Carmen Miranda - Bad Girls Throughout History: 100 Remarkable Women Who Changed the World - Ann Shen

Bad Girls Throughout History: 100 Remarkable Women Who Changed the World - Ann Shen (2016)

Carmen Miranda

Carmen Miranda (1909-1955) was born into a deeply Catholic family that moved from Portugal to Brazil when she was a young child. Though her mother supported Miranda’s pursuit of a performance career, Miranda was beaten by her strict father after he found out she had auditioned to be on a radio show. She persisted and was soon discovered by a music producer, which led to her making records and films and becoming a Brazilian star. After six years of success in Brazil, Miranda was discovered by Lee Shubert, who brought her to New York to star in his Broadway musical The Streets of Paris. She refused to go without her band, wanting to maintain the integrity of the Brazilian sound. Brazil’s President Vargas took advantage of that opportunity to pay the band’s way to America, thereby turning Miranda into an ambassador for Brazil.

In 1939, Miranda developed her signature look of a flowing dress and fruit-and-flower turban, modeled after the style of the poor black girls from Bahia. She discovered the costume after appearing in a film in which she sang a song about empowering the lower social class of Afro-Brazilians. When she arrived in the United States that same year, Miranda and her costume became the symbol for all of South America. The Americans drank up her exuberant personality, exotic dance moves, and rapid speech. She was quickly signed by 20th Century Fox and became an international star, making over fourteen films and bringing the rhythm of samba to Technicolor life. Miranda was the first Latin woman to imprint her hands in front of Mann’s Chinese Theater and became the highest- paid woman in the United States in 1949. Unfortunately, the more she was loved by America, the more she was criticized by Brazil for becoming too “Americanized,” representing a stereotype of a Latina bimbo. Ever the showwoman, Miranda worked right up to her dying day: a recorded appearance on a 1955 episode of The Jimmy Durante Show shows her kneeling down unexpectedly, then jumping back up to finish her dance number. Durante said she reported being out of breath. She died later that night.

The Brazilian bombshell