Read Chapter 1 of Raquel: Beyond the Cleavage
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.
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.
As a kid, I had a highly emotional nature and loved being swept away on flights of imagination. Inside my head, anything could happen, and I could avoid the fact that I felt trapped under the thumb of my domineering father. In my mind, I was already grown-up and independent. I was simply waiting for the biological process to catch up with my vision . . . so I could escape. I had to wait to reclaim my childhood until after I left home.
I grew up with one ear glued to the radio. Our family gathered 'round it to hear Roosevelt's speeches, and I also knew all the words to the popular tunes on the airwaves. I would sing them around the house, in the car, and on the backyard swing. My favorites were Don't Fence Me In and I'm Looking over a Four Leaf Clover. My father used to call me out to the living room to sing for company. It was kind of embarrassing, but I did it anyway. I got the early impression that above all else, I was on this planet to make my moody dad proud of me.
Later on, we got a brand-new television set, complete with rabbit ears and fuzzy black-and white reception. There were lots of comedy shows, with Jackie Gleason, Red Skelton, Milton Berle, and Sid Caesar; but my fave was Jerry Lewis. I used to squeal with laughter over his childish antics. He seemed like a big overgrown kid. By the time I grew up, I had switched my attention to Dean Martin, the suave, handsome crooner. Years later, I would actually get the chance to star in a movie with Dean and Jimmy Stewart!
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 accepted 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 grandmother, 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 explained, 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 account 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, subliminal level, I actually did understand why he was not forthcoming about his background. It was because he had divorced his family and his country 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.
Mom, on the other hand, had a drawer in which she kept photographs of the two years she'd spent in La Paz with my father, after they were first married and before I was born. We went through all her souvenir pictures of Bolivia together. There were shots of the Indians in derby hats and long braids and the exotic boats they crafted for sailing on the fabled Lake Titicaca. There were also pictures of Dad posing in a fedora, showing how desolate the terrain was on the Alto Plano high above the city of La Paz. I always wondered why all this memorabilia was kept hidden in the bottom of a drawer.
Despite everything that remained unspoken, I did learn that Dad was one of six children. I would be sixty years old before I set foot in my father's birthplace of La Paz. When I was growing up it seemed like a very far off planet.
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. 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 coordinated, 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 effort 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.
We all had our escape routes planned. Most of the time, whoever "got it" first was cooked, because the other two kids would run for cover, leaving the first victim to bear the brunt of my father's anger. Usually, that was my brother Jim. Dad always went for him first. I guess because he was the boy. That made Gayle and me feel horribly guilty. Boy, was I glad that I didn't have to bear the burden of being a son.
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 pitted 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 struggle, his drive and his masculine pride had been tested to the limit, sometimes 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.
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?
When I put myself in my mother's shoes, I thought how I would have walked out on my father long ago. It used to frustrate me that she put up with it. When I was about sixteen, I asked her why she'd stayed and didn't leave. She said it was for us, the children. She wanted us to finish school before she would even consider such a thing.
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.
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.
It's my theory that during this early period of uncertainty, almost all women come to hate themselves physically. I haven't met a woman yet who really likes her looks. That's because we don't identify with the finished product but with the anxious memory of waiting to see whether we'll win or lose. Not many draw a winning hand in the first round. But once the game begins, we can bluff our way through and play along the best we can. And that's the essence of the female persona, concentrating on our strong suit and shaping our hand into a winning streak.
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 appeal 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 gestures 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 intelligent girl with artistic leanings.
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, Natalie 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.
Marilyn oozed "availability," which was how we young girls felt hormonally, though we had to put a lid on it. What troubled me back then was the fact that as hypnotic as Marilyn was to watch, she gave the impression of someone who could be easily taken advantage of and who couldn't fight back . . . like my mother. For that reason, I didn't want to be like her at all. She was an accident waiting to happen. Later, I saw that there were some men who could be protective. That was reassuring, but then they might end up taking ownership of you. Being a girl was like walking a tightrope. You just couldn't afford to walk with a wiggle.
And then came Elvis! It's amazing what his presence did to stimulate my teenage libido. Holy shit, he was something! I managed to get tickets to see him live at his first concert in the San Diego area. I sat eagerly waiting among thousands of screaming teenage girls when Elvis hit that stage. He was like a sexual hurricane, a force of nature. In reality, I didn't know the first thing about sex. But all of us sensed that Elvis had an irresistible grip on that subject. I can assure you that he had this fourteen-year-old girl "all shook up"!
Who could compete with Elvis? I had a record player stacked with 45s of "Heartbreak Hotel," "Jailhouse Rock," "Blue Suede Shoes," "Love Me Tender," and "Hound Dog." From that point on, something clicked in my head, and a new era was born. After that, I thought in terms of B.E. and A.E.: Before Elvis and After Elvis. He was a milestone.
Until I met Jim Welch.
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 jitterbugged '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 intimate with him. I couldn't break the taboo.
I wasn't a Miss Goody Two-Shoes. None of the girls were "easy" back then. That's just the way it was among the girls in my school, who made up the class of 1958. Most of us were virgins, and I was no exception. Sex just wasn't discussed, and drugs were not in the picture. Porn was nowhere to be seen. The Outlaw, starring Jane Russell, was considered a very risqué movie, and no one under the age of twenty-one was allowed to see it. Eleven o'clock was the curfew. Daddy would be waiting up with the lights on when we pulled up. And Jim had better walk me to the door, or else!
Repressive? Maybe. But most girls respected the rules. The rules kept us in line, even though they would inevitably be broken. If you have no rules, you have no standards. Somehow, we all managed to get through high school without acting out the scenarios that were going on inside our heads. I feel that I was lucky that things were not more permissive. Looking back, I'm glad that I was reined in enough to take it slow in those formative years, if you call what happened in my life "slow." But it moved at a snail's pace by today's standards.
Although there was a lot of swooning and moaning, Jim and I weren't very sophisticated about sex. We were just all hot and bothered around each other. But during our third year of courtship, there were signs that we were also very different people. We kept breaking up and getting back together again. By our senior year, Jim, who never took much interest in his classes, dropped out of high school altogether. I was devastated! I had just become an honors student when he bailed and went off on a tuna clipper to Peru! I thought I'd never see him again. I knew that he'd been brooding about something, but it had never occurred to me that he would make such a drastic move. I didn't understand. Once he was gone, all I felt was hurt and confusion. I later realized that he needed to find himself and that academia was not his path. My father said, "Good riddance," and predicted that he'd never amount to anything. But I was brokenhearted and cried myself to sleep on many nights. Still, life went on.
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.
That same year, I graduated with honors and received a scholarship to study theater arts at San Diego State College, where I also joined a sorority. But my heart wasn't in it. I couldn't stop thinking about Jim. I wondered when and if he would ever come home. He wrote to me from Peru, but his letters took forever to arrive. His mother, Tahnee Land, was always very sweet to me and kept me posted.
Months later, when Jim finally did come back home, I couldn't wait to see him. There I was, along with his mother and three sisters—Jan, Jerry, and Judy—waiting dockside to watch his ship come in. The Portuguese tuna clipper ambled sluggishly into sight looking like anything but a pleasure cruiser. But when I spotted Jim on deck, he was quite a sight for sore eyes. He was all tan and lean and muscled up from pulling those giant tuna nets aboard. He had also grown a rather dashing goatee and looked, for all the world, like John Derek in a pirate movie. Well, it was all over for me. I kept thinking what beautiful children we could make together. And I got my way. I dropped out of college, and we were married in Las Vegas. His mother, Tahnee, was there with us at the ceremony. We had her blessing. My mother was less than thrilled. My father was furious!
Then, while I was still learning on the job how to report on the barometric pressure and describe cold fronts for the morning news, I started waking up to bouts of morning sickness! What a shock! That wasn't much fun. It was only a few months into the marriage and—bam!—I became pregnant, first with my son, Damon, and two years later with my daughter, Tahnee. Needless to say, Dad was even more pissed off than ever, and a period of estrangement between us kicked in.
I had dreams of using the recent exposure I'd gathered to start building an acting career, but now I could feel my resolve was crumbling. A girl can't live on professional ambitions alone. I hadn't counted on this unexpected turn. In fact, no one had anticipated where my strong emotional attachment to Jim would lead, and most of my inner circle was shocked to see my plans go so far off course. But at the heart of my feminine soul I still felt that we were destined to be together. It would take more than a little nausea to shake my commitment. I had to see this thing through. And, happily, we had two adorable, healthy children. In fact, even my father's heart softened when he finally saw them. It was love at first sight.
Some might look at our union as a dreadful mistake. I used to think so myself at times, but in the final analysis it was truly a blessing. I knew that I had a decision to make. Was I to focus on my relationship with Jim and make a life with him, or was I to follow my ambitions for a career? The feminism of the '60s hadn't hit yet, but that didn't matter. I had never thought of asking for a consensus to follow my own mind, heart, and gut. Those were my willful days. The result was I had my first child at nineteen.
Even so, the birth of my two children had stopped me cold, and it took me a while to regain my equilibrium. I was forced to take a step back and reassess my whole life. Only it wasn't just mine anymore; it was ours. I still imagined that Jim and I could move forward together, with our children, but that was not to be.
Is Helen Gurley Brown's promise of "having it all" an idle one? Under the circumstances then, how could I hope for that? How could I be true to my biological destiny and my loving feminine nature and also not defect from my personal calling? As things evolved, opportunities did come a-knocking from Hollywood, but I wanted to go to New York and do theater. However, Jim had his own ideas, and unfortunately they didn't include either option for me. The breach that grew between us over the next few years gave me the license to gather up my two kids and leave my hometown and my marriage behind. But I didn't make it to New York. Moving to the Big Apple was an expensive proposition and with two children would prove too difficult. I had started to save money from modeling jobs for the airfare, but my locker at work was broken into and my money stolen. This setback was too much for me. I took it as an omen and changed my destination to Los Angeles, where at least I wouldn't have to acquire an entirely new wardrobe for four different seasons and worry about where my kids would play. As a Southern California girl, I didn't even own a winter coat.
My breakup with Jim remains the most painful decision of my entire life. For our children's sake, I should have stayed. Kudos to my mother on that score. C. S. Lewis wrote that you "stand taller when you bow." But I wasn't in the bowing mood. People talk about "falling in love," but there is also a will to love, which is what it all boils down to after the honeymoon is over. At our painfully young age, we didn't have the serious relationship tools to manage that kind of love. Those qualities come with a maturity that I couldn't even dream of possessing at the time. We were both just too damn young.
That doesn't, however, excuse me. The damage I did to my children and Jim by taking off as I did is immeasurable. It would take a whole book to get into it. I have no defense for my foolishness, except to say that I was young and pigheaded. My children are the best thing in my life . . . that I haven't done. Their good character, resourcefulness, and talents are all to their own credit. More on that subject later, when I can delve a bit further into motherhood.
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 deadline. 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 kidding me! I figured my performance would disappear without a trace.
There I was, staring out at the world as though from the beginning of time. The cultural critic Camille Paglia later described it as "the indelible image of a woman as queen of nature. She was a lioness: fierce, passionate and dangerously physical." Anyway, the doeskin bikini struck a chord. I became every male's fantasy.
In the photograph, I look so convincing, so formidable standing there astride the rocky landscape in that partially shredded animal skin. I seem alert and slightly defiant, as though ready to defend myself against anyone who might attempt to tear the mini-toga off me. Or like a mama bear, ready to protect her cubs.
In one way the image was very apt, because I knew I was going to have to fight to stay afloat in the most treacherous of identities: the role of sex symbol. There I was, stranded and easy prey in that desolate realm of overnight success. But I was nobody's pushover. Would I be just a flash in the pan, as some predicted? It was me against the world. Or should I say us, if you count my two children. When that famous photo was snapped on location, my little ones were miles away, playing by the hotel pool with their nanny at the bottom of a mountain, while Mom was atop a smoking volcano . . . and it was snowing!
In fact, it was soooo cold that the entire crew was bundled up in nice cozy parkas. Even the cameras froze. So they hung pots of hot coals underneath the camera boxes, to keep the motors warm. But nobody seemed to care about my motor. Why didn't I have a parka? "Cave girls don't have parkas," I was told. Not surprisingly, I came down with a severe case of tonsillitis.
It was so not how I had pictured it. On the first day of shooting, I went straight up to the director, Don Chaffey, and said quite seriously, "Listen Don, I've been studying the script, and I was thinking . . ." He turned to me in amazement and said, "You were thinking? Don't." Then he said, "You see that rock over there?" I was all ears. "That's Rock A. When I call action, you start running all the way over to Rock B, which is over there. When you get about midway between the two, pretend you see a giant turtle coming over that hill. You scream . . . and we break for lunch. Got it?"
I got it all right. He was just the first in a long line of producers and directors who didn't give a rat's ass what I thought. For years I felt like the Rodney Dangerfield of sex symbols. I got no respect.
So Mommy became the reigning sex symbol of the swingin' '60s and '70s, at the height of the sexual revolution—with one hitch. A sex symbol in the Age of Flower Children didn't sit very well with the hardline feminists of the time. They dismissed me as nothing more than a sex object. They didn't look beyond the poster image to see what I was made of. It felt like a slap, until I realized that official feminism had a political agenda that is not inclusive of all women. It's only for those who fit a criterion, which does not include a bikini. So be it.
I don't want to fall into the cliché of the protesting sex symbol, but I have to supply a context so you know who it is that's talking to you here. Although this book is not intended to be an autobiography, I feel the need to let you in on who is lurking behind the loincloth. It's me, Raquel: a woman not unlike you in many ways and singular in others. Like we all are. Hello there! Nice to meet you.
In the movie The Shawshank Redemption, my poster from One Million Years B.C. was one of a series of posters used to cover the escape tunnel Tim Robbins was digging. I was flattered when the director, Frank Darabont, asked permission to use my image to represent the passage of time from Rita Hayworth in the '40s to Marilyn Monroe in the '50s to Raquel Welch in the '60s.
In the film, it takes Robbins twenty-odd years to dig himself out of captivity and into freedom. There were times when I wondered if I, too, would ever dig myself out from behind that image and into the liberating light of day. But I've grown fond of my former alter ego—cave girl Loana. She and I get along just fine now. After all, we're basically different sides of the same personality. And if I ask her nicely, she steps aside and gets out of my way. Nevertheless, the loincloth is in mothballs now. When I look back at that poster today, I have to smile and say, "Who is she?"
I carried on with my career and remarried three more times. I made more than forty-five feature films, tackled Broadway musicals, and had my successes. Jim became a multimillionaire real estate developer. He's married, and he and his wife Jean have a son, Jonas. Damon and Tahnee now enjoy a close relationship with their father, and he and I have been on very friendly terms for decades.
Fortunately, my children and I have a good relationship, and they're still my great joy. My son, Damon, became a computer consultant engineer, and my daughter, Tahnee, a talented actress known for her role in Cocoon. They are a source of pride and hope to me because of the kind of people they've turned out to be. They have always grounded me and given me purpose, as well as the moral courage to follow my better convictions. Now if they'll just give me grandchildren, I'll be complete. That's an ambition of mine only they can fulfill.
I should add that, at my present age, with the luxury of hindsight, I've noticed a tendency in my gender to underestimate the value of being a member of the female sex. I've fought that tendency in myself, and have come to adopt a more positive and empowering attitude toward the art of being a woman.
And as for you, dear reader, I hope that some of my backstory has brought us closer together. Now that you know a little more about me and how I evolved as a woman, let's move ahead.
Raquel Welch on aging brilliantly