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Carmen Miranda

Carmen Miranda

Carmen Miranda (b. February 9, 1909, Marco de Canaveses, Portugal; d. August 5, 1955 Hollywood, California from untreated toxemia and heart failure stemming from pregnancy), born Maria do Carmo Miranda Da Cunha, was a Portuguese - Brazilian samba singer and motion picture star.

Miranda reached her peak point of fame in the early 1940s. She arrived in the United States in 1939 and had become the country's highest-paid entertainer by 1943. Her nickname, The Brazilian Bombshell, captured her true spirit and the heart of her Latin culture. Miranda's Hollywood debut was Down Argentine Way where she had the chance to work with Betty Grable. Her last Hollywood movie was in 1953 in Scared Stiff with Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin.

Miranda was born in the small northern Portuguese town of Marco de Canaveses and went to school at the Convent of Saint Teresinha. Her very Catholic parents did not approve of her dreams of pursuing show business, so she hid it from them best she could. In her spare time, she often sang at parties and festivals around the town where she was discovered and received the chance to perform on a local radio station.

She was noted as a musical innovator in Brazil, one of the first samba superstars long before her arrival in the US. However, her roles in US movies featured her as a stylized comic South American singer and she was often shown wearing platform sandals and towering headdresses made of fruit, becoming known as the lady in the tutti-frutti hat. At only 5'3"/160cm, these accoutrements made her appear almost larger than life on screen. This image was much satirized and taken up as camp, even in animated cartoon shorts. The animation department at Warner Brothers seemed to be especially fond of the actress's image. Animator Virgil Ross used the image in Tropical Hare with Bugs Bunny who, appropriately enough, made his entrance as a stowaway in the fruit hat. Today, the Carmen Miranda persona is a popular turn (or performance) for female impersonation and drag performance.

She was well aware of the tensions in her career. Her song, Bananas Is My Business, was based on a line in one of her movies and directly addressed her image. A sour welcome back to Brazil in 1940 resulted in a response in Portuguese in a song called Disseram Que Eu Voltei Americanizada, or They Say I've Become Americanized. Helena Solberg made a documentary of her life, Carmen Miranda: Bananas Is My Business in 1995.

Carmen Miranda, who neither drank nor smoked, died of a heart attack one day after an appearance on The Jimmy Durante Show. Although she was mildly addicted to prescription medications, she did not use cocaine nor carry the drug in her platform shoes as documented in the controversial book, Hollywood Babylon. Her body was flown back to Brazil soon afterwards and the government declared a period of national mourning. She was interred in the Cemitério São João Batista in Rio de Janeiro.

Her personal physician Dr. M. Barryman, who would later sign her death certificate, was the father of actor Michael Barryman.

Hollywood Tribute

On September 25, 1998, a city square in Hollywood was named Carmen Miranda Square in a ceremony headed by longtime honorary Hollywood mayor Johnny Grant who was also one of the singer's personal friends dating back to World War II. The effort was spearheaded by Native American concert promoter Jean Chakanaka and Carmen Miranda's Brazilian-born grandniece, Cheryl Miranda 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 Mann'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 rememberance 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.

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

Note: This profile was written in or before 2005.

Carmen Miranda Facts

Birth NameMaria do Carmo Miranda Da Cunha
BirthdayFebruary 9, 1909
BirthplaceMarco de Canavezes, Portugal
Date of deathAugust 5, 1955 (Hollywood, California, USA, age 46)
Height5' 3" (1m60)  How tall is Carmen Miranda compared to you?

Selected Filmography

The Hours
A Date with Judy
That Night in Rio
The Carmen Miranda Collection
The Three Caballeros
Four Jills In A Jeep
Weekend In Havana
Down Argentine Way
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