Charo, The Eternal 'Cuchi-Cuchi' Girl, Then And Now

By | January 17, 2018

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Spanish-born bandleader Xavier Cugat (1900 - 1990) looks at his wife and compatriot, the musician and comedian Charo, as they appear on the CBS variety program 'The Ed Sullivan Show,' New York, February 26, 1967. (Getty Images)

Charo became a familiar face and figure to American TV viewers in the '70s, making comedic appearances on Chico & The Man, Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, and just about every talk show. But audiences were often unaware what they were seeing -- Charo's broken English and hammy acting overshadowed the fact that she was one of the world's greatest flamenco guitarists. 

Charo was born Maria Rosario Pilar Martinez Molina Baeza in Murcia, Spain. She reportedly began playing guitar at the age of nine, and took instruction from the Spanish master Andres Segovia. She grew up to be a performer who was not only a virtuoso, but possessed of an exotic beauty and charisma. It was clear she would be a star, of some sort.

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According to the birth certificate on file in Murcia, Charo was born in 1941, though she has claimed to be as much as ten years younger. She married the famous Spanish bandleader Xavier Cugat in 1966 -- whether she was 15 or 25 on her wedding day, she was still vastly younger than her 66-year old groom. 

In the mid- and late '60s, she performed with Cugat on The Ed Sullivan Show numerous times. She became an increasingly popular guest, and not because of her guitar playing -- her bubbly personality and enthusiasm, despite limited English, proved very entertaining. She appeared on The Joey Bishop Show nine times. Dina Shore's show: 9 times. Mike Douglas: 18 times. Merv Griffin: 39 times. Johnny Carson: 44 times. Hollywood Squares: 46 times. She also did cameos on Laugh-In and The Carol Burnett Show, and appeared in comedy specials headlined by Bob Hope and Dean Martin.