Thursday, January 14, 2016

RIP Lita Baron



The Desert Sun
January 17, 2016

August 11, 1923 - December 16, 2015

Lita Baron, the Spanish-born singer, dancer, actress and former wife of 1950's leading man Rory Calhoun died December 16, 2015 in Palm Springs due to complications from a broken hip. Lita had lived full time in the Palm Springs area for four decades. She was 92.

She was born Isabel Castro on August 11, 1923 in the Province of Andalusia, Spain, the second of five children born to Francesca and Pedro G. Castro.

In 1928, five-year-old Isabel and her family arrived in America, processed like so many other immigrants at Ellis Island in New York. The Castros settled in River Rouge, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. Pedro worked at Great Lakes Steel and Francesca ran their own neighborhood grocery store.

At a very young age, Isabel displayed a fiery, determined and electric personality that would eventually find her singing and dancing as featured artist with the famed Xavier Cugat orchestra in the early 1940's.

Her beauty, talent and effervescence captivated all who watched her perform and soon she was performing in Hollywood. Very soon her family moved there as well and they purchased a house in the now-historic Whitley Heights enclave near the Hollywood Bowl. She received a movie contract and took the stage name of "Isabelita" (one of the first entertainers to use a single name predating "Cher" and "Madonna"). Isabelita appeared in over a dozen movies while also headlining and performing at such legendary Hollywood nightclubs as Ciro's and the Mocambo on the Sunset Strip. It was while she was performing one night at Ciro's that she caught the eye of a young actor named Rory Calhoun. He was well on his way to becoming a star and the two hit it off like dynamite.

She and her bandleader, Bobby Ramos, developed and hosted one of the first weekly television musical variety shows in Los Angeles, named "Latin Cruise". She had now changed her one word stage name, "Isabelita" and, taking her mother's maiden name, was now known as Lita Baron.

Lita and Rory married in 1948 and had three daughters, Cindy, Tami and Lorri. Lita was a very loving mother and also continued to act in television and on the big screen. She most notably appeared on "I Love Lucy" and "The Texan", a western series that was written, co-produced and starred her husband, Rory Calhoun. They were quite a sight out on the town, his 6'4" height to her 5'0". She often joked that looking up at him was the reason that she never had a double chin! Their life was surrounded by famous friends and glamorous parties, but the relationship would eventually end in divorce in 1970.

In the early 1970's, Lita moved to Palm Springs with her daughters. Her colorful dating life included relationships with George Burns, Bill Holden, and George Murphy.

She started a new phase in her career when she launched the popular radio show, "Lunch with Lita". The show was hosted by Mel Haber at his fabulous Ingleside Inn and featured interviews with many of Lita's famous friends, including Lucille Ball, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Robert Shaw, to name just a few.

When the radio show ended, she obtained her real estate license and did very well in real estate marketing. She always dressed to the nines… sequins, sparkles, bright colors and thousands of hats!

She retired in 2010 at the age of 87. Last February was a highlight for her when she was honored at the Palm Springs Art Museum for Modernism Week, conceived and hosted by the wonderful Gary Johns. Lita had been featured in the iconic Slim Aarons photograph, "Poolside Gossip" (walking to the left of the pool wearing a white hat and white lace suit cover up) that was taken at the Kauffmann house in Palm Springs, designed by modernist architect Richard Neutra. Gary asked her to participate in the event. When he introduced her, she was rewarded by a standing ovation from a very full house. Later, she was whisked by limousine to an after-hours party hosted by a wonderful couple in Las Palmas. There she was surrounded by admirers and signed many autographs.

Lita always played by her own rules, loved life and never lost her sense of humor. She chose her time to leave this earth, doing it, as always, her way.

She is survived by daughters Cindy Calhoun, Tami Calhoun Marley and Lorri Calhoun. Siblings, Marylou Misbeek and Robert Baron. And longtime companion, Anthony Muzquiz.

There will be a private service held for the family and a life celebration is being planned for springtime.


BARON, Lita (Isabel Beth Castro)
Born: 8/11/1923, Almeria, Andalusia, Spain
Died: 12/16/2015, Palm Springs, California, U.S.A.

Lita Baron’s westerns – actress:
Don Ricardo Returns – 1954 (Dorothea)
Jesse James’ Woman – 1954 (Delta)
The Treasure of Pancho Villa – 1955 (Birdcage flirt)
The Broken Star – 1956 (Conchita Alvarado)
Red Sundown – 1956 (Maria)
Frontier Doctor (TV) – 1959
The Texas (TV) – 1960 (Dolores, Abby Moreno)
Death Valley Days (TV) – 1966, 1968 (Maria Martinez, Danita)

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