Tavis: Pleased to welcome Raquel Welch to this program. The iconic actress is out now with a book about her life which features advice for women of all ages. The text is called “Raquel: Beyond the Cleavage,” which made its debut on “The New York Times” best-seller list this past weekend. Raquel Welch, an honor to have you on the program.
Raquel Welch: Well, thank you very much, Tavis. Delighted to be here.
Tavis: I’m glad to have you – such a creative title.
Welch: Yes, isn’t it? (Laughter) Well, I was having a little fun with myself.
Tavis: Where’d you come up with that one? That was funny.
Welch: Well, it was supposed to be “Beyond My Image,” but that sounded so dry and didactic, and I thought “Beyond the Cleavage” is more to the point. Did you ever get beyond the cleavage? (Laughter)
Tavis: For folk who did not or who have not, (laughter) how do you process that, seriously?
Welch: I don’t. That’s up to them. I can’t take on all of that stuff. I used to try when I was first on the scene as a young girl, and it used to rattle me a little bit. I’d think, oh, I don’t know what to do. But now I just don’t even –
Tavis: But how did you get beyond that? How did you come to terms with the fact that people see you as a sex symbol and some people can’t even get beyond that, ever?
Welch: Well, most people have gotten beyond it, believe it or not. I’m a little long in the tooth to still be called a sex symbol, number one. Number two, I think that by this time I’ve done a body of work that most people say, when they come up to me, they don’t say, “How’s your cleavage?” They say, “I saw you in this” or “I saw you on Broadway,” or “This movie was a favorite of mine.” Or “You know, that was a very innovative role you took there, because now a lot of other girls are doing it but nobody was doing it back then,” and things like that. So I feel like I’m out of the woods.
Tavis: There are a lot of funny things about this book. One of them, for me, is the juxtaposition of your being seen for the balance of your career, most of your career, as a sex symbol, but the very first play you ever did as a kid, you played a boy.
Welch: I played the prince. (Laughter) Yes, I was seven years old. It was a play at the old Globe Theater. Well, it was not the old Globe itself, but they had a children’s section of it, and the play that we were all doing was my first play at seven years old, and it was called “The Princess and the Caterpillar.”
I ended up playing the prince, so I thought, “The prince? Aren’t I pretty enough to be the girl?” I was kind of a little rattled by that.
Tavis: It’s a funny comparison from then until now with this sex symbol status. This book is not a memoir.
Tavis: It offers a lot of advice, as I said earlier, to women of all ages. But there’s something that really got my attention. You say unapologetically that the book is about giving advice tips for preventative aging. What does that mean, “preventative” aging?
Welch: Well, I think it’d be wonderful if we could train young girls to be active in lots of ways and that they then wouldn’t have to age at the same rate that they would if they were not more active.
In other words, more physical fitness and not just the sporty kind, but the yoga, which is really important. It affects all the endocrine system, which means that it controls the hormones, Tavis. (Laughs) So I know you’re never going to reach menopause, but believe me –
Tavis: I hope not.
Welch: – it helps a lot. Then just a kind of taking care of the skin, watching when you’re in the sun, to use some ultraviolet. I have Latin blood so I didn’t have to watch myself quite so much as somebody else that was very fair-skinned, but I still had to watch it because I used to just love to cook out there, like a lizard. But then I realized that it wasn’t good. Plus the fact that moisturizer, constantly, constantly, front the time – I started when I was 15, because all I did was copy my mom, and my mom was a very delicate, very feminine type of a lady.
So she always used to put her creams on at night and in the morning she used her moisturizer. So I just went by what she did, and I also got her genes, which is good, because I got beautiful skin, but had to take care of it.
Tavis: To your point now about the way you have taken care of yourself, and you talk about this in the book, you take a pretty healthy dose of supplements, even now.
Welch: Oh, yeah, I do, I do, and my doctor thinks I’m nuts.
Tavis: I read that and I’m thinking – I have a dermatologist that I go see every so often, and I know that there’s no way – I hope she’s not watching right now – there’s just no way, with the stuff they give me, that I’m going to apply that stuff every single day, three times a day, at the times I’m supposed to do it. How do you keep up with this supplement regimen that you use?
Welch: Well, they have a lot of little – well, special containers for vitamins and stuff that go by the day, and then you can divide them up. A lot of people have that now. I’m just so used to it after years and years and years, because gosh, I don’t know when – I must have started when I was about – I’m going to say, like, 28, 29. It just comes as second nature to me.
But I’m not crazy. I take a multivitamin, I take extra C, I take chondroitin and glucosamine for my joints, I take calcium for my bones. And by the way, weight-bearing exercises can help ward off osteoporosis and yoga helps ward off arthritis.
So all of these things – and I take my supplements. To me it’s like bing, bang, boom. I think once you get into the habit of it, Tavis, you’re not going to find it very difficult.
Tavis: You mentioned earlier your Latin heritage, and you talk about that in the book as well. That’s something, given how you were raised – I’ll let you explain this – how you were raised that you had to come to terms with over your lifetime. Tell me more about that.
Welch: Well, that’s a long story, and of course that’s why I wrote it in the book. But my father came from a country called Bolivia. He was of Spanish descent. I never went to Bolivia until I was 60 years old, but apparently when he was 17 he had already planned his entire academic curriculum so that he could graduate high school and enter college in the United States. That’s how much he wanted to come to this country.
Because his real passion in life was science and mathematics and the exploration of space and aeronautics, so for him, this was the country to be in. He came here then at 17 and met my mother in college at University of Illinois in Champaign, Urbana. I think that I – he never really sat down and told me all of this, Tavis, because he was not that kind of a guy. He wasn’t a real warm, fuzzy kind of daddy and he didn’t sit down and tell me all about his family.
I didn’t know what to expect but I realized that I really didn’t know too much about myself. People would ask me, “Well, what kind of a name is Raquel? At that time I was Raquel Tejada. Of course I didn’t say it like that, with a Spanish accent, but Raquel Tejada.
People were going, “What kind of a name is that?” And I would go – (laughs) and I’d go home and I’d say, “What kind of name is that?” And they’d say, “Well, that’s Spanish. That’s a Spanish name.” “Oh. Well, where does that come from?” Because I was little. So there was this kind of a mystery about – not mystery, but this confusion about what I was really about. But I knew my mother was – well, her ancestry dated back to John Quincy Adams, so she was totally not Latina. She was definitely whatever you call it – white bread, shall we say? (Laughs)
Tavis: Not a bad lineage, though, John Quincy Adams.
Welch: No, it was very wonderful. But I had two kinds of mixed blood in me and I felt once I kind of realized that that I could feel almost the impulses, the kind of schizophrenic tug-and-pull of different instincts that I had. But to get to the point, my father, it turned out, wanted to avoid his connection with his heritage. When he came to this country I think he had to endure a certain amount of ridicule because he spoke with an accent, so he made it a very big point to eradicate any even whisper of an accent.
All of us kids, we didn’t know that’s why, but we had to repeat and repeat our words over and over and over again and we had to read next to him “Time” magazine and sound out everything to make sure we had perfect diction, and he never spoke Spanish in the house.
Tavis: But he wanted his kids to assimilate.
Welch: His idea was that to be an American was to assimilate and be an American. It was supposed to be the great melting pot. In his should I say defense, I felt like I could understand that he wanted to fit in. I understood that he was coming here to be an American and he didn’t want people to think of him as different.
So I think that there was that aspect to him and I felt that there was a shame factor attached to it. When I finally realized that’s what he was kind of hiding or he was nursing along undercover all this time, I felt bad for him and I felt bad for myself, because I felt like oh, so it’s all about compensating, compensating, compensating for him.
Tavis: So what does he think, ultimately, when his baby girl, who he’s been trying to protect and to help assimilate into this culture ends up being a bombshell in Hollywood, of all places?
Welch: Well, I don’t think he disliked that so awfully much, because for a woman to be considered a celebrated beauty is not exactly a bad thing. I think we have to say that in all reality. But he did think that I should have studied Shakespeare, let’s put it that way. (Laughter) I came back from Europe, which was –
Tavis: You can’t be a sex symbol and read Shakespeare? That’s not oxymoronic, is it?
Welch: Well, no, but I think by studying Shakespeare I think that he expected maybe I was going to play I don’t know who. I can’t think who I would have played until I was a heck of a lot older. But I don’t know, Cleopatra or one of the great Shakespearean queens, perhaps I could have played. Or maybe Roslyn in “As You Like It.” But that was his ambition for me.
The very first movie he ever took me to see was “The Red Shoes,” which was a classical ballet, and the other movie he took me after that, which would be my second film I ever saw in my whole life, was “Hamlet,” with Olivier, with Laurence Olivier.
So here I am, and I’m about six and a half, and I’m in this theater and I’m looking at this movie and I am just totally blown away and I don’t understand one thing that is happening. I’m going, “What is going on here? Hm, this story is kind of odd,” (laughs) but I’m totally into it. It did actually, he did implant in me a kind of a – well, a kind of an interest in the classics.
So I have to have done my share of studying Shakespeare and making myself familiar with all of the classic works of the theater and the Greek theater and even at 14 I actually did a little rendition of “Medea” at 14 years old. (Laughs) It was such a hoot, but I wanted to please my daddy and I knew that he liked things that were classic and, well, I guess he thought those were the best things. The rest of it was just kind of – I suppose you could say popular culture.
Tavis: Nothing wrong with that, though. I can have some Shakespeare and some pop culture. That works well. Before I let you go, though, I’m going to have to put this picture up. All I have to say “the poster.” So in the seat that you’re sitting in tonight, Morgan Freeman was here not too, too long ago, and I told Morgan – he knows this – how much I love “Shawshank Redemption.”
Welch: Oh, yes.
Tavis: Tim Robbins has been in this seat; he knows, I told him how much I love – it’s on TV every night somewhere. Of course, anybody who’s seen “Shawshank Redemption” has seen – this poster got exposed to a whole new generation of fans on the wall in that cell. Tell me very quickly about this poster.
Welch: It was the shot that was taken on production and disseminated to millions of people all over the world, all over the planet, and it made me into an instant star.
That was a good thing, because I was a young mother with two small kids at the time, which people didn’t know about, and so here I was, hoping to break in, because I didn’t know how much longer I could drag my kids around the crazy life I was living as a struggling actress.
So it did put me on the scene, but it did put me on the scene in such a huge way, so celebrated, that I was also very green, Tavis, and so I felt like oh, gosh, so much attention, and I’m not really getting – haven’t gotten my feet wet yet. I haven’t really gotten my legs. I’m not sure yet that I’ve developed, so I’m a little nervous about this.
Of course then there’s the usual sex symbol thing that happens afterwards, and it’s such a cliché it’s not even worth going into.
Tavis: There was a whole lot that came after that.
Welch: But Frank Darabont did call me personally and ask if he could use this poster in the picture, and I read the script part which showed how it was going to be used, and I was very, very flattered to be in the company of Rita Hayworth and Marilyn Monroe and be the one to represent the ’60s. (Laughter) So that poster wasn’t all bad.
Tavis: No, you represented well. The new book from Raquel Welch is called “Raquel: Beyond the Cleavage.” I’ve really just tonight in this brief conversation sort of scratched the surface to important parts of her life and great advice she has for women of all ages. Raquel Welch, an honor to have you on the program.
Welch: Well, thank you very much.
Tavis: Thank you.