Saturday, July 22, 2017

RAQUEL WELCH'S FUR BIKINI: THE ORIGIN STORY



"I would be nothing without Loana - Queen of the Shell People" - Raquel Welch, from her Facebook Page

Ray Harryhausen. Raquel Welch. Hammer Films. A Monsterologist's dream team, if there ever was one. They sure were mine.

The ads blared "See Raquel Welch in Mankind's First Bikini!" If ever there was a question of what was producers Michael Carreras and Aida Young's selling point of Hammer's ONE MILLION YEARS, B.C., that statement should have settled it. And, who cares if humans didn't live at the same time as the dinosaurs that menaced them, as long as Ray Harryhausen was behind it all?

The main attraction, of course, was the 25-year old former Weather Girl (she had turned 26 when OMYBC was released in February, 1966), Raquel Welch, who, much like Ursula Andress had in DR. NO and many more to follow, had her first scene emerging from water clad in the famed bikini. There were lots of other beauties on hand -- including Jamaican-born Martine Beswick and Micky De Rauch (who, as "1st Shell Girl" was also Welch's stand-in) -- but it was Welch's screen presence that galvanized her devastatingly good looks into one of cinema history's most memorable glamour images.

Carl Toms was the man who had the enviable task of designing the "prehistoric bikini": "She [Raquel] had such a perfect body that I took a very soft doe skin, we stretched it on her and tied it together with thongs -- prehistoric people knew nothing about bust darts and seams. We took tiny pieces of fur and glued them at the edges of the bikini to make it appear as though Raquel [Loana] was wearing two strips of fur inside out." Toms went on to also design Victoria Vetri's "fish scale" bikini in WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH.



In an interview in MEN'S HEALTH (March 8, 2012) Miss Welch divulged some interesting facts and anecdotes about how she fought to keep her screen name, the controversy of her ethnicity, and, of course, the famous doe-skin bikini.

Raquel Welch: Well, I’ll tell you something, Bolivian blood isn’t a whole lot different than anybody else’s blood. But yes, I do have Bolivian blood. My father was Bolivian, which makes me half-Bolivian. It’s where I got some of my exotic features and certainly my skin tone. And I guess my.... visceral reaction to everything is kind of tinged with the Latina chromosome. But I consider that a good thing.

MH: No argument here.

Raquel Welch: Not everybody is comfortable with my ethnicity. When I first came along in the business, they didn’t really like the idea of my name being Raquel.

MH: They being 20th Century Fox?

Raquel Welch: Yeah. I signed with them and almost immediately they wanted me to change my name. They came to me and said, “We have the solution. We figured it all out. You’re going to be Debbie Welch.” I think they were paranoid that Raquel sounded too ethnic. And I thought, maybe I should be more paranoid than I am. But I wasn’t raised thinking of myself or my background as particularly exotic. I felt very American and middle of the road. I knew that I had a little salsa in my blood, but on my mother’s side there was the whole English heritage.

MH: What was the studio’s argument for changing your name? Did they come right out and say, “It’s too ethnic?”

Raquel Welch: No, it was nothing that obvious. They said it was difficult to pronounce, nobody’s going to remember it. And they had a point. In school, nobody could pronounce my name. They just called me Rocky. But school kids are one thing, your career as an adult woman is another. I took it as a challenge. I was like, “Well, let’s see what happens.” You either embrace your identity or you let them force you into homogenizing yourself.

MH: But they weren’t asking you to do something that wasn’t already commonplace in your industry. Frederick Austerlitz became Fred Astaire, Bernard Schwartz became Tony Curtis.

Raquel Welch: That was mostly an American insecurity. Americans were not sure how to deal with the exotic. I was lucky that one of my first movies, One Million Years B.C. was made in Europe by a British company. The Brits, and a lot of the rest of Europe, seemed to really love exotic women. The fact that I was American and exotic just made me more appealing to them.

MH: How often do you get asked about the fur bikini?

Raquel Welch: Every day, every day. I have people that handle my fan mail, and every day tons of photos come in, with requests for autographs. The fur bikini is the perennial one. I do feel very fortunate, because I had no suspicion that a dinosaur movie would ever pay off for me as an actress. I figured, it’s going to be swept under the carpet, nobody will ever see it. I had a couple of small children at the time, and I used to take them over to see Ray Harryhausen. He did all the special effects on the movie, all the stop-motion animation, and he’s pretty much a science fiction legend. Ray would show my kids all the little figurines he used, all the dinosaurs. And then he’d show them how the animation was done, and they were fascinated. So that’s what it seemed like to me. It was great stuff for kids, but maybe not the ideal way for an actress to enter the movie-making scene. I even complained to the studio. I was like, “Please, please don’t make me do the dinosaur movie.” They were like “No, Raquel, you don’t understand. It’s a classic. It’ll live on forever.” Turns out they were right.

MH: Where’s the fur bikini now? Did they let you have it?

MH: Seriously?

Raquel Welch: I don’t know, really. That’s what they told me, and I suspect it was said in jest, but the idea of putting it in the Smithsonian has been tossed around.

Men's Health News: Click here for today's top health, fitness, nutrition, and sex new, tips, and advice!

MH: Did you at least get the right of first refusal? If anybody deserves to have that famous bikini hanging in their closet, it’s you. It’s practically a family heirloom.

Raquel Welch: (Laughs.) Oh stop! Actually, there was never just one bikini. They made several of them. They were created by this wonderful costume designer, Carl Toms, and he had to do it in triplicate. Because, as he explained it to me, at one point my character would get wet, and then there was a fight scene and blood would get on it. So they had to have several versions of the same costume, and they all had to be form-fitting. So he literally designed it around me. Carl just draped me in doe-skin, and I stood there while he worked on it with scissors.

MH: You had only three lines of dialogue in the movie. Do you remember them all?

Raquel Welch: The only one I remember is (in a flirty cave woman voice) “Me Loana . . . You Tumak.”

MH: Holy Lord.

Raquel Welch: (Laughs.) You liked that?

MH: That may be the greatest moment in my journalism career.

Raquel Welch: Well, you’re very welcome.

MH: When you have so few lines, do you over think them? Do you practice them again and again and again, just to make sure you have it right?

Raquel Welch: I probably did over think it. Not that it mattered. I went to the director, Don Chaffey, very early in the shoot and said, “Don, may I have a word with you?” And he sighed and said, “Yeah, what is it?” I could tell right away that he was not very interested. “Well, I’ve read the script,” I said, “and I’ve been thinking...” And he turned to me and said, “Don’t.”

MH: Yikes.

Raquel Welch: And I thought, okay, that in a nutshell is what it’s all about. They don’t want to hear anything from me. Just show up in the costume and take orders. He said, “See that rock over there? That’s rock A. When I say action, you run from rock A and when you get to the middle of the frame, you look up at the sky like there’s a giant turtle growling down at you. You scream, run to rock B and we break for lunch.”

MH: As far as he was concerned, you were just a set piece?

Raquel Welch: Yes, exactly. I mean, he wasn’t unkind as a director. But when I wanted to possibly find ways to enhance my character, to make her more vulnerable or have some kind of backstory, he was not interested. That was the hardest part, to realize that I was really an object. Not just to Don, but to the film industry in general. I was a completely non-verbal object that wasn’t allowed to talk more than necessary. And that isn’t exactly my personality, as you can now hear.

Raquel Welch: I’ve been told it’s in mothballs waiting to be hung in the Smithsonian museum.




1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great post - nice to read an interview with Raquel as well. One of my favorite movies ever - the new blu-ray is great!

- Spicy Warhoon (sorry, I don't have a blogger account anymore)

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