunity of a spread featuring Raquel Welch.

Nothing could define the differences between current generations and that of the 1960s – unless anorexia was a hidden scourge – than this advert telling women to get bigger. A more sexist ad you could not find – “a full figure…is a man’s way of judging a woman.” !!!

And despite her lack of proven screen product, she was a guest at the world premiere in London of Born Free, was photographed cutting the cake to celebrate the first anniversary of The Sound of Music at the Dominion in London’s West End and was tabbed as “one of the most publicized stars of the year.”

Whereas features might use her name and explain that she was a rising star, perhaps justifying her presence by pointing to her role (sixth- billed) in A Swingin’ Summer (1965), she was usually anonymous on covers, just the gorgeous woman who attracted buyers on the newsstand.

And if the fur bikini doesn’t attract their attention, thought Hammer, we can always fall back on a more straightforward bikini shot. Tjhis advert appeared in “Variety” – one month
after the initial fur bikini advert.

And while Twentieth Century Fox had her under contract, and could throw out a whole rash of glamour pictures aimed at the glamour market, it was unlikely that more prestigious magazines would come calling. Yet they did. “There is no pinpointing exactly what it is about her,” noted the fawning author of a two-page feature, “Raquel Welch: The Definitive Chickie,” that appeared in the October 1965 issue of Esquire.

But if the journalist didn’t know what she had, Welch certainly did. “I just seem to have glomped on those foreign cats. I’m on every one of their covers,” she explained.

In those more innocent times, an actress might have Playboy sniffing around for a tasteful nude shot, but it was more usual for an actress to only apparently be naked but in reality conceal her entire body either by clever use of her arms or behind a bikini or a skimpy dress. Prior to One Million Years B.C., Welch had often been photographed in a bikini.

Spoof newspaper produced for the Pressbook.

But the fur bikini was something else. The image proved iconic.

Hammer knew and Twentieth Century Fox, the company that had built up Marilyn Monroe on the back of her sexuality, knew it. Welch was signed to a one-picture-a-year deal with the studio but it had exercised its option six months early when One Million B.C. – that remained the title as late as November 1965 – came up as part its contract with Hammer.

One Million Years B.C. received its world premiere in London in December 1966 and opened in the U.S. a couple of months later. The movie had gone before the cameras in the Canary Isles on September 19, 1965. In December 1965, 15 months ahead of the U.S. launch Hammer ran the first fur bikini advert in Variety. How prescient, you might think. The studio clearly knew Raquel Welch in a bikini could sell tickets.

Spot the Raquel.

It just didn’t know which bikini. It followed up that ad with another one of the actress in an ordinary bikini (if that word could ever be applied to how the star wore that item of clothing) standing on a beach in front of a boat. Eventually, of course, studio, exhibitor and public reaction made the decision for Hammer. Fur bikini won hands done.

The poster sold a million copies.

By the time the movie appeared she was one of the best-known women on the planet. If there had been an Internet in those days, she would have broken it. There hadn’t been an image like it since Monroe stood over grate and let the wind blow up her dress in The Seven Year Itch (1955).

Critics tended to be dismissive in the 1960s of anyone who led with their looks but Welch, like George Peppard for example, soon proved she could act, even if that was routinely ignored.

SOURCES: “Review”, A Swingin’ Summer, Variety, March 3, 1965, p6; “Review”, A Swingin’ Summer, Box Office, March 22, 1965, pA11; Advert, Screen Stories, June 1965; “Other Side of the Fence,” Box Office, July 26, 1965, pW5; “Raquel Welch Will Star in One Million BC,” Box Office, September 6, 1965, pW3; front cover, U.S. Camera & Travel, October 1965; “London Report,” Box Office, November 8, 1965, pE4; advert, Variety, December 1, 1965, p21; Advert, Variety, January 5, 1966, p179; front cover, Intimate Story, February 1966; “London Report,” Box Office, April 4, 1966, pE4; Real Story, 1966; “Review,” A Swingin’ Summer, Kine Weekly, October 20, 1966, p22; “MGM Productions Showcase New Talent,” Box Office, December 5, 1966, p12.

Author: Brian Hannan

I am a published author of books about film - over a dozen to my name, the latest being "When Women Ruled Hollywood." As the title of the blog suggests, this is a site devoted to movies of the 1960s but since I go to the movies twice a week - an old-fashioned double-bill of my own choosing - I might occasionally slip in a review of a contemporary picture.

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