There are those who say Raquel Welch is really fantastic-looking for someone who is 42. That’s not true. Raquel Welch is fantastic-looking, period. Though she brushes the compliment aside, she has been called the most beautiful woman in the world. Her vital statistics? She is 5’6″ and has an I.Q. over 140.
She was born in Chicago as Jo-Raquel Tejada, the daughter of a Bolivian-born immigrant who became an engineer. When she was two, the family moved to San Diego and later to La Jolla, where she went to high school. Early on, she was singing and dancing and acting in neighborhood theaters. She won a drama scholarship to San Diego State, where she married her high school sweetheart, Jim Welch. It was a short marriage, which begat two children.
Raquel became a tireless single working mother who fed her kids off bit movie parts. Her first film role of note was in One Million Years B.C., a 1966 epic that wasn’t nominated for much of anything. She went on to do some 30 other films, with everyone from Frank Sinatra to Jim Brown. She put together a nightclub act, did a few TV specials, yet many critics still didn’t take her seriously.
Then, late last year, her husband and business partner, French journalist Andri Weinfeld, helped land her a job on Broadway. She replaced Lauren Bacall for a short stint in the Tony Award-winning Woman of the Year. The critics raved and Bacall ranted. Raquel Welch was to be taken very seriously indeed.
We spoke with her in New York as she was nailing down the deal that would return her to Broadway. She wore leather and suede. We wore a dazed look. She was breathtaking and bright. After we finished a long talk about America’s role in El Salvador, we went on to other important topics. The conversation went like this:
PLAYBOY: What’s attractive in a man? What do you notice first?
WELCH: His face. It says so many things, even before the man himself says anything. Then I’ll watch the way a man moves, the way he carries himself. That’s more important than any individual part.
PLAYBOY: And the face is really the only individual part you notice?
WELCH: Well, maybe not just the face. My husband Andre has a great French ass.
PLAYBOY: What’s a French ass?
WELCH: Oh, generally high and round.
PLAYBOY: And what’s an American ass?
WELCH: Low and a bit droopy.
PLAYBOY: Okay, I won’t get up. What role, then, do clothes play? Do you notice what a man is wearing?
WELCH: Yes, I do, but their role depends on the man, Woody Allen, for instance, always looks like clothes are unimportant to him. He gives the impression that he’s making a token effort, but he’s not going to relinquish comfort. He puts incongruous things together—like tennis shoes with a tux—and there’s great humor in that, which says something very definite about personal style. In Woody’s case, it brings out maternal nurturing instincts in most women.
PLAYBOY: And it’s a look, right?
WELCH: Yes, but there are many others. There is Cary Grant, who is classic and elegant and always looks perfect. He moves fantastically, he has a wonderful way of speaking and he carries it all off so well.
PLAYBOY: From Woody Allen to Cary Grant. That’s a pretty wide range.
WELCH: I guess I’m very eclectic in my tastes. I think the thing I really dislike about a man’s clothing is if he’s dressed a certain way because he feels that’s the way he should dress. I like a man who looks like he puts things together himself and hasn’t read too many men’s magazines. Or, if he has, he hasn’t taken them too seriously—in the biblical sense. You know, those magazines that tell you this is the only thing men can he seen in this season. Those kinds of men are part of a herd that just follows blindly, with no real sense of their own opinion.
PLAYBOY: Do you think men’s fashion consciousness is finally catching up to women’s?
WELCH: I think men’s fashions have always been as important as women’s. Look at what happened with the Beatles. Long hair, a certain cut of pants. Most men followed that, and it was a total change for them. In fact, it was much more radical than anything that’s happened to women. Certainly there was a degree of femininity that came into the way men dress. All these men with their blow dryers. It makes me crazy! If I see one more shock of hair blown all around in different directions so that it covers up a receding hairline—ugh, I can’t stand that! I really like to see a man the way he is. I don’t mind a receding hairline.
WELCH: It’s true. Look at all those TV newscasters. They’ve either got some terrible rug or hair-weaving job on their heads or they just puff their hair around in different directions to cover up what’s not really there. And I always wonder why. Who sold them on the fact that there’s something wrong with a little extra forehead? They all try to look like Donny Osmond. It’s ridiculous!
PLAYBOY: Why do you think men are so concerned?
WELCH: Well, I suppose hair is a big thing. It’s associated with virility and sexual attractiveness and one’s seductive powers. So, in this strange time in the battle of the sexes, men feel their masculinity is being tried with every move they make. They think more hair makes them look virile and strong. They’re just so desperate—puffing up their masculinity as best they can, poor babies. I feel sorry for them.
PLAYBOY: Let’s talk about men who don’t have to be desperate. Who are America’s elegant men?
WELCH: Of course, Cary Grant is the archetypical elegant man. I think Givenchy is a beautiful man. He’s so tall and wonderfully gray. And I like the way Jack Nicholson dresses. He and Woody Allen. I like sloppy men. But I like Tom Wolfe too, who wears sort of dandified outfits. It shows a special sense of humor.
PLAYBOY: How about Ronald Reagan?
WELCH: Reagan is a wonderful clothes horse. I honestly believe that for the most part he won the election on the basis of what he looks like—his good-looking suits, that full head of hair and that perpetual tan that Reagan the actor always had. He looks so all-American. And, of course, the public bought his act. It’s a shame that people can be manipulated like that, but it is true. As actors, we just know these things, because we’re paid to play parts and dress right for the moment. And if you play the part right, you can manipulate the population through the use of the media and all that happy hype, which is why we have an actor in the White House.
PLAYBOY: Let’s talk about foreign policy—in clothes. Do you see a definite difference in style between American men and European men?
WELCH: I think European men, with the exception of the English, tend to have better taste. Not that there aren’t English men with superb taste; it’s just that French and Italian men seem to have it as a group. It has to do with tradition. It’s been bred into them. They’ve been brought up well mannered. They have some of the finer graces of life. Earl de vivre. It’s just a way of being, of dressing, of ordering food, of being with women.
PLAYBOY: Your husband is French. Does he need any help? Who buys his clothes? WELCH: He says he doesn’t care about clothes at all—although I think he’s really a great clothes horse. But it’s kind of hard for me to drag him into a store and pick out something he’d look fabulous in. Most of the time he doesn’t think about what he’s putting together. He’s kind of sloppy, actually It all seems to work out in the end, though sometimes I get really terrified halfway through his getting dressed, and I say, “Oh my God, what are you putting on? I’m not going to be seen with you.” And he just tells me to leave him alone, that he has more important things on his mind than clothes.
PLAYBOY: You’ve both been doing a lot of traveling back and forth between Los Angeles and New York. Do you notice any real differences in the coastal styles?
WELCH: Yes. I really think California people dress more casually because they’re terrified of dressing up. They don’t want to make mistakes. Things on the East Coast tend to go ten times faster than they do in the West. People in the East tend to know more about dressing for different occasions because they have so many more things happening in a day. They dress for the weather, too. In California, you don’t have to do that. It’s mostly all the same; if it rains, you just get caught in your little white cotton pants and white T-shirt. People in California aren’t as laid back as everyone thinks they are. They’re much more nervous and anxious, possibly because they don’t have as much human contact as people on the East Coast. I mean, there’s nobody on the street in L.A. Everybody is in their cars. There’s no rubbing shoulders with other people. It makes you feel more isolated and anxious.
PLAYBOY: Can you give men, on both coasts and in between, any tips about dealing with women? There are a lot of guys out there who aren’t sure who should be opening the door these days.
WELCH: Yes, I have a feeling that sometimes they think about it too much now, which is a shame. I don’t think it should be given any thought, because we are physically the weaker sex. I’ve read so many stories that say the contemporary woman doesn’t need help—that we can do it all by ourselves. And a lot of men have spoken to me about it. They feel very self-conscious. Not just about opening doors, but about every attitude they feel about women. They start second guessing everything. I think we’d be a lot better off with a little more spontaneity and less analysis.
PLAYBOY: Over the years, you’ve changed as a woman—not just in your attitudes, but in your looks.
WELCH: Oh! When I look at my old photographs I really have to laugh, because some of them are so grotesque it’s unbelievable. I used to wear so many pairs of eyelashes it was hard just keeping my eyes open. And all those miniskirts. But I do believe you learn from experience. I do think I’m much better looking now than I was then. Which probably sounds pretty self-serving, but I was pretty horrible-looking. I can’t imagine why anyone thought I was good-looking. God! I was so grotesque!
PLAYBOY: Yet you’ve been called the most beautiful woman in the world.
WELCH: It’s difficult to ever justify why one should be called that when there is no such thing. Especially when you look in your bathroom mirror and say, “My God, we know this isn’t true, don’t we.” And you think—when are they going to find me out? There’s this terrible hoax they’re passing on about me and somehow I’ve got to try to live up to it.
PLAYBOY: But look at the so-called beautiful women of today. What does it say about where we are now that Brooke Shields is a sex symbol?
WELCH: It says that we like beautiful girls.
PLAYBOY: But it’s a very different kind of beauty.
WELCH: Well, I think we feel that way about Brooke because she’s a delightful and gorgeous creature we can watch grow up. We can watch all the various phases she goes through. It’s kind of what happened to Elizabeth Taylor. You get to see her first love affairs, her first marriage, her second marriage, her eighth marriage. You get to see all the divorces, all the infidelity. But I think Brooke will survive nicely. It’s just that you never know when it’s all going to turn. You just don’t know when the media is going to say, “Well, okay, we’ve had enough of this. We’re bored silly with her.”
PLAYBOY: What about other women? Which actresses do you like in films now?
WELCH: I think Meryl Streep is wonderful. And Laura Antonelli and Diane Keaton.
PLAYBOY: Some people knock Keaton because she often plays herself, or at least a certain type …
WELCH: Diane Keaton is more than just a type. She has a style that’s all her own, and I think she’s a wonderful actress. Who the hell cares if she’s still Diane Keaton, if she’s something like Diane Keaton in every part she plays. My God, Katharine Hepburn was always Katharine Hepburn in every part she played. There was no way to get around it.
PLAYBOY: What about leading men?
WELCH: All of our classic leading men are apologizing for being classic leading men. Robert Redford doesn’t want to do anything unless it’s socially relevant. He doesn’t want to be thought of as a pretty boy, just another good-looking guy. Christopher Reeve is having a terrible time of it. He’s taking a lot of knocks because he was so wonderful as Superman. I think he’s a great-looking guy who looks great in clothes, and I think he’s having his problems with that. Richard Gere is a good-looking guy Jack Nicholson sets a certain style. So does Jean-Paul Belmondo. Alain Delon is a fantastic-looking man.
PLAYBOY: What about Warren Beatty?
WELCH: Warren Beatty. We don’t see much of Warren, you know. Warren only shows himself every three or four years in his masterpieces. I think he’s the cleverest man around. Oh, and I love Dudley Moore. He’s my idea of a really terrific guy, and I think he dresses wonderfully. I mean, I don’t even know what he puts on, but whatever it is, it’s okay with me. He’s just scrumptious.
PLAYBOY: But not exactly the model of the typical leading man, not someone women would normally swoon over.
WELCH: I think high school girls tend to go after football heroes. Then they learn. Sometimes the most exciting men, the men who really have something on the ball, are the ones who, in high school, were the last ones in line to get the girl. I mean, look at Henry the Kiss [Kissinger]. He is terribly attractive. He obviously was not a handsome boy, but now all the women are lining up. They can’t wait to get introduced to Henry. There’s more there than meets the eye. You can’t get through life on just good looks anymore. Believe me, I know what I’m talking about.