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Carmen Miranda

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Carmen Miranda - pseudonym of Maria do Carmo Miranda da Cunha (February 9, 1909 - August 5, 1955) was a Portuguese-Brazilian samba singer and motion picture star.

Life and careerEdit

Miranda reached her peak point of fame in the early 1940s. She arrived in the United States in 1939 and had become the country's highest paid entertainer by 1943. According to TV's The Biography Channel, Miranda was the highest paid woman in the United States in 1945, earning more than $200,000 that year. Miranda's Hollywood debut was Down Argentine Way where she had the chance to work with Betty Grable. Her last Hollywood movie was in 1953 in Scared Stiff with Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin.

Miranda was born in the small northern Portuguese town of Marco de Canaveses and went to school at the Convent of Saint Teresinha. Her very Catholic parents did not approve of her dreams of pursuing show business, so she kept it secret for years. In her spare time, she often sang at parties and festivals around the town where she was discovered and received the chance to perform on a local radio station.

She was noted as a musical innovator in Brazil, one of the first samba superstars long before her arrival in the US. However, her roles in US movies featured her as a stylized comic "South American" singer. She was given the nickname "The Brazilian Bombshell".

Miranda was often shown wearing platform sandals and towering headdresses made of fruit, becoming famous as "the lady in the tutti-frutti hat." At only 5 feet tall (152 cm), these accoutrements made her appear almost larger than life on screen. This image was much satirized and taken up as camp, even in animated cartoon shorts. The animation department at Warner Brothers seemed to be especially fond of the actress's image. Animator Virgil Ross used the image in the animated short Tropical Hare with Bugs Bunny who, appropriately enough, made his entrance as a stowaway in the fruit hat. The fruit hat was also featured in the Bugs Bunny cartoon Slick Hare, where Bugs sneaks out of Elmer Fudd's grasp by again hitching a ride in the hat. Today, the "Carmen Miranda" persona is a popular turn (or performance) for female impersonation and drag performance.

She was well aware of the tensions in her career. Her song, "Bananas Is My Business," was based on a line in one of her movies and directly addressed her image. A sour welcome back to Brazil in 1940 resulted in a response in Portuguese in a song called "Disseram Que Eu Voltei Americanizada," or "They Say I've Come Back Americanized." Helena Solberg made a documentary of her life, Carmen Miranda: Bananas Is My Business in 1995.

Miranda did not drink or smoke until her late 30s. In addition to her addiction to alcohol and tobacco, Miranda regularly used amphetamines and barbiturates, all of which weakened her heart.

She died of a heart attack following an appearance on The Jimmy Durante Show. The A&E Network Biography episode featuring Miranda contained the tragic kinescope footage from her August 4 appearance. After completing a dance number, Miranda unknowingly suffered a mild heart attack, and nearly collapsed. Durante was at her side, and helped keep her on her feet. Miranda then smiled, waved to the crowd, and walked offstage for the last time. "The Brazilian Bombshell" was gone by the next morning; she was just 46.

Although she was addicted to prescription medications, Miranda did not use cocaine nor carry the drug in her platform shoes as documented in the controversial book, "Hollywood Babylon". Her body was flown back to Brazil soon afterwards and the Brazilian government declared a period of national mourning. She was interred in the Cemitério São João Batista in Rio de Janeiro.

Miranda's personal physician was Dr. M. Barryman, the father of actor Michael Barryman. Dr. Barryman would later sign Miranda's death certificate. The official cause of death was from untreated toxemia (later known as pre-eclampsia), and heart failure stemming from a pregnancy.

Hollywood tributeEdit

On September 25, 1998, a city square in Hollywood was named Carmen Miranda Square in a ceremony headed by longtime honorary Hollywood mayor Johnny Grant who was also one of the singer's personal friends dating back to World War II. The effort was spearheaded by Native American concert promoter Jean Chakanaka and Carmen Miranda's Brazilian-born grandniece, Cheryl Miranda Cunha, herself a songwriter, singer and performer who adopted the stage name "Miranda" and performs many of her aunt's songs in tribute. 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 Mann's Chinese Theater. The location is especially noteworthy not only since Carmen Miranda's footprints are preserved in concrete at the Chinese Theater's famous collection, 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.

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

FilmographyEdit

ReferencesEdit

  • Tobar, Hector. Los Angeles Times, September 26, 1998. "City Squares Bring Lives Full Circle"

External linksEdit

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