Raquel Welch at Film Society of Lincoln Center

Raquel Welch and Dick Cavett at Film Society of Lincoln, Walter Reade Theatre, on Saturday, February 11, 2012. Photo by Steve Herrig

From February 10 – 14 Film Society of Lincoln Center presented “Cinematic Goddess: American Sex Symbol, The Films of Raquel Welch.”  The event included screenings of 10 of Welch’s films plus several appearances by the woman herself, still looking great at 71. 

On Saturday, February 11, before a screening of “The Three Musketeers” (1973), Welch was interviewed on stage, at the Walter Reade Theatre, by legendary talk show host Dick Cavett.  Watching Cavett and Welch together was like being in a time warp.  Neither had dropped a stitch.  Cavett was still urbane and funny while Welch was beautiful, gracious and wonderfully candid.  Cavett said, “It has been such a long time since we were together.  Remember how young we were?  Now only one of us is beautiful.” To which Welch replied, “Oh that’s not true.”  To which Cavett said, “I didn’t mean me.”

Welch pointed out that the last time she was a guest on Cavett’s TV show, she was there with singer Janis Joplin.  Cavett said, “I promise you, without exaggeration, two months do not go by when somebody doesn’t say, ‘I’ll never forget when Raquel Welch sat there with Janis Joplin.’”  Cavett added that sometimes people say, “and they really went at each other,” something which both Cavett and Welch denied.  Welch recalled, “The only thing that I was regretful about is I was such a big fan of hers.  I was in awe and I never got a chance to tell her I had seen her at the Hollywood Bowl, I had seen her at Anaheim.”

Cavett recalled another time when Welch was a guest on his show, paired with newcaster Chet Huntley.  Cavett recalled Huntley saying, “Dick, I enjoy your show, but I came here tonight to meet Raquel Welch,” a comment which drew laughs from the audience.

On being a sex symbol Cavett asked, “How do you see your sex symbolism as different from Marilyn’s (Monroe)?”  “Night and day isn’t it?” Welch replied.  Welch went on to say, “I adored her when I was growing up.”  Welch said that her parents did not allow movie magazines in the house, but that she had a friend who had stacks of them which included pictures of Monroe.  “I loved her.  She was hypnotic.  You couldn’t stop looking at her.  We were so different.  So I didn’t think that I was going to have a shot.  I thought everybody wanted blondes.  I did take heart when I saw Ava Garnder and eventually Sophia Loren and people that I saw that had a more Mediterranean type of look. I thought that there might be room to sneak in, in that department.”

Cavett recalled that a frequent reaction from people who saw Welch on his show was, “I didn’t know she was so intelligent.”  “Is there a resentment that you could not only have the gift of beauty but also brains?” Cavett asked.  Welch replied that she had to cut some slack for people who think she’s not smart.  She recalled having trouble pronouncing the word “oxygenation” in the film “Fantastic Voyage” (1966).  Welch also told a story about having a crush on “Fantastic Voyage” co-star Stephen Boyd.  One evening, at the Plaza Hotel, Welch said she invited Boyd to her room.   Boyd’s response was to tell Welch something which, he explained, she would have to think about adding “I hope you’ll get my drift.”  Boyd proceded to say, “An actress is a little more than a woman, but an actor is a little bit less of a man,” an anecdote that received uproarious laughter from the audience.  Welch said it took a little while for her to realize, “He’s not interested in me.  I’m the wrong sex,” she stated, yanking up the top of her dress for emphasis, to even more audience laughter.

Of her long career Welch said, “It is a very tough business in so many ways.  I don’t want to cry the blues, but it is really tough.  You have to keep your hand in it.  Otherwise you lose your edge.  You can’t just pick up and say, ‘ Oh, OK, now I’m going to go in front of the cameras.’ You just can’t do that,” she said recalling that she was just in an episode of the TV show “CSI Miami.”

Welch added that “The older I get, the better actress I am.”  Welch said it was a matter of knowing her place, something she did not always know.  She recalled that when she first came to Hollywood, “I was a single mother of a couple of kids and found myself being a sex symbol, which just didn’t compute at all.  There’s a little schizophrenia going on,” she explained.  “I’m this to the public, I’m something else up here (gesturing to her head) and then I’m a mother.  I just did not know who I really was and now, I just feel like, since I hit 40” (The last remark got a laugh, to which Welch added “last week”) I just felt like I really came into my own and felt comfortable in my own skin.”

Welch told a story about the great Italian director Vittorio De Sica asking her why she was trying to make her voice deeper.  Welch replied that she thought her voice was too high and nasal sounding.  De Sica advised, “You must always remember, the defect is very important.  Do not try to be perfect.”  Welch said, “That was a fabulous thing he said to me.”  She said that whatever defects she sees in herself, “I just have to not think about any of that and just let it be.”

Cavett asked Welch if she has deserved all that she has received in life.  Welch replied she did not know if she deserved her success but that she has had a beautiful life.  She elaborated, “I got to do what I wanted to do.  I wanted to entertain, I wanted to be on film, I wanted to be on Broadway.  I’ve always just felt very, very lucky that I was able to do it.  That I was able to, as people still say, getting off the bus in LA, I wanted to break in.  It’s a very tough game to get into.”

The interview concluded with Welch talking about movie stars having personas.  By way of examples she pointed out that Bette Davis was always Bette Davis, regardless of the role, and that Jack Nicholson is always Jack.  “But who the hell knows who I am?”  Welch asked.  Cavett provided the perfect capper for the evening by replying, “Whatever you are, it’s enough for me.”

About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on February 15, 2012, in Feature Articles and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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