Shep Gordon, the longtime manager of Alice Cooper, also known affectionately as “Supermensch” (the title of a 2013 documentary about him), appeared at the Pollstar Live! conference in Los Angeles Tuesday and shared a revealing story about his former client Raquel Welch. The actress, who died last week at the age of 82, was actually quite prudish, Gordon explained, but “her appeal was sex.” The two worked together for five years straddling the end of the 1970s and beginning of the ’80s, a time when Welch’s career had reached a crossroads.
The solution seemed to be a Las Vegas show, which Ann-Margret had executed successfully, drawing an audience of wives with husbands in tow. Similarly, what man wouldn’t want to see a scantily clad Welch in the flesh? The formula worked, but after a three-year residency at Caesars Palace, Welch’s contract was close to expiring and Gordon had to step in.
As Gordon himself described it:
“She gave me permission to tell this story before she passed, so I’m not talking out of school. We had reached the point where business was going down at Caesars Palace. Raquel was a single mom raising two children and her career in film was not gigantic. She had been a sex star but didn’t have a lot of credits going, so she wasn’t earning a lot of money.
And we got a very lucrative contract with Caesars Palace that, after the third year or fourth year, the contract was running out. And Caesars said, ‘I don’t think we’re going to renew unless you can do something like a TV special or a hit record. We need something else.’ HBO had just gone on the air maybe a few years prior, and I had been been trying to sell them Blondie specials or Teddy Pendergrass specials. Michael Fuchs, who ran the network, he always said, ‘Leave it. I can’t use it. The only thing I want is porno because porno sells. But we’re on Warners and they wont let us do anything X-rated.’
Later, we had a little bit too much to drink, and I said [to him], ‘Listen, what if we did a special and Raquel Welch’s dress just happens to fall off?’ And he says, ‘If you can get that to happen, I’ll buy it.’
So I go to Raquel’s house. And Raquel was a bit of a prude — I managed her for about five years and she dated one guy for a few months. She was not anything like her image. So I say, ‘I talked to the guys at Caesars and told them I can get another HBO special, and they said, if I can get the special, we’ll renew for three years.’
So she said, ‘Shep, that’s fantastic!’
And I said, there’s one little sort of thing…
‘Oh, what’s that?’
Well, you know, the way I sort of presented it to him was, I said, ‘Listen, what if during Rachel’s special, her dress happens to slip off?’ She looked at me and said, ‘Shep, I can’t believe you’re saying this. You actually want me to have my dress fall off?’
And I said: ‘Raquel, if I was you, I would throw me out of the house right now, because I understand how disgusting this is. But as your manager, I have a duty to tell you what I think you should do — my advice to you is fire me immediately. And I’ll find you another manager. But I have no bullets left in my gun. It’s been 3 1/2 years; I’ve done everything I could do; This is my last shot.’
And she said, ‘Does it have to be the whole dress? What if it’s just one side?’
And I said, ‘If I can get one little breast shot, I think I can sell it.’ And we did it, and it was [her] first HBO special. So when I saw Janet Jackson’s dress fall off [at the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show], I [thought], ‘I know where this came from!'”
The Pollstar Conference runs from Feb. 22-24 at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills. Head here for the full schedule of panels and conversations.