The 1966 British Adventure Fantasy flick One Million Years B.C. is arguably one of the most well-known cult classics in cinema history. While the film’s ahistorical premise, which portrays humans and dinosaurs living at the same point in time, certainly is one reason why the feature has gone on to enjoy immense popularity with sci-fi fans for the last fifty-plus years, Raquel Welch was the real draw. The vast majority of male audience members that purchased tickets to see the movie during it’s initial run did so to see Welch in her loincloth fur bikini, which, to be honest, was quite a sight to behold.
Join Facts Verse as we discuss the fascinating, albeit remarkably unexpected, true story behind Raquel Welch’s One Million Years B.C. fur bikini.
From Model To Hollywood Bombshell
Welch was born Jo Raquel Tejada in Chicago, Illinois in 1940. Her father, Armando Carlos Tejada Urquizo, was an astronautical engineer from la Paz, Bolivia, while her mother, Josephine Hall, was the daughter of the accoimplished architect Emery Stanford Hall.
When she was two, Welch’s family moved out to San Diego, California. As a child, Welch developed a profound love for the entertainment industry and aspired to one day become a professional performer herself. To get that ball rolling, she began studying ballet at age 7, but after ten years of studying, her instructor informed her that she didn’t have the right type of body to be accepted into any professional ballet companies.
Undeterred, Welch competed in several beauty pageants beginning when she was 14. Eventually, she landed the state title of Maid of California.
While finishing up high school, Welch’s parents separated and divorced. She then enrolled at San Diego State College on a theater arts scholarship. The following year, she married her old high school sweetheart, James Welch.
In 1959, Welch was cast as the title role in The Ramona Pageant, an annual outdoor play at Hamet, California. She then was hired as a weather forecaster at a local San Diego TV station. Since her work duties were so demanding, she made the hard decision to drop her drama classes.
After separating from James Welch, Raquel moved with her two kids to Dallas, Texas, where she struggled to make a living as a model for Norman Marcus while working as a cocktail waitress in the evenings.
Eventually, Welch moved back to LA and started applying for film roles. Around this time, she met former child actor and Hollywood agent Patrick Curtis whom she hired to be her personal and business manager. She and Curtis devised a plan to transform Welch into a full-fledged Hollywood sex symbol. She then decided to drop her surname and instead use her estranged husband’s last name, Welch, to avoid being typecast as a Latina.
The first two films that she appeared in, 1964s A House is Not a Home and the 1964 Elvis Presley musical Roustabout both were met with moderately positive reviews. She then landed a series of minor roles in television series like Bewitched, The Virginian, and McHale’s Navy. Interestingly, she was initially in the running to play Mary Ann Summers in Gilligan’s Island, but that role ultimately went to actress Dawn Wells.
Welch’s first featured role was in the 1965 beach film A Swingin’ Summer. Later that year, she won the coveted Deb Star, while her photo featured in a Life Magazine piece called The End Of The Great Girl Drought brought her some much-needed publicity.
Welch then signed a seven-year, five-feature contract with 20th Century Fox. In 1966, she was cast in the leading role in the science fiction film Fantastic Voyage, in which she portrayed a medical team member that got shrunken down and injected into an injured diplomat’s body with the mission of saving his life.
Following the success of Fantastic Voyage, Fox Studios loaned Welch out to Hammer Studios in Britain where she famously starred in the 1966 Fantasy classic One Million B.C. Little did she know, the costume that she would wear in that film would go on to become one of most famous wardrobe choices in film history – nor could she have guessed that a movie about cavemen living with dinosaurs would make her one of the most iconic sex symbols in American cinema.
Real quick – if you’re diggin’ this video so far, give it a like and subscribe to the channel if you haven’t already. Keep watching to find out how that fur bikini almost was the death of Raquel Welch.
Welch Had No Interest In The Role
Raquel Welch considered herself to be a serious actress, and as such, she wanted to be taken seriously. That’s why initially she had no desire to take on the female lead role of Loana the Fair One, who would be clad in a prehistoric fur bikini in One Million Years BC.
According to Fox News, she told Dick Zanuck, Fox’s studio head at the time, that she didn’t think she was going to do the film because she didn’t want to be caught dead in a dinosaur movie. Zanuck heard her out, but wasn’t very sympathetic towards her views.
He told her that she had to do the film and that it was going to make her a huge star. Reluctantly, the 26-year-old actress who had already one fantasy film under her belt, agreed to take the role. Welch was then shipped off far away from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood to the volcanic Canary islands.
Welch told Fox that she and the rest of the cast and crew were very far from civilization while filming the movie. There was a small hotel at the bottom of the volcano, but where she was up at the top was quite inhospitable. Throughout the film’s production, she and the crew had to endure snowfall and frigid mountain gusts.
Welch, with her skimpy costume, endured the brunt of the severe weather conditions. She even ended up developing tonsillitis while on set, which she insisted became worse over time. She was taking so much penicillin while having to wear the fur bikini, exposed to the elements, that she almost died.
She barely made her way to the doctor in time to get treatment. If she had waited any longer, she very well could have passed away, putting an abrupt and dreadfully tragic end to her budding acting career.
Once filming had wrapped up and Welch returned back to London, she was shocked by the newfound fame that she enjoyed after starring in One Million Years BC. But even though she was suddenly quite popular, she was determined not to let herself become typecast.
Welch immediately went back to work with some of the biggest leading men in the industry, including Robert Wagner, Dean Martin, Burt Reynolds, and Frank Sinatra.
Her aim was to remain open to any and all possibilities as an actress rather than just banking on being a sex symbol. She tried really hard to be taken seriously, and escaping that fur bikini proved to be no easy task, but eventually, she succeeded in making that transition.
In 1974, Welch earned a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy for her starring role in The Three Musketeers. She further traveled around the globe acting in films shot in locations like Rome, France, and Germany.
In addition to One Million BC, The Three Musketeers, and Fantastic Voyage, Welch starred in films like 1967s Bedazzled, 1969s 100 Rifles, 1970s Myra Breckinridge, and 1971s Hannie Caulder.
In 1987 she was nominated for a second Golden Globe for Best Actress in Television Film for her performance in Right To Die.
Since then, Welch has continued to act, primarily appearing in television shows like 8 Simple Rules, CSI Miami, House of Versace and Date My Dad. On the big screen, she’s appeared in offerings such as 2001s Legally Blonde, 2006s Forget About It, and 2017s How To Be A Latin Lover.
The Fur Bikini’s Legacy
Several bikini’s wear made for use during the production of One Million BC. They needed multiples of the outfit in case one got soiled, wet or damaged. When filming ended, Welch got to keep some of the backups.
A publicity still taken of Welch in the fur bikini ended up becoming one of the best-selling posters of all time and turned her into an instant pin-up icon. The costume helped raise Welch’s status as one of the leading sex symbols of her time and the photograph became a cultural phenomenon.
It might seem crazy in retrospect, but the role of Loana almost went to Ursula Andress instead. As you might recall, just four years prior to the commencement of One Million Years BC production, Andress had played the first Bond Girl in Dr. No.
While Andress certainly was a gorgeous woman who looked damn good in a bikini, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Welch donning the fur bikini seen in One Million Years BC. The bikini was actually designed by Carl Toms, a Tony Award-winning theatre costume designer.
While the bikini has been inacurately described at times as being constructed out of lion fur, Toms actually made it by draping Welch with a soft doeskin and then cutting out the appropriate shape with a pair of scissors.
For her role – and iconic look – in the film, The New York Times referred to Welch in their review of the movie as being a ‘marvelous breathing monument to womankind’. Another journalist noted that while she only had three lines of dialogue in the film, Welch’s luscious figure in that fur bikini made her the film’s star and the dream girl of millions of young male moviegoers.
In 2011, Time magazine included Welch’s fur bikini in their list of the ‘Top Ten Bikinis in Pop Culture’, ranking it first on that list, followed by Ursula Andress’s white bikini seen in Dr. No.
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