It was exactly 50 years ago tonight that we lost one of the brightest stars ever to shine in Hollywood: the legendary Carmen Miranda.
When asked what she needed to be happy, Carmen Miranda replied: "A good bowl of soup and the freedom to sing." (c.1940s)
Carmen’s career began in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (although she was actually born in Portugal), where she had become the country’s most successful entertainer. At the height of her popularity in Brazil, someone asked Carmen what she needed to be happy. She replied: “A good bowl of soup and the freedom to sing.”
She made her American debut in 1939 after legendary Broadway impresario Lee Schubert saw her show in Rio de Janeiro. He immediately booked her for his Broadway review: The Streets of Paris. Carmen was an overnight sensation.
Carmen Miranda helped audiences escape the dark days of World War II ... in vibrant Technicolor. (c.1940s)
That show marked the beginning of an 18-month string of successive Broadway reviews and nightclub acts. Her acceptance in Brazil, however, wasn’t as receptive. When she returned to perform in 1939, Brazilian audiences were as cold as ice. They said she had been Americanized. She was no longer their Carmen Miranda.
Carmen was crushed. It would be 14 years before she would ever return to her homeland.
The vivacious Carmen Miranda became the highest paid woman in the U.S. (c.1940s)
Back in the U.S.A., Carmen landed a new contract with 20th Century Fox. She was starting a new life in a new country, and she took the town by storm. Six months after leaving Brazil, her hands and feet were enshrined in cement at Mann’s Chinese Theater. Soon she would become the highest paid woman in the U.S.
After a few years, the novelty eventually began to wear off. But she had so much success doing what she had been doing singing and dancing in supporting roles that 20th Century Fox wouldn’t allow her to do anything else.
Carmen Miranda created one of the most enduring images in the history of Hollywood. (c.1940s)
She eventually bought out her contract, dyed her hair blonde, and took a lead role opposite Groucho Marx in the 1947 film Copacabana.
The film was a flop. Carmen was unable to escape the caricature she had created.
Carmen Miranda, shown here with the late great Don Ameche. (c.1940s)
She went back to the nightclub circuit. By then she was almost a novelty act. After working two shows a night for months on end, Carmen had problems sleeping. So she began to take a sleeping pill. Within a few years, she was taking up to 10 sleeping pills.
After a nervous breakdown, Carmen entered into a deep depression. She went back to Brazil to recuperate and go through shock treatments, which were common at the time. A few months later, she began to show signs of life again.
Carmen Miranda was the biggest star ever to come out of Brazil ... even though she was actually Portuguese. (c.1940s)
She returned to Hollywood in 1955 and threw herself back into the turmoil of appearances and TV guest spots.
Three months later, appearing on the Jimmy Durante Show, she collapsed suddenly while dancing and had trouble breathing. But being the trooper she was, she picked herself up and finished the show, dancing gracefully out the door. It would be the last recorded image of Carmen.
Later that night she died. Cause of death was a heart attack. She was 46 years old.
The last recorded image of Carmen Miranda, as she exits the Jimmy Durante Show. (08/04/55)
Fortunately today the legend of Carmen Miranda still lives on. And for me at least, her star still shines brightly.