She was famous as “the lady in the tutti frutti hat” and her campy persona. Most of us are familiar with movie clips and photographs showing Carmen Miranda wearing platform sandals and tall headdresses made out of fruit.
Carmen was born on this day in 1909 in Marco de Canveses located in northern Portugal. Her family emigrated to Rio de Janeiro in 1910. Although she never returned to Portugal, she retained Portuguese citizenship. She was named “Carmen” because her father loved Bizet’s masterwork opera “Carmen”. Despite the name, Carmen’s father didn’t approve of her goal of going into show business.
During her teenage years, Miranda found employment in a boutique where she learned hatmaking. Soon, she began her very own hat business which became lucrative. Meantime, Carmen landed her first record contract after discovery by composer Josue de Barros who signed her with Brunswick Records. Eventually Miranda signed her contract with RCA Records as a samba singer.
Miranda’s screen debut was in the 1933 Brazilian documentary “A Voz Do Carnaval”. Film historians point to her first feature film called, “Aló, Aló Brasil”. Miranda’s fans most fondly remember her 1935 appearance in “Esudantes”. Her appearance in the film “Aló Aló Carnaval” spotlighted the tune, Cantoras do Rádio.
Carmen Miranda signed a Hollywood movie contract and arrived in the USA with her band, Bando da Lua, in 1939. She received a formal introduction to President Franklin Roosevelt at a White House banquet. The U.S. government encouraged her career as a portion of Roosevelt’s “Good Neighbor Policy” to enhance ties with Latin America and Europe.
By 1946, Miranda was Hollywood’s highest paid entertainer and the most generous female U.S. taxpayer. In 1946 she earned over $200,000 or an equivalant of around $2.2 million in 2012 dollars. She also became known as “The Brazilian Bombshell” but her image was more of a blending of Portugal, Brazil, Argentina and Mexico personality. Her performing style synthsized samba, tango and habanera with a strong emphasis on flamboyancy.
She was soon typecast in movies. She considered her roles to be increasingly cartoonish, which she resented. Unfortunately, Miranda indulged heavily in cigarettes and alcohol. In the later years, she began a barbiturate habit, too.
On August 4, 1955, she suffered a heart attack during a live segment of NBC’s “The Jimmy Durante Show”. After her dance number she fell to her knees and laughed, “I’m all out of breath!”. She pulled herself together and finished the show. Later, the same night, she suffered a second and fatal heart attack at her Beverly Hills home.
Carmen Miranda’s life was filled with more complexity than a person would suspect of the lady who inspired the Chiquita Banana commercial singer and was the subject of many drag queen show revues. She was certainly more than just a caricature in American pop culture. Today is the 110th anniversary of her birth.
The Blue Jay of Happiness still enjoys playing a recording of Miranda’s most famous hit, “Tico Tico”.