Who was that singer with the fruit bowl on her head

01:00 Mon 22nd Oct 2001 |

A. Carmen Miranda, the Brazilian Bombshell. She was born Maria do Carmo Miranda Da Cunha in Marco de Canavezes, near Lisbon, Portugal, on 9 February 1909.< xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

Q. But I thought she was Brazilian ...

A. Soon after her birth, Carmen's family moved to Brazil and settled in Rio de Janeiro, the capital. Carmen grew up in a large, working-class family; her father was a barber and her mother ran a boarding house. Carmen left school at 15 and got a job at a store where she often sang as she worked. She was soon noticed and began singing on a local radio station. That led to recording contracts and tours. By the age of 20, she was a superstar in Brazil and launched a film career in her home country.

Q. And the American market

A. She arrived in 1939 and was signed up for musical revues on Broadway. Her breakthrough into Hollywood films came the next year with the 20th Century Fox production of Down Argentine Way with Betty Grable and Don Ameche. That Night in Rio, with Ameche and Alice Faye followed. Soon, she was being parodied in cartoons (notably by Jerry the mouse, Tom's co-star), complete with her trademark fruit hat and wide, toothy grin.

Q. What's with the fruit

A. She had adopted this gimmick in her later Brazilian films. Carmen wore the costume of the Bahiana, women who carried produce on their heads to market. Carmen's early version was simple: a turban covered with fruit, ruffled blouse, bare midriff and flouncy skirt. The Hollywood costume designer Yvonne Wood elaborated on this theme. As she became more famous, he was weighed down with jewels and complicated hats, skirts and blouses. Even her shoes became higher and higher.

Q. Her biggest hit

A. Probably Yi Yi Yi Yi (I Like You Very Much) from That Night in Rio (1941). Carmen played a fiery nightclub performer and proved herself a great comic foil, spitting out her lines at breakneck speed. The film also featured another big hit, Chica Chica Boom Chic. Other hit films followed, including Springtime In The Rockies (1942) with Betty Grable and Cesar Romero; Four Jills In A Jeep, and Nancy Goes To Rio (1950).

Q. Television

A. Yes - Carmen progressed to the small screen, but not for long.

Q. Why

A. In 1955, she flew to Los Angeles to appear on Jimmy Durante's popular television show on 4 August. Durante spun her around during a dance number, and she dropped to one knee, got up, and said: 'I'm out of breath.' The show went on and it seemed Carmen had recovered. But as she got ready for bed that night, she suffered a fatal heart attack. Her husband discovered her body the next morning. Her funeral, on 13 August, was a huge public affair in Rio. She lay in state while weeping crowds passed by.

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by Steve Cunningham

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