Carmen Miranda, GCIH (9 February 1909 – 5 August 1955) was a Portuguese-born Brazilian samba singer, dancer, Broadway actress, and film star who was popular in the 1940s and 1950s. The name that instantly conjures up outlandish fruit-festooned headgear, Carmen the "Brazilian Bombshell" epitomized the spirit, vitality and essence of Latin culture.
Born Maria de Carmen Miranda da Cunha on Feb. 14, 1914, in Lisbon, Portugal, Miranda was taken to Brazil as an infant. Her father was a traveling salesman. Her convent education necessitated that she keep her entertainment business dreams well hidden, and she went to work in a tie shop at age 14 to help pay her sister's medical bills. She next worked in a boutique, "La Femme Chic" where she learned to make hats and opened her own hat business where she entertained her co-workers. She entered show business when a guitarist friend got her a job singing on the radio in Rio. Within a matter of weeks she was the darling of the nation.
Miranda rose like a comet in the show business firmament. She gave the samba, Brazil's native music, to the world. A weekly radio slot led to her receiving her forst recording contract with RCA in 1928. By the early 1930s, she made her film debut in the Brazilian film, 'A Voz do Carnaval'. Maintaining both her acting and recording careers in Brazil, she had recorded over 300 singles by 1939.
Lee Shubert, a New York producer and theater owner, was bowled over by her larger than life stage persona, so he brought Miranda to the United States after signing her for his Broadway musical, "The Streets of Paris," in 1939. She took Broadway by storm and became a star overnight. A motion picture contract with 20th Century Fox followed in 1940. Her first picture, "Down Argentine Way," with Betty Grable, was a repeat of her Broadway triumph. She became one of the world's most famous and wealthy entertainers. By 1943, she was the highest-paid actress in America. This period was to prove the zenith of her film career, where her Latin spirit, boundless energy and outlandish costumes captured the imagination of the world.
The great hats she wore, covered with bananas and grapes and pineapples, were copied throughout the world. Her platform shoes were sold everywhere. And millions followed her hip-swinging, eye-rolling example on the dance floor and learned to samba.
Miranda made nine feature films in her five years at Fox, including such great musical hits as "That Night in Rio," "Weekend in Havana," "Springtime in the Rockies," and "If I'm Lucky," and an equal number for other companies. Miranda made a total of fourteen Hollywood films between 1940 and 1953.
She became ill in 1943, which resulted in emergency surgery for a stomach ailment. A period of depression, mental exhaustion, and reliance on medication followed which altered her for the rest of her life. By the time she signed a film contract with Universal in 1947 and appeared in their film 'Copacabana' with Groucho Marx, her star was on the wane.
Hollywood became less interested in her character, so she returned to the nightclub scene again, making appearances at El Rancho in Las Vegas and the London Palladium in 1948. Though her film career was faltering, Miranda music career remained solid and she was still a popular attraction at nightclubs, making appearances at El Rancho in Las Vegas and the London Palladium in 1948. From 1948 to 1950, Miranda teamed with The Andrews Sisters to produce and record three Decca singles. Their first collaboration was on radio in 1945 when Miranda guested on ABC's The Andrews Sisters Show. The first single, "Cuanto La Gusta", was the most popular (a best-selling record and a number-twelve Billboard hit). "The Wedding Samba" (#23) followed in 1950.
Her final film was 'Scared Stiff', with Jerry Lewis, in 1953. Her health declined further and, returning to Brazil in 1954, solitary confinement was ordered by her doctor, following a fainting spell at the airport. In April 1955, she returned to Hollywood feeling healthy, looking better than she had in years and willing to go back to the stage. On 4 August, while recording a strenuous dance number for the Jimmy Durante Show, Carmen collapsed in the final sequence and said, "I'm all out of breath." She later joined friends and family members at home for a party, where she seemed in high spirits and, despite her delicate health, danced and sang. Retiring to bed early, she collapsed and died at two thirty in the morning.
Services were held in California before her body was shipped to Rio for final burial. Nearly one million people lined the streets to bid her a last farewell. Her costumes were donated to Brazil for a "Carmen Miranda Museum."
(Info edited from various sources mainly The biography channel)
Clip from 1943 Busby Berkeley Technicolor Musical, "The Gang's All Here" starring Carmen Miranda singing The Lady In The Tutti Frutti Hat.