Brazil rediscovers Carmen Miranda 50 years later
By Fernanda Ezabella
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (Reuters) – With her tropical-fruit
headdresses and a smile as wide as Copacabana Beach, Carmen
Miranda remains an instantly recognizable show business figure
50 years after her death.
Decades before Brazilian music and women became appreciated
worldwide, she took the swing of samba from Rio de Janeiro to
Hollywood and became one of the highest-paid entertainers in
the United States.
By the end of her life, however, Hollywood had transformed
her into such a caricature that only now are Brazilians
themselves rediscovering the powerful woman inside those
“Brazil has never understood the dimension of such a legend
and sometimes was unable to accept her success in America,” Ruy
Castro, author of a new 600-page book “Carmen — Uma
Biografia,” (“Carmen — a Biography”) told Reuters.
“Carmen suffered with this and created a Brazil of her own
by her Beverly Hills poolside.”
As well as the biography, an exhibition entitled “Carmen
Miranda Forever” is currently on at Rio de Janeiro’s Museum of
It assembles more than 700 items related to Miranda,
including original costumes such as those she wore in the
movies “Copacabana” (1947) and “Nancy Goes to Rio” (1950).
The exhibition features documentaries and snippets from
musicals including “The Gang’s All Here” (1943) and “That Night
in Rio” (1941), which brought her fame and fortune in the
Miranda went to the United States in 1939 after a Broadway
impresario saw her perform in Rio. She had just created her
famous “Bahian” costume of a long colorful skirt and a turban
adorned with fruit to go with the song “O que que a baiana
tem?” (What the Bahian Lady Has) by Dorival Caymmi.
“When she adopted this costume, she realized it was
powerful. When she signed to go to Broadway, it was because of
this costume. And there in the United States, she exaggerated
the Bahian outfit,” Castro said.
The American studios transformed the costume into something
more like a Cuban rumba dancer. To the chagrin of Brazilians,
she became a cartoonish South American with her
heavily-accented English. Her persona became a campy staple for
BACK IN THE FASHION
Born in Portugal in 1909, Miranda moved to Brazil with her
parents when she was about 1 year old.
Before her transplant to the United States, she was a samba
superstar in Brazil. She helped composers such as Caymmi and
Ary Barroso become famous in samba’s Golden Age.
As radio grew increasingly popular, she became the queen of
Brazilian airwaves and recorded hit songs from Rio’s Carnival.
Her move to the United States was well-timed. Technicolor
had just been developed and 20th Century Fox loved her studio
When she filmed her Hollywood debut “Down Argentine Way”
with Betty Grable in 1941 and sung “Down South American Way,” a
star was reborn.
The movie was criticized in Brazil and banned in Argentina.
But she went on to be hugely successful in the United States,
where she was known as “the Brazilian Bombshell.”
Despite her poor English, her charisma was huge.
“She could sing in Chinese, Japanese, English, any
language. Her charisma and the way she moved her hands and
danced hypnotized everyone,” said her nephew Carmen de
She died aged just 46 from a heart failure.
Even the official Web site run by her estate acknowledges
the mixed feelings her countrymen have about her.
“Her importance to the Brazilian historical and cultural
context must be redeemed and appreciated,” it says.
Certainly her legacy is now reemerging in Brazilian fashion
trends. At the last Fashion Rio show — one of the world’s top
fashion events — many brands paid homage to her.
“Carmen was a star who designed her own clothes, her
turbans, platform shoes, embroidery and jewelry,” said museum
curator Fabiano Canosa. “A myriad of them are still being
copied and remade.”
Carvalho likened the strength of her image to Charlie
“For him, it was the bowler hat and cane. For her, it was
the Bahiana style.”