Too Black, Too Latina, Too Fabulous: Remembering “Brazilian Bombshell,” Carmen Miranda
On her 104th birthday, we celebrate the life of the late Carmen Miranda, also known as “The Brazilian Bombshell” and the original “Chiquita Banana Girl.”
Dying of a heart attack at just 46 years old, the Portuguese-born Brazilian became an American icon in the 1940s and 1950s as a samba singer, dancer, Broadway actress, and film star.
From working at a tie shop at age 14 to help pay for her sister’s medical bills, to starring in over 30 films, by 1945 Carmen was the highest paid woman in the United States.
She released 100 singles, most notably “Cuanto La Gusta,” which became a best-selling record and a #12 Billboard hit.
Watch: Carmen Miranda – South American Way, 1940
Her flamboyant, colorful image pulled inspiration from Portugal, Argentina, and Mexico and mixed samba, tango and habanera.
Best known for her towering fruit headdresses and platform sandals, her stylish costumes led Saks Fifth Avenue to develop a Carmen Miranda-inspired line of turbans and jewelry in 1939.
Watch: Carmen Miranda in That Night In Rio (1941) Singing “Chica Chica Boom Chic”
But her resounding success was not without its haters. Carmen was resented in Brazil for giving into American commercialism and for portraying the stereotypical “Latino bimbo,” an image she attempted to break.
She was not only a media target, but the country’s upper class criticized her image as “too black,” and her limited English vocabulary was a running joke.
After being boo’d off stage at a charity concert in 1940, she fired back with two samba songs, “Disseram que Voltei Americanizada“ (“They Say I’ve Come Back Americanized”) and “Bananas Is My Business,” and did not return to Brazil again for 14 years.
“I say money, money, money. I say twenty words in English. I say money, money, money and I say hot dog!”
Today her legacy lives on in fashion design and editorials, and in Rio de Janeiro’s Museu de Imagem e do Som (MIS), which showcases several original costumes and clips from her filmography.
Portugal’s Museu Municipal Carmen Miranda in Marco de Canaveses also honors the legend with various photos, one of her famous hats, and a Carmen statue outside the museum.
Watch: Carmen Miranda in ‘That Night In Rio’ (1941) Singing “Boa Noite (Good-Night)”
Enjoy some of our favorite photos of Carmen in the gallery below.