Months ago now, I heard an ad on the radio telling of an upcoming performance by none other than Maria del Rosario Pilar Martinez Molina Gutierrez de los Perales Santa ana Romanguera y de la Hinojosa Rasten. Or, as you and I have more commonly known her, Charo. Immediately called Bean, stating we simply had to go see her, and furthermore, what’dya know, it’s the very night before my birthday, a convenient gift opportunity, if ever. Spoke nothing more of it, only to then be presented the week before said birthday, on Grammy night, no less, with an early birthday present- four concert tickets!
As a little, little kid, I’d catch her from time to time on TV in various guest appearances on the likes of The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, and The Carol Burnett Show. I was hooked! That hair, those boobs, and more often than not, all that red, glittery sparkle! Animated and lively, full of wop-bam-boom! I couldn’t look away, wondering what she’d say or do next. I remember my dad worked the occasional night shift as a longshoreman when the work demanded it. One particular evening, I took advantage of that fact to stay up a bit past bedtime in eager anticipation of viewing her latest appearance. Woke up snuggled in a plush easy chair with our dog Corkey close by for comfort, to find the credits rolling. Betrayal! I’d let myself down, missing a chance to view one of my childhood fixations.
Years have passed, I’ve grown up, and with Charo gone from the limelight, I’d only recently wondered “whatever happened to.” Upon hearing she’d be performing from the radio ad that day, I Googled her to find that she’d moved to Hawaii with her second husband and son, opening and performing at her own dinner theater all these years. In the last decade, she’s returned to TV in a variety of projects as well as taken on a number of performances at public events.
Throughout the years, in discussing this and that whenever Charo entered the conversation (and she did), my dad was always quick to mention her skill as a musician. Though it’s a consummate challenge in getting him to enjoy more music, any music, there are a few exceptions, one being his love for Spanish guitar. In her youth, Charo was discovered by famous bandleader Xavier Cugat, later marrying him. Age sixty-six at the time, Cugat had been married multiple times during his life, though Charo claimed that their marriage was simply a way for him to legally bring her into the US from Spain. She studied classical and flamenco guitar while growing up, boasting Andrés Segovia, considered the “Father of Classical Guitar,” as her teacher. She became regularly featured in shows with Cugat’s orchestra, her popularity grew, and she began landing various television gigs. The way she tells it, she had a guest appearance on Johnny Carson, in which she spoke her famous line, “cuchi-cuchi!,” bringing her immense popularity as a TV personality on one hand. On the other, a general lack of acknowledgement for her finely honed craft and talent settled in, her exuberant and silly persona having well overshadowed them at the time.
The concert night arrives, the curtain rises, and the audience proceeds to delight in the sheer energy that is Charo. The woman easily puts some more than half her age to shame. She’s got timing down pat, knowing just when and how to deliver a punchline for maximum funny, working off the crowd. Her act has been laid out with just the right pace, too. She wins over the audience in the first portion so that when it comes time for her to introduce the good stuff, what she’s supremely skilled in, that lovely guitar work, the audience is riveted, more than content to lend their ears, where had they not warmed to her in the beginning, they may not have been quite so receptive. Yet, riveted we all were.
With the rising of that curtain, also came the all-important and anticipated answer to the question, would there be red? That aforementioned red, glittery sparkle, sometimes-fringe-many-a-ruffle RED that I so much loved, expected and preferred to any other growing up in anticipation of my next viewing of her. Oh, my! Yes, indeed! Reeeeed! Blue just wouldn’t do. A little cloud nine floated down to envelope me with that, but then! She dances right, she dances left, down a small flight of stairs making her way along the front of the audience- we’re row four, mere feet away, she works her way all around, back of the room and up again, along the aisle, my aisle, I have an aisle seat it so happens… wait, she’s stopping and dancing with people here and there, she’s shaking hands, clapping hands, I’m jumping up and down like a maniac, yes, the maniac is here, front and center, five feet, four feet, three, she’s touching me! Oh. My. Goodness! She takes my hand, says, “hello”, smiles, nods … she’s absolutely lovely up close. She’s dainty. And smells really good. She moves back on up to the stage now, and as I turn, a few tears leak out and down my cheeks. Do I care? No, it’s too good, like reaching across time for a brief moment and touching a little bit of childhood again. At the end, she’s met with a standing ovation and nothing but overwhelming praise can be heard as we all head back into a world a little less glittery, but the sparkle remains. ♦