She became a pinup after flaunting her curves in 1966's camp classic One Million Years B.C. But behind the glamour, Raquel Welch (born Jo Raquel Tejada) was a hardworking single mom whose career as a sex bomb helped her raise two kids after splitting from her first husband in 1964. The actress, whose recent book Beyond the Cleavage became a bestseller, celebrated her 70th birthday on Sept. 5. "I never thought life was going to give me something for nothing," she says, crediting her resilience to her mom, Josephine. "I've had a great life-and it's not over yet!"
Shooting One Million Years B.C. in the Canary Islands, "it was freezing cold," recalls Welch. "They had to put hot coals below the cameras so they wouldn't ice up." As for that bikini, "I still have it in storage. It's not like I wear it to the beach."
Born in Chicago to a Bolivian-born engineer and his American wife, "by age 7 I knew I wanted to be an actress," says Welch. "My parents enrolled me in a theater program. You could get away from some of the painfulness of real life. I always had flights of fancy."
Welch (with son Damon and daughter Tahnee) said that after she made it big, "it was difficult for them. I was making movies. I had long hours."
Her secret to a permanently fabulous physique? "Ten years of classical ballet I think had a lot to do with it," says Welch, who admits, "I never enjoyed being photographed that much. It makes me more self-conscious than usual."
The first time she saw her 100 Rifles costar Burt Reynolds, "I was on a plane waiting to be taken to the Spanish desert to make the film. I saw him walking across the tarmac and I said, 'Who the hell is that?' Wow, he was hot!" They would make four films together. "I always thought he was so cool."
On her wedding day in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, to her third husband, French screenwriter Andre Weinfeld (with kids Damon and Tahnee). One surprise guest: "Robert Mitchum happened to be at the hotel, and he came by the reception."
Welch says she turned down an Aaron Spelling TV series to sing and dance on Broadway in Woman of the Year. "I'm not sorry. It was a big opportunity for someone like me who was considered a sex symbol. I got standing ovations."
"I was a big fan of the show," she says of her guest turn on Seinfeld (with Michael Richards). "They made me into a Broadway diva," says Welch.