Raquel Welch Wasn't Cast In A James Bond Movie, But Thunderball Still Launched Her Career

The late Raquel Welch was always very pragmatic about her acting career. She understood that she was largely approached for very specific kinds of roles merely for her model good looks and dazzling on-screen sparkle. It's telling that one of her most famous roles, that of Loana in Don Chaffey's 1966 film "One Million Years B.C.," featured Welch in a revealing fur bikini. That Welch was also a hilarious actor was a marvelous bonus for audiences everywhere. She was always very game, and can be seen in any number of energetic and bawdy comedies. Of course she was in Richard Lester's celibate "Three Musketeers" movies in the 1970s. She was, however, always aware of what audiences were looking at. Case in point: Welch's 2010 autobiography is called "Beyond the Cleavage."

In that book, Welch revealed that she was once approached to play the central love interest in the early James Bond film "Thunderball." One of the film's producers, evidently, saw one of Welch's modeling spreads in a recent magazine — a spread with an amusing title — and immediately wanted her to appear on screen next to Sean Connery. The role of Dominique "Domino" Derval would eventually go to actor and model Claudine Auger. As it so happens, Welch was unable to appear in a James Bond movie for that very basic and most uninteresting of reasons: a scheduling conflict.

Welch left the spy movie behind, and found herself floating around in a famed 1960s sci-fi film, and not a very glamorous one at that. Welch recalled the meetings she had, and later, the outfits she wore.

Ready to snuggle up to Sean Connery

As Raquel Welch told it in her book:

"I was tested for 'Thunderball.' Producer Cubby Broccoli had seen my photo in a Life magazine layout called 'The End of the Great Girl Drought!' He called Jack Gilardi, my agent at GAC, and the subsequent buzz around town created so much excitement that it enabled me to bag a long-term contract at 20th Century Fox. But because of a technicality involving start dates and contract options, Fox put me in the sci-fi classic 'Fantastic Voyage.'"

The Life Magazine in question was, incidentally, the October 1964 issue. You can read it online.

"Fantastic Voyage," incidentally, was a sci-fi story about scientist who was shot and develops a blood clot in his brain. The only way to cure the ailment is for the U.S. and Soviet Union to pool their resources and put into practice a novel shrinking technology. They then shrink a team of scientists and their own personal submarine to microscopic size and inject them into the comatose scientist's blood stream. The film was a notable hit, and feature some rather eye-popping special affects which won the film one of its two Academy Awards (the other was for its art direction). Welch played one of the miniature scientists and spent the bulk of the movie in a white jumpsuit, and had several scenes swimming through human plasma. She admitted she would have rather gone to a beach with James Bond:

"I was disappointed. Here I was ready to snuggle up to Sean Connery but was assigned to eight months floating through the human bloodstream in a wet suit instead."

Sexy girls in sci-fi

Raquel Welch observed that she was fulfilling the role of the "sexy girl" in "Fantastic Voyage." It seemed this was a noticeable trend in the genre in the 1960s, and not just because of the miniskirt uniforms seen on "Star Trek" (which debuted the same year). Indeed, Welch seemed to notice the trend continuing up to the present. Welch compared her experiences to that of some of her younger counterparts, saying:

"Since the '60s, sexy girls always seem to end up in sci-fi features; and they're still doing it. Look at Jessica Alba and Megan Fox. Since I was still unproven at the time, I was hoping that Fox would groom me for more challenging roles. 

The hope was that playing the "sexy girl" in a high-profile would avail Welch with better, meatier roles. Instead, her career would end up going in a different direction. 1966 was a banner year for Welch, though, just for cliched cheesecake outfits alone. Although her well-known caveman film was what brought Welch into the public eye in earnest, she admitted to feeling trepidation:

"[A]s fate would have it, the studio had a completely different plan for me. My first starring role was to be in a dinosaur epic called 'One Million Years B.C.' Fox's studio head, Dick Zanuck, called to tell me that I would be playing the part of Loana in this remake of the 1940 caveman classic. Although I thanked him for my 'big break,' all I could think was, 'A dinosaur movie? You've got to be kidding me!' I figured my performance would disappear without a trace."

These days, Welch is better remembered than those dinosaurs. 

R.I.P. Raquel. You dazzled us all.