Episode 1.18 – 4/24/76: Raquel Welch
This is going to be a tough one for me, basically because my image of Raquel Welch is much different than that of someone watching Saturday Night Live in the mid-1970s.
I’m a movie fan. I was born in 1978. In my mind, Welch is just a bad actress who starred in one of the worst movies of all time, 1970’s Myra Breckinridge, a meandering, virtually plotless adaptation of Gore Vidal’s critically-acclaimed 1968 novel in which Welch plays a pre-op transsexual and about which Time magazine famously stated “Myra Breckinridge is about as funny as a child molester.” I also know that Welch was in the movie 1,000 Years B.C. and was featured on the poster wearing a leopard-print bikini. But that’s about it.
However, if you’re over 40, you probably know a whole other side of Raquel Welch and it probably doesn’t surprise you in the least that she was booked to host SNL. According to the experts at Wikipedia, Welch was a leading sex symbol throughout the 1960s and 1970s. And although Breckinridge probably killed any chance of her ever having a serious movie career, she still made movies and people went to see them. Why? Because she’s an attractive woman.
Luckily, Welch is funny enough in this episode to get a passing grade. The cast, on the other hand, are on their A-game. Even if the host doesn’t compel you to tune into this episode on Netflix or Hulu or DVD – however you choose to watch it – this is one worth checking out as long as you have your remote in hand and your finger on the fast-forward button. This week’s material ranges in quality from average to laugh-out-loud funny – at least when it comes to the comedy portions. The music we’ll talk about in a bit.
The sketches are pretty great. One of the best bits this week involves the whole cast. It’s a parody of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest — “One Flew Over The Hornet’s Nest” — with the cast wearing their bee outfits. Thankfully, no bee puns are made. Cuckoo’s Nest won the Academy Award for Best Picture the month prior and this is a pretty straight parody. John Belushi plays the Nicholson role. Welch is Nurse Ratched. Both give fairly accurate impressions, but it was Gilda Radner who had me cracking up with this goofy facial expression she manages to maintain the entire sketch. Most impressive to me is the tightness of the sketch – the jokes come so fast and furious that even the silliest puns had me laughing. I won’t ruin any of the gags. I’ll only say it was one of the highlights of the episode, maybe even the season.
Another hilarious sketch has Dan Akroyd introducing the metric alphabet, the decabet, which includes such changes as shortening the letters L through O to LMNO and P through Z to PQRSTUVWXYZ (or, as he calls them, “the garbage letters.)
Fans of Belushi’s Joe Cocker impression will no doubt be pleased that it comes into play not once but twice. First, he shows up during Welch’s opening monologue to perform a duet with her of “Superstar” by the Carpenters and again to help out musical guest Joe Cocker.
It’s saying something when Welch, who performs another song later in the show, upstages both musical guests. Her voice is nothing special – but it’s a thousand times more pleasant to listen to than the bizarre vocal stylings of Phobe Snow, who appeared earlier in the season with Paul Simon. Snow’s voice has to be heard to be believed. It defies description. The second song she performs, according to the SNL Archive, is called “Two Fisted Love.” I could make a joke here, but I might lose a few readers.
John Sebastian does a piss poor performance of the theme from “Welcome Back, Kotter” with two false starts. Didn’t this guy play at Woodstock? Was everyone too stoned on the brown acid to notice how terrible he is? Perhaps it was just a little humiliating for him that this is what his career had been reduced to – singing the theme to a television show on live television – a popular television show – but a television show nonetheless. Either way, it’s bad. Real bad.
On a semi-related note, this is the episode in which Lorne Michaels appeals to The Beatles, offering them $3,000 to reunite and play three songs live on the show. (Classic line: “You divide it up any way you want. If you want to give less to Ringo, that’s up to you.”) More importantly, have I mentioned that the Muppets are fired? I guess they quit, if you want to be technical. In this episode, initially Scred and Ploobis show up and hit on Welch. She points out that they have nothing below the waist. Scred, the smaller one, says that he’s “really good with his hands.” At the end of the episode, Scred and Ploobis’s leader The Mighty Favog convince them to get into a trunk. The trunk closes behind them and – hopefully – they are never heard from again.
Here’s another picture of Raquel Welch and her rack. This is from a sketch spoofing Howard Hughes’ film The Outlaw with Akroyd as Hughes and Welch as Jane Russell. You’re welcome.
Next: 1.19 – 5/8/1976: Madeline Kahn