I have to admit that it never would have entered my mind to think there were religion “ghosts” in the life, career and death of Raquel Welch, who would have to be on anyone’s list of the iconic bombshell beauties in Hollywood history.
Then I started getting some emails.
Who knew that Welch evolved into a churchgoing and, by all reports, quite modest and mature Presbyterian church lady. In particular, people pointed me toward The Aquila Report, a blog for “conservative, orthodox evangelicals in the Reformed and Presbyterian family of churches.” The headline: “A Tribute to Raquel Welch’s Life and Testimony — She was a wonderful lady and a fine Christian.” Here is a sample of that feature:
As with many, her faith grew more serious and practical with age. It’s often true that the most important things become the most important to us as we’ve matured personally. That’s just to say that spiritual and personal maturity are often coincident age and life experience.
Second, she fully embraced the Reformed and Presbyterian faith as described in the Westminster standards. She would never burden others that they must because she did — but that she did isn’t really a question. She was of the old, rugged faith. She never felt the need to pressure anyone in regard to matters of faith but she also didn’t have a great deal of patience for cute or pop cultural theological moods. This was part of her strength.
Third, she was just another lady of the church. She didn’t put on airs or expect special attention (although she could hardly avoid even with the best of intentions being the most glamorous person in the room). And she often advised churches and ministries on practical and business matters because she was brilliant in those things. You didn’t think she survived and thrived 60+ years in the public eye by just being a pretty face?
There was one more point that I found interesting, because it linked to material I had encountered through the years about some “conservative” superstars.
It helps to know that my favorite actor of all time is the late Jimmy Stewart and I’ve read quite a bit about his life. I was set up to interview him, years ago, at the Presbyterian church he attended, but he came down with the flu and had to cancel.
Anyway, the Aquila Report piece noted that Welch’s faith journey was linked to her friendships with “other conservative Presbyterians Jimmy Stewart, Ron Reagan and Chuck Heston.” Interesting.
The mainstream obits for Welch were all quite conventional and mentioned some of the tensions surrounding her image as a sex idol. This passage in the Los Angeles Times was quite interesting:
Raquel Welch had only three lines in the 1966 film “One Million Years B.C.,” but her doeskin bikini did all the talking anyway, launching her as an international icon almost overnight. …
Welch had a complicated relationship with her persona. Forever determined to prove that she was more than a sex symbol, she was rarely taken as seriously as she took herself. And though she proudly refused to do nude scenes, her fame was always tied directly to her sexuality, a fate she accepted with regret.
“There was this perception of ‘Oh, she’s just a sexpot. She’s just a body. She probably can’t walk and chew gum at the same time.’” she told Men’s Health in 2012.
This brings me to this weekend “think piece,” which ran at the Thunderstruck blog and was written by Steve Beard, a reporter and editor I have known for several decades. He has a special interest in religious themes in popular culture, such as the role Christian faith played in the lives of superstars such as Johnny Cash. The headline on this piece is, “Not Just Another Pretty Face: Raquel Welch, RIP.”
By all means, read all of this one. But here’s a sample or two.
The key is noting what Welch wrote about her own life and faith, especially in her blunt 2010 memoir, “Raquel: Beyond the Cleavage.” In other words, this was material on the public record that journalists could have quoted.
Contrary to popular myth, I didn’t just hatch out of an eagle’s nest, circa ‘One Million Years B.C.,’ clad in a doeskin bikini …,” wrote Raquel Welch about her provocative cavewoman publicity photo for the 1966 film. “With the release of that famous movie poster, in one fell swoop, everything in my life changed and everything about the real me was swept away. All else would be eclipsed by this bigger-than-life sex symbol.” …
Despite being the very definition of her generation’s bombshell, Welch never appeared in the nude for film or magazines, despite many lucrative offers. “I’ve definitely used my body and sex appeal to advantage in my work, but always within limits,” she wrote. “I feel strongly that a woman’s mystery is part of her appeal; and the power of the imagination is more potent and provocative than graphic on-camera sex or explicit nudity. I reserve some things for my private life, and they are not for sale.”
On the subject of religion, she worked her way toward this statement, which grew out of several life-and-death episodes in her family life, such as the death of her mother and her sister’s struggles with cancer.
Welch grew up Presbyterian, going to church every Sunday with her mother. But facing the mysteries of death — as an adult — changed everything. Here is one long passage:
“On the day my mother died, some years ago, I felt as if I’d lost my only connection with God’s favor,” wrote Welch. “I figured that any standing I had in the hereafter was based on the life she led, not on my inadequate attempts at following His principles. At the same time, I was reminded of my own mortality. I also thought back to the countless times she had taken me to church as a child and remembered the wonderful sense of peace I’d felt when sitting under the protection and grace of my mother’s faith. Now that I had lost my bearings, I wanted to reach out and touch the strong arm of God again.”
It had been five decades since she had regularly attended church. “I managed an awkward inept prayer to ask where I should look for such a sanctuary. It was embarrassing. I wasn’t sure exactly whom I was praying to anymore,” she confessed. “So I prayed to the God of my childhood and, lo and behold, he was still there. My journey had just begun.”
Outside Beverly Hills, the starlet found a small church “on the way to Pasadena, where the pastor and congregation were very devout and really knew their scripture. I had come there because I’d heard the pastor speak on the radio, and it sounded like he might be a good source of information. That turned out to be true. Apparently, even inept, awkward prayers are answered.”
Yes, read it all. This angle would have added some depth to those Hollywood press obits. Right?
FIRST IMAGE: Screen shot from the movie “100 Rifles.”
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