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Carmen Miranda


2/9/1909 to 8/5/1955
Carmen was a young hatmaker before she was invited to display her singing talents at a music academy. That attempt proved successful and she went on to become a popular singer in clubs and on radio in Brazil. It was during this time that she developed the costume with the distinctive fruit hat from the traditional headdress seen on black women fruit sellers. In the mid-thirties, a theatrical producer named Lee Shubert saw her act in Brazil and offered her a spot on his new Broadway show. Knowing the need for a real Brazilian band to keep the appropriate music true, she insisted that her backup band be included in the deal. With the help of the Brazilian government who saw the good national image opportunity in Carmen, her demand was met. She proved to be a hit on Broadway, though her image was that of a foreign bimbo because she didn’t know English. She later made films, but by then much of Brazil thought she became too "Americanized". When the US entered World War II, South America became the subject of American diplomatic attention, because it was an alternative source for raw materials that previously came from Europe. Carmen was the showpiece of Hollywood's contribution to this attitude of trans-Continental friendliness. Unfortunately, in doing so, Carmen became trapped in the image of the fruit dancer that every producer insisted on having. Even her attempt at a break-out role in Copacanba had to have her doing the same dance act for part of the film. It proved to be a disaster in many ways since it failed and she married the producer of the film, David Sebastian. The marriage was not a happy one, but Carmen was a good Catholic and never considered a divorce. Instead she kept up a grueling schedule of shows, taking uppers and downers to remain functional, even when they began to damage her health. Eventually she collapsed and her doctor ordered her to go back to Brazil. She recovered and returned to America to resume the grind until she died of a heart attack hours after her final appearance on the Jimmy Durante Show.
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