Saturday, June 3, 2017


"I wanted to symbolize the dilemma facing Welch as the female sex symbol of the decade—crucified' for her sexuality by the movie industry and the wider public who did not take her seriously as an actress."
- Terry O'Neill, Photographer

The 40s had Betty Grable and Jane Russel. The 50s had Marilyn Monroe and Brigitte Bardot. And, the 60s? It was Raquel Welch who owned the image of the 60s sex symbol. Yes, there were other beautiful women from all over the world in films during those years, but a combination of her stunning beauty and a persistent publicity campaign kept her atop the heap well into the 70s.

With bronze skin (thanks to her Latin blood), brown hair that has been imaginatively described as honey ginger, golden walnut, and shaded cappuccino (!), a killer smile, and some of the most serious cleavage this side of Sophia Loren, Welch was destined to be a symbol for the 60s sexy woman. Colliding with this type of image was also another 60s obsession with sex... feminism. This movement, which had been brewing under the surface of American politics since the Suffragettes, found a toehold with spokeswomen like Gloria Steinham (who spent some time as a Playboy bunny). Welch was crucified by the "feminazis" with her new-found fame.

The image of Christ's crucifixion has been hijacked for the purpose of parody and all manner of visual symbolism over the years, and was exactly the way that photographer Terry O'Neill wanted to depict Welch in a series of photographs for a 1966 issue of ESQUIRE magazine. O'Neil, who was married to actress Faye Dunaway, was assigned to promote Welch's role as Loana in Hammer Films' recently-released Caveman vs. Dinosaur movie, ONE MILLION YEARS, B.C. After hearing of Welch's relentless criticism by the outcry of feminists who found their shrieking voices through generous coverage by the media, O'Neill had his theme.

However, the controversial image of Welch, clad in her world-famous doeskin bikini, never appeared in ESQUIRE, and it was not until 30 years later that it was used as the cover image for the SUNDAY TIMES magazine.

In THE OBSERVER, Terry O'Neill commented about the infamous photo, and the challenges that women faced -- and still do -- when their beauty is looked upon by jealous and manipulative eyes:

“It [the shoot] came about because one day she complained to me that she was “being crucified” by feminists for her sex symbol status. They accused her of demeaning women (by) wearing bikinis like that from One Million Years B.C. I thought ‘that’s the shot I need’ and had a set built at 20th Century Fox Studios where she was filming another movie. She went along with it willingly but I lost my nerve and never published the picture until I found it in my archive 30 years later. Even today it makes people angry. They regard it as blasphemous.”

"I gave up photography because photographers no longer have any freedom or control. If you are hired or want to photograph anyone famous you are employed as a technician. Managers, publicity people, agents control what you do, own what you produce, then hand it over to people at keyboards who enhance and manipulate. Photography has become a tool of brand management.

Maybe a bad photograph can cost them (the model or celebrity) a movie or a job. But a great photographer can get them the job. But not when every image everyone sees has had 18 hours of Photoshop– actresses in particular, as they get older they get more concerned, more anxious, more fearful about their appearance. A good photographer has to put them at ease and earn their trust. But now of course their managers simply hand the digital files over to someone who uses a computer to make them leaner, cleaner, more toned. I know of one very famous supermodel who has to have hours of computer work before she’s fit for a cover.

The interesting thing about beautiful women, the stars we all adore and find alluring is this: they don’t think they are beautiful, they don’t feel beautiful, a great photograph is re-assuring but they never see themselves as they are portrayed. The most beautiful women I’ve ever photographed were insecure, many of them just ordinary girls behind the masks."

And, what of Miss Welch? As time has proven , Raquel has endured rather well, thank you very much, and has brought her own, successful brand of sophisticated and widely-appealing feminism to the world.

1 comment:

Douglas Brown said...

These are outstanding, creative photos. It is a shame that they were hidden for so many years. It is a sad commentary on our society that these images may be still be controversial. Are we still in the 19th century?


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