Salvador Dalí and Raquel Welch had absolutely nothing in common. He admired beautiful women without wishing to own them and saw nothing in their curves and charms to excite his surreal and original mind.
Still, Dalí and Raquel were put together in 1965 as a publicity stunt by film director Richard Fleischer when he was making Fantastic Voyage, a Cold War story about a submarine crew shrunk to microscopic size before being injected into the body of an injured scientist to repair his damaged brain.
After completing Fantastic Voyage, Raquel was rushed off to the Canary Islands by Hammer Films to chase across the volcanic landscape wearing the smallest bikini ever stitched together from animal fur. This was her celebrated costume in One Million Years BC, a story of survival set in someone’s imagination.
Posters showing Raquel Welch in that bikini on cinema hoardings around the world shot her into the firmament and put Brigitte Bardot and Marilyn Monroe briefly in the shade. She became a sixties’ iconoclast and the film infuriated scientists eager to point out that caveman and dinosaurs never walked the earth at the same time.
Richard Fleischer came from a family of artists and made his name as a major director across four decades from the height of the Golden Age of Hollywood to the American New Wave. Among his many films were 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Vikings, Barabbas and The Jazz Singer.
Salvador Dalí and Raquel Welch on a Chilly Day
Fleischer saw Raquel Welch and Salvador Dalí as the perfect pairing, beauty and the beast perhaps; or Eliza Doolittle and Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady? The portrait he commissioned was produced – for some reason – in the window of the National Cash Register showrooms in 1965 in Madison Avenue, the home of advertising in New York. It was a chilly February day, but Raquel bravely wore a skimpy bikini to inspire the maestro and draw the mooning crowds to the shop window.
Was she disappointed with the result? In spite of all that inspiring female flesh, Dalí depicted Raquel as a jumbled splattering of dots and dabs like teenage acne or an abandoned early effort of Jackson Pollock. By her expression in the photograph when Dalí kisses her hand, you can tell she is not impressed.
Why did Dalí portray one of the sixties’ great beauties in this way? He had had the chance to paint Brigitte Bardot and never did. Was female perfection the work of God and too great a challenge to take on? Not to an agnostic. ‘I practise but do not believe,’ he famously said.
Dalí’s tendency was homosexual or asexual. He once persuaded dancer Carlos Lozano and actress Samantha Eggar during a break from filming The Light at the Edge of the World to strip naked and crawl through a rubber tube representing, he said, his uterus and thus prove that he had given birth to the world.
When Richard Fleischer drew up the contract for Dalí to paint Raquel Welch, he never specified the style and Dalí’s constellation of dots and dashes was a surreal message in a code left to the eyes of the beholder.