Carmen Miranda

This name uses Portuguese naming customs. The first or maternal family name is Miranda and the second or paternal family name is da Cunha.
Carmen Miranda

Miranda, published by New York Sunday News (1941)
Born Maria do Carmo Miranda da Cunha
(1909-02-09)9 February 1909
Marco de Canaveses, Portugal
Died 5 August 1955(1955-08-05) (aged 46)
Beverly Hills, California, U.S.
Cause of death Heart Attack
Resting place São João Batista Cemetery, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Other names The Brazilian Bombshell
The Chiquita Banana Girl
A Pequena Notável (in Brazil)
Education Convent of Saint Therese of Lisieux
Occupation Singer, dancer, actress
Years active 1928–1955
Spouse(s) David Alfred Sebastian (m. 1947–55) (her death)
Cursive signature in ink

Carmen Miranda, GCIHOMC[1] (Portuguese pronunciation: [ˈkaɾmẽȷ̃ miˈɾɐ̃dɐ], February 9, 1909 – August 5, 1955) was a Luso-Brazilian[2] samba singer, dancer, Broadway actress, and film star who was popular from the 1930s to the 1950s.

Miranda became a popular radio and film star in Brazil in the late 1920s. Her first albums soon made her a national star. Miranda's career in Brazil as a singer of samba was established in the 1920s and 1930s, when she recorded gramophone records, performed regularly on the radio stations of Rio de Janeiro, and was featured in many of the first sound films or chanchadas made in Brazil. By the mid-1930s she had become the most popular female Brazilian singer.[3] Lee Shubert, a Broadway businessman, offered Carmen Miranda an eight-week contract to perform in The Streets of Paris on Broadway after seeing her perform in a casino in Urca, Rio de Janeiro in 1939.[4]

In 1940, she made her first Hollywood film, Down Argentine Way, with Don Ameche and Betty Grable; her exotic clothing and Latin accent became her trademark.[5] In the same year, she was voted the third most popular personality in the United States, and was invited to sing and dance for President Franklin Roosevelt, along with her group, Bando da Lua.[6] Nicknamed "The Brazilian Bombshell",[7][8] Carmen 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.[9]

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.[10]

Carmen Miranda was the first Latin American star to be invited to imprint her hands and feet in the courtyard of Grauman's Chinese Theatre, in 1941. She became the first South American to be honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.[11] She is considered the precursor of Brazil's Tropicalismo cultural movement of the 1960s.[12] A museum was later constructed in Rio de Janeiro in her honor,[13] and in 1995 she was the subject of the acclaimed documentary Carmen Miranda: Bananas is My Business.[14]

Early life

Travessa do Comércio in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a lively pedestrian street lined with bars, cafes and restaurants. Carmen Miranda lived at No. 13 during her youth.[15]

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.[16] She was the second daughter of José Maria Pinto da Cunha (17 February 1887 – 21 June 1938) and Maria Emília Miranda (10 March 1886 – Rio de Janeiro, 9 November 1971).[17] In 1909 when she was ten months old, her father emigrated alone to Brazil[18] and settled in Rio de Janeiro, where he opened a barber shop. Her mother followed in 1910 with their daughters Olinda (1907–1931) and Maria do Carmo. Maria do Carmo, later Carmen, never returned to Portugal, but retained her Portuguese nationality. In Brazil, her parents had four more children: Amaro (1911), Cecília (1913–2011), Aurora (1915–2005) and Óscar (1916).[17]

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.[18] 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.


Brazilian career

Chegou a hora da fogueira
Carmen Miranda and Mário Reis, released in 1933

Alô... Alô?
Carmen Miranda and Mário Reis, released in 1934

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Carmen Miranda around 1930

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. The following year, she recorded (Taí, Eu fiz Tudo) Prá Você Gostar de Mim (also known as Taí) written by Joubert de Carvalho and became the most popular singing star in Brazil, a position she would maintain throughout the 1930s.[19]

The increasing commercialization of popular music helped make Carmen Miranda the first truly national pop icon in Brazil's history. In November 1930, Miranda negotiated a recording contract with RCA Victor, the Brazilian subsidiary of the American music conglomerate. In 1933 went on to sign a two-year contract with Rádio Mayrink Veiga, the most popular station in the 1930s, becoming the first contract singer in the radio industry history of Brazil (though for a year – 1937 – she moved over to Radio Tupi). Later she signed a contract with record label Odeon.[20]

Miranda's rise to Brazilian stardom was intricately linked to the growing popularity of a distinctly Brazilian style of music: the samba. The expansion of the samba, and of Miranda's popularity, was greatly supportive of the refiguring of Brazilian nationalism during the regime of President Getúlio Vargas.[21] Such was her gracefulness and vitality, as apparent in her recordings as in her live performances, that she was immediately dubbed "Cantora do It"; later she became "Ditadora Risonha do Samba", and then, in 1933, the radio announcer Cesar Ladeira gave her a lasting moniker: "A Pequena Notável".

Her film career in Brazil was closely bound up with genre of musical films that drew on the nation's carnival traditions, and the annual celebrations and musical style of the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil's then capital, in particular. She performed a musical number in O Carnaval Cantado no Rio (1932), the first sound documentary on this popular theme, and three songs in A Voz do Carnaval (1933), which combined real footage of street carnival celebrations in Rio with a fictitious plot that provided endless pretexts for carnival musical numbers.

Carmen's next screen performance was in the musical Hello, Hello Brazil! (1935), and her proven star status in the world of popular music was reflected in the fact that she was chosen to provide the closing number of the film, the marcha "Primavera no Rio", which she had recorded on the Victor record label in August 1934. By all accounts, in Hello, Hello Brazil! Miranda stole the show with this performance and the head of the Cinédia studios, Adhemar Gonzaga, decided to make it the musical finale of the film, rather than a number by the leading male singer of the era, Francisco Alves, as had been planned. A few months after the release of film, Cinearte magazine stated "Carmen Miranda is currently the most popular figure in Brazilian cinema, judging by the sizeable correspondence that she receives".[22]

In her next film, Estudantes (1935), Carmen Miranda was given a narrative role for the first time. In this musical comedy, Miranda played Mimi, a young radio singer (who performs two numbers in the film), who falls in love with a university student played by the singer Mário Reis.

Brazilian movie Hello, Hello, Carnival! (1936)

Carmen was central to the success of the next co-production from the Waldow and Cinédia studios, the musical Hello, Hello, Carnival! (1936), which featured a roll call of star performers from the world of popular music and the radio, including Carmen's sister, Aurora Miranda. The backstage standards plot provided the pretext for the inclusion of 23 musical numbers, and by the Brazilian standards of the time Hello, Hello, Carnival! was a major production. The set reproduced the interior of Rio's plush Atlântico casino, where some of the scenes were shot, and the backdrops for certain musical numbers.[23] Miranda clearly played a pivotal role in attracting mass audiences, as is evidenced by a poster advertising the film which includes just one image, a full-length photograph of her, seemingly supporting a large placard listing the cast members, with her name at the top.[24]

During her later career, Miranda would become primarily identified with her colorful fruit-hat costume and image, though 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.[25][26][27]

In 1939 the Broadway impresario Lee Shubert visited Rio de Janeiro and witnessed the Brazilian sensation in action after seeing Miranda's extravagant stage show at the "Cassino da Urca". Shubert immediately offered her a contract to perform in his summer musical, The Streets of Paris.[28] Although she was intrigued by the possibility of performing in New York, Miranda refused to accept the deal unless Shubert agreed to also hire her band, the "Bando da Lua". The impresario refused, saying that there were plenty of great musicians in New York who could back her. But Miranda remained steadfast. She felt that North American musicians would not be able to authentically create the sounds of Brazil. As a compromise, Shubert agreed to hire the six band members, but he would not pay for their transport to New York. At this point, President Vargas, realizing the propaganda value of Miranda's tour, stepped in and announced that the Brazilian government would sponsor the band by providing free tickets on the Moore-McCormack Lines between Rio and New York.[29]

He believed that Carmen Miranda would foster greater ties between northern and southern hemispheres and serve as an Ambassadress of Brazil in the United States. This could benefit Brazil economically by increasing its share of the American coffee market. Miranda took very seriously the official sanction of her trip and her duty of representing Brazil to the outside world. She departed to New York aboard ship SS Uruguay on May 4, 1939, on the eve of World War II.[30]

American stage and films

Bud Abbott (left) and Lou Costello with Carmen Miranda

Miranda arrived in New York on 18 May.[31] She and the band made their first Broadway performance on 19 June 1939, in The Streets of Paris.[32] Although her part was small (she only spoke four words), Miranda received good reviews and became a media sensation.[33] According to the New York Times theater critic Brooks Atkinson, most of the musical numbers "ap[e] the tawdry dullness" of genuine Paris revues, and "the chorus girls, skin-deep in atmosphere, strike what Broadway thinks a Paris pose ought to be". Atkinson continues, "South American contributes the most magnetic personality" of the revue. Carmen Miranda, singing "rapid-rhythmed songs to the accompaniment of a Brazilian band, she radiates heat that will tax the Broadhurst [theater] air-conditioning plant this Summer". Though Atkinson finds the bulk of the musical numbers forgettable he tells his readers that Miranda makes the show.[34][35][36]

The columnist Walter Winchell reported in the Daily Mirror, in a column syndicated to newspapers all over the USA, that a new star had been born who would save Broadway from the slump in ticket sales caused by the popularity of the New York World's Fair of 1939. Winchell's praise for Carmen and her Bando da Lua was repeated on his daily show on the ABC radio network, which reached 55 million listeners.[37] The press lauded Miranda as "the girl who saved Broadway from the World's Fair".[38] Her fame grew quickly, she having been formally presented to President Franklin D. Roosevelt at a White House banquet shortly after her arrival.

Life magazine's reviewer noted:

Partly because their unusual melody and heavy accented rhythms are unlike anything ever heard in a Manhattan revue before, partly because there is not a clue to their meaning except the gay rolling of Carmen Miranda's insinuating eyes, these songs, and Miranda herself, are the outstanding hit of the show.[39]

Time Magazine dubbed her the "oomph that stops the show". One critic summed up her surprising appeal: "she is the biggest theatrical sensation of the year".

As soon as news of Broadway's latest star, the so-called "Brazilian Bombshell", reached Hollywood, Twentieth Century-Fox began to develop a film to feature Carmen Miranda. The working title of the project was The South American Way - the title of one of the songs she had performed in the Broadway in New York - and her performances in what would be later titled Down Argentine Way (1940). Although the film's production and cast were based in Los Angeles, Miranda's scenes were filmed in New York City due to her obligation to perform for a club there. Fox was able to combine the footage from both cities because Miranda has no on-screen dialogue with other cast members.[40][41][42][43] The film was a great success and grossed $2 million that year in the American market.[44]

The Shuberts brought Carmen back to Broadway, teaming her with Olsen and Johnson, Ella Logan, the Blackburn Twins, and others in the musical revue Sons o' Fun on 1 December 1941.[45] The show was a hodgepodge of slapstick, songs, and skits. According to the New York Herald Tribune theater critic Richard Watts Jr., "In her eccentric and highly personalized fashion, Miss Miranda is by way of being an artist and her numbers give the show its one touch of distinction." On 1 June 1942, she left the production; her Shubert contract had expired. Meanwhile she made recordings for Decca Records.[46]

Miranda 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.[47] Miranda's contract with 20th Century Fox lasted from 1941 to 1946; this period coincides with the time of World War II (1939–1945) and the creation in 1940 of the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs (OCIAA), based in Rio de Janeiro, whose goal was to obtain support from governments and Latin American societies for the cause of the United States.[48]

The interference was linked to the Good Neighbor policy and Roosevelt sought to forge better diplomatic relations with Brazil and other South American nations, and pledged to refrain from further military intervention, which has 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.[49]


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!"[50]

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 press criticized her for being "too Americanized".[50]

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.

The Shamrock Hotel Program and Menu – Carmen Miranda (Houston, Texas, 26 February 1952)

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".[51] Similar sentiments arose in Cuba after 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.[52]

Peak years

Carmen Miranda alongside Don Ameche to a scene in the movie That Night in Rio (1941)
Miranda became one of the first Latinas to leave her hand and footprints in the sidewalk of Grauman's Chinese Theater

The war years saw Carmen Miranda starring in eight of her fourteen films and, although the studios labelled her the "Brazilian Bombshell", the films tended to blur her Brazilian identity in favor of a generalized Latin American image.[53]

In reviewing Miranda’s second Hollywood picture That Night in Rio (1941), directed by Irving Cummings, Variety pointed out how Miranda’s ostensibly supporting character upstaged the supposed leads: “[Don] Ameche is very capable in a dual role, and Miss [Alice] Faye is eye-appealing but it’s the tempestuous Miranda who really gets away to a flying start from the first sequence.”[54] The New York Times wrote: "whenever one or the other Ameche character gets out of the way and lets her [Carmen Miranda] have the screen, the film sizzles and wickedly scorchers."[55] Years later, Clive Hirschhorn wrote that "That Night in Rio was the quintessential Fox war-time musical – an over-blown, over-dressed, over-produced and thoroughly irresistible cornucopia of escapist ingredients."[56]

On 24 March 1941, Carmen Miranda became one of the first Latinas to leave her hand and footprints in the sidewalk of Grauman's Chinese Theater.

His next film, Week-End in Havana was directed by Walter Lang with William LeBaron as producer. The cast included Alice Faye, John Payne and Cesar Romero. After this third effort to activate the "Latin hot blood", Fox was dubbed by Bosley Crowther of "Hollywood's best good neighbor".[57] In its release week, the film went to the top of the box office and topped the now-classic Citizen Kane, which was in its second week of release.[58]

In 1942, 20th Century-Fox paid sixty thousand dollars to Lee Shubert to end her contract with Miranda. She finished her Sons o' Fun tour and began filming Springtime in the Rockies with Fox.[59] It grossed about $2 million mark, staying among the ten most successful films at the box office in 1942.[60] The film reviewed by the Chicago Tribune as “senseless, but eye intriguing… The basic plot is splashed over with songs and dances and the mouthings and eye and hand work of Carmen Miranda, who sure would be up a tree if she ever had to sing in the dark.”[61]

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, "I Make My Money With Bananas" seemed to pay somewhat ironic tribute to her typecasting. The film was included among the 10 highest-grossing films of that year, and Fox's most expensive production in 1943,[62] and received positive reviews at its premiere, although The New York Times' film critic mused about the Freudian suggestions of All Those bananas, "Mr. Berkeley has some sly notions under his busby. One or two of his dance spectacles seem to stem straight from Freud."[63]

The following year, Miranda made a cameo appearance in Four Jills in a Jeep, a B movie, based on a true adventure of the actresses Kay Francis, Carole Landis, Martha Raye and Mitzi Mayfair. The film also has the participation of Alice Faye and Betty Grable in short appearances.

In 1944, Miranda starred with Don Ameche, Greenwich Village, a Fox musical with William Bendix and Vivian Blaine in supporting roles. The movie attracted bad reviews from the press. The New York Times wrote that “Technicolor is the picture's chief asset, but still worth a look for the presence of Carmen Miranda”[64] and Peggy Simmonds, in his review for The Miami News said "Fortunately for Greenwich Village, the picture is made in Technicolor and has Carmen Miranda. Unfortunately for Carmen Miranda, the production doesn't do her justice, the overall effect is disappointing, but still she sparkles the picture whenever she appears."[65] Besides that Greenwich Village did not manage to bring the box office numbers that Fox and Miranda had expected from the Technicolor musical.

The third film with Carmen Miranda released in 1944 was Something for the Boys, a musical comedy based on an eponymous Broadway musical, starring Ethel Merman with Cole Porter's songs. This would be the first of her films without William LeBaron or Darryl F. Zanuck as a producer. The person responsible for production was Irving Starr, charge of the second line of studio movies. For magazine Time, the film “turns out to have nothing very remarkable. There is not Carmen Miranda”.[66]

By 1945, she had become Hollywood's highest-paid entertainer and top female taxpayer in the United States, earning more than $200,000 that year ($2.2 million in 2010 adjusted for inflation).[67]


Doll Face (1946), Miranda's first black-and-white movie for Fox.

After World War II, Carmen's films at Fox were made on black-and-white stock, reflecting Hollywood's diminishing interest in her and in the portrayal of Latin Americans in general, in keeping with the demise of the now strategically unnecessary "Good Neighbor policy". A monochrome Carmen was not what audiences expected, and it undoubtedly contributed to reducing the box-office appeal of the backstage musical, Doll Face (1945), in which she was demoted to fourth on the bill. She plays the character Chita Chula, billed in the show-within-the-film as "the little lady from Brazil", an endlessly cheerful comic sidekick to leading lady, Doll Face played by Vivian Blaine, and she is given only one musical number and little dialogue.[68] The New York Herald Tribune alerted, "Carmen Miranda does what she always does, only not well,"[69] and The Sydney Morning Herald wrote that "Carmen Miranda appears in a straight part with only one singing number. The innovation is not a success, but the fault is the director's not Carmen's."[70]

In her follow-up movie for Fox, made when she was no longer under contract, If I'm Lucky (1946), Carmen was again fourth on the bill, and all the stock elements of her screen persona are firmly in evidence: heavily accented English, comic malapropisms, and bizarre hairstyles that recreate her famous turbans.[71]

When Carmen's contract with 20th Century Fox expired on January 1, 1946, she made the decision to pursue her acting career free of the constraints of the studios. Her ambition was to play a genuinely leading role and to show off her comic skills, which she sets out to do in the independent production for United Artists, Copacabana (1947) alongside Groucho Marx.[72] While the films were modest hits, film critics and the American public did not accept Miranda's new image.[71]

Though her film career was faltering, Miranda's music career remained solid, and she was still a popular attraction at nightclubs.[73] 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 Le Gusta", was the most popular (a best-selling record and a number-twelve Billboard hit). "The Wedding Samba" (#23) followed in 1950.[74]

Andy Russell and Carmen Miranda in Copacabana (1947)

After Copacabana, Joe Pasternak invited Carmen to make two Technicolor musicals for the MGM studios, A Date with Judy (1948) and Nancy Goes to Rio (1950). With the first of these two productions, MGM set out to portray a different image of the star, allowing her to take off her turban and reveal her own hair, styled by the legendary coiffeur Sydney Guilaroff, and set off by make-up by the equally renowned make-up artist Jack Dawn. Carmen's wardrobe for the film eschewed "baiana" outfits, and instead included elegant dresses and hats designed by Helen Rose. She was clearly no longer the star attraction, however, appearing as fourth on the bill, in the role of Rosita Cochellas, a rumba teacher, who makes her first appearance on-screen some 40 minutes into the film and has little dialogue. In spite of the best efforts of MGM to introduce innovations into her star text, her roles in both productions were peripheral, and largely watered-down caricatures of her earlier screen performances in Hollywood, which relied heavily on fractured English and over-the-top musical and dance numbers.[75]

In her last film, Scared Stiff (1953), a Paramount production in which she appears alongside Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Carmen's scopic appeal was once again diminished by black-and-white film stock. Returning full-circle to her very first Hollywood film, Down Argentine Way, Carmen had virtually no narrative function in the film. A further slight comes in the form of Jerry Lewis's parody of her, as he mimes intentionally badly to her well-known song "Mamãe Eu Quero", which is playing on a scratched record, and eats a banana that he plucks from his turban. Similarly, Carmen, in the role of Carmelita Castilha, a Brazilian showgirl on a cruise ship, gives performances that verge on the self-parodic, with the variations on the "baiana" costume taken to absurd extremes.

In April 1953, Carmen Miranda embarked on a four-month European tour. While performing in Cincinnati in October 1953, Miranda collapsed from exhaustion, she was rushed to LeRoy Sanitarium by her husband Dave Sebastian and has canceled your following presentations.[76] She began suffering from acute depression, and underwent electroshock therapy, and when that failed to cure her, her physician suggested a return visit to Brazil. According to Bananas Is My Business, her family blamed a troubled and abusive marriage for Miranda's nervous breakdown, forcing her to return to Rio de Janeiro to recuperate from acute depression and anxiety, before heading back, once again, to the U.S. to resume her celebrity career in 1955. She stayed four months in Brazil. Recovered, Miranda returned to the United States on April 4, 1955.

Personal life

Carmen Miranda's husband, David Sebastian[77]

In 1947, to achieve more creative freedom in a film she was making, Carmen decided to produce her own film. It was called Copacabana and she played opposite Groucho Marx. The budget was divided into around ten sponsors' quotas. A Texan investor, who held one of the quotas, sent his brother David Sebastian (23 November 1907 – 2 August 1990) to keep an eye on Carmen and look after his interests on the film set. His position allowed him to get close to Carmen and they started to date.

Carmen Miranda and David Sebastian married on 17 March 1947. The ceremony was performed at the Catholic Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills with the Right Rev Patrick J. Concannon officiating.[77] In 1948 she became pregnant, but suffered a miscarriage after a show. The marriage lasted only a few months, but Carmen, who was Catholic, would not accept getting a divorce. Her sister Aurora Miranda later would state in the documentary Bananas is My Business that "he married her for selfish reasons, she got very sick after she married and lived with a lot of depression".[78] The couple announced their separation in September 1949. But they reconciled months later.[79]

Carmen Miranda was always very discreet in their relationships and little is known about her private life. Before leaving for the United States and before meeting her husband, she had a relationship with the young Mario Cunha and bon vivant Carlos da Rocha Faria, son of a traditional family of Rio de Janeiro, and also the musician Aloysio de Oliveira, one of the "Bando da Lua" members. In the US, she maintained relationships with the actor John Payne, Mexican actor Arturo de Córdova, Dana Andrews, Harold Young, John Wayne, Donald Buka and the Brazilian Carlos Niemeyer.[80]

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.[81]


The grave of Carmen Miranda in São João Batista Cemetery in Rio de Janeiro
Carmen Miranda's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

In April 1955, Carmen performed at the New Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas, and in July, in Cuba. Thereafter, she returned to Los Angeles to recuperate from a recurring bronchial ailment.[82]

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 told her I'll take her lines. But she goes ahead with 'em. We finished work about 11 o'clock and she seemed happy."[83][84]

After the last take, Miranda and Durante staged an impromptu performance on the set for the cast and technicians. And the singer took several members of the cast and some friends home with her for a small party. It was about 3 a.m. when she climbed the stairs to bed. Miranda removed her clothing, placed her platform shoes in a corner, lit a cigarette and placed it in an ash tray and went into her bathroom to fix her face for the night. She apparently came from the bathroom with a small, circular mirror in her hand and in the small hall that lead to her bedroom, she toppled to the floor and suffered a fatal heart attack. She was just 46 years old.[83][85] Her body was found at about 10:30 a.m. lying in the hallway.[86]

The Jimmy Durante Show episode in which Miranda appeared was aired two months after her death, on 15 October 1955.[87] A clip of the episode was also included in the A&E Network's Biography episode about Miranda.[88][89]

Funeral and burial

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.[90] A crowd of about 60,000 people attended her mourning ceremony at the Rio town hall,[18] and more than half a million Brazilians escorted the funeral cortège to her resting place.[91][92]

She is buried in São João Batista Cemetery in Rio de Janeiro.[93][94] In 1956, all her belongings were donated by her husband and family for the creation of Carmen Miranda Museum, which opened its doors in Rio on 5 August 1976.

For her contributions to the television industry, Carmen Miranda has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at the south side of the 6262 block of Hollywood Boulevard.[95][96]


Miranda in an advertisement for General Electric in issue of The Saturday Evening Post (1945).

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".[97] 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. In fact, the Bonwit Teller store even created mannequins with faces and poses copied directly from Miranda’s for their window displays.[98] 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.

Carmen’s tutti-frutti hat from The Gang's All Here of 1943 inspired the United Fruit Co.’s Chiquita Banana logo the following year. In the 1960s, tropicália film makers in Brazil were fascinated and deeply influenced by her Hollywood movies.[99]

In 2009, Miranda was theme of São Paulo Fashion Week and of short film called "Tutti Frutti " from the German photographer Ellen von Unwerth.[100][101] In the 40s, she was criticized for misrepresenting the Brazilian culture. Regardless, Carmen Miranda both helped to popularize samba internationally and served as a source of inspiration for designers to this day—Jean Paul Gaultier, Pedro Lourenço, and Marc Jacobs, to name a few.[102] In her second runway show in London, titled Let's Go Bananas!, Charlotte Olympia took as her muse Carmen Miranda.

Her image was much satirized and taken up as camp, and today, the "Carmen Miranda" persona is popular among drag performers. Today, "Carmen Miranda Administração e Licenciamentos" is the company in charge of protecting and managing Miranda’s artistic estate.[103]


Daffy Duck as Miranda in Yankee Doodle Daffy, 1943.
Carmen Miranda's handprints and footprints at Grauman's Chinese Theater.
Facade of the new Museu da Imagem e do Som do Rio de Janeiro (Rio de Janeiro Museum of Image and Sound), located on Copacabana Beach, in June 2014. The new building will house all of the Carmen Miranda Museum's collection.

The Brazilian musician Caetano Veloso, who is largely responsible for resurrecting Carmen Miranda as a Brazilian icon during the 1960s, has this to say about her legacy in an article for the New York Times: "For generations of musicians who were adolescents in the second half of the 1950s and became adults at the height of the Brazilian military dictatorship and the international wave of counterculture-my generation-Carmen Miranda was first a cause of both pride and shame, and later, a symbol that inspired the merciless gaze we began to cast upon ourselves, Carmen conquered 'white' America as no other South American has done or ever would, in an era when it was enough to be 'recognizable Latin and Negroid' in style and aesthetics to attract attention." For Veloso and other musicians contemplating a career abroad, Miranda's pioneering experiences continue to loom as a point of reference. Miranda helped establish and transform the relationship between Brazilian musicians and American producers that now has created several remarkable transnational collaborations. In Veloso's words: "To think of her is to think about the complexity of this relationship".[104]

When Carmen Miranda died in 1955, her popularity abroad was greater than in Brazil. Nonetheless, her contributions to the music and culture of Brazil should not be overlooked. Although she was accused of peddling Brazilian music and dance in a highly commercialized format, Carmen Miranda can be credited with bringing Brazil's national music, the samba, to a worldwide audience. In addition, she introduced the image of the baiana with wide skirts and turbaned headdress as the "showgirl" of Brazil at home and abroad. The baiana costume was adopted as the central feature of Carnival for women and, especially, for men, who famously dress up in elaborate Carmen Miranda style and parade through the streets of Brazil's cities during Carnival.[105]

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 in Hollywood. She is listed by the American Film Institute as one of the "500 great legends of Cinema".[106]

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 handprints and footprints are preserved in concrete at Grauman's Chinese Theatre, but in remembrance of an impromptu performance at a nearby Hollywood Boulevard intersection on V-J Day.[107][108]

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.

Exhibition at the Fashion Rio in 2011.

In honor of the 50th anniversary of the great star's death, many events were held in Brazil, including an exhibition, "Carmen Miranda Forever", that was initially mounted at the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro in November 2005 and traveled to a number of Brazilian cities in 2006.[109][110][111] 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."[112]

In 2009, the recording of "O que é que a baiana tem?" by Dorival Caymmi, sung by Miranda in 1939, was selected for preservation in the Library of Congress. The recording helped to introduce both the samba rhythm and Carmen Miranda to American audiences. It was also the first recording of a song by Caymmi, who went on to become a major composer and performer.[113]

In 2011, along with Selena, Celia Cruz, Carlos Gardel 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 Relations and Public Policy for the U.S. Postal Service.[114][115]

In 2014, Down Argentine Way and The Gang's All Here were deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.[116]

At the Closing Ceremony of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, there was a special tribute to Carmen Miranda before the athletes' parade, featuring singer Roberta Sá playing Miranda.[117]




Covers of Carmen Miranda songs

Miranda's songs "Disseram que Voltei Americanizada", "I, Yi, Yi, Yi, Yi (I Like You Very Much)", "South American Way" and "Tico-Tico no Fubá" have each been covered many times, often in tribute to her; see those songs' articles for information on other recordings.

Other musical references

Other references


Year Title Role Notes
1933 A Voz do Carnaval Herself at Rádio Mayrink Veiga
1935 Hello, Hello Brazil!
1935 Estudantes Mimi
1936 Hello, Hello, Carnival!
1939 Banana da Terra
1940 Laranja da China
1940 Down Argentine Way Herself
1941 That Night in Rio Carmen
1941 Week-End in Havana Rosita Rivas
1941 Meet the Stars #5: Hollywood Meets the Navy Herself Short subject
1942 Springtime in the Rockies Rosita Murphy
1943 The Gang's All Here Dorita Alternative title: The Girls He Left Behind
1944 Greenwich Village Princess Querida
1944 Something for the Boys Chiquita Hart
1944 Four Jills in a Jeep Herself
1944 Sing With the Stars[133] Herself Short film
1945 The All-Star Bond Rally Herself (Pinup girl)
1945 Doll Face Chita Chula Alternative title: Come Back to Me
1946 If I'm Lucky Michelle O'Toole
1947 Copacabana Carmen Novarro/Mademoiselle Fifi
1947 "Slick Hare" Herself Voice
1948 A Date with Judy Rosita Cochellas
1949 The Ed Wynn Show Herself Episode #1.2
1949 to 1952 Texaco Star Theater Herself 4 episodes
1950 Nancy Goes to Rio Marina Rodrigues
1951 Don McNeill's TV Club Herself Episode #1.25
1951 What's My Line? Mystery Guest 18 November 1951 episode
1951 to 1952 The Colgate Comedy Hour Herself 3 episodes
1951 to 1953 All-Star Revue Herself 2 episodes
1953 Scared Stiff Carmelita Castinha
1953 Toast of the Town Herself Episode #7.1
1955 The Jimmy Durante Show Herself Episode #2.2
1995 Carmen Miranda: Bananas is My Business Herself Archive footage


Brazilian singles


American singles


See also


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Works cited


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