Delightful biography of the sparklingly talented singer-dancer from Rio whose staccato crackle and tutti-frutti hats brought her world fame via Hollywood films wherein—for a while—she spread the gospel of Brazil's samba and other dances. In 1910, born into great poverty in Portugal as Maria do Carmo Miranda da Cunha and soon emigrating to Rio de Janeiro, Carmen Miranda was the daughter of a Portuguese barber whose life was a frantic search for money to keep his growing family fed and together. Carmen found early that she liked being a spellbinder, even in the nunnery where she spent part of her childhood. From her older sister Olinda, a milliner, she learned sewing and how to construct the turban fruit-hats later symbolizing her fame. Radio—introduced to Brazil in 1922—brought national dances into flower, and Carmen's samba-based first recordings in 1930 (for RCA Victor in Rio) were smash hits. Her energy, fiery charm, and articulation lent her records tremendous authority, and she quickly became a revered South American institution. However, when the Queen of Samba died at 55 in Los Angeles, Brazil had been disaffected from her for 15 years because of her departure to North America. This was in part due to her backup groups' harmonies having as much to do with the Ink Spots or the Andrews Sisters as with Brazilian tradition. Her best films are the irresistibly overblown, dazzlingly well-done That Night in Rio (with Don Ameche) and Busby Berkeley's spectacularly campy The Gang's All Here (with Carmen in a five-foot-high fruit hat). Inside she was still impoverished, insecure Maria do Carmo and in middle age became a bewildered, neurotic, outlandish, and frightened human being. Heavy drinking, sudden weight gains, pathological despair haunted her until her death by coronary occlusion. Absorbing and well done.
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