Tuesday, March 15, 2011

HOLA Legends: Charo

María del Rosario Pilar Martínez Molina Gutiérrez de los Perales Santa Ana Romanguera y de la Hinojosa de Rasten (January 15, 1951?- ), listed elsewhere as María Rosario Pilar Martínez Molina Baeza, better known as Charo, is a actress, comedienne, and flamenco guitarist, best known for her flamboyant stage presence, her provocative outfits, and her trademark phrase ("cuchi cuchi").

Born in Murcia, Spain, her father was a lawyer who reportedly fled to Casblanca, Morocco during Francisco Franco's dictatorship while her homemaker mother stayed behind in Murcia raising their children. She studied classical and flamenco guitar while residing in Murcia, and can claim classical guitar legend Andrés Segovia as her guitar teacher. He once spoke of his pupil in an interview, and remembered giving her career advice. "Stop saying 'cuchi cuchi' so much, Charo! Be serious!" She took guitar lessons from him and other teachers from the age of nine on.

When she was quite young, she was "discovered" by famous bandleader Xavier Cugat, whom she later wed on August 7, 1966. Cugat was 66 and had already been married numerous times. In a February 2005 interview with the Los Angeles-based Spanish-language newspaper La Opinión, she claimed that her marriage to Cugat had been merely a "business contract," a way for him to legally bring her over to the United States, where he was based. For her first years in the U.S., she lived on West 257th Street in the Bronx, New York City with her mother and aunt, and was regularly featured in shows with Cugat's orchestra in New York and Las Vegas, as well as in overseas engagements in Latin America and Europe.

Her first US TV appearance was on "The Today Show" in the mid-1960s. She later appeared on "Laugh-In" in 1968. She would appear on short chatfests of a few minutes near the end of the show with hosts Dan Rowan and Dick Martin. Her then-almost complete lack of fluency in the English language was played as a comic focus, and she would have the two hosts laughing at her mangled English. This is also the time that the "cuchi cuchi' line passed into the public arena.

She was headlining Vegas shows by 1971, and reportedly being paid as much as Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles or Dean Martin. In 1977, she became a naturalized citizen of the United States; that same year, she filed for divorce from Cugat, a petition that was granted April 14, 1978. On August 11, 1978, she married her second husband, Kjell Rasten, a producer, who became his wife's manager, and the couple has one child, a son, Shel Rasten (born 1982). Throughout the 1970s, she was a highly visible personality, appearing eight times on "The Love Boat," as well as on variety and talk shows such as "Donny & Marie," "Tony Orlando and Dawn," "The Captain and Tennille," "The John Davidson Show" and "The Mike Douglas Show" (which she once co-hosted).

For much of the late 1980s and 1990s, she had limited visibility as she moved to Hawaii, and opened and performed at her own dinner theater while she and Rasten raised their son. Because of the large number of Japanese immigrants to the island state, she learned to speak Japanese. In the 2000s, she returned to television in commercials, as well as guest appearances on "Hollywood Squares," a season-three stint on the series "The Surreal Life," as guest appearances on the "That '70s Show," "Viva Hollywood" and "RuPaul's Drag Race" as well as appearances on VH1's "I Love the '70s" retrospectives and numerous other talk shows.

She now has a regular touring show in addition to appearances in Branson, Missouri and Las Vegas. She has recorded several albums of music since 1977. Her most recent single, "Sexy Sexy" was released in late 2010. She has often humorously expressed that "Cuchi cuchi has taken me straight to the bank."

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Playing "Malagueña" on guitar on "The Martha Stewart Show"

On "The Carol Burnett Show"

Interview on "American Latino"

Telling an audience the name on her passport

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