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Richard Martin of Newport, 'Chito' of Films, Dies at 75

September 05, 1994|From a Times Staff Writer

NEWPORT BEACH — Richard Martin, an insurance broker who as a young man played the comic cowboy Chito Rafferty in more than 30 Western serial films for RKO, died Sunday of complications from leukemia at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian. He was 75.

Martin, of Balboa Island, started his show business career as a receptionist for MGM making $17.76 a week. His goal was to be a makeup man, but his acting career began after one of his friends, on a lark, bet an agent that he couldn't get Martin an acting contract.

A screen test with Fox led indirectly to a contract with RKO at $50 a week and a string of bit parts in various A and B films. Martin met his wife, actress Elaine Riley, on a film set in Carmel, where a scheduled four-day shoot stretched to three weeks because of fog.

Martin first developed the Irish-Mexican Chito character--whose full name was Chito Jose Gonzales Bustamonte Rafferty--in the 1943 war film "Bombardier." Martin, who had grown up with Latino neighbors in West Hollywood, affected an accent for the role.

Chito was enough of a hit to be included in a Zane Grey series. Martin shot two episodes with Robert Mitchum in the starring role before Mitchum got the break of his career in the film "G.I. Joe." Martin later was teamed with Tim Holt in the last three films of the series, and a longstanding partnership was born.

The two were paired in 26 other films including "Guns of Hate," "Brothers in the Saddle" and "Dynamite Pass." The movie interiors typically were shot in Hollywood before moving on to such locations as Lone Pine, under the shadow of the Eastern Sierra.

Chito, handy with his fists and given to malapropisms and an overactive libido, was the comic counterpoint to Holt's serious and steadfast cowboy hero as the two fought Western injustice.

Martin left the movie business in 1952 after Howard Hughes decided to end all B pictures at RKO, and became an insurance broker. He started his own business, Richard Martin Associates, specializing in estate planning and business insurance.

In later life, he often was surprised at how well Chito was remembered.

"It's nice to get the recognition for what you did," he said at the Sierra Film Festival in Lone Pine two years ago. But more important to him, he said, was seeing once again some of the people he worked with in the old days.

Martin is survived by his wife, Elaine; a sister, Annabelle Armstrong of Los Angeles; and a niece, Barbara McElheny, grandnephew, Sean Thomas McElheny, and grandniece, Meghan Riley McElheny, all of Washington, D.C.

At Martin's request, there will be no funeral. Burial will be private. Donations may be sent to Hoag Memorial Hospital Cancer Center.

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