Aurora Miranda dead at 90: Carmen Miranda’s sister was fiery ‘Phantom Lady’ singer & enthralled Donald Duck in ‘The Three Caballeros’
Aurora Miranda, Carmen Miranda’s sister and a singer/dancer/actress seen in a handful of Hollywood movies of the mid-1940s, most notably Phantom Lady and The Three Caballeros, died of natural causes on Dec. 22, in Rio de Janeiro. Miranda, who had been suffering from memory loss and had been weakened by a recent bout of pneumonia, was 90.
Born in Rio on April 20, 1915, to Portuguese parents (sister Carmen was born in Portugal in 1909), Aurora Miranda started her show business career while still a teenager, singing on radio and pairing up with her older sister at Rio’s then-prestigious Cassino da Urca in the early 1930s.
Aurora Miranda’s first major hit, singing alongside Brazil’s top crooner, Francisco Alves, was Assis Valente’s “Cai, Cai, Balão” (lit. “Come Down, Come Down, Balloon”). Her biggest recording success, however, would come out the following year: André Filho’s Rio de Janeiro-themed “Cidade Maravilhosa” (“Wonderful City”), which became Rio’s official anthem in 1960.
Aurora Miranda and André Filho sing “Cidade Maravilhosa.”
Aurora Miranda made her film debut at age 20 in 1935, singing “Cidade Maravilhosa” in Alô, Alô, Brasil, clearly inspired by Paramount’s The Big Broadcast (1932). Directed by João de Barro; Alberto Ribeiro; and New York City-born, Rio-based filmmaker Wallace Downey, the comedy-musical, one of the relatively few Brazilian-made features of the decade, consisted of a series of sketches showcasing the country’s top radio stars. Carmen Miranda, by then already a major name, also made an appearance in the film.
During that period, Aurora shared the screen with Carmen in three other Brazilian musicals:
- Wallace Downey’s Estudantes (1935), featuring another array of radio stars.
- Adhemar Gonzaga’s Alô, Alô, Carnaval (1936), wearing (what looks like gold-lamé) top hat and tails while singing João de Barro, Lamartine Babo, and Alberto Ribeiro’s classic “Cantoras do Rádio” (“Radio Singers”).
- Ruy Costa’s Bananaland-set Banana-da-Terra (“Plantain,” 1939), of which reportedly only a Carmen Miranda song-and-dance number survives.
Aurora Miranda in Hollywood
Aurora Miranda is supposed to have been the second busiest Brazilian recording artist of the 1930s, trailing only her sister. In the 1940s, she followed Carmen to the United States, singing on the radio and performing onstage at the Roxy and the Copacabana in New York City.
The younger Miranda also made brief appearances in five Hollywood movies. Here’s three of them:
- Jean Negulesco’s romantic thriller The Conspirators (1944), in a fleeting but memorable (unbilled) bit as a fado singer whose plaintive song becomes a topic of discussion – “I believe in fate!” – between lovers Hedy Lamarr and Paul Henreid.
- Joseph Santley’s upscale – by Republic Pictures standards – romantic musical Brazil (1944), starring Mexican icon Tito Guízar as a Spanish-accented Brazilian composer/singer and his equally Spanish-accented (faux) twin, in addition to snooty Why Marry a Latin? American author Virginia Bruce as Guízar’s love/hate interest in what sounds like a gender-swapping, partial rip-off of Her Sister from Paris and its remake, Two-Faced Woman. Aurora Miranda is seen in a “specialty number.”
- Frank McDonald’s B romantic musical Tell It to a Star (1945), a Republic release toplining Ruth Terry and Robert Livingston, and featuring Miranda in another specialty number.
Her two other – and more notable – movie appearances were in Phantom Lady and The Three Caballeros.
‘Phantom Lady’ & ‘The Three Caballeros’
In Robert Siodmak’s classic film noir Phantom Lady (1944), Aurora Miranda was cast as a temperamental, extravagantly garbed and behatted music hall entertainer who becomes furious at the fact that the titular character (Fay Helm), sitting in the audience, is wearing an identical oversized, overelaborate black hat.
Later on in the film, the fiery, r-rolling singer refuses to admit to amateur sleuth Ella Raines that there ever was anyone in the audience wearing the same hat as hers.
In Walt Disney’s World War II era “Good Neighbor Policy” mix of live action and animation, The Three Caballeros (1944), a colorfully garbed Miranda is featured in the Brazilian segment, singing, in Portuguese, Ary Barroso’s “Os Quindins de Iaiá” to Joe Carioca and an enamored Donald Duck.
Curiously, the Anglo-Spanish title The Three Caballeros was replaced in Brazil with the Brazilian-centered Você Já Foi a Bahia? (“Have You Been to Bahia?”). Even more curious is listening to Aurora Miranda singing another Brazilian classic, “Tico-Tico no Fubá,” in Esperanto. (Carmen Miranda sings “Tico-Tico” in typical rat-a-tat fashion in the 1947 musical comedy Copacabana.)
Brief film comeback
After a decade in the U.S., in 1951 Aurora Miranda returned with husband Gabriel Richaid (since 1940) to Rio de Janeiro. Her sister would die in Beverly Hills four years later, following a heart attack at age 45.
At age 74, Miranda stepped back in front of the camera – after a 45-year-hiatus – for what would be her last film role: in veteran Carlos Diegues’ Better Days Ahead / Dias Melhores Virão (1989), she gets to sing the old standard “Você Só… Mente.” Her brief comeback was credited to the film’s star, Marília Pêra (Pixote), who plays a voice actress with dreams of Hollywood stardom.
In the last few decades of her life, Miranda could also be seen discussing her own and her sister’s show business careers in Helena Solberg’s documentary Carmen Miranda: Bananas Is My Business (1995), and on the music and culture television show Ensaio aired in the year 2000 – which proved that the 85-year-old could still carry a tune.
Aurora Miranda was buried near her sister Carmen in Rio’s São João Batista cemetery.
Coincidentally, in December 2005 Rio’s Museum of Modern Art is presenting an exhibition showcasing Carmen Miranda’s costumes, jewelry, old records, and other memorabilia in honor of her passing half a century ago.
 “Cidade Maravilhosa” was actually the official anthem of the newly formed state of Guanabara, which comprised only the city of Rio de Janeiro – Brazil’s capital until 1960, when the federal government was transferred to the newly created city of Brasília.
The state of Guanabara ceased to exist in 1975, when the city of Rio de Janeiro became the capital of the (much larger) state of the same name.
Joe Carioca, Donald Duck, and Aurora Miranda The Three Caballeros image: Walt Disney Studios, via tumblr.com.
“Aurora Miranda Enthralled Donald Duck & Was Fiery Phantom Lady Singer” last updated in January 2019.