Today's Story

This Blog site contains essays selected from my "Today's Story" series of writing exercises.

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Location: Delray Beach, Florida, United States Tom Shawcross was born in St. Louis, MO and now resides in Delray Beach, FL. He is the father of a daughter and a son. His hobbies are writing, travel, and genealogy research. Before his 1995 disk surgery, he liked to run and play tennis. He has never gutted an elk.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Carmen Miranda

© Thomas Wilson Shawcross 24 Nov 2005

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Maria do Carmo Miranda da Cunha
a.k.a. Carmen Miranda

Before I started writing daily blog stories, I used to e-mail a series of daily quizzes to my friends. In the spirit of nostalgia on this Thanksgiving Day, I offer a special edition of:

Today’s Quiz

· Who was the highest-paid entertainer in the US in 1943?
· Who was the highest-paid female in the US in 1945? ($210,000)
· Who inspired the advertising icon “Chiquita Banana”?

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The Chiquita Banana advertising jingle:

"Hello Amigo...I'm Chiquita Banana and I've come to say/You eat the banana in a special way/And when it's fleck with brown and has a golden hue/That's when bananas are the best for you...."

The Chiquita Banana jingle was created in 1944 for the United Fruit Company by a BBDO advertising team headed by Robert Foreman. The song's lyrics, written by Garth Montgomery and music composed by co-worker Ken MacKenzie, instructed Americans on how to ripen and properly use this golden tropical fruit, for example, putting them in pies, or salads and to never to put the equator grown fruit in the refrigerator.


The Answer to Today’s Quiz:

If you said “Carmen Miranda,” give yourself a gold star!

I have fond memories of Carmen Miranda, who passed away on 5 Aug 1955 (five years to the day later, Marilyn Monroe, another of my boyhood favorites, would die). For some reason, I have a particularly vivid memory of the Carmen Miranda coloring book that I saw in the Kresge’s dime store at Hampton Village in 1954 (or maybe it was a Woolworth’s 5¢ and 10¢ store, my memory of the store name is not quite so vivid). For the benefit of my younger readers, there used to be 5¢ and 10¢ stores, sometimes called “five and dime” and later on “dime stores,” in which one could actually buy products that cost five or ten cents. Of course, they carried higher-ticket items as well, such as the Carmen Miranda coloring book I coveted, which was a “too much money” 15¢.

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In my opinion, this would have been a great coloring book to buy, because it offered so many options for the colour artiste. Carmen Miranda was famous for wearing the multi-colored dresses and tutti-frutti hats of Brazil’s Baiana region, so one could use any color in the Crayola box when coloring a Carmen Miranda color book, as opposed to say, a Batman color book, which dictated a limited palette, dominated by blacks and greys.

I recall studying this page of the Carmen Miranda color book, and thinking about which colors I might use:

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Memorable page from the Carmen Miranda color book
source: the MovieDiva Jr. website

Biographical sketch

Born in Portugal on 9 Feb 1909, Maria do Carmo Miranda Da Cunha came to Brazil at the age of one year. At the age of fourteen, she had to drop out of school to help earn money for the medications needed by her sister, who had developed tuberculosis. Her first job was making ties, but then got a job at a boutique called La Femme Chic, where she learned how to make hats. She was so good at this, she started her own hat-making business, and her brother Mario quit his job to help Carmen deliver hats to her customers. But this success was just the first for Carmen. By age 17, she was performing at parties and small motion pictures. At age 19, she recorded her first song, Samba Não vá Simbora.

The famous Brazilian composer and doctor Joubert de Carvalho was inspired by hearing her sing, and he wrote Tai for her, which sold 35,000 copies, a record for its time (later the popular Brazilian soft drink Guarana Tai was named after this hit song). By 1935, Carmen was a big star in Brazil. She was making movies with her sister Aurora and had lucrative radio and recording contracts.

In February of 1939, the figure skating champion Sonja Henie and theatrical producer Lee Shunert came to Rio de Janeiro and saw Carmen perform in the baiana costume she had worn in her movie Banana de Terra. Sonja invited Carmen to perform on Broadway.

American audiences loved her. In no time, she became a headliner and a style setter. In New York City alone, Saks sold millions of dollars of Carmen Miranda jewelry and accessories. In 1940, Twentieth Century Fox asked her to star in the movie Down Argentine Way.

Ironically, this movie was banned in Argentina and criticized in Brazil. Why? Well, some say it depicted the people of Argentina in a foolish way. I have not seen this movie, but I do wonder if they may have over-reacted. Carmen Miranda was an entertainer, not an actress in documentary films.

Having said that, it is indisputable that Carmen’s powerful personality, style, and sensuality became bigger-than-life in subsequent movies, which lampooned her heavy accent, mangled English, and sex appeal.


Some people say that Carmen became a caricature of the Latina woman, that her image was carried to excess. Excess? Where did that come from? Just to make sure, I looked up the definition of Excess in Webster’s online dictionary:
Main Entry: 1 ex·cess
Pronunciation: ik-'ses, 'ek-"
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Middle French or Late Latin; Middle French exces, from Late Latin excessus, from Latin, departure, projection, from excedere to exceed
1 a : the state or an instance of surpassing usual, proper, or specified limits : SUPERFLUITY b : the amount or degree by which one thing or quantity exceeds another
2 : Carmen Miranda, as depicted in any of the Busby-Berkeley-directed movies, but particularly so in 1943’s hit movie The Gang’s All Here.

Hmmm. Ahem. Well, maybe Carmen’s image was carried to excess, but I will let you, dear reader, decide.

The Lady in the Tutti Frutti Hat

One of the classic scenes in The Gang’s All Here was a song and dance number called “The Lady in the Tutti Frutti Hat.” In this scene, set on a lush tropic island decorated with sixty scantily-clad native girls, Carmen Miranda appears in a gold cart drawn by gold oxen. She was supposed to wear a thirty-foot tall headdress of fruit and banana flowers, but this simple yet tasteful headdress was dislodged when the camera boom carrying the Director Busby Berkeley swooped in too close, allegedly causing the distraught Carmen to cry out “Eef you wan’ to kill me, why don’ use a gun?” So, the thirty-foot headdress was replaced by a larger, painted one that reached to the ceiling of the sound stage:

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Excessive? You make the call.

Ok, maybe some would call that excessive. Or maybe this scene with giant dancing bananas:

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Personally, if any of the scenes in that movie were excessive, I would say it was possibly the scene in which Carmen played a giant banana xylophone, or maybe the scene with the giant strawberries in the later, colorized version (they were way too red).

It is interesting to see how Carmen Miranda has been viewed over time. At the height of her popularity in the US as a singer, dancer, comedienne, and movie star, she was resented in Brazil as a sell-out, a woman who provided a false image of Latina women and had become too Americanized. Now, however, time has mellowed that image, and she is remembered as a musical innovator, one of the first true samba superstars, and the most famous Brazilian entertainer (even though she was of Portuguese birth, she was known as “the Brazilian Bombshell”). As for presenting a false image of Latina women, I have discussed this with my friend Jorge Camargo, who has been in every country in South America (I have been in only four), and he agrees with me that all Latina women are not as beautiful and exciting as Carmen Miranda. In truth, only about 85% of Latina women are gorgeous. But that’s movies for you – always exaggerating – Latina women do not in fact walk around in seven-inch platform shoes and towering headdresses, as Carmen did in her movies.

Sadly, Carmen Miranda died young. As noted in Wikipedia:

Carmen Miranda, who neither drank nor smoked, died of a heart attack less than a day after an appearance on The Jimmy Durante Show. On an A&E Biography episode about her, there was a fairly startling piece of tape or kinescope footage from that show, from August 4. After a dance number, she nearly passed out, presumably suffering a mild precursor to her later, fatal cardiac arrest. Durante, standing next to her, caught her and helped keep her on her feet. She then smiled and waved to the crowd, and walked offstage, unknowingly for the last time. She was gone by the next morning.

After her death, it was discovered that Carmen had died from untreated toxemia and heart failure stemming from pregnancy.

She is missed.

Brasilian Filmography

Directors: Ademar Gonzaga and Humberto Mauro
Script: Joracy Camargo
Semi - documentary: Real carnaval and studio scenes of Carmen singing
Songs: Prá Você Gostar de Mim; Yayá, Yoyô, Carnavá tá Ahi; Vamos Brincar

1933 - A VOZ DO CARNAVAL - Cinédia
Directors: Ademar Gonzaga and Humberto Mauro
Script: Joracy Camargo
Cast: Gina Cavaliere, Lu Marival, Regina Maura, Elsa Moreno, Nana Figueredo, Lamartine Babo, Paolu Gonçalvez, Apolo Correa, Henrique Chaves, Jararaca & Ratinho
Semi - documentary: Real scenes of carnaval and in studio
Songs: Moleque Indigesto; Good-bye

1935 - ALÔ, ALÔ BRASIL! - Waldow - Cinédia
Directors: Wallance Downey, João de Barro and Alberto Ribeiro
Cast: Aurora Miranda, Dircinha Batista, Cordélia Ferreira, Elisa Coelho, César Ladeira, Francisco Alves, Barbosa Junior, Mário Reis, Jorge Murad, Custódio Mesquita, Almirante, Mesquitinha, Ary Barroso, Manoelito Teixeira, Arnaldo Pescuma, Manuel Monteiro, Afonso Stuart, Bando da Lua, os 4 Diabos, Simon Bountman´s Orchestra
Song: Primavera no Rio

1935 - ESTUDANTES - Waldow - Cinédia
Director: Wallace Downey
Cast: Aurora Miranda, Sylvinha Mello, Carmen Silva, Dulce Wheyting, Mesquitinha, César Ladeira, Barbosa Junior, Almirante, Jorge Murad, Mario Reis, Afonso Osório, Elio Pereira, Bando da Lua, Irmãos Tapajós, Benedicto Lacerda and regional band, Simon Bountman´s Orchestra
Songs: E bateu-se a Chapa; Sonho de Papel

1936 - ALÔ, ALÔ CARNAVAL - Waldow - Cinédia
Director: Adhemar Gonzaga
Cast: Aurora Miranda, Eloisa Helena, Alzirinha Camargo, dulce Wheyting, Dircinha Batista, Lelita Rosa, Francisco Alves Mário Reis, Jayme, Luiz Barbosa, Pinto Filho, Oscarito, Almirante, Muraro, Hervé Cordovil, Pery Ribas, Joel e Gaucho, Irmãs Pagãs, Banda da Lua, Os 4 Diabos, Simon Bountman´s Orchestra, Benedicto Lacerda and regional band
Songs: Querido Adão; Cantores do Rádio (com Aurora)

1939 - BANANA DA TERRA - Sonofilme
Director: João de Barro
Cast: Aurora Miranda, Dircinha ;batista, Linda Batista, Emilinha Borba, Neyde Martins, Almirante, Oscarito, Orlando Silva, Aloysio de Oliveira, Jorge Murad, Carlos Galhardo, Lauro Borges, Castro Barbosa, Mário Silva, Paulo Netto, Alvarenga e Betinho, Banda da Lua, Napolão Tavares Orchestra, Romeu Silva´s Orchestra and artists of the Cassino da Urca
Songs: Pirolito (with Almirante); O que é que a Baiana tem?

American Filmography

20th Century Fox - Colored
Cast: Betty Gable, Charlotte Greenwood, Don Ameche, Bando da Lua
Songs: South American Way; Mamãe eu Quero; Bambu, Bambu
Main character: Carmen Miranda

20th Century Fox - Colored
Cast: Don Ameche, Alice Faye, Bando da Lua, Flores Brothers
Songs: Chica Chica Bom Chic; Cai Cai; I, Yi, Yi, Yi, Yi, I Like You Very Much
Main character: Carmen Miranda

20th Century Fox - Colored
Cast: Alice Faye, John Payne, Cesar Romero, Bando da Lua.
Songs: A week end in Havana; When I Love I Love; Rebola Bola; The Nango
Main character: Rosita Rivas

20th Century Fox - Colored
Cast: Betty Gable, John Payne, Cesar Romero, Charlotte Greenwood, Edward Everett Horton, Trudy Marshal, Jackie Gleason, Harry James e Orquestra, Bando da Lua
Songs: Chattanooga Choo Choo; Tique Taque do Meu Coração
Main character: Rosita

20th Century Fox - Colored
Cast: Alice Faye, Phil Baker, Benny Goodman, Eugene Pallatte, Charlotte Greenwood, Edward Everett Horton, Tony De Marco, James Ellison, Dave Wollock.
Songs: Aquarela do Brasil; The Lady in the Tutti Frutti Hat; Paducah; You Discover You're in New York; A Journey to a Star
Main character: Dorita

20th Century Fox - Black and White
Cast: Kay Francis, Marta Raye, Dick Haymes, Betty Grable, Carole Landis, Jimmy Dorsey and Orchestra
Songs: I, Yi, Yi, Yi, Yi, I Like You Very Much

20th Century Fox - Colored
Cast: Don Ameche, Vivian Blaine, William Bendix, Emil Rameau
Songs: O que é que a Baiana Tem? ; Quando eu Penso na Bahia; Give Me a Band and Bandana; I´m Just Wild About Harry; I Like to be Loved by You
Main character: Princesa Querida

20th Century Fox - Colored
Cast: Vivian Blaine, Michael O´Shea, Cora Williams, Judy Holliday, Perry Como, Banda da Lua
Songs: Batuca Nego; Samba Boogie; Wouldn´t it be Nice?
Main character: Chiquita Hart

20th Century Fox - Black and White
Cast: Vivian Blaine, Martha Stewart, Perry Como, Dennis O´Keefe, Michael Dunna
Songs: Chico - Chico ( From Porto Rico)
Main character: Chita

20th Century Fox - Black and White
Cast: Vivian Blaine, Perry Como, Harry James e Orquestra
Songs: Batucada; Follow the Band; Bet Your Botton Dollar
Main character: Michele O´Toole

United Artists - Black and White
Cast: Groucho Marx, Andy Russel, Gloria Jean, Steve Cochran, Merle McHugh
Songs: Tico Tico; How to Make a Hit with Fifi; Let´s do the Copacabana; Je vous aime; I Haven´t a Thing to Sell
Main characters: Carmen Navaro and Mademoiselle Fifi

Metro Goldwyn - Mayer - Colored
Cast: Jane Powell, Elizabeth Taylor, Selena Royle, Wallace Beery, Robert Stack, Xaveir Cugat e Orquestra
Songs: Cuanto le Gusta; Cooking with Glass; It´s a Most Unusual Day
Main character: Rosita Conchellas

Metro Goldwyn - Mayer - Colored
Cast: Jane Powell, Ann Sothern, Barry Sullivan, Lois Calhern, Nella Walker, Bando da Lua
Songs: Baião Ca Room ´Pa Pa; Ipse-Ai-O
Main character: Marina Rodriguez

Paramount - Black and White
Cast: Elizabeth Scott, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Dorothy Malone


Blogger delia said...

I have always been a fan of Carmen Miranda, love her movies...don't know if excess is the right word for her movies or the movies of that time, I would say "over the top extravagant" but fun indeed to watch...I love any movie before the 50's... I have TCM on everyday.

7:11 PM  

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