Brazilian Bombshell. The Lady in the Tutti Frutti Hat. While Carmen Miranda (1909-1955) may not be a household name anymore, many are familiar with her image, that of a stunning woman balancing fruit on her head. Miranda’s likeness has been parodied in cartoons—specifically Bugs Bunny—as Halloween costumes, and the basis of many a drag queen performance. However, from the 1930s to the 1950s, she graced the silver screen alongside fellow A-listers Betty Grable, Don Ameche, and Groucho Marx, starring in movies like Down Argentine Way (1940) and Copacabana (1947). She was featured in fan magazines, lobby cards, and other, now-collectible movie ephemera.
Miranda was more than a Hollywood star, explains Kathryn Bishop-Sanchez, professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Carmen Miranda scholar. In her book, Creating Carmen Miranda (2016), Bishop-Sanchez explores the cultural significance of Carmen Miranda and her multifacetedness. Contrary to popular belief, “there’s a lot more depth to her as a star,” Sanchez-Bishop explains.
Fan magazines were a popular media form in the 1930s and 1940s, which Bishop-Sanchez used to research her book Photoplay, Screenland, and Motion Picture featured gossip, interviews, short article, and photos. These magazines were accessible and inexpensive, intended to provide women a “behind the scenes look” at their favorite stars. However, fan magazines began to peter out by the 1970s.
Unfortunately, Bishop-Sanchez found that those magazines did not have many interviews with Miranda but focused more on photos and short quips. Miranda was often shown in her legendary platform shoes or making Brailian food or fruit salad. These depictions, according to Bishop-Sanchez, served to reinforce a sense of Brazilianness.
Many other film stars were featured in these magazines, including ice skater Sonia Henie, swimmer Ester Williams, and Judy Garland. But Bishop-Sanchez points out that the magazines “focused on what made these stars unique on film.”
Carmen Miranda also appeared on lobby cards—posters made on the cheap used to promote films. According to Steve Schapiro of The Movie Poster Book (1979), lobby cards were displayed on easels in theater lobbies featuring a flashy production still from the movie. Lobby cards first appeared around 1913 and were printed in sets of eight to twelve and maxed out at around 11" x 14". Lobby cards were meant to “promote and sell the film aggressively,” says Bishop-Sanchez, regardless of whether what was on the cards actually showed up on screen. Films that starred Carmen Miranda regularly emphasized her brightly colored costumes, even if the film was in black and white. Lobby cards for the movie Doll Face (1945) showed Carmen Miranda in an incredible outfit with an illuminated lighthouse headpiece, but the entire scene was cut because it was too suggestive.
Collectors of movie ephemera can collect lobby cards and magazines based on an era, a genre of film, or focus on a single star, like Carmen Miranda. Currently, lobby cards range from $15 for Ordinary People (1981) to $1,250 for It Happened One Night (1936) on AbeBooks. Fan magazines, like PhotoPlay and Movie Fan, can be found affordably as well. Carmen Miranda lobby cards can start at $100 and go up from there, such as this lobby card for That Night in Rio with Don Ameche.
As with any collecting endeavor, do your research. The Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills is a great resource for scholars and collectors who focus on Hollywood’s heyday. Looking for more vintage eye candy? A digital archive of film magazines exists here.
Elisa Shoenberger is a historian and journalist. She has published articles at the Boston Globe, the Rumpus, Deadspin, Syfy, Inside Philanthropy, and other outlets. She is a regular contributor to Book Riot and is the co-editor and co-founder of The Antelope: A Journal of Oral History and Mayhem.