It was the 2014 Hollywood Designers' Awards, one of the film city's most glittering gatherings, and the stars came out in force to dance the night away. But one woman stole the show — a statuesque brunette in a daring red gown. It seemed impossible to believe that Raquel Welch had just celebrated her 73rd birthday as she out-dazzled beauties half her age.
But for the past 15 years the star who shot to fame half a century ago in the movie One Million Years BC has lived alone in the Hollywood Hills after splitting with the last of her four husbands, actor Richard Palmer.
"When you have had the love of a lifetime it's hard to settle for anything less," she said on a recent TV chat show. She didn't elaborate, but insiders were in no doubt who she meant.
The story goes back to 1972 when Raquel, then 32, had an affair with Richard Burton. It was to last less than a week but Raquel has told friends they were the most passionate days of her life. And for the rest of his turbulent life she was never able to forget him.
They had met when co-starring in Bluebeard, a highly-forgettable period drama in which Burton played the title role, an Austrian nobleman, and Raquel had the unlikely part of a nun.
In the movie, she resisted the advances of the much-married Bluebeard, and was suffocated alive in a coffin. But in real life Burton was far more gentlemanly.
He invited Raquel to his dressing room during breaks in filming, cracked open bottles of champagne and told her the story of his life. Raquel had recently divorced her second husband Patrick Curtis, the man who had masterminded her career, and was desperate for a meaningful relationship.
She was dazzled by Burton's eloquence. "He's so intellectual," she told a friend.
"He knows everyone and has done everything. I just love to hear him talk. It's like a golden stream. He is the wittiest man I've ever met."
But Burton, whose marriage to Elizabeth Taylor was going through a rocky patch, was by now interested in more than just talk.
"She is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen," he told Bluebeard co-star Joey Heatherton. "She fascinates me. She is like an Amazon. But she also has a great depth of soul and spirit. I think about her all the time."
It didn't take Elizabeth Taylor long to realise that "Richard has got his eye on someone." But she assumed that it was merely a mild flirtation which would end when the champagne ran out.
Next day she flew to Britain to start a movie leaving her husband to complete Bluebeard in Hollywood.
"I don't feel worried about leaving him here," she said, but for once she had made a big mistake.
Minutes after his wife's limousine had left for Los Angeles airport, Burton was on the phone to Raquel Welch. The next day, after completing some scenes at Universal Studios, Burton and Raquel left in separate cars for Burt Reynolds' remote and empty ranch-style house in Hollywood's Benedict Canyon.
According to Mary Bredin, Raquel's secretary, and one of the few people who knew of the secret affair, Raquel was "instantly and desperately in love" with the 47-year-old Welshman.
"Raquel was very lonely and vulnerable. She had been with Patrick since 1962 and was finding it very difficult to cope on her own. Burton was the combination of lover and father figure she was looking for. She really thought that at last she had found her perfect man."
Director Edward Dmytryk had ordered a three-day break in filming and during that time no one at Universal knew where Burton and Welch had gone. "Her two young sons were staying with Patrick Curtis," said Mary Bredin. "They didn't know where their mother was, either."
Neither ever spoke publicly of their three-day affair, but Mary Bredin said later that Raquel had said they were the most passionate days of her life. "I know she was hoping that there would be some sort of future in the relationship. Then Elizabeth came back and Richard just went back home without a word. Raquel was absolutely shattered."
During the rest of the movie only Raquel Welch's consummate professionalism kept her functioning. As soon as possible she left Hollywood to start another film in Oregon.
"She regularly wrote to Richard and he replied," Mary Bredin remembered. "Then Elizabeth found out and Richard's letters stopped. They rarely saw each other again, but Raquel never forgot him."
Proof of that came 12 years later when Richard Burton died suddenly at the age of 59. Among the hundreds of wreaths on his grave at Celigny, Switzerland, was a posy of red roses from Raquel Welch.