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Think About It!

The Arts

Carmen Miranda: The brazilian bombshell


At the age of seven, Carmen started attending the Santa Teresa School in Lapa, Rio de Janeiro, which had been built for the poor children of the region. When Carmen was 14, her sister Olinda caught tuberculosis. Since the treatment was expensive, Carmen started working in a tie shop to help pay for medication. Afterwards she started working in a boutique called La Femme Chic, where she learned how to make hats. In no time she started her own small business making hats, and it became so profitable that her brother Mario quit his job to help Carmen deliver the hats she made.

In 1926 at the age of 17, Carmen already had acting in mind. She would perform at family parties and participate in some small motion pictures. In 1928, Aníbal Duarte, a Brazilian Member of Parliament, who used to have lunch at the small Inn run by Maria Emília Miranda, introduced Carmen to Josué de Barros. Josué worked at a local radio station, where he took Carmen to sing. He wanted to listen to her voice on record, so he introduced her to the director of the Brunswick record company. In 1929 she recorded her first song – the Samba Não vá Simbora, with lyrics by Josué. Carmen was later introduced to the director of another record company RCA Victor, where she started her career recording Dona Balbina and Triste Jandaia. A few months later she recorded Barucuntum and Laiá Ioiô.
he famous Brazilian composer and doctor Joubert de Carvalho, heard Carmen sing Triste Jandaia while walking by Gonçalves Dias street, a famous meeting point for musicians at the time. He insisted that someone introduce her to him. Coincidently Carmen showed up at that exact time. Once they were introduced, Joubert said he wanted to compose something special for her. He wrote Taí, which sold 35 thousand copies in the year it was released, a record for the time. The song was such a success that the famous Brazilian soft drink Guaraná Taí was named after it.
On August 1, 1930, Carmen Miranda signed a two year contract with record company RCA Victor with all-exclusive rights, including the use of Carmen’s image in add campaigns and in the release of her records. In September of the same year, Carmen starred in the theatrical production Vai dar o que Falar. The critics had only good things to say about Carmen’s performance as well as that of her collegue, Raul Veroni.
In 1932 Carmen appeared in her first movie O Carnaval Cantado no Rio by Vital Ramos Castro production. A year later, she starred in A Voz do Carnaval, a semi-documentary about Carmen with scenes of the Carnaval linked with scenes in the studio. In August 1993, the singer signed a two year contract with Mayrink Veiga radio and also received the nickname of A Pequena Notável.
In February and June of 1935, Carmen was starring in two movies: Alô Alô Brasil!, with her sister Aurora and Estudantes. In Estudantes the singer made her debut as an actress, not just a singer. Between the two movies, Carmen initiated a million dollar contract with Odeon record company and traveled to Buenos Aires on business for Belgrano radio. In January 1936 Carmen successfully performed at the Copacabana Cassino and starred in her forth movie Alô Alô Carnaval with her sister Aurora. That winter Carmen made her debut at radio Tupi, signed a million dollar contract and broke the one she had with Mayring Veiga radio, making her the most expensive radio singer in Brazil. Two weeks later she performed with her sister Aurora at the sophisticated Urca Cassino, and repeated the act in February 1937.
On February 10, 1939, Carmen starred in her sixth movie, Banana da Terra. She wore her famous baiana costume that made the song O que é que a baiana tem? famous. During that same month, figure skating champion Sonja Henie and theatrical producer Lee Shunert arrived in Rio de Janeiro. They went to the Urca Cassino to see Carmen perform with her baiana costume and were fascinated by her. Sonja invited Carmen to perform in Broadway. She broke her contract with Urca Cassino and separated amicably. On May 4, 1939, she traveled to the United States with her band Bando da Lua.
Carmen’s initial agreement with Shubert was an eight week contract for her to act in the Broadway production, Streets of Paris, which had various acts from different countries around the world. On May 29, she made her first appearance to the American public. The people sympathized with her, especially due to her strong accent and mispronunciation of the English language. In no time Carmen made headlines in newspapers and magazines throughout the United States. Saks Fifth Avenue made millions selling licensed accessories of the actress. Her success was so immediate that she was able to send her family $40,000 during her first year.
In 1940, 20th Century Fox approached Carmen and invited her to star in the movie Down Argentine Way in New York. The movie was criticized in Brazil and forbidden in Argentina, since it showed the country in a ridiculous way. However, it was a great success with the American public. During the same year Carmen spent a few months in Brazil. She attended her sister Aurora’s wedding and performed at the Urca Cassino. But the actress received a few bad criticisms from journalists, who said she had returned to Brazil too Americanized.
Meanwhile, Fox was preparing a new movie for Carmen: That Night in Rio. It made the song Chica, Chica, Boom, Chic very famous when it was released in 1941. In that same year she also starred in the movie Weekend in Havana. In 1942 she made Springtime in the Rockies, in which she sang the famous song O tique tique taque do meu coração. She continued to make movies in 1943, starring in The Gang´s All Here. In 1944 Carmen released three films: Four Jills in a Jeep, Greenwich Village and Something for the Boys.
In 1945, right after World War II, Carmen starred in Doll Face. The next year she starred in If I´m Lucky, the last movie she did for 20th century Fox. In 1947, she worked for United Artists, who released Copacabana. Carmen sang the famous song Tico-tico no fubá. During the making of the movie, she met David Alfred Sebastian, whom she married that same year. In 1948 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer released A Date with Judy, starring Carmen and Elizabeth Taylor. In 1950 she filmed Nancy goes to Rio, in which she appears with her famous stylized umbrella hat. In 1953 Carmen did her last movie Scared Stiff, in which she stars with Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis and Dorothy Malone.
From the mid '40s, Carmen went through a marathon of shows and was performing nonstop in various countries throughout the world. Due to stresses from work and home, the actress suffered a deep depression and had to go through electric shock treatment. She traveled to Brazil in order to rest and returned to Rio de Janeiro after 14 years of absence. She remained away from the public for 49 days.
In April, Carmen returned to the United States, where various appointments were already booked for her. The first one was the opening of the famous New Frontier casino in Las Vegas. Next she traveled to Cuba, where she suffered from bronchitis. Still not fully recovered she decided to participate in the Jimmy Durante Show. During the last day of shooting, on August 5th, she felt very dizzy and fell on her knees during the performance. She had planned a small reunion that evening at her house to celebrate the success of the show. She excused herself around 2 A.M. and went upstairs. Carmen had a heart attack and died while taking off her make-up. David found her lying on the bathroom floor.
The family decided to have the funeral in Brazil and on August 13, 1955, Carmen was buried at the São João Batista cemetery in Rio de Janeiro. All her belongings were donated by David and her family to the Carmen Miranda museum in 1956; however it only opened on August 5, 1976.


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