The news caught my eye late on a mid-February morning: Actress Raquel Welch had died at the age of 82. If you are an adult of a certain age — and especially a male — you surely can close your eyes and conjure visions of Raquel, who was to Hollywood sex symbols what John Adams was to presidents — second in line.
In Welch’s case, behind only Marilyn Monroe when it came to earning headlines not for her acting talent but for the way she looked. This isn’t to say Welch was untalented — she won a Golden Globe for her role in “The Three Musketeers” — but more to give credit to her beauty, which was otherworldly.
It’s considered politically incorrect to comment on female attributes in the 21st century, but there is no way to think about Welch without acknowledging the obvious. As a beauty, she had few peers.
In 1998, when Playboy magazine made a list of the 100 sexiest female stars of the 20th century, Welch placed third, behind Monroe and Jayne Mansfield and ahead of Greta Garbo
Me, I think Raquel got robbed by the judges. Not merely because I had a teenage crush on her, but also because Welch accomplished something precious few sex symbols have ever done: She went her entire movie career, from her first role as a call girl in 1964’s “A House Is Not A Home” to her last movie, 2017’s “How To Be A Latin Lover,” without ever once appearing nude in a movie.
“I’ve definitely used my body and sex appeal to advantage in my work, but always within limits,” Welch once said. “I reserve some things for my private life, and they are not for sale.”
Nowadays we live in a time when nudity is never more than a click away, and OnlyFans, webcam shows and YouPorn have made cashing in on being naked the easiest side hustle imaginable.
By contrast, Welch embodied a sense of mystery and a sense of decorum that died many, many years before she did.
Now? Selling and sending nudes has become little more than a hobby for the masses. We are urged to be thankful for this newfound liberation, but somehow Raquel Welch managed to strike a balance between feminine power — think of her in that famous deerskin bikini from the poster for “One Million Years B.C.” — and feminine modesty.
Even when Welch finally appeared in Playboy in 1979, she stripped down only as far as a red bikini. My father kept that issue hidden on the top shelf of his closet, a hiding spot I will confess to visiting on many occasions.
Speaking of fathers, Welch said her dad was another reason she never appeared nude.
“I am my father’s daughter, and that’s just not the way you behave,” she said. “You don’t do that if you are a certain kind of a woman, and that’s the kind of woman I was raised to be.”
As legend would have it, Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner summoned Welch to his mansion after the photo shoot to complain.
As Welch recalled the meeting: “I said, ‘What’s the problem, Hugh?’ And he said, ‘Well, there’s no t–s and there’s no a–’. I said, ‘Isn’t that the deal we made?’ He said, ‘Yes, but it’s boring.’”
It seems quaint now, the notion that modesty ever existed and that it was once possible to be sexy — in fact the sexiest woman on Earth — and to keep certain assets and certain images to yourself.
Somehow, Raquel Welch managed to shock without being shocking, to be sexy without being lewd. In 2023, the age of the Kardashians and Pornhub, that seems like a trick we may never glimpse again.
Written by David Leibowitz for The West Valley View ~ February 23, 2023