Farewell to Gina, Raquel and Teenage Boyhood
When Gina Lollobrigida died last month, I was thinking that she stirred fond memories for a lot of us who were teenage boys in the 1960s.
When Raquel Welch died Wednesday, you could multiply that stirring by a factor of five or 10. Maybe more.
I was in a discussion recently about who belongs in the baseball Hall of Fame. It was suggested that when a name is mentioned and you don’t even have to think about it, you just know, that player belongs.
In the pantheon of famous women who caught the attention of teenage boys in the 1960s, Raquel Welch isn’t a discussion. She belongs.
In my circle, that group would also include, though not be limited to, Ursula Andress, Elke Sommer, Catherine Deneuve, Claudia Cardinale and Ann-Margret. I’m pretty sure that others among my peers might point to Sophia Loren, Romy Schneider, Brigitte Bardot or 50 others. It’s an individual thing, no right or wrong answer. I can only say with certainty that 50 years later, my friends and I could say “Julie Christie ’65,” and no further explanation was necessary.
I don’t know if there’s a mirror image of this in the other direction. I don’t know if there’s a similar aura around Robert Redford, Alain Delon or Sidney Poitier. I don’t know if the attraction of teenage girls to the Beatles in 1964 has the same long-term resonance.
What I do know is that certain women didn’t have that impact on certain boys only in my youth. I’m pretty sure this has been happening since, oh, gosh, even before the Internet.
That’s not a profound insight. But the departure of Gina Lollobrigida and Raquel Welch brought it to mind because it feels like there’s been a shift since the 1960s in the way society regards this attraction.
Specifically, it has been more emphatically spelled out that for a variety of very good reasons, boys should not view women only as toys created for their enjoyment — and that being attracted to a woman simply for her appearance too often leads to the assumption that’s all she has to offer.
Gina Lollobrigida and Raquel Welch both talked about fighting that battle much of their lives. They worked to be taken serious as actresses. Lollobrigida eventually entered politics while Welch developed a health and beauty enterprise.
At the same time, there was also this: Neither expressed regret, nor should they have expressed regret, about employing their appearance to succeed in their profession.
Some women have resolved that dilemma by apologizing for nothing, essentially living by some variation of the old line “Screw ’em if they can’t take a joke.” Then there was Marilyn Monroe.
In some quarters, the 21st century approach might involve sending teenage boys to sensitivity training class, where it would be explained why no one should objectify women.
This likely would have the same impact as all other well-considered and well-intended explanations delivered to teenage boys.
That doesn’t mean the point isn’t worth pursuing, though, and it’s possible that current and future generations of teenage boys may modify some of the cruder male behavior. No more dragging the cavewoman back to the cave by her hair, that sort of thing.
I’m guessing, though, that any long-overdue and essential advances in male behavior won’t diminish the appeal of the 2020’s version of Gina Lollobrigida and Raquel Welch.