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When Raquel Welch took Portland by storm

Remembering the late star's filmed-in-Portland roller derby movie "Kansas City Bomber," and the key role a North Portland dive bar played.


Raquel Welch (center) and Helena Kallaniotes in “Kansas City Bomber.” Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/1972

The world said goodbye to Raquel Welch on February 15, gone at 82 years old after a sudden, short illness, her family told the press.

Welch had only three lines in the film One Million Years BC (1966), but she received a great deal of attention for her performance, for which she is dressed in a fur-lined bikini. The poster featuring her likeness was on the walls of millions of teenage boys and frat rats around the world, and the image made a big impact in popular culture around the world. Feminist writer Camille Paglia described her image on the poster as “a lioness – fierce, passionate and dangerously physical.”

But film critics were not so kind. Throughout her career, Welch was publicly admired more for her physical attributes than for her acting. She even titled her memoir Beyond The Cleavage (2010).

Ironically, it was only after she proved that she had real comic acting chops that the critics took her seriously. Welch won a Golden Globe for her witty performance as a hapless 17th-century Frenchwoman in Richard Lester’s film version of The Three Musketeers (1973), and the world took notice. I saw her singing, dancing, and cracking wise in the Kander and Ebb Broadway musical Woman Of The Year in 1981, and she proved herself up to the task of carrying a big show with her talent, charisma, and cleavage.

Despite being identified as a sex symbol, Welch refused to appear nude on screen, saying: “Personally, I always hated feeling so exposed and vulnerable …”

The World Famous Kenton Club, world-famous because Raquel Welch and her roller derby team hung out there. Photo: Another Believer/Wikimedia Commons

Welch’s Portland connection has to do with a little spot in my North Portland neighborhood, Kenton, The World Famous Kenton Club, a dive bar with live music that opened in 1947 as a biker bar. The “world famous” part was added after it was featured in the film Kansas City Bomber (1972). The movie is set in the world of Roller Games, a popular league sport-entertainment of the era. It is sort of a highly theatrical version of traditional roller-derby. Memorabilia related to the film and Welch, who has top billing, are on display throughout the bar, even in the bathrooms.

If you go, it is difficult not to get a tingle imagining that you might be sitting where Welch’s drunken character threatens to start a catfight in Kansas City Bomber. The Kenton Club is a visual treat featuring the most intricate wood paneling in the city. It has low ceilings, Formica tables, linoleum, and vinyl-upholstered chairs, and the place smells of cigarettes, beer, and remorse. Also, the drinks are potent and cheap, and the multi-genred music is almost always free.


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Memorabilia dislay at the Kenton Club. Photo: Another Believer/Wikimedia Commons
Movie poster, 1972.

Kansas City Bomber was released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and directed by Jerrold Freedman, who worked mostly in television before and after giving us this epic on wheels. The movie has the second film performance by Jodie Foster.

The screenplay focuses on K.C. Carr, who has just left her former team in Kansas City, Missouri, to start a new life as a single mother in Portland, which has a team called the Portland Loggers.

Welch practiced skating for months before shooting started. She trained with professionals and disguised herself as a journalist looking into a story so she could interview the skaters. A rink was constructed on the MGM lot, so that Welch could practice daily. They also built a mockup of a rink on Hayden Island for shooting. Welch broke her right wrist during a speed-skating session, forcing shooting to be delayed for eight weeks. I like to think that the sex symbol and the crew hung out The World Famous Kenton Club, along with the real-life National Skating Derby and Roller Games stars hired as extras.

Early in the Portland shoot Welch suffered injuries during a fight scene in The World Famous Kenton Club. Welch later claimed that she also bruised her knees, and had some hematomas on her head, suffering occasional headaches for the rest of her life.

Raquel Welch, mopping up the rink in “Kansas City Bomber.” Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/1972

At the time, Welch wrote:

The film was fun. I like to be in physical pictures. And the Roller Games is a microcosm of this country, the kind of thing we create. The game is almost show business, it’s a carnival atmosphere, but I can understand its popularity. Most of the spectators are basic people and there’s something cathartic about watching people get dumped. The yelling creates a certain kind of intensity. The type of violence draws you in, makes you involved. The skaters are tough but I think all women are tough. The skaters aren’t any tougher than most of the women in the world, underneath. Skating is a bitchy, sweaty, funky life. I don’t want to do another film about it. I’ve done my number. But I enjoyed it.”

Welch later told an interviewer that it was the first of her films that she liked.


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Kansas City Bomber was one of MGM’s most successful releases of 1972, behind only Shaft and Skyjacked.

When The World Famous Kenton Club was ranked 94th on Willamette Week‘s list of “Portland’s 100 Best Bars,” the management issued a statement saying, “Get here soon, or don’t. Neither Raquel Welch nor the day patrons give a shit.”

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Stephen Rutledge is a writer and performer in North Portland with his husband of 44 years and two terriers. As an actor he has appeared in 150 full stage productions, a dozen films, and over 50 commercials and voice-overs. He writes for World of Wonder Productions in Hollywood. His home and gardens have been published in Better Homes and Gardens, Pacific Magazine, Home, and is featured in a coffee table book, Flea Market Decorating, by Meridith Press. He is old and he is cranky.


5 Responses

  1. Thanks, I need to watch that one. One disagreement though. I found the Kenton to be almost the opposite of a dive. Pretty nice interior overall, garden seating area outside, and all the patrons were youngish hipsters. No real bar flys to be seen at all.

  2. Hard to imagine, but I was there— both in the filming at the expo center, and the the Kenton club during the filming. Also in the vanport flood. Just an old north Portland boy Glenn- 5/31/1947

  3. I love that movie..I never thought I’d see it again..I want to see if I can get a copy on DVD on Amazon

  4. Raquel was awesome in the movie and who could forget the scenes in the bar, co-starring Skip Burton, Karen Black’s ex-husband? 70’s treasure for sure. R.I.P., Raquel. You are missed.

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