Charo at the 2013 Alma Awards
|Born||María del Rosario Mercedes Pilar Martínez Molina Baeza
March 13, 1941
Murcia, Region of Murcia, Spain
|Occupation||Actress, singer, classical guitarist|
|Spouse(s)||Xavier Cugat (1966–1978)
Kjell Rasten (1978–present; 1 son)
María del Rosario Mercedes Pilar Martínez Molina Baeza (born March 13, 1941), professionally known by her mononymous stage name Charo, is a Spanish-American actress, comedian, and flamenco guitarist. She is best known for her flamboyant stage presence, her provocative outfits, and her trademark phrase, "cuchi-cuchi".
Date of birth
Charo's exact age has been disputed for many years. Official documents in Charo's birthplace of Murcia, her original Spanish passport, and her naturalization papers state that her birth date is March 13, 1941. After emigrating to the United States, Charo claimed that she was born in 1947, then changed it to 1949. She ultimately asserted in a 1977 court hearing that her passport and naturalization papers were wrong and that her true birth date was January 15, 1951. Charo's current IMDb entry indicates a birth date of January 15, 1945.
The performer has said in interviews that her parents allowed her to falsify her age to appear older when marrying 66-year-old band leader Xavier Cugat in 1966. Numerous articles and interviews published shortly before and at the time of her wedding placed her birth year between 1945 and 1946. In 1964, Charo was referred to as Cugat's "18-year-old protegée". An April 1966 column on the wedding plans stated she was 20 and Cugat was 60. Many sources identified her as 21 on the day of her wedding.
In October 1977 — the same year in which Charo filed for divorce from Cugat and became a naturalized American citizen — U.S. District Judge Roger Foley in Las Vegas upheld the 1951 birth year as official, with the performer providing sworn affidavits from her parents in support of her claim. Commenting on the disputes over her age, she has said that the public's disbelief could prove advantageous: "But if people really believe I'm older, that's fine. Don't be surprised if I come out with my own cosmetics, a new energy bar and maybe some vitamins."
Charo was born María del Rosario Mercedes Pilar Martínez Molina Baeza in Murcia, Region of Murcia, Spain. Her father was reportedly a lawyer who fled to Casablanca during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, while her homemaker mother stayed behind in Murcia, raising their children. Charo has occasionally claimed that she was enrolled in a convent as a young child and remained there until she was 15, when a nun stated that she belonged in show business. In the most colorful version of this childhood, Charo's grandmother hired a music professor to give her weekly classical guitar lessons, and he became the first man to enter the convent.
Most sources indicate that from age 9 to 16, Charo studied classical and flamenco guitar in a school in Madrid founded by Andrés Segovia for underprivileged children. In a 2005 interview, she reminisced: "The institution had great young teachers and students. Everything was a charity. Mr. Segovia, between concerts that's when he'd come, and if you'd been there a year and you weren't good, you'd go out and they would give your place to another young kid."  Charo has stated in several interviews that she graduated with honors from the Madrid school at the age of 16, a tacit admission of her 1941 birth year; in 1967 (the year in which she would have been 16 if her later claims were correct), Charo was well-established in the United States and had made four appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Charo was discovered as a young performer by famous bandleader Xavier Cugat, whom she later wed on August 7, 1966. When they married, Cugat was 66 and had already been married four times (Rita Montaner, Carmen Castillo, Lorraine Allen, and Abbe Lane) although reports sometimes listed fewer marriages. An April 1966 column by Earl Wilson on the couple's wedding plans announced, "Sixty-year-old [sic] Xavier Cugat and his 20-year-old Spanish girlfriend and singing star Charo hope to get married in San Cugat, Spain, in a few days if Cugat can convince church authorities his two divorces should not be counted against him since he wasn't married in church." The couple was the first to have their nuptials in Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.
Charo later 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.
She moved to West 257th Street in the New York City borough of The Bronx 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. She claims he was confident in her eventual success from early on, and that she gave him a Rolls-Royce as a parting gift once she came of legal age.
Charo's first US TV appearance was on The Today Show. From 1965 to 1967, she performed on The Ed Sullivan Show four times with her husband Xavier Cugat and his orchestra. She appeared on Laugh-In in 1968. She would appear on short chatfests for a few minutes near the end of the show with Dan Rowan and Dick Martin. Her almost complete lack of fluency in the English language was played as a comic focus, with 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, in South Lake Tahoe, California, in a civil ceremony attended by 30 guests. Rasten soon became his wife's manager and the couple has one child, a son, Shel Rasten (born 1982), who is the drummer for the heavy metal band Treazen.
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, The Mike Douglas Show, which she guest-hosted at least once, and even the infamously short-lived Brady Bunch variety spinoff.
In 1975, Dallas Morning News critic Harry Bowman wrote that the ABC network had "penciled in ... a half-hour comedy starring the uninhibited wife of Xavier Cugat" and commented, "This is probably the worst idea of the season." By October of that year, the performer was promoting a special slated for November, but the special did not actually appear until May 1976. A TV listing for August 24, 1976, shows what appears to be an unsold pilot airing on ABC at 8:30 pm CST: "Charo and the Sergeant - Situation comedy starring Charo Cugat. Charo's first U.S. job is to be a dancer at an off-limits night club and her conservative Marine Corps husband finds out. The few episodes that were taped ended up being broadcast on the American Armed Forces Network overseas. "
By the late 1970s, Charo was being mentioned as an example of how overexposure could damage a celebrity. One such article quoted the "Q score" of Performer Q, Steve Levitt's celebrity popularity rating service, to show that the performer's popularity declined slightly even as her familiarity increased:
|“||Before she gained national fame on talk shows in 1975, bosomy Latin starlet Charo was 'recognized' by 57 percent of Levitt's national television sample and had a 'popularity quotient' of 9 percent. Today, known by 80 percent, a figure as high as Clint Eastwood's 80 percent, Charo's popularity is 8 percent. 'If she was known by 100 percent of the world, chances are her popularity might go down to 7 or 6 percent', Levitt says coolly. That paradox makes some performers think twice when invitations to talk shows come in.||”|
—"The TV Talk Shows", Washington Post, July 14, 1977 (Style section, page B1)
For much of the late 1980s and 1990s Charo 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, Charo learned to speak Japanese. In the 2000s, she returned to television in commercials for Sprint wireless phone service and GEICO insurance, as well as guest appearances on Hollywood Squares, a season-three stint on the celeb-reality series The Surreal Life, guest appearances on the Fox Network's That '70s Show, and appearances in VH1's I Love the '70s retrospectives. On May 11, 2008, she made a guest appearance on the Latin-themed VH1 reality show Viva Hollywood.
She now has a regular touring show in addition to appearances in Branson, Missouri, and Las Vegas (which at one time were choreographed by Comedy Central actor/dancer Jade Esteban Estrada). Charo appeared as the Celebrity Showtime entertainer aboard Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas on its January 4 and January 13, 2008, sailings, and on the Adventure of the Seas on its August 10, 2008, sailing. She was a Celebrity Grand Marshal of the San Francisco LGBT Pride Parade on Sunday, June 29, 2008. She was accompanied by hordes of Charo look-alikes on a pink float. On May 23, 2008, she was a guest on GSN Live.
She returned to the dance music scene in June 2008 with the single "España Cañi". The single was released through Universal Wave Records. She performed Rihanna's song "Don't Stop the Music" at the 2009 Muscular Dystrophy Association Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon.
Charo appeared as the Celebrity Showtime entertainer aboard Royal Caribbean Liberty of the Seas cruise ship on Christmas Eve, 2009. She also appeared on the Royal Caribbean ship Adventure of the Seas on Thursday, February 25, 2010. She continues to entertain guests on Royal Caribbean Serenade of the Seas in May 2010. On May 23, 2011, Charo performed parts of her Las Vegas show on the Disney Magic cruise ship's Eastbound Transatlantic crossing to standing ovations. The first half of the show were more pop oriented pieces while the second half was her playing classical Spanish guitar. She noted her seven years of study with Andrés Segovia several times during this portion of the show. She appeared later in the cruise at an informal autograph-signing session.
In April 2010, she made a guest appearance on Dancing with the Stars.
Charo made an appearance on Watch What Happens: Live on February 22, 2011, where she promoted a new song, "Sexy! Sexy!".
In July 2011, Charo appeared as a celebrity guest judge on the fifth episode of RuPaul's Drag U, Season 2.
In June 2015, she appeared in an episode of Celebrity Wife Swap, where she swapped with former Love Boat costar, Jill Whelan. The show prominently featured her husband-manager Kjell Rasten and her sister Carmencita, who has served as Charo's stylist for the duration of her career. Carmencita has her own history of age fabrication. In 1977, the week after Charo successfully changed her legal age in federal court, the same judge issued an order finding that Carmen Martinez Molina was 29, not 40 as stated in her Spanish passport. As with Charo, Carmen's parents submitted affidavits that Carmen was actually 11 years younger than stated in all Spanish public records.
- Cuchi-Cuchi (1977) (with the Salsoul Orchestra)
- Olé Olé (1978) (with the Salsoul Orchestra)
- Bailando con Charo (Dancing with Charo, 1981) (with the Salsoul Orchestra)
- Guitar Passion (1994)
- Gusto (Pleasure, 1997)
- Charo and Guitar (2005)
- 1976: "La Salsa"
- 1977: "Dance A Little Bit Closer" (US Dance #18); UK #44
- 1978: "Mamacita, ¿dónde está Santa Claus? (Mommy, Where's Santa Claus?)"
- 1978: "Olé Olé" (US Dance #36)
- 1979: "Sha Na Na"
- 1979: "Stay With Me" (US Dance #55)
- 1979: "Hot Love"
- 1981: "La Mojada (Wet Back)"
- 2003: "Prisionera De Tu Amor" (with Seductive Souls)
- 2008: "España Cañi" (US Dance #14)
- 2011: "Sexy Sexy" (US Dance #24)
- 2013 "Dance A Little Bit Closer" (Charo & The Salsoul Orchestra vs The Cube Guys remix)
- New Friendship (1963)
- Dress Rehearsal for Death (1963)
- The Big Mouth (1967)
- Tiger by the Tail (1970)
- Elvis: That's the Way It Is (1970) (documentary)
- The Concorde ... Airport '79 (1979)
- Moon Over Parador (1988)
- Thumbelina (1994) Mama Toad
- Blame It on the Macarena! (1996)
- The Ed Sullivan Show (four episodes from 1965-1967)
- The Carol Burnett Show
- Rowan & Martin's Laugh In
- The Hollywood Squares (semi-regular panelist from 1972–1978)
- The Charo Show (1976) (unsold pilot for variety series)
- Chico and the Man (cast member from 1977–1978) -- Aunt Charo
- The Love Boat (guest starred in 8 episodes, 1977–1984) -- April Lopez
- Flying High (guest starred in episode #9, 1978–1979)
- Maaco Auto Painting and Body Works (commercial spokesperson, late 1970s-early 1980s)
- Fantasy Island (guest starred in 4 episodes, 1981–1984)
- The Jeffersons (Woman in Atlantic City casino, 1985 one episode)
- The Facts of Life (guest appearance in 1985)
- Marblehead Manor (Feb 18, 1988)
- Pee-wee's Playhouse Christmas Special (guest star 1988)
- Olivia Mayo is Life (special appearance November 20, 1992)
- Mickey Mouse Works (special guest voiceover)
- That '70s Show (special guest star: "Red Sees Red" 2000)
- Space Ghost Coast to Coast (unaired interview, but was quickly glimpsed on Episode 60: "Lawsuit" 1998)
- The Brak Show (special guest star 2001)
- The Surreal Life (cast member in 2004)
- So NoTORIous (episode 5, season 1 in 2006)
- I Love the '70s: Volume 2 (appearances in 2006)
- Chappelle's Show (appearance in 2006)
- Las Vegas
- Sprint Cellular Phones featuring the catch phrase "I thought you said bring home Charo"
- Geico Auto Insurance Commercial (Acts out the Geico customer's experience 2007)
- Viva Hollywood! New reality show on VH1 May 11, 2008)
- The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (special appearance April 17, 2008)
- Chelsea Lately (special appearance July 24, 2008)
- The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (special appearance Dec 18, 2008)
- RuPaul's Drag Race (guest performer Mar 9, 2009)
- The Suite Life on Deck (special appearance as Esteban's mother in 2010)
- Good Luck Charlie (special appearance as girl crushing on Bob Duncan)
- The Wendy Williams Show (Episode 363, Orig. air date October 5, 2010)
- Latino 101 (2009–present)
- Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23 (special appearance May 17, 2013)
- "Celebrity Wife Swap" (Orig. air date June 17, 2015)
- "The Official Charo Website". Retrieved 29 Jun 2012.
- "IMDB Bio Page". Retrieved 29 Jun 2012.
- "Playful and ageless, Charo a sultry sensation still", Las Vegas Sun, July 20, 2009
- "These stars keep tight rein on real ages", The Pittsburgh Press, August 9, 1986
- Larry Powell (column). "Exact age for Charo leaves plenty of wiggle room," The Dallas Morning News, February 7, 1999
- "IMDb Bio Page", Retrieved 12 July 2015.
- John Beck. "Ageless persona: Vegas headliner Charo thrills fans at Sonoma County Fair: Cuchi-cuchi time at the fair", The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, California), August 1, 2002, page B1.
- Earl Wilson. "It happened last night." (column), The Dallas Morning News, September 16, 1964, section 4, Ataahua's song
- Earl Wilson. "It happened last night" (column), The Dallas Morning News, April 18, 1966, page D18.
- Francis Raffetto. "Las Vegas Opens Caesar's Palace", After Dark column, The Dallas Morning News, August 8, 1966, page A14
- Paul Steiner. "Jackie followed trend of May–December," The Dallas Morning News, October 27, 1968, page E9
- Jura Koncius. "Personalities" (column), The Washington Post, August 16, 1978, page D2
- "Charo, Sister 'Younger'" Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, November 10, 1977
- "Coochie-coochie comedienne wants to be 'zee' dramatic actress" Montreal Gazette, May 10, 1982
- "She's dynamite: You might say Charo's rather un-convent-ional" Chicago Tribune, April 29, 1974
- "Ageless Charo keeps the cuchi cuchi flame burning", San Francisco Chronicle, August 6, 2005
- "Charo: She's more than just miss 'Cuchi, Cuchi'", Napa Valley Register, September 8, 2010
- "Charo: Beyond 'cuchi cuchi', San Luis Obispo Tribune, March 29, 2012
- "tv.com: The Ed Sullivan Show, Seasons 18 and 20" Retrieved 12 July 2015.
- "Fin del 'cuchi cuchi', principio del arte", La Opinión Digital, February 17, 2005 (Spanish)
- Roger Piantadosi. "Personalities" (column), The Washington Post, April 15, 1978, page C3.
- Ellen Goldman and Joseph P. Mastrangelo. "Personalities" (column), The Washington Post, August 15, 1978, page C1
- Donny & Marie broadcast listings, "Channel Choices", The Dallas Morning News, 1976-02-27, C7 (with George Gobel); 12-03-1976, B11 (with Carl Reiner); 1977-12-02, A16 (with Milton Berle and the Sylvers)
- Tony Orlando and Dawn broadcast listings, "Channel Choices," The Dallas Morning News, 1974-07-10, page C7 (with Lloyd Bridges); 1975-03-05, page D4 (with Tony Randall); 1976-01-28, page C9 (with Freddy Fender).
- The Captain and Tennille broadcast listings, "Channel Choices", The Dallas Morning News, 1977-03-07, page B7 (with John Byner, Ben Vereen, Manfred Mann and the Earth Band, and LeVar Burton).
- Rena Pederson (column), The Dallas Morning News, December 3, 1976, page B11; refers to Charo as "the dizzy Spanish sexpot-songstress".
- The Brady Bunch Hour broadcast listing, "Channel Choices," The Dallas Morning News, March 21, 1977, page A18 (with the Hudson Brothers, Ann B. Davis, and Rip Taylor
- Harry Bowman. "New season guessing" ("Broadcast Beat" column), The Dallas Morning News, April 22, 1975, page A12
- Earl Wilson. "Hackett 'Teaching' Charo" (column), The Dallas Morning News, October 13, 1975, page D5.
- Harry Bowman. The Dallas Morning News, April 27, 1976, page C5
- UPI. "Charo special looms as family sizzler," The Dallas Morning News, May 24, 1976, page B7.
- "Channel Choices," The Dallas Morning News, August 24, 1976, page B5.
- Silverman, Stephen M. (May 8, 1998). "Charo: Still Cuchi-Cuchi-ing". People.com. Retrieved Mar 4, 2010.
- Ruíz, Vicki; Virginia Sánchez Korrol (2006). Latinas in the United States: a historical encyclopedia, Volume 1. Indiana University Press. p. 144. ISBN 978-0-253-34681-0.
- "From Perfect Beat".
- Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 101. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
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