IN BLACK LYCRA SHORTS AND A GRAY tank top, Rachel McLish, 37, strides over to a chinup bar in the weight room of the Rancho Mirage, Calif., ranch-style house she shares with her husband of two years, producer Ron (Scruples) Samuels. After strapping hooks onto her ankles, the 5'7", 125-lb. brunette hangs upside down from the bar. Then, without breaking a sweat, she smiles through a dozen midair sit-ups.
Indeed, no amount of pain would appear to faze this former world-champion bodybuilder turned fitness author (Flex Appeal) and movie star: not the beatings she gets from drug traffickers in the Samuels-produced Aces: Iron Eagle III (a box office dud) nor the pounding she has taken from some critics (The Washington Post's Richard Harrington, while admiring her sleek physique, dubbed her Rambi).
Offscreen, and outside the gym, McLish, who pads about her kitchen in a bright sweatsuit that camouflages her muscles, would rather play homemaker than terminator. "People come up to me and say, 'Oh, you're so feminine. You're so petite.' Sorry, guys, but this is me."
Still, they should have seen her at age 4, in her family's Harlingen, Tex., home, where Rachel Elizondo was already lifting weights, emulating her father, Rafael, a neon-sign maker. A phys-ed major at Pan American University in nearby Edinburg, she married her college sweetheart, John McLish, in 1978. After the couple split a year later, Rachel found a more successful partnership as co-owner of three Texas health clubs. To promote their opening in 1980, she entered—and won—the first U.S. Women's Body Building Championship in Atlantic City.
After twice being crowned Miss Olympia (in 1980 and 1982), McLish retired from the sport. Aiming for a movie career, she shocked Samuels, formerly wed to Lynda (Wonder Woman) Carter, by declining to audition for Downtown, his short-lived CBS cop series. But she agreed to have lunch, "and we've been together ever since," he says. In September they start shooting her next picture, Ravenhawk, an environmental action adventure. "With acting," says McLish, "it's important to forget your body." That's a dictum her fans are unlikely to remember.
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