Phenomenal San Diego women: Creators and performers

Emilee Geist

Raquel Welch (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times) The world wouldn’t come to know her as Raquel Welch until the mid-1960s, when a Hollywood agent urged her to use the last name she acquired from her marriage to her first husband, James Welch, in 1959. Before that, she was known […]

Raquel Welch

Raquel Welch

(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

The world wouldn’t come to know her as Raquel Welch until the mid-1960s, when a Hollywood agent urged her to use the last name she acquired from her marriage to her first husband, James Welch, in 1959. Before that, she was known as Jo Raquel Tejada, born in Chicago in 1940, the first child of Bolivia-born Armando Carlos Tejada Urquizo and American Josephine Sarah Hall. When she was 2, her family moved from Illinois to San Diego, where a young Raquel fell in love with performing. While a student at La Jolla High School, she nabbed a few beauty pageant crowns, including Miss La Jolla, Miss San Diego and, at the San Diego County Fair, “Fairest of the Fair.” She pursued acting, enrolling in 1958 at San Diego State University on a theater scholarship. The next year, she married Welch, her high school sweetheart. She landed acting roles in local theater productions, followed by a weather forecasting job at KFMB. She got divorced and moved with her children to Dallas, but acting beckoned. In 1963, she moved her family back to the West Coast, this time to Los Angeles. She began applying for movie roles, using Raquel Welch as her stage name. She landed parts, both in movies and on television. Executives thought her first name was hard to pronounce, so they floated a new name: Debbie. She refused. In 1966, she landed her first major role in the science-fiction film “Fantastic Voyage.” She got top billing alongside co-star Stephen Boyd, and the film made Raquel Welch a star. But it was her next film — 1966’s “One Million Years B.C.” — that would change the trajectory of her career, turning her into a sex symbol and pop-culture icon. She had three lines in the film, where she wore a fur bikini. She acted in many more films, and in 1974, she earned a Golden Globe for “The Three Musketeers.” In 2001, the Imagen Foundation awarded her a Lifetime Achievement Award for the positive impact she’s made as an American of Latin heritage. Of her heritage, Welch, now 80, once said: “Latinos are here to stay. As citizen Raquel, I’m proud to be Latina.”

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