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The concept of the Sex Symbol has changed dramatically over the past four decades. Much like our music, our genres of film, our media in general, the sex symbol has evolved and devolved to the point where what constitutes a Sex Symbol, or even sensuality is clouded in vague generalities and has come to mean a hundred different things to millions of different people.
Raquel Welch, you might agree, was one of the last of the Sex Symbols who was talked about more than actually seen. From her first appearance in the 1966 One Million Years B.C. where she had only three lines but wore a two-piece Deerskin Bikini, became an instant worldwide sensation and quickly established herself in calendars, posters and magazine spreads. Hers was a sex appeal based on innuendo and suggestion, rather than action. She never posed nude, never did pornography, never did a sex scene in any film she was in. And yet she was able to project an irresistible sensuousness simply by giving a look.
In recent years, that would be considered quaint and tame to the point of being Family Friendly. And now the lines have blurred to the point where a Sex Symbol can mean just about anyone and any sex.
But in the 1970s it was Raquel Welch. In the 60s we had Jayne Mansfield. In the 50s we had Marilyn Monroe, and as stereotypical as that may sound those were the terms and the standards the world adhered to, even though Welch had broken many barriers in the process – turning the character-as-victim to one of empowerment, Welch proved to be much more than just a sensuous look.
This interview, conducted by the legendary Film Historian Arthur Knight for the Public Radio Interview series In Conversation from 1975 goes after the angle of Raquel Welch the Cinema Sex Symbol, having just completed The Four Musketeers and The Wild Party. In true Knight fashion, it’s insightful and informative, and if you’re not familiar with the career of Raquel Welch, here’s a good place to start.