From Portugal to Brazil to Hollywood: Remembering the 100th Birthday of Carmen Miranda

Carmen MirandaIf she were still alive, Carmen Miranda would be 100 years old today. If you’re questioning why she’s being mentioned in a blog about Lisbon and Portugal when she was Brazilian, you’re wrong. Carmen Miranda was born in Portugal. She moved to Brazil when she was still a baby when her parents decided to immigrate to Portugal’s former colony.

She grew up in Rio de Janeiro where she sang at parties and festivals, despite the disapproval of her parents. She was later given a record contract with RCA Records and eventually taken to New York to perform on a Broadway show. From there, Carmen went on to become a popular Hollywood actress in the 1940s and 50s, and became America’s highest-paid entertainer and reportedly the highest-earning female in the country.

Known as “the Brazilian Bombshell,” she was mostly cast in musicals as a Latin-American beauty wearing colorful hats made of fruit. Her management gave her a flamboyantly cliché image of Latin America with little distinctions between Brazil, Argentina, or Cuba, samba, tango, or habanera. As a result she was criticized in Brazil for projecting a false image of the country and giving in to American commercialism.

Her last few years were spent in states of depression, and she died of a heart attack at the age of 46 in Beverly Hills. She remains today not only an icon of Brazil but also of old Hollywood. She is also still the most successful Portuguese person to have ever been in the spotlight in Hollywood.

In Portugal you can visit a small museum dedicated to Carmen in her birth city of Marco de Canaveses. It features one of her famous hats along with several photos, while her statue stands outside.

For more famous Portuguese faces, see GoLisbon’s Portuguese people page.

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