Read Excerpt: 'Beyond the Cleavage' by Raquel Welch
An icon of a generation tells her private story.
March 31, 2010 — -- In "Beyond the Cleavage," Raquel Welch, the icon of a generation, looks back on her life from growing up in California and bursting onto the scene in "One Million B.C." to a failed marriage to becoming a single mother and, at last, becoming a famous actress.
Check out an excerpt of the book below, then head to the "GMA" Library for other great reads.
Behind the Myth
CONTRARY TO POPULAR MYTH, I DIDN'T JUST hatch out of an eagle's nest, circa One Million Years B.C., clad in a doeskin bikini. In fact, I was more surprised than anyone to find myself on location in such an exotic setting, high atop a volcanic mountain in the Canary Islands! With the release of that famous movie poster, in one fell swoop, everything in my life changed and everything about the real me was swept away. All else would be eclipsed by this bigger-than-life sex symbol.
She came into public consciousness as a physical presence, without a voice. How could I hope to survive such an unpredictable beginning, and learn to carry the baggage that came with it? One Million Years B.C. was only my second film for 20th Century Fox. I had no other credentials as an actress outside of that one laughable line of dialogue: "Me Loana . . . You Tumak." It felt like I'd stumbled into a booby trap— pun intended. I am living proof that a picture speaks a thousand words. It seems like everything that's happened to me since has flowed from that moment, frozen in time.
The irony of it all is that even though people thought of me as a sex symbol, in reality I was a single mother of two small children! It's true! However, nobody would have believed it back then, not when they saw me in that skimpy fur bikini. Can you picture the girl in the poster with a baby in one arm and pushing a stroller with the other? Kind of destroys the fantasy, doesn't it? Ironically, I am duty bound and destined to do just that.
My task of destroying the myth is long overdue. It's an absolute necessity to pull back the veil, so to speak, in order to make way for the authentic me. So let's flash back in time to almost seventy years ago and retrace the steps of my real life.
World War II
I was born in 1940 in the Windy City, Chicago. Not ideal for a newborn baby girl with thin Mediterranean blood, courtesy of my Spanish father. For my first outing, I was bundled into a snowsuit to protect me from the very, very cold weather. Luckily for me, my folks moved to California when I was barely two; a good thing, because my baby brain was frozen solid until that point. That's probably why I've had an aversion to anything cold ever since, from icy drinks to frigid people.
Happy in the warm glow of the California sunshine, my baby brain thawed and I became a much more smiley toddler in the Golden State of Boredom. My father worked as an aeronautical engineer in San Diego, designing aircraft at General Dynamics. It was wartime, so we lived in government housing, called "the projects" in the Mission Bay area. The units were almost like military barracks. Up until I was five, I would save the tinfoil from my gum wrappers for the war effort. Everybody pitched in back then.
My mother was Anglo. Her ancestry dated back to John Quincy Adams and the Mayflower. My father was born into a good family in La Paz, Bolivia. I was the first of their three children. My father had been hoping for a firstborn son and got me instead. He didn't have much regard for the female of the species, unless they were parading around in swimsuits. Do you get the picture? My brother, James Stanford— called Jim—was hatched on exactly the same day as me, two years later, on September 5. My younger sister, Gayle Carole, came along one year later.
Even though Mom, Dad, and two-year-old me ended up in Southern California where the sun outside was always shining, it was strangely chilly inside our family home. Physical affection was in short supply. There was no cuddling or lovey-dovey stuff happening, even between Mom and Dad. I don't recall ever seeing him kiss her or hold her hand. I was left hungry for a taste of tenderness and romance from an early age. All of us were terrified of my father. He was quick to anger and was a stickler for manners and rules in our modest home. I complied. Just as the war ended, in 1945, so did my kindergarten class. A dark cloud had been lifted, and we moved out of "the projects" and across the bay into a real house, with roses growing over a trellis; a yard filled with peach, plum, and avocado trees; and a dog named Shep. Dad drove a Hudson. It was the American dream! It was also a new neighborhood, and I changed schools just in time to enter first grade at Bay Park Grammar School.
I was registered with my full name: Jo-Raquel Tejada. Quite a mouthful. No one could pronounce it. My schoolmates started calling me "Jo." No matter how many times I tried to tell them, "I'm not Jo. I'm Raquel," I couldn't make them stop. One day, my mother showed up at the administration office and scratched the "Jo" off the school record. Gone were those two letters that bound me to her, since I'd been named after her—Jo was short for Josephine. The only problem in deleting it was that "Jo" was the only part of my name that anyone could pronounce. Why couldn't I be a Mary Smith? I didn't like being so different. But I was, and in time, I would learn to embrace my "Raquelness."
I had no idea how I got the name Raquel Tejada. I had just ac¬cepted it. But now the question had been raised and was begging for an answer. It turns out that I'd been named after my paternal grand¬mother, Raquel, whom I had never even seen. She lived in La Paz, and I didn't meet her until I was thirty-two. The name "Tejada," Mom ex¬plained, came from the name for the type of spear carried by the king's royal guards in sixteenth-century Spain. I couldn't relate.
Dad seemed indifferent to his heritage and never spoke of his childhood, his siblings or parents, or anything personal. For most of my life, he was an enigma to me. He spoke only occasionally of his Bolivian roots, and he never spoke Spanish in our home. This made me feel like there was something wrong with being from Bolivia, "a third-world country." It was troubling, but I didn't ask about it. I was only six years old and didn't want to know the answer. For now, if the kids at school could just get my name right, I'd settle for that. By the time I hit high school, everyone called me Rocky.
Over time, I came to think that my father's willful disconnect must have made him feel very lonely and isolated at times, which would ac¬count for his moods. This presented me with some serious issues to work through. Was my dad ashamed of his Latin heritage? I chose not to think so, to sidestep feeling ashamed myself. On a childish, sublim¬inal level, I actually did understand why he was not forthcoming about his background. It was because he had divorced his family and his coun¬try to come to the fabled U.S.A., the land of opportunity. There was no going back. He had made a commitment, and it was clear that he was now, first and foremost, an American. My mother, Josephine Sarah Hall, was a real lady. She had a beauti¬ful smile, which she wore easily and often; and though she was soft-spoken, she was a dynamo. I came to realize that she was anything but weak. She had enormous inner resources and a powerful will. Despite this, my father had the upper hand.
Mom was a great seamstress. She made all our clothes on her Singer sewing machine. I cannot imagine whipping up some of the things she did. It's like an ancient skill from another century. Gayle and I always had the same Easter dresses, but in different colors. (See the photo of Gayle, Jim, and me in the photo insert.) I was very proud of my dresses and have always admired women who could make clothes from scratch. I am missing that gene.
My mother also had a job. She used to get up at the crack of dawn to get ready for work, and I would sit on the edge of the tub and watch her apply makeup in the bathroom mirror. She gave me all my ideas about how a woman should be. She never wore rollers or pin curls around the house, and neither would I. Her wardrobe was always co¬ordinated, and she was smart and articulate. She was a college graduate from the University of Illinois, where she had met my father. She was a hardworking person who put forth a tremendous amount of ef¬fort toward cooking, cleaning, laundry, yard work (cutting the hedges and mowing the lawn) and washing our cars. Oh, and she also did the ironing and the baking and chauffeured us kids from here to there. She was really something!
Mom used to read wonderful Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales to us at bedtime. It would be a special treat when she'd linger to scratch my back before tucking me in. She was also a churchgoer who enrolled us all in Daily Vacation Bible School every summer. I went every year until I was thirteen. We weren't particularly religious per se, but Mom attended church every Sunday with all three of us kids in tow . . . dressed up and polished. We attended the Pacific Beach Presbyterian Church. Dad only went on Easter and Christmas.
One thing about church was that people were dressed nicely and on their best behavior. This was, of course, a bit boring for a fidgety child, but it gave me a sense of what decency looked like. My mother, as well, was a perfect example of that.
When it came to my father, everyone walked on eggshells. We all avoided him for fear of criticism or a cruel remark about our appearance. We had to watch what we said, what we wore, how we combed our hair . . . everything came under his scrutiny, especially our grades in school. Sometimes he'd demand that I sit next to him on the couch and read aloud from Time magazine or Newsweek without any mistakes. It was hit or miss; he could be quite reasonable, even charming . . . but you never knew when he'd "fly off the handle," as Mom used to put it.
When that happened, we would run to Mother. There was no place else to go. She might try, but she was no match for him. Jo, as she liked to be called, was far too timid around my father. Even as a child I was acutely aware of this dynamic between the two and didn't like it one bit. I could tell that Mom was scared of Dad, which made me feel terribly vulnerable. Who would protect us? Eventually, that someone turned out to be me. Every time Dad lashed out at my mother, I flinched—it might as well have been me! I felt the need to vindicate her, but was helpless to do so. I crossed that bridge when I finally confronted my dad in defense of my mother, and this time he had to back down. I'll never forget that moment as long as I live. I was sixteen . . . and had had enough. We had just sat down for dinner when Dad began complaining about the casserole Mom had served. Suddenly, he picked up his glass of milk from the table and threw it right in her face. It was the worst thing I could ever imagine, seeing her look of shock, watching her sit there with her face and hair drenched and dripping, humiliated. I couldn't believe my eyes. All this over something he didn't like about the meal? My poor mother was reduced to a whimpering mess . . . defeated.
That was it. Tears streaming, I jumped up from the table and went for the fireplace, as he came after me. "Where do you think you're going?" he demanded.
"How could you?" I screamed, and picked up the poker from the fireplace and turned toward him, gripping it with both hands. I was pit¬ted against him now. "If you ever, ever do anything to hurt Mom again, I swear, I'll kill you!" I said, shaking with emotion. He glared at me and stood his ground. "Calm down," he said. I glared right back at him. Thank God, he backed away. I cannot believe I am telling this about someone I loved so much. Everything I did was to please him. But someone had to stand up to him. And as the oldest, that someone was me.
I remember vividly the adrenaline rush I got from walking up to the dragon and discovering that I was no longer afraid. That moment also included an epiphany about my father. I sensed his vulnerability. I could see in him the young man of seventeen who had come to this country from Bolivia with dreams of science, space, and aeronautics. I could see the man who had learned to speak impeccable English and studied engineering at the university where he met my mother. He had lifted himself up, lifting me up with him. I saw how his internal strug¬gle, his drive and his masculine pride had been tested to the limit, some-times to the breaking point, which accounted for his lousy temper. I didn't excuse him . . . but I suddenly understood him. This helped later when it was time for me to forgive.
Not under His Thumb
My mother was under my father's thumb. I sure didn't want to be like her in that respect. But I think I am like her in other ways. Anyway, I got the feminine part down pat. But when it came to deferring to a male who was demanding? Not so much. That's where my mom and I differ radically. By observing my mother in her relationship with my father, I learned that women have different roles to play. I think she was right about that part. However, after four husbands, I don't think I'm a good candidate for wifedom. I like my independence too much.
A life of female servitude doesn't appeal to me mainly because I saw my mother being taken for granted. I don't have memories of any appreciation coming her way. Between my parents there was not the slightest gesture of fondness; no hand-holding or sitting close with arms around each other; and hardly ever a kiss. As the song goes, "Try a little tenderness." Where, oh where, was that tenderness? I wondered. Where was his appreciation for all she did as a wife, mother, and homemaker? Men who behave like that have only themselves to blame for the backlash.
My romantic life would be something quite different. I wasn't ever willing to settle for the dry, estranged relationship of my parents. I'm allergic to it. I knew I couldn't (and wouldn't) tolerate it. I suppose that in some way, I wanted to vindicate my mother's suffering and selflessness. Oh boy . . . Who can control the subconscious mind? Where was mine leading me? I was at the mercy of my turbulent family life. Like many children, my imagination allowed me to slip from the bounds of my dysfunctional family and invent another world to inhabit. Make-believe was a lovely place to be, and I could control it. It seemed as if I had always wanted to be an actress. Mom was encouraging, but no one pushed me into it. I took it upon myself to stir up some action, Andy Hardy–style, and started to put on plays in our garage using blue chenille bedspreads for curtains. All the neighbors came, and the kids on our block played the various parts.
Mercifully, my mother soon realized I was a budding performer and enrolled me in the San Diego Junior Theatre, an annex of San Diego's Old Globe. In my first play, I was surprised to be cast as the prince in The Princess and the Caterpillar. A boy! Why a boy? I was only seven, but it bothered me. Wasn't I pretty enough to be the princess?
Meanwhile, the more I performed, the more my father smiled and tapped his knee, in a kind of excited fashion. It was a good sign. But I had to be careful about that tapping. It might turn into a ticking time bomb.
At about the same time, Daddy took me to see the movie The Red Shoes. As I watched Moira Shearer dance herself into feverish abandon in the film, she quickly became my new idol. I was under the spell of her magical red toe shoes. It pitched my romantic temperament into high gear, and that was when I began to take ballet lessons. Ballet would become a consuming passion—especially in my teenage years—and a lasting influence in my life. I started classical ballet at age seven and continued to study dance for the next ten years, and even after I graduated from high school.
Not surprisingly, I developed a schoolgirl crush on my ballet teacher, Irene Isham Clark. She cut quite a striking figure with her long silver hair cascading down her back, well past her waist. She would put it up with exotic-looking combs during class. Irene Clark was not at all like the typical La Jolla matron. She was an artiste. She conducted class by tapping an ornately carved cane with a silver tip like a rhythmic metronome to the count of Les Sylphides.
Then came the day when this ballet goddess broke my heart. When I was seventeen, Irene told me that I would never become a classical ballerina. She thought I would make a better comedienne. Although I was crushed, she turned out to be right, and I just had to live with it. But all those years of devotion to dance didn't go to waste. By my midteens, the ballet classes had shaped a near-perfect body.
By age thirteen a truckload of hormonal changes had come raining down on me. I was emotionally still a girl, but now suddenly I was be¬coming a young woman. It was frightening. Nature was running its course and pubescent girls had to just sit helplessly waiting, during what amounted to a high-stakes poker game, nervously watching to see what cards they would be dealt in the game of life.
Dad said I had racehorse legs. Was that a good thing? Anyway, I was broad shouldered, small waisted, and slim hipped with new rosebud boobies starting to blossom. What should I do about it? It was embarrassing and reassuring at the same time. It seemed too early to start becoming . . . a woman. Then, suddenly and mysteriously, lovely things began happening to me. Nature was working its magic, transforming Raquel Tejada into someone else.
However, the game was playing out slowly, taking its time over a period of a couple of years. Whereas for some girls it was one summer— and whamo!—girl to woman at the speed of light, for me it was more like watching grass grow. My development was gradual . . . a work in progress. I didn't like my hair (very fine like my mother's), or my eyes (too deeply set and almond shaped, in standard-issue brown), or my nose (not cute enough), or my mouth (a bit too wide). Then there were my hips (not high or round enough) and my breasts (set too widely apart on my torso). But there were things I did like: my shoulders (square and broad), my back (shaped like an inverted triangle), and my waistline (super small). I also liked my skin (olive and fine-pored), my hands and feet (delicate and well-formed), and my teeth (super white, and I had my mother's smile). My cheekbones (prominent like Kate Hepburn's), my ears (small), and my proportions (svelte after years of ballet) were pretty damned good.
Looking around for confirmation, I wasn't able to spot anyone similar to my type whom I could gauge myself by. I judged myself "passable." Fortunately, any lack of confidence I had about my physical ap¬peal wasn't shared by the opposite sex. They were not nearly as critical as I was. This became obvious from the way they stared at me when I got off the bus and walked down the street to my dance class. It was rather uncomfortable . . . but intoxicating.
Some guys would just gawk or drive around the block for a second look. But others would yell a lewd remark, make suggestive ges¬tures and urge me to get in their car! It made me feel very exposed and vulnerable. "Go away!" was all I could think of to say; that, and zap them with an icy stare. After an awkward initiation period, I became accustomed and even immune to unwanted male attention. I was also flattered by the glances from other young girls who were sizing up the competition.
I didn't consider myself pretty, mainly because I didn't fit into the mold of the blonde, blue-eyed ideal. But who was I to argue? I rather liked being admired. At the same time, all the attention was distracting and interfered with the way I wanted to think of myself—as an intelli¬gent girl with artistic leanings.
I enrolled in La Jolla High School, which was only three blocks away from the famous Windansea surfing beach! From the high school's sec¬ond-story windows, my classmates could check out the coastline to see if the surf was up. Despite this siren call of the sea, once I enrolled as a freshman, I threw myself into my studies and managed to become an A student. Mr. Rosney, my all-time favorite teacher, taught American government, my best subject. I was keenly interested in Martin Luther King Jr. and his fight against racism and segregation. When it came to homework, I wasn't a fast reader, so I often had to work very late into the night to finish my assignments, sometimes until 3 AM. That didn't really bother me. I loved getting a handle on sociopolitical subjects. Whatever it took, I was ready to put forth the effort.
By now I had new idols. My parents didn't allow any movie fan magazines at our house. They were considered trash. But my best friend, Kitty Pemberton, had stacks of forbidden tabloids piled high all over her bedroom floor. We spent many an afternoon glued to the pages of those "rags." I pored over photos and stories about stars like Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh and couldn't get enough of James Dean, Na¬talie Wood, Jayne Mansfield, and Marilyn Monroe, as well as tons of starlets and teen idols.
Since the '90s, people have tended to refer to the '50s as an uptight period in our culture. I would argue with that perception. If that were true, how could this "squeaky clean" era have given rise to the world's most memorable sex symbols? Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, and Marlon Brando? They became my new idols. And they are still widely worshipped to this day. James Wesley Welch was gorgeous. He had wavy black hair, green eyes, and a cool demeanor. I'll never forget the day I came running up the steps to my American government class and there he was. Whoa! Who's that? He looked at me and smiled his crooked grin. It was instant attraction. We were both fifteen. From the first minute I saw him, I se¬cretly knew that I was destined to have his babies. In my emotionally charged, romantic young mind, I fixated on Jim as "my one and only."
He seemed to feel a magnetic pull toward me as well. Before long he asked if I wanted a ride to school, since he was one of the guys who had a car. He started picking me up in the morning and we'd drive to school together. I was in heaven. Jim would be my first true love, with all that it implies. He'd be the unforgettable, always present love, against whom all others would be judged. I couldn't even imagine that I would ever be in love with anyone else but him. That kind of stinkin' thinkin' would affect my personal life for years to come.
Love distracted me from my studies. I was always elated to see him and would chatter away nonsensically, out of sheer excitement. He, on the other hand, hardly said a thing! If he had, I might have discovered how little we had in common . . . but my schoolgirl crush on Jim lulled me into believing that he was the man of my dreams. And in some ways he was. And yet, I realized years later that I was needy and that it caused me to project certain qualities onto Jim that he didn't have.
Jim may not have talked very much, but he sure was a great dancer. We went to all the dances after the football games and jitter¬bugged 'til we dropped! I had just become a cheerleader, and he was on the football team. Afterward, we'd pile into his car and head off to Oscar's Drive-in in Pacific Beach and have a burger and shake. It was the after-game hangout—very American Graffiti. Then we'd drive up to our favorite necking spot, Blueberry Hill (named after the Fats Domino song). It had a great view overlooking the village lights. It was just Jim and me and the radio.
Like most boys in my class, Jim drank beer; but I never touched the stuff. I just didn't like the taste. And it's a good thing, because during those sessions on "the Hill" when we were alone together, somebody had to draw the line. God knows, it was difficult. I just wanted to stay with him forever and never go home. Our song was "You Send Me," by Sam Cooke, one of my all-time favorites.
Jim represented the handsome young prince I had fantasized would rescue me. He was the antidote to my harsh father. Here was a young man who didn't ask anything much of me but showered me with the affection I was hungry for. But I couldn't cross the line and be in¬timate with him. I couldn't break the taboo. Only a year earlier, my life had taken an unexpected turn. It was one of those nonsensical things that happens and somehow changes every¬thing. One day, out of the blue, I got talked into joining a beauty contest. My home economics teacher recruited all the girls in her class to participate as models at a photography convention. As part of this "field trip," we would also compete in a contest for the title "Miss Photogenic."
Huh? It had come out of left field, and I balked. We were being asked to wear one-piece bathing suits and high heels, of all things. I really didn't want to go. High heels and bathing suits sounded kind of cheesy to me, and I said so. But all the other girls thought I was trying to wriggle out of it and sort of shamed me into going along for the ride. So despite my grumbling, about a dozen of us ended up in Balboa Park one Sunday afternoon as models and rather unwilling contestants.
There were about 150 girls in the pageant from all over the city. What a big deal our glorified field trip had turned out to be. It was quite a scene backstage, with all of us primping and posing and stumbling about in heels. Before long I discovered that I actually liked to strut around in a pair of high heels and a bathing suit. It was fun! And because of the ballet, I was quite good at it. Those heels sure gave a girl tons of attitude. In the end, I walked off with the trophy.
Monday morning, the school campus was abuzz. My picture started appearing in the local papers, and complete strangers began to recognize me! It was my first taste of small-town fame, and it was exhilarating! But when the adrenaline stopped pumping, there was a bitter aftertaste. Even my friends treated me differently.
My win kicked off a series of events. Now the town council wanted me to enter the Miss La Jolla pageant. That was one I really wanted to win. After I became Miss La Jolla, I was automatically obligated to represent La Jolla in the countywide competition for Miss San Diego—the Fairest of the Fair. It was the beginning of a long line of beauty contests that eventually led to the state title of Maid of California. This was too much of a good thing. I was so done with all that . . . or so I thought. Flash forward only three short years, on the heels of my breakup with Jim and the beginning of my struggles in Hollywood. When I got there, with no car, two hundred bucks in my pocket, two kids, and no connec¬tions, it was pretty rough going. I ran into all kinds of weirdness. For one thing, children were considered personae non gratae back then. It was difficult to even rent an apartment. In early 1963, 90 percent of the vacancy signs specified "No Children." A couple of toddlers were not the kind of baggage a young actress starting out could advertise around town. It was wise to keep a low profile.
All of it was hateful and demoralizing. But I knew I was just passing through, and I didn't need the acceptance of those who disapproved. I just held my nose and gave myself a make-or-break, three-year dead¬line. Sometimes even today I drive by the first apartment we stayed in, just as a reminder of what a miracle it is that we survived that wicked period. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. My early experience in H'wood vaccinated me against sleaze and phonies.
When I hit town, it was all about Bond, James Bond, and I almost became a Bond girl! I was tested for Thunderball. Producer Cubby Broccoli had seen my photo in a Life magazine layout called "The End of the Great Girl Drought!" He called Jack Gilardi, my agent at GAC, and the subsequent buzz around town created so much excitement that it enabled me to bag a long-term contract at 20th Century Fox. But because of a technicality involving start dates and contract options, Fox put me in the sci-fi classic Fantastic Voyage. I was disappointed. Here I was ready to snuggle up to Sean Connery but was assigned to eight months floating through the human bloodstream in a wet suit instead.
Since the '60s, sexy girls always seem to end up in sci-fi features; and they're still doing it. Look at Jessica Alba and Megan Fox. Since I was still unproven at the time, I was hoping that Fox would groom me for more challenging roles. But as fate would have it, the studio had a completely different plan for me. My first starring role was to be in a dinosaur epic called One Million Years B.C. Fox's studio head, Dick Zanuck, called to tell me that I would be playing the part of Loana in this remake of the 1940 caveman classic. Although I thanked him for my "big break," all I could think was, A dinosaur movie? You've got to be kid-ding me! I figured my performance would disappear without a trace.
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