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Carmen Miranda

Carmen Miranda, pron. , (February 9, 1909 – August 5, 1955); birth name Maria do Carmo Miranda da Cunha, GCIH) was a Portuguese-born Brazilian samba singer and motion picture star most active in the 1940s and 1950s. Famous for promoting Brazil all over the world, she was a Broadway star, the highest paid artist in Hollywood and the highest paid woman in the USA. She became best-known for her movie appearances, mostly musicals, wearing a hat with assorted tropical fruit on top, which has since become her iconic image.

Life and career

Carmen Miranda was born in the small northern Portuguese town of Marco de Canaveses to Portuguese parents. She was the second daughter of José Maria Pinto Cunha (1887 – 1938) and Maria Emília Miranda (1886 – 1971). Shortly after her birth, her father, José Maria, emigrated to Brazil and settled in Rio de Janeiro, then the capital of Brazil, where he opened a barber's shop. In 1910, her mother followed, together with her eldest daughter, Olinda, and Carmen. Carmen never returned to Portugal. Once in Brazil, her parents had further children, namely: Amaro (1911), Cecília (1913), Aurora (1915 – 2005) and Oscar (1916).

Carmen went to school at the Convent of Saint Therese of Lisieux. Her very Catholic parents did not approve of her dreams of pursuing show business, so she kept them secret for years. In her spare time, she often sang at parties and festivals around town. Carmen's sister, Olinda, contracted tuberculosis and returned to Portugal for treatment. Carmen got her first job, in a tie shop at age 14, to help pay for her sister's medical treatment. She later worked in a boutique, La Femme Chic, where she learned to make hats. In no time, she started her own small hat business which became quite profitable. Olinda, meanwhile, remained in Portugal until her death in 1931.

Before long, she was discovered and began singing on a local radio station. Ultimately, Carmen wound up with a recording contract with RCA. One thing led to another, and she pursued a career as a samba singer for 10 years before she was invited to New York City to perform in a show on Broadway. By 1928, she was a genuine superstar in Brazil. As with other popular singers of the era, Carmen eventually made her way into the film world. She made her debut in the Brazilian documentary "A Voz Do Carnaval". Two years later Carmen appeared in her first feature film entitled "Alo, Alo Brasil". But it was "Estudantes" that seemed to solidify Carmen in the minds of the movie-going public.

In Brazil, she was noted as a musical innovator, and was one of the first samba superstars long before her arrival in the United States. She also made six films in Brazil.

Carmen arrived in the United States in 1939 with her band, the Bando da Lua, and achieved stardom in the early 1940s. She was encouraged by the United States government in her American career 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. She was the country's highest-paid entertainer for several years in the 1940s, and in 1945, was the highest-paid woman in the United States, earning more than $200,000 that year, according to IRS records.

Against her parents' wishes, she married in March 17, 1947 a failed American movie producer called David Sebastian. He soon declared himself to be her "manager" and was responsible for many bad business deals. A heavy drinker, he got her into drinking as well and is accused of eventually being her downfall. In 1948 she became pregnant, but suffered a miscarriage after a show. The marriage only lasted a few months, but Carmen, who was Catholic, would not accept getting a divorce. Her sister Aurora later would state in the documentary "Bananas is my business" that "he was very rude, many times even hit her. The marriage was a burden in her life; he only married her for her money. He did not like our family".

Carmen made a total of 14 Hollywood films between 1940 and 1953. As a singer, she sold more than 10 million copies worldwide. . She was given the nickname "The Brazilian Bombshell".

Carmen’s Hollywood image was one of a generic Latinness that blurred the distinctions between Brazil, 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." At only 5 feet tall (1.52 m), these accoutrements made her appear almost larger-than-life on screen.

Career difficulties

She was well aware of the tensions in her career. During a visit to Brazil in 1940, she was heavily criticized for giving in to American commercialism and projecting a false image of Brazil. She responded 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 14 years.

Carmen did not drink or smoke until her late 30s. In addition to her addiction to alcohol and tobacco, Carmen regularly used amphetamines and barbiturates, all of which weakened her heart. Scared Stiff with Martin and Lewis was Miranda's final performance on the silver screen.


On August 4, 1955, Miranda suffered a heart attack during a segment of the live The Jimmy Durante Show, although she did not realize it at the time. 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. She laughed "I'm all out of breath" and Durante replied "Dat's OK, honey, I'll take yer lines!" Carmen laughed again, quickly pulled herself together and finished the show. At the end of the broadcast, she danced backwards out of the door, turned to the audience, blew a big kiss, and was gone for the last time.

"The Brazilian Bombshell" died early the following morning of heart failure at the age of 46. The A&E Network Biography episode about Miranda contained the final kinescope footage from her August 4 appearance.

The official cause of death given on Miranda's death certificate was untreated toxemia and heart failure. Her body was flown back to Brazil soon afterwards and the Brazilian government declared a period of national mourning. She was buried in the Cemitério São João Batista in Rio de Janeiro. Her funeral cortège, en route to the cemetery, was accompanied by about half a million people.


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

Helena Solberg made a documentary of her life, Carmen Miranda: Bananas Is My Business in 1995.

Carmen's enormous, fruit-laden hats are iconic visuals recognized around the world. These costumes lead 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 fondly 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 female impersonators and drag performers. The style was even emulated in animated cartoon shorts. The animation department at Warner Brothers seemed to be especially fond of the actress's image. Animator Virgil Ross used it in his short Slick Hare, featuring Bugs Bunny, who escapes from Elmer Fudd by hiding in the fruit hat. Bugsy 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. In 2000, the internet cartoon Homestar Runner featured a character dressing up as Miranda and being mistaken for Chiquita Banana.

Serious musical tributes and references are relatively infrequent. Brazilian singer Ney Matogrosso's album Batuque brings the period and several of Carmen's great early hits back to life in faithful style. Caetano Veloso paid tribute to Carmen out of love for her early samba recordings made in Rio when he recorded Disseram que eu voltei americanizada on the live album Circuladô Vivo in 1992. He also examined her iconic 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....Carmem 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 Carmen's trademark song phrases, although the resemblance ended there.

Brazilian author Ruy Castro wrote a monumental biography of Carmen Miranda entitled Carmen After Four Years of Interviews, published in 2005 in Brazil. This book has yet to appear in English.

Visitors to Rio de Janeiro can find a museum dedicated to Carmen Miranda 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.

A hot air balloon in her likeness was conceived in 1982 at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta by Jacques Soukup and Kirk Thomas. Named "Chic-I-Boom", the craft was built by Cameron England, and was the first special-shaped hot-air balloon ever to fly at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. The original Chic-I-Boom was retired from flight in 1996, and a new Chic-I-Boom was built by Aerostar. Chic-I-Boom's bananas are each 50 feet long.

The singer Leslie Fish created 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.

A suburb in Sydney, Australia called "Miranda" has a night club called "Carmens" thus being Carmens (in) Miranda.

Carmen Miranda Square

On September 25, 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 personal friends dating back to World War II. The effort was spearheaded by concert promoter Jean Chakanaka and Carmen Miranda's grandniece, Cheryl 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 Grauman'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.



Short Subjects:

  • Meet the Stars #5: Hollywood Meets the Navy (1941)
  • The All-Star Bond Rally (1945)


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