Brazilian superstar or Hollywood stereotype?
Carmen Miranda, the banana-bearing singer who took cinema audiences down "The South American Way" until her premature death 40 years ago Saturday, remains an enigma in her adopted homeland Brazil."She represents a whole discussion about national identity," said Hugo Sukman, an arts writer. "Did she put Brazilian culture on the map or was she a caricature?"
Miranda, who arrived in Brazil in 1910 as a 1-year-old with her Portuguese immigrant parents, was a huge success in Brazil as a singer of popular samba music in the 1930s and starred in several Brazilian films.
But on her return to Rio from Broadway in 1940, sporting her trademark fruit headdresses and singing a style of samba more suited to American ears, her fans went cold. Critics accused her of selling out to the "gringos."
"Brazilians don't understand me but I do what I can for the country," Miranda told a friend shortly before she died from a heart attack in 1955 in Beverly Hills.
At the height of her career, having starred in more than a dozen films, the "Brazilian Bombshell" was reputedly one of Hollywood's highest-paid female stars.
After a string of lovers, said to include Western star John Wayne, she was unhappily married to a lowly production assistant.
"She was exhausted but that man only saw Carmen's money," the star's sister Aurora Miranda told Jornal do Brasil. "The marriage was a confidence trick."
Despite the harsh words of critics, an estimated 50,000 fans turned out for her funeral in Rio.
Contemporary Brazilian musicians such as Caetano Veloso list Miranda among their sources of inspiration, and her style is said to have influenced the development of samba music.
"She got samba on the international circuit. Maybe she wasn't entirely correct in her style but she showed Brazil to the world for the first time," Sukman said.