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5-Foot, 1-Inch Performer Died in 1955 : Brazil Pays Homage to Carmen Miranda

September 01, 1985|GLORIA HELENA REY | Associated Press

RIO DE JANEIRO — Thirty years after her death, Carmen Miranda is remembered, along with her elaborate fruit-covered turbans and exuberant style that made her a symbol of Brazil on movie screens around the world.

All during August, the Brazilian government and private fan clubs paid homage to the actress who in 1955 died of a heart attack in her home in Beverly Hills.

Brazil's National Foundation for the Arts marked the anniversary with a campaign called "30 Years Without Carmen Miranda." It featured musicals, a film festival, a new biography of the performer and two previously unreleased Carmen Miranda records.

In Sao Paulo, Brazil's largest city, a public school was named after her.

Letters and telegrams have poured in to the Carmen Miranda Museum, where original costumes, records, photographs, cartoons and other memorabilia are on display. Cristina Mendes of the museum said one British fan wrote that he had named his first daughter after Miranda.

Ricardo Cravo Alvin, director of museums of Rio de Janeiro, said the campaign was to remind Brazilians about their most famous actress. "Today she is better remembered in New York, Paris and London than in her own country," he said.

Born Maria do Carmo Cunha Miranda in Marco de Canavezes, Portugal, in 1909, Carmen Miranda came to Brazil with her family as a young girl. She considered herself thoroughly Brazilian although she never became a citizen.

By the 1930s, she was a local star. In 1940, she made her first Hollywood film, "Down Argentine Way" with Don Ameche and Betty Grable. It didn't matter much that Miss Miranda was not Argentine; her exotic clothing and "Latin" accent marked her as South American and became her trademark.

During her 15 years in Hollywood Miss Miranda made 14 films, including "That Night in Rio," with Don Ameche and Alice Faye (1941), "Springtime in the Rockies" with Cesar Romero and Betty Grable (1942), "Copacabana" with Groucho Marx (1947), and "Scared Stiff" with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis (1953).

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Miss Miranda's career, her biographer Cassio Barsante said, was that it existed.

"She had everything going against her," he said. "Her voice wasn't good, and she was only 5-feet, 1-inch tall.

"But she overcame her shortcomings with a unique style. She compensated for the deficiencies in her voice with movements of her hands and hips, at a time when other singers clung to the microphone like a life preserver. She increased her height by creating exotic turbans and wearing unusual platform shoes, sometimes more than seven inches high."

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