Smiling broadly under a tutti-frutti hat, Carmen Miranda introduced samba music to the United States and became Hollywood’s queen of Carnival. “She had a great stage presence, mesmerizing eyes and knew how to charm an audience,” Kathryn Bishop-Sanchez, author of Creating Carmen Miranda, exclusively tells Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now.
Behind Carmen’s gaudy jewelry and heavy accent, however, was “a businesswoman who had a good idea of what she wanted,” says Kathryn of the Portuguese-born, Brazil-reared performer.
Already a star in Brazil, Carmen landed in New York in 1939 and became a Broadway sensation. Less than a year later, she filmed Down Argentine Way, the first of her 14 films. “She comes across as a very vivacious, hot-tempered, stereotypical Latin protagonist,” says Kathryn, adding that Carmen was nothing like that in real life. “She was very hardworking and serious about her career.”
Carmen also understood that fruit hats and broken English were the keys to her success. “The biggest misconception was that she couldn’t speak English well,” Lisa Shaw, author of Carmen Miranda, tells Closer. She could! “It was written into her contract that she had to pretend to speak English poorly for comic effect, even in public.” Carmen played along and by 1945 became Hollywood’s highest-paid entertainer.
Yet she paid a heavy price when her 1940 performance in Rio drew jeers from Brazil’s high society. “It was very difficult to balance what Hollywood wanted and what would be pleasing to the Brazilian public,” explains Kathryn. A heartbroken Carmen didn’t return to Brazil for 14 years.
After her movie career cooled, Carmen sang in clubs and lived a quiet life in Beverly Hills until her death from a heart attack at age 46 in 1955. As she was laid to rest in Rio de Janeiro, a half-million Brazilians turned out to say goodbye to their homegrown Hollywood star.
For more on your favorite stars, pick up the latest issue of Closer Weekly, on newsstands now — and be sure to sign up for our newsletter for more exclusive news!
Be sure to check out and subscribe to our Classic TV & Film Podcast for interviews with your favorite stars!