Tuesday, May 6, 2014
Monthly Muse: Carmen Miranda
She was christened Carmen by her father after the Bizet opera which he loved. This love of music was passed on to his children and Carmen loved dance and singing from a young age. However Carmen's father did not approve of his daughters plans to go into show business. However, her mother supported her and was beaten when her husband discovered Carmen had auditioned for a radio show. She had previously sung at parties and festivals in Rio. Her older sister Olinda contracted tuberculosis and was sent to Portugal for treatment. Carmen went to work in a tie shop at age 14 to help pay her sister's medical bills. She next worked in a boutique, where she learned to make hats and opened her own hat business which became profitable.
Carmen was discovered when she was introduced to composer Josué de Barros, who went on to promote and record her first album with Brunswick, a German recording company in 1929. In 1930, she was known to be Brazil's gem singer, and in 1933 went on to sign a two-year contract with Rádio Mayrink Veiga, becoming the first contract singer in the radio industry history of Brazil. In 1934, she was invited as a guest performer in Radio Belgrano in Buenos Aires. Ultimately, Carmen signed a recording contract with RCA Records. She led a successful career as a singer for ten years, singing in many popular styles, such as the samba and the Marchinha.
As with other popular singers of the era, Carmen made her screen debut in the Brazilian documentary A Voz Do Carnaval (1933). Two years later, she appeared in her first feature film entitled Alô, Alô Brasil. But it was the 1935 film Estudantes that seemed to solidify her in the minds of the movie-going public. In the 1936 movie Alô Alô Carnaval, she performed the famous song "Cantoras do Rádio" with her sister Aurora, for the first time.
During her later career, Carmen would become primarily identified with her colorful fruit-hat costume and image, though she only adopted that costume in 1939. In that year she appeared in the film Banana-da-Terra, where she wore a glamorized version of the traditional costume of a poor black girl of Bahia: flowing dress and fruit-hat turban. Singing the song "O que é que a Baiana Tem?"("What does a Baiana have?"), the intent was to empower a social class which was usually looked down upon
After seeing one of her performances in Rio, theatre owner Lee Shubert signed Carmen and her band, the Bando da Lua, to a contract. She made her US stage debut on 19 June 1939 in The Streets of Paris, opposite Abbott and Costello. Although her part was small (she only spoke four words), Carmen received good reviews and became a media sensation. Her fame grew quickly, having formally been presented to President Franklin D. Roosevelt at a White House banquet shortly after arrival.
In 1940, 20th Century Fox signed her to a contract for a one-time appearance in Down Argentine Way. She received good reviews for her performance prompting Fox to sign her to a long-term film contract.
She was encouraged by the United States government 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. Carmen contract with 20th Century Fox lasted from 1941 to 1946; this period coincides with the time of World War II (1939–1945) and the creation in 1940 of the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs (OCIAA), based in Rio de Janeiro, whose goal was to obtain support from governments and Latin American societies for the cause of the United States.
The interference was linked to the Good Neighbor policy and Roosevelt sought to forge better diplomatic relations with Brazil and other South American nations, and pledged to refrain from further military intervention, which has sometimes been done to protect U.S. business interests in industries such as mining or agriculture. Hollywood was asked to help out with the Good Neighbor Policy, and both Walt Disney Studios and 20th Century Fox participated. Carmen was considered the goodwill ambassador and promoter of intercontinental culture.
While Carmens popularity in the United States continued to rise, she began to lose favor with some Brazilians. On 10 July 1940, she returned to Brazil where she was welcomed by cheering fans. Soon after her arrival, however, the Brazilian press began criticizing Carmen for giving in to American commercialism and projecting a negative image of Brazil. Members of the upper class felt her image was "too black" and she was criticized in one Brazilian newspaper for "singing bad-tasting black sambas". Other Brazilians criticized her for playing up the stereotype of a "Latina bimbo" after her first interview upon arriving in the United States. In an interview with the New York World-Telegram, Carmen discussed her then limited knowledge of the English language stating, "I say money, money, money. I say twenty words in English. I say money, money, money and I say hot dog!"
On 15 July, she appeared at a charity concert organized by Brazilian First Lady Darci Vargas. The concert was attended by members of Brazil's high society. She greeted the audience in English but was met with silence. When Carmen began singing a song from one of her club acts, "The South American Way", the audience began to boo her. She attempted to finish her act but gave up and left the stage after the audience continued to boo. The incident deeply hurt Carmen and she later cried in her dressing room. The following day, the Brazilian press criticized her for being "too Americanized".
Weeks later, Carmen responded to the criticism 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 fourteen years.
Carmens films came under harsh scrutiny by Latin American audiences for characterizing Central and South America in a culturally homogenous way. When her films hit theatres in Central and South America, it was strongly felt that the films depicted Latin American cultures through the lens of American preconceptions, and not as they actually were. Many Latin Americans felt their cultures were being misrepresented, and felt that someone from their own region, Carmen Miranda, was misrepresenting them.
Upon returning to the United States, Miranda kept up her film career in Hollywood while also appearing on Broadway and performing in clubs and restaurants.
The war years saw Carmen Miranda starring in eight of her fourteen films and, although the studios labelled her the "Brazilian Bombshell," the films tended to blur her Brazilian identity in favor of a generalized Latin American image, she began appearing in its films as a featured performer.
In 1941, she shared the screen with Alice Faye and Don Ameche in That Night in Rio. Later that same year, she teamed up with Alice Faye again in Week-End in Havana. Carmen was now earning $5,000 a week. On 24 March 1941, she became one of the first Latinas to leave her hand and footprints in the sidewalk of the Grauman's Chinese Theater.
In 1943, she appeared in an extravaganza from noted director Busby Berkeley called The Gang's All Here. Berkeley's musicals were known for their lavish production, and Miranda's role as Dorita featured her number "The Lady in the Tutti-Frutti Hat." An optical trick from the set behind her made the fruit-bedecked hat she was wearing appear even larger than humanly possible. By then, Miranda seemed to be locked into such roles as the exotic songstress, and her studio contract even forced her to appear at events in her trademark film costumes, which grew even more outlandish. One song she recorded, "Bananas Is My Business" seemed to pay somewhat ironic tribute to her typecasting. The following year, Carmen made a cameo appearance in Four Jills in a Jeep. By 1945, she had become Hollywood's highest-paid entertainer and top female tax payer in the United States earning more than $200,000 that year.
After World War II ended in 1945, the American public's tastes began to change and musicals began to fall out of favor. Hollywood studio heads and producers also felt that the novelty of Carmen's "Brazilian bombshell" image had worn thin and career declined. She made one last film for Fox, Doll Face (1945), before her contract was terminated in January 1946.
She later signed a contract with Universal but at the time, Universal was undergoing a merger with another studio. Due to a change in management, no films for Carmen were planned. Eager to break away from her well established image, she attempted to branch out with different roles. In 1946, she portrayed an Irish American character in If I'm Lucky. The following year, she played dual roles opposite Groucho Marx in Copacabana for United Artists. While the films were modest hits, film critics and the American public did not accept Carmen's new image.
Though her film career was faltering, Carmen's music career remained solid and she was still a popular attraction at nightclubs. From 1948 to 1950, Carmen teamed with The Andrews Sisters to produce and record three Decca singles. Their first collaboration was on radio in 1945 when Carmen guested on ABC's The Andrews Sisters Show. The first single, "Cuanto Le Gusta", was the most popular (a best-selling record and a number-twelve Billboard hit). "The Wedding Samba" (#23) followed in 1950.
In 1948, she co-starred opposite Wallace Beery and Jane Powell in A Date with Judy, and Nancy Goes to Rio in 1950 for MGM. She made her final film appearance in the 1953 film Scared Stiff with Martin and Lewis for Paramount.
Following the release of Scared Stiff in April 1953, she embarked on a four-month European tour. After collapsing from exhaustion during a club performance in Ohio in October 1953, dates for her future tour were canceled. On the suggestion of her doctor, Carmen returned to Brazil to rest. Carmen was still hurt over the criticism she received there in 1940, but was happy when she received a warm reception upon her return. She remained in Brazil until April 1955.
On 4 August 1955, Carmen was shooting a segment for the filmed NBC variety series The Jimmy Durante Show. Carmen had complained of feeling unwell before filming. After completing a song and dance number, "Jackson, Miranda, and Gomez", with Durante, she fell to one knee. At around 4 a.m. the following day, Miranda suffered a fatal heart attack at her home in Beverly Hills.
The Jimmy Durante Show episode in which Carmen appeared was aired two months after her death, on 15 October 1955. A clip of the episode was also included in the A&E Network's Biography episode about Carmen.
In accordance with her wishes, Carmen's body was flown back to Rio de Janeiro where the Brazilian government declared a period of national mourning. 60,000 people attended her mourning ceremony at the Rio town hall,and more than half a million Brazilians escorted the funeral cortège to her resting place in São João Batista Cemetery in Rio de Janeiro.
For her contributions to the television industry, Carmen Miranda has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame South side of the 6262 block of Hollywood Boulevard
Carmen left a great legacy behind her and her image can still be seen in popular culture today. Carmen's style blurred the distinctions between Brazil, Portugal, Argentina, and Mexico as well as between samba, tango and habanera. Her distinctive style and turbans led to Sak's developing a line 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 called "Carmen Miranda jewelry" because of this.
When Carmen Miranda died her popularity abroad was greater than in Brazil however Carmen Miranda can be credited with bringing Brazil's national music, the samba, to a worldwide audience. In addition, she introduced the image of the baiana with wide skirts and turbaned headdress as the "showgirl" of Brazil at home and abroad. The baiana costume was adopted as the central feature of Carnival for women and, especially, for men, who famously dress up in elaborate Carmen Miranda style and parade through the streets of Brazil's cities during Carnival.
Even after her death, Carmen Miranda is remembered for being perhaps the most important Brazilian artistic personality of all time and one of the most influential Hollywood, she is listed by the American Film Institute as one of the "500 great legends of Cinema".
On 25 September 1998, a city square in Hollywood was named Carmen Miranda Square in a ceremony headed by longtime honorary mayor of Hollywood, Johnny Grant. Carmen Miranda Square is only one of about a dozen Los Angeles city intersections named for historic performers.
A museum dedicated to Carmen Miranda is located in Rio de Janeiro 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.
In 2009, the recording of "O que é que a baiana tem?" by Dorival Caymmi, sung by Miranda in 1939, was selected for preservation in the Library of Congress. The recording helped to introduce both the samba rhythm and Carmen Miranda to American audiences. It was also the first recording of a song by Caymmi, who went on to become a major composer and performer.
In 2011 Carmen Miranda was immortalized by the U.S. Postal Service in the series of Postage stamp: Latin Music Legends (Forever).
In popular culture:
Carmen Mirandas image has been reproduced in many different formats including cartoons with Daffy Duck and Tom and Jerry and even shows like Sesame Street. Carmen's image has been spoofed by the likes of Bob Hope in Road to Rio and Lucille Ball in an episode of I Love Lucy. In the movie Gangster Squad, released in January 2013, Miranda is portrayed by Yvette Tucker performing in Slapsy Maxie's nightclub.
Her image has been used to sell fruit as The United Fruit Company did not hesitate to take advantage of the Carmen Miranda craze. The company created a banana-woman cartoon character named Chiquita whose "tutti-frutti" hat unmistakably conjured Carmen Miranda.
Brazilian author Ruy Castro wrote a biography of Carmen Miranda entitled Carmen, published in 2005 in Brazil. This book has yet to appear in English. In 2013, the book Carmen Miranda written by Lisa Shaw, was released by publisher Palgrave Macmillan. This is the first book-length study of Carmen Miranda in English. It traces her origins as a radio singer, recording artist and film star in Brazil in the 1930s, before exploring in depth her Hollywood screen roles and the construction of her long-lasting star persona in the US.
Carmen's songs have been covered by a number of artists over the years and she has even had songs wrote about her as John Cale, a member of the Velvet Underground, issued a song called "The Soul of Carmen Miranda" on his album Words for the Dying.