In Memoriam: Raquel Welch – The Woman Who Changed My Life
RAQUEL WELCH 1940-2023
Back in the early 2000s I lived near the Michigan college town of Ann Arbor. Easily my favorite place to frequent back then was Liberty Street Video, a glorious wonderland where I could rent movies I’d never heard of. Whether browsing the main floor or the downstairs area you were bound to discover a film that would take your mind to a new and extraordinary place. It was on that main floor that I came across one of the most important films I would ever view: Myra Breckinridge.
There are those precious few films in a cinephile’s journey that deeply and irrevocably alter the course of their tastes. A door is opened and a mind is blown forever. This is what occurred when I randomly picked up the 1970 film based on the 1968 book by Gore Vidal. For those who don’t know, Myra Breckinridge is an infamous Hollywood disaster. Vidal disowned it and the director, Michael Sarne, was reported to have engaged in bizarre and wasteful behavior throughout the shoot. On top of that, the cast did not get along. The biggest rivalry on set took place between bawdy legend Mae West (who came out of retirement to appear in the film) and the then 29-year-old Raquel Welch.
The opening titles to Breckinridge would be the first time I witnessed Welch in action. This woman, this wonderful woman, gracefully came dancing into my life with musical accompaniment by Shirley Temple. No actress before or since has made such an indelible impression on who I would become as a film aficionado. At that moment, I saw BOMBSHELL incarnate. Raquel Welch opened the floodgates to my fascination with the most beautiful women of cinema. Many others would follow, from Brigitte Bardot to Diana Dors, but Raquel lit the fuse. She changed me to the core.
After Myra Breckinridge I became a voracious consumer of Welch’s body of work. My most prized DVD was Raquel!, a television special that came out the same year as her notorious flop. It contains an has-to-be-seen-to-be-believed rendition of “California Dreamin'” that proves Raquel Welch was not only a raging beauty but also an avant-garde artist of the highest order. She could sing, she could dance, and she could make one feel as though they had imbibed potent hallucinogens.
I remember buying a bunch of DVDs during the height of my Raquel Welch frenzy. So many, in fact, that I could not afford gas for the week. Out of desperation I had to return some of my purchases, one of which was 100 Rifles starring Welch. As the clerk at Borders went through the pile, he came across the 100 Rifles DVD and looked upon me with great incredulousness. “Why are you returning 100 Rifles?” he questioned. “Low on cash,” I responded. He paused briefly, “But it’s Raquel Welch…” I never felt lower as a man than at that moment. 100 Rifles went home with me that day, gas be damned.
If you haven’t yet had your own epiphany, here are Welch’s top 10 films according to Flickchart users:
- Fantastic Voyage (1966) – #2658
- The Three Musketeers (1973) – #2696
- Bedazzled (1967) – #3224
- One Million Years B.C. (1966) – #6917
- Mother, Jugs & Speed (1976) – #8735
- Bandolero! (1968) – #9365
- Hannie Caulder (1971) – #10,039
- Roustabout (1964) – #11,359
- 100 Rifles (1969) – #11,752
- Tortilla Soup (2001) – #13,969
(Myra Breckinridge is her #16, way down at #18,514 globally. Needless to say, you should check it out.)