Exclusive Portrait: Raquel Welch Honored By Women in Film Chicago

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CHICAGO – Women in Film Chicago held their Focus Awards on October 14th, 2010, at the Chicago Mart Plaza, honoring three outstanding women in the media. Hollywood legend Raquel Welch, local Chicago TV icon Merri Dee and television producer Jamie Ceaser basked in the acclaim at the event.

HollywoodChicago.com was there, talking to all three and getting exclusive portraits taken of each honoree by Joe Arce.

StarRaquel Welch, Hollywood Legend

The long career of Raquel Welch makes her one of the ultimate survivors in the Hollywood machine. She has worked steadily since 1965 (Film Debut: “A Swingin’ Summer”) and made unforgettable appearances in “Fantastic Voyage” (1966), “One Million Years B.C.” (1966), “Bedazzled” (1967), The Three Musketeers Series (1973/74) and “Legally Blonde” (2001). Besides doing film and television, she has been a successful businessperson with her beauty and fitness books, wig collection and jewelry products.

Welch recently celebrated her 70th birthday with the publication of her memoir “Raquel: Beyond the Cleavage,” and continues to dazzle audiences with her stunning good looks and star charisma.

Raquel Welch at the Women in Film Chicago Focus Awards, October 14th, 2010
Raquel Welch at the Women in Film Chicago Focus Awards, October 14th, 2010
Photo credit: Joe Arce of Starstruck Foto for HollywoodChicago.com

HollywoodChicago.com: Which filmmaker that you worked with inspired you the most and knew how to get the best performance out of you, and why?

Raquel Welch: Richard Lester in The Three Musketeers films. He was wonderful, and so much fun, that everyone would do whatever he wanted.

HC: One of your most unforgettable appearances was in Peter Cook and Dudley Moore’s ‘Bedazzled.’ Do you think the concept of being a movie star and celebrity has an aspect of having a pact with the devil?

Welch: [Laughs] It’s a little bit of a Faustian deal, yes it is. Absolutely.

HollywoodChicago.com: What were the circumstances of you landing the role in Bedazzled?

Welch: I was living in London at the time, the crew that shot ‘One Million Years, B.C.’ was British-based, it was a British film released by 20th Century Fox. Because I was in London, and Peter Cook and Dudley Moore were the quintessential comedy stars of the moment – nobody is as big today as they were then – they were doing this wonderful comedy with director Stanley Donen, and he thought I would be a good candidate to play ‘Lust,” one of the deadly sins.

HollywoodChicago.com: You were a young actor in Hollywood during the heights of the civil rights and feminist movements in the 1960s and early ‘70s. In your observation, how did these movements effect the atmosphere of Hollywood, if at all?

Welch: Very much so, the movements made change. There were a lot of changes. What really happened is that the industry wanted to throw out the previous style of filmmaking, that had taken place up until that time. This meant we were in new territory, and the scripts, the subject matter, everything that came through – from “A Man and a Woman” to “Blow-up” to Francois Truffaut’s “Fahrenheit 451” – everything was different, it was anti-Hollywood. Then I came along and was characterized as a glamour girl because of the poster [the fur bikini shot in One Million Years, B.C.] and that didn’t go down very well, and they didn’t know what to do with me in those days.

HollywoodChicago.com: Finally, in your recent autobiography, ‘Beyond the Cleavage,’ what inner beauty were you hoping to communicate about yourself that the rest of the world doesn’t know.

Welch: I just wanted to pull back the image a bit and make way for the authentic me. I don’t know how soulful that is, you’ll have to ask one of the readers. [laughs] It was just talking for myself, and not within some crazy character that I played on film.

Star Merri Dee, Longtime Broadcasting Luminary From WGN-TV Chicago

Merri Dee is a television pioneer in the Chicago market, having been the first African American woman in broadcasting here. She broke in first with the radio market in 1966, and her popularity allowed her to make the leap to television with a Saturday prime time entertainment show for local WCIU-TV in 1968, and three years later had her own talk show on WSNS-TV, “The Merri Dee Show.”

In 1972, she was hired by WGN-TV, and stayed with the station for over 30 years, anchoring their newscasts, acting as a personality for the station and becoming their Director for Community Relations. Her extraordinary reputation for talent and charity was evident until her retirement in 2008.

Merri Dee at the Women in Film Chicago Focus Awards, October 14th, 2010
Merri Dee at the Women in Film Chicago Focus Awards, October 14th, 2010
Photo credit: Joe Arce of Starstruck Foto for HollywoodChicago.com

HollywoodChicago.com: What did you feel about your prospects as an African American woman in the 1960s after you graduated from college. Do you feel you came of age at the right time for your career?

Dee: That’s a hard question. I believe I was at the right place at the right time and that’s way that life is anyway, that you are always there. You just have to be confident about that.

HollywoodChicago.com: You are a pioneer not just because of how you broke into broadcasting, but also how news reporting changed into a more personality-based show in the late 1960s and early ‘70s. What was most intimidating about your early years in the business, as a woman and African-American?

Dee: I wasn’t intimidated. The challenge was in the fact that there were no other African-American women at my level. I came in at a level and didn’t even know it. I was just the girl from the neighborhood still thinking I was just coming in, and there I was, someone else at a different level. That was the challenge.

HollywoodChicago.com: What was the most unforgettable event that you covered in your long career?

Dee: I think it was Martin Luther King. I was awed and honored to meet him, even though I wasn’t necessarily that involved, but just the fact that I knew the people around him and had access. It was quite the honor.

HollywoodChicago.com: It is amazing to have met the man and then see what has developed in his legacy. Do you feel his humanity is still present in our community, in our culture and substance?

Dee: Yes, I think it is still present. As long as people like myself are still out here, it will be present. Where it has less presence is with the younger people. Because we did not develop books sufficiently for school children, to be able to see and understand and learn. And then to process it to where they are and what they want to be in their own lives. Not to copy who Dr. King is, but to become who they are with his message.

HollywoodChicago.com: Was Dr. King’s trip to Chicago to protest substandard housing in 1966 a success in your estimation? Because the power in the city at the time tried to squelch him, was this particular event more or less successful than other parts of the entire movement?

Dee: It should have been more successful. He should have been more accepted. He should have been listened to a little bit more. But then Chicago is a very powerful city, and it has always had powerful politics. And when you start to look at that, you’re just one person walking in and you don’t change the world.

Star Jamie Ceaser of WTTW-TV, Chicago

Jamie Ceaser began her 30 year career at WTTW with a single interview that made the impression, and she has been with the station ever since. She has developed and produced numerous programs over the years, winning nine Emmy Awards and a slew of recognition from her peers.

Jamie Ceaser at the Women in Film Chicago Focus Awards, October 14th, 2010
Jamie Ceaser at the Women in Film Chicago Focus Awards, October 14th, 2010
Photo credit: Joe Arce of Starstruck Foto for HollywoodChicago.com

HollywoodChicago.com: What memories stick out from your years of developing and producing programming?

Jamie Ceaser: When I was producing ‘Soundstage’ at WTTW, buying cases of Stoli vodka for Keith Richards and his crew, that was pretty good.

HollywoodChicago.com: What led you in to television and who gave you your big break?

Ceaser: The character Mary Richards on ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’ was my influence, and I watched WTTW as a kid and I wanted to work there. I started there when I was 22 years old and I always go back.

HollywoodChicago.com: You teach at the Columbia College here. What is the centerpiece advice you give students interested in going in the business?

Ceaser: Be tenacious, go with your gut, love what you do, make sure it’s your passion and don’t burn any bridges.

Find a recap of the Women in Chicago 2010 Focus Awards at the Women in Film Chicago website

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2010 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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Raquel Welch interview

Call it Raquel Welch: Unfiltered, this nearly hour-long Mr. Media Radio interview with the actress is Raquel like you’ve rarely heard her discussing movies, life, nudity and her new book, “Raquel: Beyond the Cleavage.” Plus lots of great audio clips from her work: http://www.mrmedia.com/2010/12/raquel-welch-yes-that-raquel-welch.html .

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