Biography

Carmen Miranda (9 February 1909 – 5 August 1955) was a Portuguese-born Brazilian samba singer, dancer, Broadway actress, and film star who was popular from the 1930s to the 1950s.

Miranda began her singing career in Brazil in 1929 where she was a major star before moving to the United States. In 1939, she performed on Broadway on which led to a Hollywood film career in 1940, with her first film Down Argentine Way. Nicknamed “The Brazilian Bombshell”, Miranda is noted for her signature fruit hat outfit she wore in her American films, particularly in 1943’s The Gang’s All Here. By 1945, she was the highest paid woman in the United States.

Miranda made a total of fourteen Hollywood films between 1940 and 1953. Though hailed as a talented performer, her popularity waned by the end of World War II. She later grew to resent the stereotypical “Brazilian Bombshell” image she cultivated and attempted to break free of it with limited success. Undaunted, Miranda focused increasingly on her nightclub appearances, also becoming a fixture on television variety shows—indeed, for all the stereotyping she faced throughout her career, her performances made huge strides in popularizing Brazilian music, while at the same time paving the way for the increasing awareness of all Latin culture.

Carmen Miranda was the first Latin American star to be invited to imprint her hands and feet in the courtyard of the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in 1941. She is considered the precursor of Brazil’s Tropicalismo, cultural movement of the 1960s.

On 4 August 1955, Miranda unknowingly suffered a mild heart attack while performing during the taping of an episode of The Jimmy Durante Show. She finished the show but died the following morning after suffering a second heart attack.

A museum was later constructed in Rio de Janeiro in her honor, and in 1995 she was the subject of the acclaimed documentary Carmen Miranda: Bananas is My Business.

Carmen Miranda was born Maria do Carmo Miranda da Cunha in Várzea da Ovelha e Aliviada, a village in the northern Portuguese municipality of Marco de Canaveses.

She was christened Carmen by her father because of his love for the opera comique, and also after Bizet’s masterpiece Carmen. This passion for opera influenced his children, and Miranda’s love for singing and dancing at an early age. She went to school at the Convent of Saint Therese of Lisieux. Her father did not approve of her plans to enter show business. However, her mother supported her and was beaten when her husband discovered Miranda had auditioned for a radio show. She had previously sung at parties and festivals in Rio. Her older sister Olinda contracted tuberculosis and was sent to Portugal for treatment. Miranda went to work in a tie shop at age 14 to help pay her sister’s medical bills. She next worked in a boutique, where she learned to make hats and opened her own hat business which became profitable.

In the film Alô, Alô Carnaval (1936).Miranda was discovered when she was first introduced to composer Josué de Barros, who went on to promote and record her first album with Brunswick, a German recording company in 1929. In 1930, she was known to be Brazil’s gem singer, and in 1933 went on to sign a two-year contract with Rádio Mayrink Veiga, becoming the first contract singer in the radio industry history of Brazil. In 1934, she was invited as a guest performer in Radio Belgrano in Buenos Aires. Ultimately, Miranda signed a recording contract with RCA Records. She led a successful career as a singer for ten years, singing in many popular styles, such as the samba and the Marchinha.

As with other popular singers of the era, Miranda made her screen debut in the Brazilian documentary A Voz Do Carnaval (1933). Two years later, she appeared in her first feature film entitled Alô, Alô Brasil. But it was the 1935 film Estudantes that seemed to solidify her in the minds of the movie-going public. In the 1936 movie Alô Alô Carnaval, she performed the famous song “Cantoras do Rádio” with her sister Aurora, for the first time.

During her later career, Miranda would become primarily identified with her colorful fruit-hat costume and image, she only adopted that costume in 1939. In that year she appeared in the film Banana-da-Terra, where she wore a glamorized version of the traditional costume of a poor black girl of Bahia: flowing dress and fruit-hat turban. Singing the song “O que é que a Baiana Tem?”(“What does a Baiana have?”), the intent was to empower a social class which was usually looked down upon.

After seeing one of her performances in Rio, theatre owner Lee Shubert signed Miranda and her band, the Bando da Lua, to a contract. In 1939, Miranda sailed from Brazil aboard the ocean liner SS Uruguay, arriving in New York on 18 May. She made her US stage debut on 19 June 1939 in The Streets of Paris, opposite Abbott and Costello. Although her part was small (she only spoke four words), Miranda received good reviews and became a media sensation. Her fame grew quickly, having formally been presented to President Franklin D. Roosevelt at a White House banquet shortly after arrival.
She was encouraged by the United States government as part of President Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor policy, designed to strengthen links with Latin America and Europe; it was believed that in delivering content like hers, the policy would be better received by the American public. Miranda’s contract with the 20th Century Fox lasted from 1941 to 1946, this period coincides with the time of the World War II (1939–1945) and the creation in 1940 of Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs, based in the Rio de Janeiro whose goal was to obtain support from governments and Latin American societies for the cause of the United States.

In 1940, 20th Century Fox signed her to a contract for a one-time appearance in Down Argentine Way. She received good reviews for her performance prompting Fox to sign her to a long-term film contract.

Miranda was promoted as the “Brazilian Bombshell” by 20th Century Fox and she began appearing in its films as a featured performer. Some were set in South America, and sometimes representatives from the film division of the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs, a government agency that worked to promote U.S. foreign policy initiatives, offered suggestions on the script or other aspects.

The interference was linked to the Good Neighbor policy, which had been in effect since the mid-1930s. U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt sought to forge better diplomatic relations with Brazil and other South American nations, and pledged to refrain from further military intervention, which had sometimes been done to protect U.S. business interests in industries such as mining or agriculture. Hollywood was asked to help out with the Good Neighbor Policy, and both Walt Disney Studios and 20th Century Fox participated. Miranda was considered the goodwill ambassador and promoter of intercontinental culture.

While Miranda’s popularity in the United States continued to rise, she began to lose favor with some Brazilians. On 10 July 1940, she returned to Brazil where she was welcomed by cheering fans. Soon after her arrival, however, the Brazilian press began criticizing Miranda for giving in to American commercialism and projecting a negative image of Brazil. Members of the upper class felt her image was “too black” and she was criticized in one Brazilian newspaper for “singing bad-tasting black sambas”. Other Brazilians criticized her for playing up the stereotype of a “Latina bimbo” after her first interview upon arriving in the United States. In an interview with the New York World-Telegram, Miranda discussed her then limited knowledge of the English language stating, “I say money, money, money. I say twenty words in English. I say money, money, money and I say hot dog!”

On 15 July, she appeared at a charity concert organized by Brazilian First Lady Darci Vargas. The concert was attended by members of Brazil’s high society. She greeted the audience in English but was met with silence. When Miranda began singing a song from one of her club acts, “The South American Way”, the audience began to boo her. She attempted to finish her act but gave up and left the stage after the audience continued to boo. The incident deeply hurt Miranda and she later cried in her dressing room. The following day, the Brazilian pressed criticized her for being “too Americanized”.

Weeks later, Miranda responded to the criticism with the Portuguese language song “Disseram que Voltei Americanizada” (or “They Say I’ve Come Back Americanized”). Another song, “Bananas Is My Business,” was based on a line in one of her movies and directly addressed her image. She was greatly upset by the criticism and did not return to Brazil again for fourteen years.

Miranda’s films came under harsh scrutiny by Latin American audiences for characterizing Central and South America in a culturally homogenous way. When her films hit theatres in Central and South America, it was strongly felt that the films depicted Latin American cultures through the lens of American preconceptions, and not as they actually were. Many Latin Americans felt their cultures were being misrepresented, and felt that someone from their own region, Carmen Miranda, was misrepresenting them. Her film, Down Argentine Way (1940), was met with heavy criticism, with pundits in Argentina claiming that it failed to depict Argentinean culture. It was alleged that lyrics throughout the movie were filled with non-Argentine themes, and that the sets were not strictly Argentinean, but rather, a fusion of cultures from Mexico, Cuba, and Brazil. The film was subsequently banned in Argentina, for “wrongfully portraying life in Buenos Aires.” Similar sentiments arose in Cuba after her the debut of Miranda’s film, Weekend in Havana (1941). Cuban audiences were offended by Miranda’s portrayal of a Cuban female. Reviewers of the film asserted that an import from Rio could not possibly portray a woman from Havana. Further, they claimed that throughout the film Miranda does not “dance anything Cuban.” Miranda’s performances, it was argued, were merely hybridizations of Brazilian culture and other Latin cultures. Critics contend that other of her films likewise misrepresented Latin locales, by assuming that Brazilian culture could suffice as a direct representation of Latin America.

Upon returning to the United States, Miranda kept up her film career in Hollywood while also appearing on Broadway and performing in clubs and restaurants. In 1941, she shared the screen with Alice Faye and Don Ameche in That Night in Rio. Later that same year, she teamed up with Alice Faye again in Week-End in Havana. Miranda was now earning $5,000 a week. On 24 March 1941, she became one of the first Latinas to leave her hand and footprints in the sidewalk of the Grauman’s Chinese Theater.

In 1943, she appeared in an extravaganza from noted director Busby Berkeley called The Gang’s All Here. Berkeley’s musicals were known for their lavish production, and Miranda’s role as Dorita featured her number “The Lady in the Tutti-Frutti Hat.” An optical trick from the set behind her made the fruit-bedecked hat she was wearing appear even larger than humanly possible. By then, Miranda seemed to be locked into such roles as the exotic songstress, and her studio contract even forced her to appear at events in her trademark film costumes, which grew even more outlandish. One song she recorded, “Bananas Is My Business” seemed to pay somewhat ironic tribute to her typecasting. The following year, Miranda made a cameo appearance in Four Jills in a Jeep. By 1945, she had become Hollywood’s highest-paid entertainer and top female tax payer in the United States, earning more than $200,000 that year ($2.2 million in 2010 adjusted for inflation).

.After World War II ended in 1945, the American public’s tastes began to change and musicals began to fall out of favor. Hollywood studio heads and producers also felt that the novelty of Miranda’s “Brazilian bombshell” image had worn thin. As a result, Miranda’s career declined. She made one last film for Fox, Doll Face (1945), before her contract was terminated in January 1946.

She later signed a contract with Universal but at the time, Universal was undergoing a merger with another studio. Due to a change in management, no films for Miranda were planned. Eager to break away from her well established image, Miranda attempted to branch out with different roles. In 1946, she portrayed an Irish American character in If I’m Lucky. The following year, she played dual roles opposite Groucho Marx in Copacabana for United Artists. While the films were modest hits, film critics and the American public did not accept Miranda’s new image.

Though her film career was faltering, Miranda music career remained solid and she was still a popular attraction at nightclubs. From 1948 to 1950, Miranda teamed with The Andrews Sisters to produce and record three Decca singles. Their first collaboration was on radio in 1945 when Miranda guested on ABC’s The Andrews Sisters Show. The first single, “Cuanto La Gusta”, was the most popular (a best-selling record and a number-twelve Billboard hit). “The Wedding Samba” (#23) followed in 1950.

In 1948, she co-starred opposite Wallace Beery and Jane Powell in A Date with Judy, and Nancy Goes to Rio in 1950 for MGM. She made her final film appearance in the 1953 film Scared Stiff with Martin and Lewis for Paramount.

Following the release of Scared Stiff in April 1953, she embarked on a four-month European tour. After collapsing from exhaustion during a club performance in Ohio in October 1953, dates for her future tour were canceled. On the suggestion of her doctor, Miranda returned to Brazil to rest. Miranda was still hurt over the criticism she received there in 1940, but was happy when she received a warm reception upon her return. She remained in Brazil until April 1955.

For her contributions to the television industry, Carmen Miranda has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.On 17 March 1947, Miranda married American movie producer David Alfred Sebastian. In 1948 she became pregnant, but suffered a miscarriage. The marriage was reportedly rocky and her family claimed that Sebastian was abusive.[33] In September 1949, the couple announced their separation, but they later reconciled.

In her later years, in addition to her already heavy smoking and alcohol consumption, Miranda began taking amphetamines and barbiturates, all of which took a toll on her health.

On 4 August 1955, Miranda was shooting a segment for the filmed NBC variety series The Jimmy Durante Show. According to Durante, Miranda had complained of feeling unwell before filming. Durante offered to get Miranda a replacement but she declined. After completing a song and dance number, “Jackson, Miranda, and Gomez”, with Durante, she fell to one knee. Durante later said of the incident, “… I thought she had slipped. She got up and said she was outa [sic] breath. I tells her I’ll take her lines. But she goes ahead with ‘em. We finished work about 11 o’clock and she seemed happy.”

At around 4 a.m. the following day, Miranda suffered a second, fatal heart attack at her home in Beverly Hills. The Jimmy Durante Show episode in which Miranda appeared was aired two months after her death. A clip of the episode was also included in the A&E Network’s Biography episode about Miranda.

In accordance with her wishes, Miranda’s body was flown back to Rio de Janeiro where the Brazilian government declared a period of national mourning. 60,000 people attended her mourning ceremony at the Rio town hall, and more than half a million Brazilians escorted the funeral cortège to her resting place.

Miranda is buried in the Cemitério São João Batista in Rio de Janeiro.

For her contributions to the television industry, Carmen Miranda has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6262 Hollywood Boulevard.

Miranda’s Hollywood image was one of a generic Latinness that blurred the distinctions between Brazil, Portugal, Argentina, and Mexico as well as between samba, tango and habanera. It was carefully stylized and outlandishly flamboyant. She was often shown wearing platform sandals and towering headdresses made of fruit, becoming famous as “the lady in the tutti-frutti hat.” Miranda’s enormous, fruit-laden hats are iconic visuals recognized around the world. These costumes led to Saks Fifth Avenue developing a line of turbans and jewelry inspired by Carmen Miranda in 1939. Many costume jewelry designers made fruit jewelry also inspired by Carmen Miranda which is still highly valued and collectible by vintage and antique costume jewelry collectors . Fruit jewelry is still popular in jewelry design today. Much of the fruit jewelry seen today is often still called “Carmen Miranda jewelry” because of this.

Her image was much satirized and taken up as camp, and today, the “Carmen Miranda” persona is popular among drag performers.

Even after her death, Carmen Miranda is remembered for being perhaps the most important Brazilian artistic personality of all time and one of the most influential Hollywood, being considered by the American Film Institute, one of the “500 great legends of Cinema”.
On 25 September 1998, a city square in Hollywood was named Carmen Miranda Square in a ceremony headed by longtime honorary mayor of Hollywood, Johnny Grant, who was also one of the singer’s friends dating back to World War II. Brazil’s Consul General Jorió Gama was on hand for opening remarks, as were members of Bando da Lua, Carmen Miranda’s original band. Carmen Miranda Square is only one of about a dozen Los Angeles city intersections named for historic performers. The square is located at the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Orange Drive across from Grauman’s Chinese Theater. The location is especially noteworthy not only since Carmen Miranda’s footprints are preserved in concrete at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre’s, but in remembrance of an impromptu performance at a nearby Hollywood Boulevard intersection on V-J Day where she was joined by a throng of servicemen from the nearby USO.
A museum dedicated to Carmen Miranda is located in Rio de Janeiro in the Flamengo neighborhood on Avenida Rui Barbosa. The museum includes several original costumes, and shows clips from her filmography. There is also a museum dedicated to her in Marco de Canaveses, Portugal called “Museu Municipal Carmen Miranda”, with various photos and one of the famous hats. Outside the museum there is a statue of Carmen Miranda.
For a later generation, Miranda was viewed as a contemptible example of Hispanic stereotyping in American popular culture. The subject was explored in a 1995 documentary Carmen Miranda:Bananas is my Business, made by Brazilian filmmaker Helena Solberg. A decade later, Miranda’s posthumous reputation seemed to have under-gone rehabilitation, with several events taking place in 2005 that marked the fiftieth anniversary of her death. These included a film and costume retrospective, “Carmen Miranda Forever,” at Rio’s Museum of Modern Art, and Ruy Castro, one of the city’s best-known writers, has just published a 600-page biography of “the most famous Brazilian woman of the 20th century.” Brazilians “tend to forget,” Castro told Margolis in Newsweek International, that “no Brazilian woman has ever been as popular as Carmen Miranda - in Brazil or anywhere.”
In 2011, along with Selena, Celia Cruz and Tito Puente, Carmen Miranda was immortalized by the U.S. Postal Service in the series of Postage stamp: Latin Music Legends (Forever). The stamps were painted by artist Rafael Lopez. “From this day forward, these colorful, vibrant images of our Latin music legends will travel on letters and packages to every single household in America. In this small way, we have created a lasting tribute to five extraordinary performers, and we are proud and honored to share their legacy with Americans everywhere through these beautiful stamps”. said Marie Therese Dominguez, vice president of Government.

In 1943, Daffy Duck appears as Carmen Miranda in a scene from the cartoon Yankee Doodle Daffy produced by Warner Bros.
In the 1943 Tom and Jerry cartoon Baby Puss , the cat Topsy appears as Carmen Miranda while singing and dancing to “Mamãe Eu Quero”.
Animator Virgil Ross used Miranda’s image in his short Slick Hare, featuring Bugs Bunny, who escapes from Elmer Fudd by hiding in the fruit hat. Bugs himself mimics Miranda briefly in What’s Cookin’ Doc? Tex Avery also used it in his MGM short Magical Maestro when an opera singer is temporarily changed into the persona, fruit hat and all, via a magician’s wand.
Bob Hope appears characterized as Carmen Miranda while inrtepreta the song “Batuque do Morro” in scene in the movie Road to Rio, produced by Paramount Pictures in 1947.
In the Season 1 episode of I Love Lucy entitled “Be a Pal”, Lucille Ball does an imitation of Miranda in the episode in which she lip-syncs to a record of Carmen Miranda singing “Mama Yo Quiero”.
The animated cartoon “Chiquita Banana” was based on Miranda to promote the sale of that fruit in the United States.
The actress Carol Burnett if dresses like Carmen Miranda in an episode of the comedy The Carol Burnett Show in 1972.
In 1978 animators Don Duga and Irra Verbitsky used Miranda’s image for their parody called Fruta Manzana for the popular children’s television show Sesame Street.
In the film Radio Days 1987, the Brazilian actress Denise Dumont makes a small participation in who sings the song “Tico-Tico no Fubá”. The film also includes the song “South American Way”.
Helena Solberg made a documentary of Miranda’s life entitled Carmen Miranda:Bananas is my Business, in 1995.
Gal Costa appeared in the 1995 film The Mandarin (O Mandarim) as the singer Carmen Miranda.
In 2000, the internet cartoon Homestar Runner featured a character dressing up as Miranda and being mistaken for Chiquita Banana.
In Episode 10, Cycle 12 of America’s Next Top Model the models embodied Brazilian icon Carmen Miranda in a photoshoot.
Brazilian author Ruy Castro wrote a biography of Carmen Miranda entitled Carmen, published in 2005 in Brazil. This book has yet to appear in English.
In the TV-Show Modern Family Cameron disguises his two years old daughter Lily as Carmen Miranda for a photoshoot.
In the movie Gangster Squad, released in January 2013, Miranda is portrayed by Yvette Tucker performing in Slapsy Maxie’s nightclub.
In 2013, was released by publisher Palgrave Macmillan the book Carmen Miranda written by Lisa Shaw. This is the first book-length study of Carmen Miranda in English. It traces her origins as a radio singer, recording artist and film star in Brazil in the 1930s, before exploring in depth her Hollywood screen roles and the construction of her long-lasting star persona in the USA.
Miranda is represented in a quick scene in the movie Despicable Me 2 by one of the characters.
Music[edit]Brazilian singer Ney Matogrosso’s album Batuque, brings the period and several of Miranda’s early hits back to life in faithful style. Caetano Veloso paid tribute to Miranda for her early samba recordings made in Rio when he recorded “Disseram que Voltei Americanizada” on the live album Circuladô Vivo in 1992. He also examined her legacy of both kitsch and sincere samba artistry in an essay in the New York Times. Additionally, on one of Veloso’s most popular songs, “Tropicalia”, Veloso sings “Viva a banda da da da … Carmen Miranda da da da” as the final lyrics of the song.
Singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffett included a tribute to Carmen Miranda on his 1973 album A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean, entitled “They Don’t Dance Like Carmen No More.”
In the early 1970s a novelty act known as Daddy Dewdrop had a top 10 hit single in the US titled “Chick-A-Boom,” one of Miranda’s trademark song phrases, although the resemblance ended there.
In 1968, Maria Bethânia recorded a cover version of the song “Camisa Listrada” for his album Recital na Boite Barroco.
Gal Costa, recorded in 1975 the Marching of Carnival “O Balancê” of João de Barro and Alberto Ribeiro. Recorded by Carmen Miranda in 1936.
In 1973, the Brazilian singer Clara Nunes recorded the song “Ao voltar do samba” of Synval Silva and recorded by Miranda in 1934.
In 1989, Tom Jobim recorded the samba “Na Batucada da Vida” of Ary Barroso and Luiz Peixoto and recorded by Miranda in 1934.
The singer Rita Lee recorded a cover version of the song I Like You Very Much in the 1980s.
In 1989, Marisa Monte recorded a cover version of the song “South American Way” for his debut album MM.
Adriana Calcanhoto recorded in 1990 “Disseram que Voltei Americanizada” for your album “Enguiço”.
In 1995, the American singer Dionne Warwick recorded a cover version of the song “Na Baixa do Sapateiro” of Ary Barroso and recorded by Miranda in 1938.
In 1996, Chico Buarque and Maria Bethânia, recorded a cover version of the song “Quando Eu Penso na Bahia” of Ary Barroso and Luiz Peixoto and recorded by Carmen Miranda in 1937, she also was presented by Miranda in the movie Greenwich Village of 1944.
Pink Martini recorded “Tempo perdido” for their 2007 album Hey Eugene!.
Singer Leslie Fish wrote a song called “Carmen Miranda’s Ghost Is Haunting Space Station Three”, in which a space station is inundated with fresh fruit. A science fiction anthology later had the same title.
John Cale, a member of the Velvet Underground, issued a song called “The Soul of Carmen Miranda” on his album Words for the Dying.
In 2003, singer Ivete Sangalo recorded a cover version of the song “Chica Chica Boom Chic” for the DVD MTV ao Vivo.
The album of Daniela Mercury released in 2009, Canibália, has two tributes to Carmen Miranda: “O Que É Que A Baiana Tem,” a touching tribute with portions of Miranda’s original recording and a remake of “Tico Tico No Fubá,” a catchy tune that was one of Miranda’s first songs that became a hit in the US.

Edited by midlifefanclub on 9 Feb 2014, 11:29

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