Raquel Welch (1940-2023)
16th February 2023
The 'Bond girl who got away' has died aged 82
By MI6 Staff
American actress Raquel Welch was born Jo Raquel Tejada on September 5, 1940, in Chicago, Illinois to her mother Josephine Sarah Hall, and her father, Armando Tejada, was an aeronautical engineer from La Paz, Bolivia. Her family moved to San Diego, California, when she was two years old. Expressing a desire to perform from a young age, she studied ballet from age 7 to 17. She also won several beauty titles from the age of 14.
After graduating with honours from high school, she entered San Diego State College and got married the following year to James Welch. She landed the title role in a production of The Ramona Pageant in 1959 which led to a job as a weather presenter at a local San Diego television station. She decided to give up her drama classes due to family commitments and then separated from her husband and moved with her two children to Dallas, Texas, and became a model for Neiman Marcus.
She moved back to California, this time to Los Angeles in 1963, and met Patrick Curtis who became her personal and business manager. To avoid being typecast as a Latina, she kept her husband's surname. Her first two films were small: 'A House Is Not a Home' (1964) and 'Roustabout' (1964) with Elvis Presley. Some television appearances followed before she landed her first featured role in 'A Swingin' Summer' (1965).
Welch was beginning to get noticed just as Bond Fever was taking hold. Producer Albert R. Broccoli targeted the up-and-coming actress to play the role of Domino in the fourth James Bond film 'Thunderball'.
In his autobiography 'When The Snow Melts,' Cubby Broccoli recalled the chase: "Fleming's description of [Domino] places her as someone of pleasant stock, wilful, hot-tempered and sensual, and accordingly no pushover for 007. Harry and I were convinced that Raquel Welch, though still a comparative newcomer, would be ideal for the role. She had been featured in Life magazine, made one film, and was stunning to look at. We went to Hollywood and signed her for the role. Not long after I had returned to London, I had a panic phone call from Dick Zanuck, then production chief at Twentieth Century Fox. 'I'm awfully sorry, Cubby,' he pleaded. 'I'm in trouble. I really need this girl. Would you release her?' 'I'll have to talk to my partner Harry,' I said. 'We like her, we'd still like to use her, but it's no big deal. She is still virtually unknown.' We finally agreed to release her - which may or may not have done her a favour - and renewed our search for the ideal Domino."
Welch recalled her brush with Bond in her 2010 memoir 'Raquel: Beyond the Cleavage': "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!' The subsequent buzz around town created so much excitement that it enabled me to bag a long-term contract at 20th Century Fox. Because of a technicality involving start dates and contract options, Fox put me in the sci-fi classic Fantastic Voyage."
She agreed to a seven-year nonexclusive contract, five pictures over the next five years, and two floaters with 20th Century Fox. After being released from 'Thunderball', the studio cast her in the sci-fi film 'Fantastic Voyage' (1966), in which she portrayed a member of a medical team that is miniaturized and injected into the body of an injured scientist with the mission to save his life. The film was a hit and made her a star.
Welch became an international star through the late 1960s with films such as 'One Million Years B.C.' (1966), ' Fathom' (1967), 'Bandolero!' (1968), ' Lady in Cement' (1968) and '100 Rifles' (1969).
Years later, Welch took on Bond studio MGM. In 1982, she was contracted to star in 'Cannery Row' for $250,000, but was fired by the producers a few weeks into production and replaced by 25 year-old Debra Winger. “What they did was use me to get financing for the movie, then they dumped me for Debra, which they’d been planning all along,” said Welch years later. “The really Machiavellian part of this is that Debra and I were represented by the same agency.”
Welch brought legal action against MGM complaining that MGM’s accusation that she breached her contract and the news of her termination caused significant damage to her reputation. Welch argued that the allegation signaled to other filmmakers that she was not dependable. Although she made six movies in the seven years immediately preceding her termination (earning up to $350,000 per film), Welch did not make another film afterward, as offers ceased. With her career in ruins in Hollywood, Welch moved to New York and performed on Broadway, did television commercials, did a concert tour, and had success with a book on health and beauty.
The case came before the courts in California in 1986. On Welch’s claim for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, the jury awarded Welch $1 million for her loss of income and $750,000 for damage to her reputation. The jury also awarded Welch punitive damages in the amount of $7.65 million against MGM, whose net worth was $215 million, and $500,000 against Cannery Row’s producer, whose net worth was $5 million dollars. MGM appealed the award of damages.
Seven years later, an appeals court upheld the ruling in the “bad-faith discharge case” and awarded Welch $10 million, $8 million of which was for punitive damages. Welch said that despite the win, she wished the whole episode never had happened. “I needed to clear my name,” she said. “But since that time, I’ve never starred in a major motion picture. That’s not the outcome I was looking for.” MGM also took a bath on the film that caused all the trouble: 'Cannery Row' cost $11m to make but only recouped $5m at the domestic box office.
Welch died on February 15th, 2023, at her home in Los Angeles, following a brief illness at the age of 82. She is survived by her two children Damon Welch and Latanne "Tahnee" Welch.