Melissa Thornley reflects on “her date with Raquel Welch”

Raquel Welch
Raquel Welch

Editor’s note: Raquel Welch, who was born in Chicago in 1940, returned in 2010 as the honored guest of Women in Film (WIFC).

This heartwarming story is told by former WIF member and past president, Melissa Thornley, who was dropped into an unexpected, “other-worldly” experience-of-a-lifetime as Raquel Welch’s escort for the evening. Enjoy!

My Date with Raquel Welch: A Love Story

With the passing of Raquel Welch, I reflected on one magical night I had with her. This typically isn’t the type of thing I’d release to the public, but we can all use a good story. This story is about empathy, kindness, and meeting people (including ourselves) where they (we) are. In essence, it’s a love story.

I will never forget my date with Raquel Welch.

It started off in a tense hotel room at the Merchandise Mart before she accepted an award from Women in Film Chicago. She poured over her 3 x 5 speech notes and told me to see if Grey’s Anatomy was on. It was her favorite show. 

Making our way to the event, she gripped my arm tightly. I did my best to protect her from the onslaught of vultures trying to steal her soul through autographs and photos. Everyone treated her like they owned a piece of her. Her iconic looks had filled so many magazines and pieces of film, that people felt she owed them her very being.

Bill Zwecker and Viktor Skrebneski sat with us and even our table wasn’t safe. The waitstaff tried to get her to autograph cocktail napkins. At Viktor’s urging I grabbed my glass of sauvignon blanc and stood guard at her side. I stared down anyone who remotely got close.

Melissa Thornley stands guard over Raquel Welch

After dinner she wanted to go back to the room to get something. While I went to get the room key from my bag, she and Viktor headed towards the elevator. By the time I got to our room, they were gone. 

I started to panic. Kevin Sullivan, the event planner, saw me and asked where Raquel was. I told him I thought she went up to the room, but couldn’t find her. “You LOST RAQUEL WELCH?!?” he fumed at me.

I had. I lost Raquel Welch.

I thought to check the floor above us. Viktor and Raquel stood there laughing into their wine glasses in front of the wrong room. Disaster averted.

Once Raquel accepted her award, she wanted out of there. The crowds had gotten to her. She hadn’t even touched her chicken. The event planner, Kevin, and I walked her to her limo. As I was saying goodbye (figuring she was done with me at this point), she said…Oh no. You’re taking me back to my hotel. Kevin practically pushed me into the limo with her.

After overcoming the sheer terror that comes with sitting next to Raquel Welch in the back of a limo, I broke the silence. “I loved your book.” 

She looked over at me, seeming shocked. I pulled out a copy from my bag. I told her that I appreciated how she shared her relationship with her father. I admitted that I had a complicated one with my Dad too and that I felt a connection to her. 

Raquel loved that I’d actually read her book. She began to open up about how frustrating it was that everyone overlooked everything about her except her looks. The poster from One Million Years BC was everyone’s first and last impression of her. I admitted that I fell in love with her when I saw her dance with Miss Piggy on The Muppet Show.

By the time we got to her hotel, we were fast friends. 

I brought her up to her room and sheepishly asked if she’d autograph her book for me. She was over the moon to do so and invited me into her hotel room. (Oh my god. I’m in Raquel Welch’s hotel room).

Raquel Welch

In classic Mimi fashion, I pulled out a CD. “Uhhhh Raquel, I made you a mixed CD (gulp). It’s filled with different pop songs by women from different eras. It’s like a little dose of musical women’s empowerment.” In spite of how utterly geeky this was, she accepted the gift graciously. To this day I wonder if she listened to it and if she enjoyed it.

Now Raquel admits that she’s starving. She’s always too nervous to eat at events, especially when she has to speak. She wanted to go out for a bite. I asked her what she was in the mood for. She says “I’m feeling a little naughty. Where can we get a good burger?” 

I knew just the place. I called up Rockit to make sure they’d still be open, but didn’t tell them who was coming. I gave her the info assuming she was going with her friend/assistant. Nope. “You and I are going out for burgers. Just let me change out of this dress.”

She takes off the wig she wore to the event and changes into a crisp white blouse with a black vest and black pants. She donned a more casual wig with a white fedora. She looked even more stunning than she did at the gala.

We walked over to Rockit. It was late and a weeknight so not many people were in the restaurant. Our waitress acted like she knew Raquel was famous, but didn’t seem to know who she was. We both ordered glasses of wine. She didn’t like hers so she passed it to me.  (Yes, I got to drink Raquel’s wine).

Raquel Welch

We continued to talk about her career, her experiences as a woman and what was inspiring her now. She cut into her burger (of course Raquel would eat her burger with a fork and knife) and after a pause looked at me and sighed “You did good kid. This burger’s delicious.” It was glorious. 

I walked her back to her hotel room. Like the gentlewoman I am, I gave her a hug good night and wished her well.

I never got a photo with her. I’m sure she would’ve been happy to take one. It just seemed wrong for me to ask her for the one thing she was forced to do over and over for strangers simply because everyone expected it. 

When I got home I took a selfie to capture how over the moon incredulous I was of the adventure that I’d just had with the most beautiful and kind movie star I’d ever met.

Melissa Thornley is an author and leadership expert who focuses on emotional intelligence. She’s also Board President for the non profit Free Spirit Media. She spent the first two decades of her career in advertising and post production at Story, Daily Planet, Beast/Company 3/Method Studios, and the Whitehouse Post.