“I found her surreal,” Welch recalled. “Here was this star from the 1930s who had this unbelievably different way of doing things. Now she’s doing this movie in 1969/70, and she’s never made a color movie before in her life. I wouldn’t want to undertake that at 77. I thought, She’s got a lot of chutzpah and she’s completely bonkers. Mae was one of those people I always felt had a distinctly masculine vibration about her. I have often ventured the opinion that she was a man in drag. [Laughs]”
The Raquel Welch quotes are found in the May 2008 issue of Time Out New York, as part of an interview conducted by Melissa Anderson.
Mae West comeback: Myra Breckinridge
Based on a (literally) gender-bending Gore Vidal novel, Myra Breckinridge featured Welch in the title role, film reviewer Rex Reed as Myron (who becomes Myra / Raquel Welch after a sex-change operation), veteran director / screenwriter John Huston (The Maltese Falcon, The African Queen), and 1930s Paramount star Mae West (I’m No Angel, She Done Him Wrong), making her movie comeback after 27 years away from the camera.
Also in the Myra Breckinridge cast: handsome newcomer Roger Herren, and pretty newcomer Farrah Fawcett, in addition to veterans John Carradine, Andy Devine, Kathleen Freeman, and Jim Backus, and, in bit part, Tom Selleck. Found on numerous “Worst Movies Ever Made” lists, Myra Breckinridge was directed by former pop singer and film critic Michael Sarne.
I recall reading a while back that former Fox star Loretta Young (Man’s Castle / Three Blind Mice) sued her old studio in order to have film clips featuring her removed from the Myra Breckinridge release print – which is peppered with old-movie bits. The reason for (the very Catholic) Young’s reticence was that her particular clips were interspersed with scenes of, if I remember correctly, masturbation. Who was masturbating whom, I don’t know, but in any case, if I’m not misremembering anything, Young won her suit and the clips were taken out.
Michael Sarne, Raquel Welch post-Myra Breckinridge career & the Prometheus connection
Another Michael Sarne directorial film credit is Joanna (1968), a Swinging London tale starring Geneviève Waïte that was well-received in some quarters. Sarne’s directorial career, however, never recovered from the Myra Breckinridge debacle. As an actor, Sarne could be recently seen in David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises and heard (as the voice of Karla) in Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
Raquel Welch’s once-promising film career also stalled in the ’70s. Apart from Richard Lester’s successful all-star ensemble The Three Musketeers and James Ivory’s underrated The Wild Party, Welch’s movies of that decade were minor fare.
Among those were Hannie Caulder, with Robert Culp and Ernest Borgnine; Fuzz, with Burt Reynolds; Kansas City Bomber, with Kevin McCarthy; Bluebeard, with Richard Burton in the title role; and L’Animal, with Jean-Paul Belmondo.
Raquel Welch retired from films in the late ’70s, returning only sporadically in the last 15 years (Chairman of the Board, Legally Blonde). Away from Hollywood, Welch had a major Broadway hit with Woman of the Year in the early ’80s.
Mae West, for her part, would make only one more movie after Myra Breckinridge. That was Ken Hughes’ Sextette (1978), a critical and box office bomb that has become a camp classic of sorts. Mae West died in 1980.
Now, one top talent that managed to survive the Myra Breckinridge disaster was producer / co-screenwriter David Giler, who went on to co-write Alan J. Pakula’s The Parallax View, starring Warren Beatty; the hit comedy Fun with Dick and Jane, with Jane Fonda and George Segal; and the story for James Cameron’s Aliens, which earned Sigourney Weaver a Best Actress Oscar nomination.
Giler resumed his production duties with Ridley Scott’s Alien in 1979. Among his other big-screen credits in that field are Alien: Resurrection, Alien vs. Predator and the big-budget sci-fier currently on screens all over the world, Prometheus.
Note: “Raquel Welch Quotes: MYRA BRECKINRIDGE / Mae West” is an expanded, updated version of an article initially posted in May 2008.
Raquel Welch picture: Myra Breckinridge publicity photo / 20th Century Fox.