Early lifeWelch was born Jo Raquel Tejada in Chicago, Illinois, the older sister to brother James and sister Gayle. She was the daughter of Josephine Sarah (née Hall) with English ancestry dating back to John Quincy Adams and the Mayflower, and Armando Carlos Tejada Urquizo, a Bolivian of Spanish descent. Her father (1911–1976), an aeronautical engineer, emigrated from La Paz, Bolivia at age 17; her mother (1909–2000) was American, the daughter of architect Emery Stanford Hall and wife Clara Louise Adams. Raquel was raised in the Presbyterian religion and continues to go to church every Sunday. Raquel changed her family name to that of her first husband, James Welch, in 1959.
CareerIn 1959, Welch played the title role in The Ramona Pageant, a yearly outdoor play at Hemet, California, which is based on the novel Ramona by Helen Hunt Jackson and Bob Biloe.
She became a weather forecaster at KFMB, a local San Diego television station. Because of her heavy schedule, she decided to leave her studies at San Diego State University (then known as San Diego State College). Her first marriage broke up and she moved with her two children, Damon and Latanne, to Dallas, Texas, where she modeled for Neiman Marcus and worked as a cocktail hostess, intending to move on to New York City from there.
Instead, Welch moved back to California, found a place in Los Angeles and started making the rounds of the movie studios. She was cast in bit parts in two films and in the television shows Bewitched, McHale's Navy, and The Virginian, as well as on the weekly variety series The Hollywood Palace as a billboard girl and presenter of acts.
Welch's first featured role came in the beach film A Swingin' Summer, which led to a contract with 20th Century Fox. She was subsequently cast in a leading role in the sci-fi hit Fantastic Voyage (1966), which made her a star. She was the last star created under the studio system.
On loan out to Hammer Studios in Britain, Welch starred in the remake of One Million Years B.C. striking an iconic pose in a prehistoric animal-skin bikini. Her publicity still for the film became a bestselling poster, and helped her be seen as one of the leading sex symbols of the 1960s and 1970s. After her appearance as lust incarnate in the hit Bedazzled, she returned to the U.S. and appeared in the Western film Bandolero!, with James Stewart and Dean Martin, which was followed by the private-eye drama Lady in Cement with Frank Sinatra. Her looks and fame led Playboy to dub her the "Most Desired Woman" of the 1970s.
Welch's most controversial role came in the notorious Myra Breckinridge. She took the part as the film's transsexual heroine in an attempt to be taken seriously as an actress, but the movie turned out to be a dismal failure.
In 1970, Welch teamed up with Tom Jones and producer/choreographer David Winters of Winters-Rosen Productions for the TV special Raquel!, considered by some viewers to be a classic pairing together of 1970s pop-culture icons in their prime. The multi million-dollar TV song-and-dance extravaganza was filmed around the world, from Paris to Mexico. The show featured lavish production numbers of classic songs from the era, extravagant costumes, and notable guest performances, including John Wayne and Bob Hope in the Wild West.
Cannery Row, but was fired by the producers a few days into production (they claimed that the 40 year old was too old to play the character). She was replaced with Debra Winger. Welch successfully sued, collecting a $11 million settlement.
In addition to her TV special, Raquel!, her television appearances include the TV movies The Legend of Walks Far Woman and Right to Die in which she turned in a stirring performance as a woman stricken with Lou Gehrig's disease, and in the PBS series American Family, about a Mexican American family in East Los Angeles. She has appeared in the night-time soap opera Central Park West and made infomercials and exercise videos.
In 1987, she flirted with a pop singing career, releasing the dance single "This Girl's Back In Town." She has performed in a one-woman nightclub musical act in Las Vegas and has starred on Broadway in Woman of the Year, receiving praise for following Lauren Bacall in the title role, and in Victor/Victoria, having less success following Julie Andrews and Liza Minnelli in the title roles.
In a 1997 episode of the comedy series Seinfeld entitled The Summer of George, Welch played a highly temperamental version of herself, assaulting series characters Kramer and Elaine, the former because he fired her from an acting job and the latter because Welch mistakenly thought that Elaine was mocking her. She also appeared as a guest on the American TV series Sabrina the Teenage Witch, as Sabrina's flamboyant Aunt Vesta.
In 2001, she had a supporting role in the hit film Legally Blonde opposite Reese Witherspoon. She also appeared in Welcome to the Captain, which premiered on CBS television on February 4, 2008.
Achievements and awardsIn 1974, Welch won a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Actress in a Musical or Comedy for The Three Musketeers. She was also nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance in the TV drama Right to Die (1987).
Beauty and business careerThe Raquel Welch Total Beauty and Fitness Program was published in 1984. The book, written by Welch with photographs by André Weinfeld, includes a Hatha Yoga fitness program, her views on healthy living/nutrition, as well as beauty and personal style. As a businesswoman, Welch succeeded with her signature line of wigs. She also began a jewelry and skincare line, although neither of those ventures compared to the success of her wig collection HAIRuWEAR.
In January 2007, Welch was selected as the newest face of MAC Cosmetics Beauty Icon series. Her line features several limited edition makeup shades in glossy black and tiger print packaging. As of June 2010, she is featured in several television ads for sunglasses by Foster Grant.
Personal lifeWelch has been married to
- James Welch (1959–1964), publicist and agent; divorced
- Patrick Curtis (1967–1972), director and producer; divorced
- Andre Weinfeld (1980–1990); divorced
- Richard Palmer (1999), from whom she is currently (as of 2010) separated.
- A House Is Not a Home (1964)
- Roustabout (1964)
- A Swingin' Summer (1965)
- Do Not Disturb (1965)
- The Queens (1966)
- Fantastic Voyage (1966)
- One Million Years B.C. (1966)
- Shoot Loud, Louder... I Don't Understand (1966)
- The Oldest Profession (1967)
- Fathom (1967)
- Bedazzled (1967)
- Bandolero! (1968)
- The Biggest Bundle of Them All (1968)
- Lady in Cement (1968)
- 100 Rifles (1969)
- Flareup (1969)
- The Magic Christian (1969)
- The Beloved (1970)
- Myra Breckinridge (1970)
- Hannie Caulder (1971)
- Bluebeard (1972)
- Fuzz (1972)
- Kansas City Bomber (1972)
- The Last of Sheila (1973)
- The Three Musketeers (1973)
- The Four Musketeers (1974)
- The Wild Party (1975)
- Mother, Jugs & Speed (1976)
- Crossed Swords, a.k.a. the Prince and the Pauper (UK title) (1977)
- The Animal (1977)
- Naked Gun 33⅓: The Final Insult (1994) (Cameo)
- Chairman of the Board (1998)
- What I Did for Love (1998)
- Get Bruce (1999) (documentary)
- Tortilla Soup (2001)
- Legally Blonde (2001)
- Forget About It (2006)
- Raquel! (1970)
- Really Raquel (1974)
- NBC's Saturday Night Live (host, April 24, 1976)
- The Muppet Show
- Mork & Mindy 2 Episodes (1979)
- From Raquel with Love (1980)
- The Legend of Walks Far Woman (1982)
- Right to Die (1987)
- Scandal in a Small Town (1988)
- Trouble in Paradise (1989)
- Tainted Blood (1993)
- Torch Song (1993)
- Hollyrock-a-Bye Baby (1993) (voice)
- Lois & Clark (Diana Stride) Season 2 Episode 35 "Top Copy" (1995)
- Sabrina, the Teenage Witch Episode #08 ("Third Aunt From the Sun") as Aunt Vesta (1996)
- Central Park West (1996–1997)
- Seinfeld (1997)
- Spin City (1997, 2000) 3 episodes
- Jim Brown: All-American (2002)
- American Family (2002–2004) 8 episodes
- 8 Simple Rules (2004)
- Welcome to The Captain (2008) 5 episodes
- Raquel Welch: Raquel: Beyond the Cleavage, Publisher: Weinstein Books (March 29, 2010)