Then and Now: The Story of Raquel Welch

The glamour and glitz of the sixties and seventies are famous even now, and few celebrities and actresses embody those feelings more than Raquel Welch. Her style had all eyes on her, her allure got plenty of people thinking about her even when she wasn’t acting, and her legendary roles and outfits are still changing the culture to this day.
Getty Images Photo by Sunset Boulevard
Getty Images Photo by Sunset Boulevard
She was a true Hollywood icon, and not just because of her career. There are plenty of secrets hiding in her personal life. Read on to learn more about this unforgettable star than you ever thought possible.

The Beginning

Born Jo Raquel Tejada on September fifth, 1940, in Chicago, Illinois, Welch. Her mother, Josephine Sarah Hall, was a graduate of the University of Illinois and balanced her career while raising three children. She was the daughter of Armando Carlos Tejada Urquizo, who originally came from Bolivia, where he worked as an aeronautical engineer.

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Raquel was the oldest of the three, and it was clear she was headed for stardom from a young age. Of course, no one had any idea how much fame and fortune she would eventually accumulate. Her family wanted nothing more than the best for their daughter, so they resolved to support her as much as possible.

Nothing Was Going to Stop Her

Before she even hit adulthood, Raquel knew she was destined for something great. She had plenty of big advantages, such as a unique personality that was charismatic and energetic and one that nobody could deny. She also worked hard, spending her time taking dancing lessons.

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Not only that, but she had plenty of genetic advantages as well, she was turning into a beautiful young woman, gaining more and more attention. She began winning beauty contests, which was only the beginning of her journey to stardom.

Heritage

Even though Welch was growing up in America and was in every way quintessentially American, she still had plenty of international heritage thanks to her father, a Spanish man who emigrated to Bolivia and then to the United States. Welch’s father wanted the best for his children, and for that reason, he chose not to teach them any Spanish, so they could blend in as much as possible.

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However, Welch would eventually go on to learn more about her history and embrace her father’s side of the family. Before that, however, something would come between her, her origins, and even her aspirations for stardom.

Married Young

It will probably come as no surprise that Raquel Welch was popular with the lads she was around. With loads of good looks and effortless charm, as well as plenty of head-turning skills, Welch had her pick of guys. And the one she picked was none other than her high-school sweetheart and someone good enough to capture the heart of one of America’s future stars, James Welch.

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At the age of eighteen, these two love birds – apparently long-time beaus – tied the knot. The new Mrs. Welch thought that she had already found her happy ending, but it was really just the beginning – she had plenty of life ahead of her still.

Additions to the Family

Raquel Welch, at the height of her career, brings to mind the hedonistic Hollywood of the sixties, with plenty of parties and other wild behavior. Behind the scenes, you might be surprised to know; she was a hardworking mother of two. Not long after she got married to Mr. Welch, the happy couple welcomed a pair of children.

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The first was Damon Welch, born in 1959. The second was Tahnee Welch, born in 1961. Everything seemed to be going the way it was supposed to be with Welch – but the actual truth of the matter reveals a life that’s very different from what we thought.

Happy Couple No Longer

Late in the fifties and into the sixties, it seemed like everything was going Welch’s way. But, as you might be able to guess, the perfect life wasn’t. While she had a growing career, a happy marriage, and a young family, the very same year that the Welches welcomed their daughter, Tahnee, they announced their split, rocking the entertainment world.

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But don’t you think for a second that this was the end of the road for Raquel’s love life or her passion for her career. Really, an early divorce was part of the drill for stars in the fifties and sixties.

Getting Things Started

While she was going through her divorce, Raquel started to think hard about what she wanted out of life. She was a divorced mother of two but had plenty of her years ahead of her and all the opportunities in the world.

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She had been working as a waitress in Dallas, Texas, but her true passion remained. Her first steps on the road to stardom were numerous modeling jobs on the side, helped along by her winning smile, curvaceous form, and dynamite personality. All of those combined to turn her life upside down not long after her divorce.

Big Dreams

After spending two years in Dallas, Welch was ready to move on. She knew she had the talents to do more than just work as a waitress, get the occasional modeling gig, and take care of her children. She had dreams that just refused to get any smaller, and the bright lights of glitzville beckoned to her.

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Before too long, she pulled up her roots and moved to Hollywood, stars in her eyes and fame in her head. Of course, even she had no idea just how much fame she would be able to accomplish. It’s clear that nothing was going to stop her.

Getting Off the Ground Quickly

Raquel Welch wasted no time when she hit Hollywood before making her first steps. In 1963 she moved halfway across the country to California, ready to make herself into a star, but to do that, she first needed to get herself in with the other members of the showbiz community.

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Even with her advantages, she got lucky – a mere three days after arriving in Hollywood, she had herself a manager. He was Patrick Curtis, who quickly found and signed her true talent. Neither of them were aware of how much their relationship would mean to both of them. It soon turned out to be much more than just a managing job for Curtis.

Making a Name for Herself

Curtis ended up being one of the best people Welch could have run into while she was just starting out. Hollywood seems like it’s nothing but bright lights and wild parties, but it takes hard work to really get ahead. Thanks to Curtis, Welch started making connections all over the industry.

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She and Curtis quickly launched their own promotions company, Curtwell Enterprises. This was only the beginning of the special bond that would develop – both in their careers and in their personal lives.

Changing Her Personal Brand

Welch started gaining more recognition, but not under the name we all know and love. She was still going by her family name, and pressure from inside the industry started pushing her to change it to something more American-sounding. In her bestselling 2010 memoir “Raquel: Beyond the Cleavage,” she said that people were telling her it was too ethnic, too difficult to pronounce, and too exotic.

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Hollywood had a problem with different ethnicities at the time, and even her first name, Raquel, was seen as too exotic. Pressure mounted, but Raquel wasn’t to be swayed. She already had an American last name, thanks to her ex-husband. Why change her first name, too?

Pressure Turned Her Into a Diamond

Even as pressure from the industry increased, Welch refused to change herself to suit the style of the day. She loved her Latin heritage and wanted to continue to honor her background, even if she didn’t speak much Spanish.

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She found it difficult at times, commenting that the language you speak is very important to your identity. Not being able to speak with people who are part of your community will isolate you. However, Welch still felt Hispanic in her heart and refused to shy away from the essence of who she was – a Latina.

Finding Her Own Success

Welch wanted success on her own terms. She didn’t want to have to change her ways, her name, or her attitude to fit in with the Hollywood crowd. With her talents and charisma, she started getting noticed in numerous ways across Los Angeles.

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In 1965, she appeared in “Life” magazine in a stylish, fashion-forward bikini – and from then on, she had the attention of the world and the city where she had made her stand. It was only the first step on her way to stardom, but she already had plenty of people waiting for her next spread.

The Acting Begins

Thanks to her exposure – in more ways than one – with the bikini in “Life,” Welch gained more attention in showbiz, and before long, she had her first role. Her TV Debut was on the ABC series “Hollywood Palace.” Her stunning good looks and classy charm helped her make the role her own and helped get plenty of eyes on her.

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Now she had the attention of not just “Life” magazine readers or Hollywood industry members, but the general public as well. People from around the nation tuned in to watch Welch, and she began to realize she had quite the future ahead of her as an actress.

Her First Movie Roles

At about the same time she was in “Hollywood Palace,” Welch made a few uncredited appearances, including in the Elvis Presley movie “Roustabout.” She was also in the film “Do Not Disturb,” and soon enough, her roles were getting bigger and bigger.

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The TV world wasn’t good enough for her, and before long, she had a starring role in the movie “A Swingin’ Summer,” a pop musical movie. Her star was rising fast, and her starring role didn’t just gain her more exposure – though that was definitely part of what she earned – she also got something much more significant.

The Contract

Thanks to her starring role in “A Swingin’ Summer,” Welch suddenly had all eyes on her as a star who was on the rise. Executives all over Hollywood had taken notice, and one company, in particular, decided to give this future star a shot.

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They offered her a contract that would change everything for Welch. The company was 20th Century Fox, one of the largest and most powerful entertainment companies even to this day. It was another big step up for Welch, but her relationship with Fox wouldn’t all be smooth sailing. Still, for a young actress to turn down such an offer was silly, and Welch signed on.

Her Voyage Begins

Her career now fully in swing, Welch got to work with 20th Century Fox. The company quickly cast her in the science fiction movie “Fantastic Voyage,” which turned out to be a massive hit, growing Welch’s star and making her a real-life Hollywood hottie for the entire country to enjoy. A long and prolific career seemed to be in the works for Welch.

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She was at home in the Hollywood hustle, had beauty enough for anyone, and exhibited acting skills that made plenty of young starlets jealous. She was a star in the making. Until, at least, Fox made a decision surprising to Welch, Curtis, and all of Welch’s fans.

Across the Pond

Despite an amazing showing in her first feature film starring role, instead of casting her in more stateside roles, Fox decided to send Welch to England, contracting her to the British film studio Hammer. Just as Welch was making her mark on the world in the United States scene, no doubt it was a surprise for her to be traded like a member of a sports team to a different studio.

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It was even a rather critical time in her career when she should have been starring in big-name movies. However, the move ended up being something that helped Welch’s career much more than she expected.

Back in Time

Welch had no idea she was about to become a pop-culture phenomenon. While she might not have been fond of being sent to Hammer instead of starring in Fox movies, her very first role for the B-movie studio ended up changing her life forever. She appeared in the 1967 prehistoric fantasy movie “One Million Years B.C.,” and it was less her acting in the movie and more what she wore that made her famous.

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For most of the movie, she donned a fur and hide two-piece, which was dubbed by the movie as “mankind’s first bikini.” It became famous, not only thanks to the obvious seductive appeal but because of the changing styles of the era. Practically overnight, Welch was a star.

The Style of the Sixties

The combination of Welch’s fine figure, her unforgettable style, and the revealing fur bikini made the poster for “One Million Years B.C.” one of the highest-selling movie posters of all time. The movie itself was also a modest success, but that was just the icing on the cake.

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Welch’s fame, which seemed to be headed in the wrong direction, turned around in an instant. Welch went stellar. With her new status as a pin-up girl and fame that was putting her face and body on walls around the world, Welch had a brand-new path to walk.

Taking on the Mainland

You’d think that with all that fame in the blink of an eye, 20th Century Fox would whisk Welch back to the states and start pumping her full of starring roles, but such wasn’t the case. They elected to keep the new star in Europe for a little while longer.

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She went on to star in now-iconic films such as “The Biggest Bundle of Them All” and “Le Fate,” which only made her even more popular and famous. As it was growing her career bigger and bigger, fate had more in store for Welch, including in her personal life.

A Perfect Match

Welch had one person to thank for all of her success up to this point. Her manager Patrick Curtis put in tons of work getting Welch the right roles and other work that helped her fame and fortune grow. It turned out that Curtis was more than just a good manager – he and Welch gelled in a romantic manner as well.

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The two fell in love over the course of their business deals, and in 1967 this Hollywood pair tied the knot, becoming one of the biggest power couples in the entertainment industry. In typical movie-star fashion, they had a glamorous and stylish wedding in – where else? Paris.

No Stopping for Her

Even though her business partner had just become her life partner, Welch wasn’t about to put her career on the back burner. Her career ambitions were just as large, and she dove into her work, appearing in yet another iconic movie role in 1968, “Bedazzled.” She showed some skin and played the part of a saucy and tempting villain.

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The film’s success got everyone to notice, and combining it with Welch’s unmissable popularity; even 20th Century Fox couldn’t deny that they needed to bring her back to America and start putting her in their biggest films. Welch was ready for anything.

Among the Stars

After so long taking over Europe, Welch was happy to be back on American soil. Fox put their newest star to work without delay. They put her alongside legendary actors like Frank Sinatra, acting as the female lead in “Lady in Clement.” She also had a movie with James Stewart, “Western Bandolero.”

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Welch was no longer just a poster girl or a European sensation – she had the attention of the world and not just for her legs. The ultimate goal of every star – Hollywood – was hers. Yet, everything she had accomplished and gained didn’t reduce the importance of heritage to this worldwide A-lister.

The Strength of Her Heritage

Now a bona fide star and an indelible part of American cinema, Welch never let her Latin heritage fade or disappear. She was quoted as saying that in a mix of Anglo-Saxon and Latino blood, the Latin side will win out.

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In her memoir, Welch went on at length, saying she always felt that she was different from the other girls in school, that even her chromosomes had something different about them. She was very much her father’s daughter and didn’t even let Hollywood whitewash the Latin blood out of her, no matter how much they would have liked to.

Power Couple No Longer

Welch had a great view from the top of the world. She’d become a real-life movie star, an A-lister that commanded the roles she asked for, as well as a high price. The world over followed her every move in the tabloids, looking for the next juicy tidbit about this juicy actress.

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Despite this adoration, however, not everything was going the way she would have liked. Her relationship with Patrick Curtis was cooling off. In 1972, one of Hollywood’s power couples announced they were splitting. Even back then, Hollywood was poison to long-lasting relationships. One Welch era ended, and another began.

Dividing her Time

Welch, now a star on multiple continents, began to split her time between Europe and the United States. At the same time as her divorce from Curtis, she began spending time with other media, appearing at nightclubs for performances, showing up on TV shows as a guest star, and was even a special guest at different concert venues.

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These were all great for her career, getting more eyes on her than ever before and keeping her name in the headlines, but her next venture would be a much bigger attention-grabber than any of those other options.

In the Mag

No doubt you’ve noticed Welch’s beauty and attractive figure. You’re far from the only one – she had the world wrapped around her finger, not only with those features but thanks to her big charisma, as well.

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In 1979 she appeared in the famous nudie mag “Playboy,” though she wasn’t exactly the centerfold. Welch had plenty of people learn her name thanks to her status as a pin-up model, but there was much more to this beauty than what was on the surface.

Keeping Things Covered

The legendary Hugh Hefner, the driving force behind “Playboy,” wrote about Welch in his book “Playboy: The Celebrities.” She refused to be completely naked, despite how well-known she was for being scantily-clad in photoshoots.

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Even Hefner couldn’t convince her otherwise. Her photo spread in the magazine still had people drooling, despite Welch being almost fully covered. Welch’s determination to stick to standards proved a big strength in her career.

Fighting Back

It wasn’t just her reluctance to pose nude that had Welch standing her ground. In 1980 she got a role in the movie “Cannery Row,” but less than a month into production, MGM fired her. She wasn’t about to roll over and let them walk all over her, so she filed a lawsuit against the company.

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The total amount afforded to her was eleven million dollars. Both in her personal appearances and in her business deals, Welch was a tough lady. Again, her inner spirit and inability to compromise appeared in other areas of her life, such as her personal relationships.

Third Time’s the Charm

Welch didn’t like to give up on her dreams. It didn’t matter if that dream was landing the perfect role, becoming an international mega-star, or getting the right guy at her side. She put that idea into practice, choosing yet another lucky guy to tie herself to. His name was André Weinfeld, a movie producer.

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Putting herself out there once again after two failed marriages takes an undeniable amount of audacity, something Welch had in spades. As luck would have it, the third time truly was the charm, at least when it came to her relationships.

Improving Each Other

Yes, the third marriage for Welch was nothing but good things. Her new husband was a constant source of joy and love, and he also inspired or pushed her to be the best actress she could. In the 1987 TV show “Right to Die,” she gave what is widely considered to be her best performance of her entire career.

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She played a woman suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease. She had become an undeniable star, a household name, and someone that was at the peak of her craft, but life never ends, and bad news was just around the corner.

Worlds Apart

According to Weinfeld, his marriage to Welch had been a very happy one. But geographical distances drove the two apart. Welch was a Hollywood girl down to the core, to the surprise of no one, thanks to her status as a mega movie star.

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Weinfeld, on the other hand, was either in New York or Paris, and while they enjoyed their time together, they parted ways after ten years of wedded life. It came at a time when Raquel Welch was at the top of her professional career. She and Weinfeld had enjoyed each other’s company immensely, but some things just don’t last.

Welch Keeps Moving

After ten years, her marriage had come to an end, but this personal change wasn’t about to affect Welch’s professional career. During this time, she kept working, even branching out into different avenues. She starred in the 1994 crime-parody “The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult,” another jewel in her filmmaking crown.

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She also started doing infomercials and exercise videos, changing herself into something of a lifestyle guru in addition to working as an actress. Her acting career continued unabated, however.

Becoming a Regular Fixture

Welch became someone who appeared on the screen almost every time you turned on your television. She picked up a starring role in the primetime soap opera “CPW” and took over from none other than Julie Andrews in the Broadway production of “Victor/Victoria.” She also started playing the character Aunt Dora, one of the most popular characters on the show “American Family.”

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Just like everything else in her life, she had made the jump from the big screen to the small screen with class and grace. Her career had turned into a steady earner with plenty of leftover love thanks to her big movies in previous decades, and so she once again dipped her toe into marriage.

Uh…Fourth Time’s the Charm?

Family life might not have been the thing Welch was the most successful at, but she was willing to give it one more try. This time, it was to Richard Palmer, the owner of Mulberry Street Pizzeria. The two got married in 1999, the fourth marriage for Welch.

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Palmer ran the mini-chain of pizzerias in and around the Los Angeles area; even the big names of the day, from Frank Sinatra to Sylvester Stallone, would drop by and have a slice. While Richie’s pizza and meatballs get rave reviews from everyone, it seems that success didn’t transfer into marriage with Welch.

The Fourth Time Wasn’t the Charm

The number of professional and personal changes Welch had gone through in her life up to that point made her ready for anything. Her marriage to Richie Palmer was the final part of her romantic journey – though not in the way either had hoped.

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The two separated a few years after tying the knot, and then in 2008; they announced their divorce. Welch made the declaration that she was all done with marriage. After a fourth and final divorce, she decided it was time for her to focus on other things. No doubt plenty of guys would have lined up for a chance, but Welch was done.

A Fortunate Misunderstanding

Long after she stopped being a pin-up girl, Welch said her private life was much different than what often appeared on the screen. She told Chris Strodder in an interview that her personality was understated, and she disliked rocking the boat or raising a ruckus.

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She was even surprised at her status as a pin-up girl. She commented that she wasn’t brought up to think of herself that way, and it wasn’t in her nature. “The fact that I became one is probably the loveliest, most glamorous, and fortunate misunderstanding.”

Accepting the Direction

While Welch has been up-front about not setting out to become a pin-up girl, she doesn’t regret the directions that her career took. It made it easy for the media and studio execs to bring her in since even for a lousy movie, the audience would at least have something to look at.

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She even stated that she knew she was never going to get all the roles she wanted because her look was too exotic. It strikes us as odd now, but even someone gloriously beautiful and half-Spanish was considered exotic by the industry at the time.

Sticking to Her Guns

Welch’s career was long and studded with incredible moments. Most incredible of them all is the fact that Welch never let anyone get her down. She retained her personal determination, driving her way through a career and personal life that had plenty of amazing moments.

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She refused to change her name, and in doing so, she paved the way for people of Latin culture in Hollywood. When once her name was “too exotic,” it became much more popular thanks to her, and there are plenty of people who could be forgiven for not knowing she was Spanish at all.

Now There are Lots of Raquels

During one interview near the end of her career, Raquel smiled about how much the culture and landscape of the industry had changed since her beginning. “There are many Raquels walking around now.” Welch made herself an inspiration for her all, using her determination, unshakable principles, and endless ambition to get to the top.

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She never let anyone push her around. She also was one of the first “exotic” faces to become an international star, when once it was purely Anglo-Saxon and British people. Thanks to her, we’re able to enjoy the talents of many men and women who might not have been given a chance.

Keeping the Family Name Going

Thanks to Welch’s influence, her children both had their chance at the Hollywood industry once they grew old enough. Her daughter, Tahnee Welch, had a more successful career, beginning in 1983 when she was twenty-two. She made appearances in movies such as “Amarsi un po’…,” “Cocoon,” “Sleeping Beauty,” and more before the eighties ended.

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None of the films she appeared in got much traction, though some are known in their own right. She also had numerous appearances in magazines, and not only because of her famous mother. She was also in “Vogue,” “GQ,” and several other famous titles.

Trying his Hardest

Raquel’s son Damon Welch, the older of her two children, has also worked as an actor, but he didn’t gain as many roles as his mother or even his sister. He only had one role as a true actor, in “The Beloved” as “a boy,” and was uncredited.

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He had a little bit of behind-the-camera work during the seventies and eighties and production assistants on “J-Men Forever” from 1979 and “Raquel: Total Beauty and Fitness” in 1984. He has also appeared as himself in a pair of documentaries about his mother: “Raquel Welch: Beyond the Fantasy” in 1995 and “Raquel Welch” in 2001.

Big Accolades for a Lifetime of Beauty

There’s no doubt Raquel Welch has been one of the most beautiful women in the movie industry, at least during the era she was active. Plenty of people seem to agree, and in fact, “Empire” magazine decided to vote her as one of the one hundred sexiest stars in film history in 1995.

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She was voted into the top twenty at number eighteen. In 2011, “Men’s Health” named her number two on their “Hottest Women of All Time” list, behind only Jennifer Aniston.

Surprising Political Views

While most in Hollywood lean left, Welch was, once again, counter-culture. She has stated during an interview on “The O’Reilly Factor” in 2014 that she is on the conservative side of things, which she attributed to her mother’s midwestern values.

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During the Vietnam War, Welch even attended several United Service Organizations shows in order to show her support for the troops. From her first role in “A House Is Not a Home” to 2017’s “How to Be a Latin Lover,” she approached every role with a workmanship quality.

Welch in Popular Culture

Welch was not only the definitive pin-up girl of the sixties and seventies but ended up changing the culture in lots of other ways. She ousted the blonde bombshells of the fifties and sixties, such as Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield, from their spots at the top, allowing brunettes to take the spotlight.

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Her name made its way into country music songs, her lead role in the Western film “Hannie Caulder” was one of the first and still few times a woman led a Western, and she was even an inspiration for Quentin Tarantino. She was even a big part of the movie many consider to be one of the best ever, “Shawshank Redemption.” Her famous fur bikini poster hid Andy Dufresne’s escape tunnel.

Earning the Hardware

Not only did Welch get eyes on her thanks to her beauty, but she had plenty of people raving about her acting skills, as well. She won a Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture Actress in a Musical or Comedy for “The Three Musketeers” in 1974. She has nominated for another Golden Globe Award in 1987 thanks to her role in the television drama “Right to Die.”

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She received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1994, and in 2004 she received the Imagen Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award for her positive promotion of Americans of Latin heritage. In 2012, the Film Society of Lincoln Center presented a special retrospective of the films of Raquel Welch.

A Three-Hour Audition

The producers of “Gilligan’s Island” missed a shot at signing a future superstar. Actually, they missed their chance at two different superstars. Raquel Welch auditioned for the role of Mary Ann Summers, the demure cutie that was one of the two gals vying for Gilligan’s attention.

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For some reason, the producers went with Dawn Wells as their final choice, though this was all the way back in 1964, so Welch’s career hadn’t taken off just yet. The other superstar that had a chance? None other than Jayne Mansfield, who auditioned for the role of Ginger, won it and then turned it down.

Surviving and Recent Work

While Welch is no longer the household name she had been in the seventies and eighties, she’ll still make occasional appearances. She’s now reached the noteworthy age of eighty, something quite rare when it comes to stars and starlets from the era she had her career in.

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Thanks to reckless behavior and more, many of the most famous names never even made it to middle age. Yet Welch is still doing her thing, appearing in movies as late as 2017 and making other small appearances on television, as well as on talk shows, advertisements, and more.

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