Maria do Carmo Miranda da Cunha, “The Brazilian Bombshell,” was born in the small town of Marco de Canavezes, near Lisbon, Portugal. Her family moved to the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro when she was a baby.Miranda was raised in a convent school and later worked as a hat maker and a model in a Rio department store.
When a musician dis¬ covered her singing on the job there, he was so impressed that he got her work on a radio show. Soon, she was performing in Brazilian nightclubs and movies. When an American theatrical producer saw her nightclub act, he invited her to come to New York City to perform on Broadway.
In 1939, Miranda appeared in the Broadway musical The Streets of Paris, and she immedi¬ ately became a star in the United States. She followed up with an appearance in a nightclub act at the Waldorf Astoria hotel and later moved to Hollywood.
Miranda appeared in a string of movies in the early 1940s, such as Down Argentine Way and Week-End in Havana. Her most memorable performance came in the 1943 movie entitled The Gangs All Here, in which she performed “The Lady in the Tutti-Frutti Hat,” a song that was created especially for her.
The song was appropriate for the character Miranda had created. All of her movies revolved around exotic, trop¬ ical locales, and for the films, Miranda developed a comic female character that combined a mix of exaggerated Hispanic stereotypes. For her roles, she wore elab¬ orate costumes that included platform shoes and oversized hats filled with fruit.
Mirandas career in the United States was short-lived. She had reached her peak during a time when interest in Latin America was high. U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt had implemented the Good Neighbor Policy, designed to court friendships with Latin American countries in order to fend off fascism in the region.
After World War II, however, the United States shifted its focus to the Soviet Union and the spread of communism in Eastern Europe. Interest in Latin America waned and so did Mirandas career. She made only a few movies in the late 1940s. In 1933, she died of a heart attack, after appearing on a television show with the comedian Jimmy Durante.She was forty-six years old.
Even after her death, Miranda inspired the creation of another character, the woman who appeared in television commercials for Chiquita Banana. The woman wore a head¬ dress made of bananas and sang a song about the product. By this time, however, audiences were sensitive to the offensive nature of the character, and the commercials were eventually dropped.