Raquel Welch, Reluctant Sex Symbol,Talks About Making Amends With Her Kids
She stayed silent on the topic for years, preferring to maintain her image as an untouched bombshell. In private, she says, she suffered.
This year, the woman who left men of the 1960s panting, is turning 70. And, after years of keeping her breasts out front and her personal life under wraps, she's written a tell-all, Beyond the Cleavage, about her beginnings, which includes a father who played emotional hide-and-seek with his daughter, her current man-crush and how sex is overrated. An edited version of an interview with the actress follows.
ParentDish: Gotta start with the obvious. When you set out, did you think, "I want to be America's sex symbol?"
Raquel Welch: Sex symbol was not my plan. Things don't always turn out the way you plan. I thought I would develop myself into a serious actress, but the studio system was in demise back then. There had been a star-making machine but that didn't exist when I got to Hollywood.
PD: But you became a star.
RW: People responded to me on a very surface level and that's the direction I took. I'm not going to complain about it; I wouldn't have had the career I had. Ginger Rogers, Rita Hayworth, Marilyn Monroe, they were actresses that I loved from that era. But by the time I came along, the whole profession changed radically.
PD: You sound disappointed.
RW: There was disappointment. I was confused by it. I saw that my image was gathering momentum and there was very little I could do to stop it. I was trying very hard to convince people at the studio that I had more to offer than that, but it just would not take. Movie studios don't care about your own personal ambitions. It's a business. TV today has more of a vested interest in actors and people have more chance to build continuity with their audience who will react to them as total people rather than a physical type.
RW: In retrospect it's one of those terrible Catch 22s. In my opinion, at my advanced age, our lives are not meant to be lived for our own gratification and enjoyment. It's for other people and your family. When you have children and a man, you have this obligation to other people and it's a difficult dance to carry on.
PD: Does anyone in Hollywood do the balance well?
RW: Jennifer Garner. She has a couple of children, but she took time to have those children and provide for her children on the sets she works on. That didn't exist in my day and age. I'm very encouraged by these role models, like Jennifer and Reese Witherspoon, talented women in all areas. They want to do what's right for their children.
PD: From your vantage point, what are today's parents doing wrong for their children?
RW: A two-parent family is the ideal. My mother made sacrifices and I am eternally grateful for that. Even though my father was domineering, I wouldn't have the sense of self I have today, holding myself to a certain standard. Growing up in the '40s and '50s, we wanted our parents to be proud of us. Their role wasn't about being pals; you did what you were told and you wanted to please them. I think girls want to please their father. For me, it wasn't an unconditional love, it was conditional with my father. If I performed perfectly with a capital P then I got his love and approval. Contemporary young girls are missing that. They don't have a father who says, 'You don't do it that way, you're not going to be wearing those clothes, you're going to apply yourself.' The male had an authoritative voice in those early years. That's one of the things that my daughter didn't have with her own daddy. She was never the apple-of-his-eye on a daily basis. I knew when I was pleasing my father and this is terribly important.
PD: If you could go back in time, how would you do it differently?
RW: I might have provided more visitation and a closer proximity to the father and not have this idea that I needed to run away.
PD: That's very honest of you.
RW: I am very harsh with myself about it. I wouldn't give myself an 'A' and my kids wouldn't give me an 'A.' We have a good relationship now, but not without a lot of effort on my part to make retribution and ask for forgiveness of them and rebuild the trust I lost out of the wrong set of priorities. These two children of mine are fantastic human beings and I want them to be at peace. I think if you have parents that you don't forgive -- I forgave my father -- you're carrying around resentment and anger. It's a poison in your system and it will be directed at your own self, and you're going to get sick. I wanted to heal the hurts and the wounds that I many have been inadvertently responsible for.
PD: What do you think of today's young people?
RW: Not that I want censorship, but now with the internet it's not The New York Times' all the news that's fit to print. It's every darn thing. It's too much exposure to all things in existence on the planet. Where do you find equilibrium in that? Their attention span is shorter and shorter and they are very glib. If everything is on top of you all the time you don't see the forest through the trees. There's no music there.
PD: Any solutions?
RW: We used to respect our teachers and there were dress codes. People behaved themselves. There was hell to pay if you acted up in the classroom. You didn't get away with stuff. Are we raising a group of little animals out there? You're supposed to be nice to your fellow human beings. The human condition is wrought with pain and difficulty, and being civil is rule number one. I don't know how these kids are getting away with it after being rotten to people. I'm surprised at the meanness. They behave like a bunch of gluttonous sloths, a bunch of wild animals, and they end up on Jerry Springer.
PD: What do you do to keep the equilibrium and find peace?
RW: I'm very fortunate that I started studying yoga in my late 30s, which lead me in my 50s to touch base with my mother's faith. I was raised as a Presbyterian girl. I was coming into my heyday in the '60s, with drugs, promiscuous sex happening. Here I'm a sex symbol but I've never gotten into substance abuse, or became a sex addict because I had that sense that there were boundaries. That kept me sane and healthy all this time. There was an invisible compass in my head, a sense of decency that relates to my mother. I liked the feeling of doing something that was good and right.
PD: Tell me about the search for faith.
RW: I went on a quest for a church for a couple of years. I considered myself a Christian when I was growing up, although I fell away from it. It came very late in life and I hit a brick wall. I tried Buddhism, Hindi and this and that and I said, 'just stop it.' I found a renewed faith in a higher power and in certain precepts of behavior that lead to a happier existence. In my later years I needed to connect with that.
PD: What precipitated the search?
RW: When my mother passed away at 93, she was on husband number three, who was 13 years younger than she was. Her children, all there, gathered around. I thought, 'I've got to look at this more closely' and I went back to bible study.
PD: So, would we ever run into you at church?
RW: I am a very happy, God-fearing person who goes to church every Sunday. I've met the most lovely people there who have nothing to do with show business.
PD: How has your renewed faith changed you?
RW: I'm more open to other people, I'm more humble, more giving, more outgoing and happier with my age and my lot in life because I believe in something bigger than me. It started to be self, self, self, self, self. Actresses are big offenders of being self-involved. The Raquel in that poster is not me. I played her, but that's not me.
PD: Who is Raquel Welch today?
RW: Well, I watch more than my share of reality TV because I'm fascinated with the human condition. Housewives of New York, New Jersey, Orange County. And I have to watch Simon Cowell. As much as I like Ellen, I miss Paula's ditzy quality. Why does everyone have to be so tightly wrapped? If you can just watch people be themselves on camera, who needs actors?
PD: So you're plugged into what's on TV. What else are you watching these days?
RW: 9 by Design. I am transfixed by that show. What a fabulous earth mother she is, and the guy is a sweetheart. I've never seen her blow her top and I love to see them go moment to moment. They seem to thrive on spontaneity, on making art out of chaos.
PD: What about you on Dancing with the Stars?
RW: They've asked me a number of times, but I just don't know that I could do that grueling routine and make a commitment to that. I don't want to be the over-the-hill sex symbol on the floor.
PD: That's a shame. You would be great.
RW: How do you know?
PD: Just a feeling. Having replaced Lauren Bacall and, later, Julie Andrews in big Broadway musicals -- Woman of the Year and Victor/Victoria, respectively -- isn't it time for you to star in your own Broadway show?
RW: Yes, I wouldn't mind, but I'm not so interested in the starring part. I love theater because the live audience is so special. I had always wanted to be in musical theater and never got a chance in the '60s, so it was great for me to do those things. I'm no Julie Andrews and it's hard to do eight shows a week. Coming up on 70 now, I personally don't have that physical stamina. I would like to do an ensemble comedy, having fun and entertaining people. I would just as soon not have to carry the darn thing. I'm happy to share and I'd be happy to be on the boards again.
PD: Well, you're in cardboard now. What was it like for you to write a book?
RW: I went on the computer and wrote. It was a supercharged experience, but it was also kind of gnarly and hunkered down. I tore my rotator cuff because of the way I was dropping my body over the keys. You have a high adrenaline rush as a writer, addicted to this keyboard, and when you come up you just have hell to pay because you hunkered down into this thing. I started wearing a harness to pull my shoulders back because I'm very broad-shouldered. I even laid down on a slanted pillow. I don't know how Shakespeare did it.
PD: In the book, you give hints as to the famous men in your life – Elvis, Sinatra, Dylan, Burt Reynolds, Richard Burton -- but you never end up with a big reveal.
RW: I'm not going to betray a confidence. No, that's it. Exactly what I wrote there is it. It was supposed to be a fun thing. I've been called a tease.
PD: Oh, c'mon. Give us something.
RW: All that glitters isn't gold is a cliché, but it's true. It's all just another fantasy. I'm just another Jane out there.
PD: Fine. Then at least tell us about the Hollywood men you admire today?
RW: You're gonna die. I think Alec Baldwin is the bomb. He's very good company, quick-witted and very funny and personable. I think he's coming into his own now. I think he's great, very masculine, which I like. I don't agree with his politics, which is okay, but he's a formidable actor. My sister thinks I'm crazed. Tom Hanks is wonderful, of course. I love Jack Nicholson and Clint Eastwood, Sean Connery.
PD: And the women?
RW: Sandra Bullock, I love her and God bless her, I wish that the media thing would not make a spectator sport of her personal life. That's what Woman of the Year was about. TV journalist at the top her game and the husband doesn't show up because she was too much and he walked out. It happens to women all the time. It's a bitter pill.
PD: You say in the book, "Frankly, in marriage, sex really isn't the glue that holds everything together. Sex, in my opinion, is overrated and constantly hyped far beyond what it can deliver."
RW: Sex is being held up for the new generation as the be all and end all. It's supposed to be an expression of your regard for someone. It's in our faces every waking minute. We worship sex, but for most people it doesn't take that long. It has its place, but it's just too prevalent. I know I sound like a prude, but can't we have cheerleaders that don't do spread eagle and grinding? Britney Spears would remember that she was a lot more happening when she wasn't pushing it. I did some of it myself and at some point it wasn't productive.
PD: The famous poster from One Million Years B.C. was the vision of sex in the '60s.
RW: The poster isn't all that prurient. It was nice and athletic, but I tell you, there are times when I think, 'oh gosh, that was not a good moment for me.' But in a way, comparatively speaking, I think I was fairly pristine. I was not into all of that sexual explicitness on camera. Do we really have to go so far where nothing is happening unless we're getting graphic? Can't we use our imagination anymore? A woman is wonderful thing. We are a real prize to be won. It's not an easy role to play, but a beautiful and powerful one.
Marina Galperina contributed to the research on this story.
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