Monday, October 29, 2007

Let us now praise Charo. Once an example of how over-exposure could damage your career, the bubbly flamenco guitarist and perveyor of her own brand of fun (known as Cuchi-Cuchi) is still shimmying that pert little bod at the age of 56. And she looks marvelous doing it.
The photographs above show her currently and in her former heyday in the late 70s. She appears almost eerily unchanged.
Yes, I spotted her on a hideous slow-newsday-item about how stars have aged. It focused on female performers, of course, and for that I blame the patriarchy. However, there was a similar slideshow devoted entirely to male rockers from the 80s, showing them both now and then. This almost evened out the equation, and showed me that Sting has definitely had work done. I mean, yoga can only do so much for crows' feet really.
These now and then comparisons are invariably unfair. Many people who looked very young at the height of their fame, were actually quite a bit older. A breathtaking ingenue who claimed to be 24 in 1984, could just as easily have been pushing forty with a short stick. And of course it's a well-honored theatrical tradition to shave a few years off your age.
Charo actually had the opposite problem. When she married Xavier Cugat and toured with his band she was 16. Press releases padded her age to make it look like less of a scandal. Charo has maintained that her marriage to the then 66 year-old band leader (who was already 3 or 4 times divorced) was purely a marriage of convenience to bring her to the United States from Spain.
Charo was a regular on television variety shows throughout the 70s. As a kid I saw her on Laugh-In, The Sonny and Cher Show, and (my favorite) The Carol Burnett Show. As the 70s wore out, she was practically a regular on The Love Boat, a show I hated. I watched it anyway because it was on before Fantasy Island, a show I loved. It was as if one had to ride the dreaded Love Boat to get to Fantasy Island. (I had a very secret crush on Ricardo Montalban, but that's another post entirely.)
A Charo appearance on The Love Boat, could almost redeem that show for me. Instead of 48 minutes of entirely unoriginal sexual innuendo (that was completely lost on me as a 10 year old), there'd be moments of Charo's trademark elan: a full body shimmy while shouting:Cuchi-Cuchi. Charo always seemed like a generous performer and very willing to laugh at herself. I know this sounds hoaky, but she also seemed like a kind-hearted person.
At times she was presented as a parody of herself. All boobs and fringe and mangled English. I even remember thinking that the show was actively making fun of her, but that she didn't care. She was having fun anyway. She Cuchi-Cuchi-ed with delight even when everyone else was snickering behind their hands. Even as a 10 year old I thought: note to self, enjoy your own shtick. And goslings, this is something I live by.
But despite this high amount of Charo exposure, and an inspirational Charo moment, I had no idea she played guitar. Charo is perhaps television's Yoko Ono: everyone has heard of her, but very few people have actually seen her creative work. Oh, sure there's maybe a hazy memory of her with a guitar somewhere in the deep whorl of the 70s television section of my brain. But actively, not really. Charo has suffered from the same syndrome as many other female performers who are better known for the looks than their abilities. I am delighted to see that Charo has made quite a comeback and that her current work is enough in her control to foreground her musicianship.
She took a break from Hollywood for over a decade but didn't stop performing. She opened her own club in Hawaii, where she performed regularly while raising her son. That seems idyllic, doesn't it? I'd love to move to Hawaii and still perform every night. (In my fantasy, flowers would also drift down from the trees to settle into my hair, and all the fruit I'd eat would be perfectly ripe. I would probably skip the child-rearing part and get a bunch of corgis with psychic powers who could read tarot cards and give me unerring financial advice. Or maybe I'd open a clown school and organize festivals.) Of course I'm always critical of female stars who retire to raise children, since I have yet to hear of a male star making a similar "choice". But with Charo's case of media saturation, perhaps this was the smartest thing to do?
Full disclosure: My sister ran into Charo in the waiting room of Cedar-Sinai in Los Angeles. They met long ago on the set for some tv show. Like my sister, Charo was visiting a friend in the hospital. My sister said that Charo is super nice, and that she has the smallest butt she's ever seen. How'd her tuches get so small? , I asked. Genetics, she sighed.
Go Charo!



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