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Hollywood Divas in Brazil: Carnival Madness & Personal Spats

8 minutes read

Hollywood Divas + international movie stars in Brazil
International cinema and Hollywood Divas in Brazil.
Ramon Novarro Beyond Paradise

In As Divas no Brasil / Divas in Brazil, Brazilian author Evânio Alves narrates numerous little-known stories – some tragic, some humorous, some downright bizarre – about international film, music, stage, and even opera and ballet (female) stars during their visit to the South American nation.

According to Alves, the reasons for the divas’ visits to Brazil have been varied. For instance, Madonna’s reasons for dropping by have been professional (record-breaking shows a few years ago), personal (she was dating Brazilian model Jesus Luz), and socially conscious (as a representative of the NGO “Success for Kids”). Eleonora Duse and Vivien Leigh performed The Lady of the Camellias on the Rio de Janeiro stage; the former in the mid-1880s, the latter in the early 1960s. Margot Fonteyn danced at Rio’s Teatro Municipal, while Marlene Dietrich performed a cabaret act that, as attested by images found in Divas in Brazil, would have made Angelina Jolie’s recent leg display seem quite modest indeed.

Jayne Mansfield, Kim Novak, Lana Turner, Ginger Rogers, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and dozens of others flew down to Rio for Carnival. Paris Hilton was there for both Carnival and to promote a local beer named “Devassa” (“Debauched”). Mary Pickford attended a film festival, while Brigitte Bardot is credited with the “discovery” of the rustic beach town of Búzios, now one of the poshest resorts near Rio. Janet Gaynor, the first Best Actress Oscar winner, and Mary Martin actually bought farmland in the Brazilian hinterlands and eventually became Honorary Brazilian Citizens.

Since Divas in Brazil was published in Brazil in 2010, there’s no mention of recent “diva” visits to that country, including those of Anne Hathaway, promoting Carlos Saldanha’s hit animated feature Rio; Jordana Brewster, starring in Fast Five with Vin Diesel and Paul Walker; and Kristen Stewart, who caused a sensation while filming with Robert Pattinson the Brazilian honeymoon of Edward Cullen and Bella Swan-Cullen in Bill Condon’s The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1. Perhaps in a follow-up book.

But not to worry … There are plenty of major names featured in Alves’ book. In addition to Dietrich, Bardot, Gaynor, Madonna, Pickford, et al., among those also included in Divas in Brazil are Natalie Wood, Janis Joplin, Joan Crawford, Catherine Deneuve, Maria Callas, Renata Tebaldi, Alicia Keys, Beyoncé Knowles, Martine Carol, Edith Piaf, Susan Hayward, Ava Gardner, Marina Vlady, Carmen Miranda, Sonja Henie, Josephine Baker, Anna Pavlova, Sarah Bernhardt, Rita Hayworth, Yvonne De Carlo, Gina Lollobrigida, Sophia Loren, Princess Diana, Jeanne Moreau, Claudia Cardinale, Romy Schneider, Linda Darnell, and Sara Montiel.

Author Evânio Alves has kindly agreed to answer a few questions about Divas in Brazil for Alt Film Guide. See below. The images found in this post were also provided by Alves.

Jayne Mansfield Carnival [Photo: Jayne Mansfield.]

First of all, what made you decide to write a book about international female entertainers visiting Brazil?

I am an eternal lover of divas. Whenever I read something about them here in Brazil, I was amazed and tried to find out more details about [their visits]. So I started looking for a book specifically about the subject, and seeing that there wasn’t any, I decided to write one myself.

Was it difficult to find documentation on the countless international stars that have visited the country in the last century or so?

It was very difficult. It took me eight years gathering information. Unfortunately, the few people who had contact with the divas here in Brazil either did not have time to help me or wouldn’t do it. So I looked for imported materials to gather information: autobiographies and biographies in several languages – English, French, Spanish, Italian – and newspapers and magazines of the period.

Nowadays, international stars such as Kristen Stewart, Madonna, and Beyoncé Knowles “officially” visit Brazil because they’re either filming/performing there or plugging their latest release. Were there other “official” reasons for movie stars to travel to Brazil, say, in the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, or ’70s – when the Brazilian film/music market was, in terms of buying power, much smaller than it is now?

The reasons that brought the foreign divas to Brazil were in fact variable. When not filming or performing in some night club, they came for the Carnival or even looking for their Brazilian love affairs. This was the case of Linda Christian who was eventually expelled from the city by [socialite] Baby Pignatari because she would not let him go!

Where did those international stars usually stay?

In São Paulo, the divas stayed mainly at the Lord Hotel, where there was a nightclub for them to perform. In Rio, they stayed at the Hotel Gloria, the second most luxurious in the city, or, more frequently, at the Copacabana Palace, the no. 1 in the luxury category.

Jorginho Guinle, of the international jet set, was largely responsible for the discovery of Brazil by the divas. In 1954, the first film festival in São Paulo was held; it was also the anniversary of the city, so Jorginho was designated to bring the divas to honor the festival. He also brought them to Rio to see the Carnival and, of course, they were delighted and did the best of all advertising: they told friends about the trip, so all the others wanted to come to the “caliente” Brazilian Carnival.

How did the Brazilian media report those visits? What about average Brazilians? Did they care whether or not Rita Hayworth or Romy Schneider or Elsa Martinelli was around?

Brazilians are famous for being hospitable. That is a fact. As a result, the press has always had a great affection for the divas; it was rare to print anything negative about any of them.

But the Brazilian people were unable to control themselves when the divas put their feet on our beautiful land. People threw themselves on top of the ladies, asking for autographs and taking pictures in a way unlike any other country. Marlene Dietrich herself says this in her memoirs. She even had to pretend to faint to get into the Copacabana Palace in 1959.

Any particularly scandalous / disastrous / humorous / visit you’d like to mention?

There were several scandalous episodes, indeed. If there is no scandal, there is no diva! The passage of Jayne Mansfield was remarkable in 1959. She was almost naked when the strap of her dress broke at the Mardi Gras Ball in Copacabana – whether or not that was intentional, we will never know. Anyhow, in the following days she was found on almost every cover of gossip magazines and newspapers, including reports of drunken nights in Rio that left her in an alcoholic coma. But that belongs to the past.

Kim Novak Juscelino Kubitschek
Kim Novak, Brazilian president Juscelino Kubitschek

Vivien Leigh performing in The Lady of the Camellias in Rio de Janeiro. How did that go?

It was the greatest privilege for Brazil to have Scarlett O’Hara on the Brazilian stage. The most interesting thing is that I was lucky enough to get a program for the play, autographed by her at Rio’s Teatro Municipal in 1962. All Brazilians wanted to see her, the competition was fierce for tickets.

Is it true that Maria Callas and Renata Tebaldi became rivals after their stay in Rio?

At first, I had my doubts when I read about this topic. Since I think that every writer should have a connection with the reader so as to avoid bringing up doubts, I read lots of articles, even in other languages. In fact, the rivalry did begin in Brazil when the two prima donnas vied for the same stage in their first performance here.

Zsa Zsa Gabor
Zsa Zsa Gabor

Kim Novak using hair from the mustache of Zsa Zsa Gabor’s chihuahua – without either Gabor’s or the poor chihuahua’s authorization – as part of her Carnival costume in the early ’60s … That sounds like something out of a Pedro Almodóvar movie written by David Lynch. Did that really happen?

In fact it seems like a movie, but it happened, including Kim improvising a costume as a beggar and going to the street Carnival with Jorginho Guinle. People would grab her hand to dance without knowing it was Ms. Novak – she wore a mask. She confessed later that this experience made her change her concept of life.

In the preface to Divas in Brazil, you state that you have voraciously read numerous film-star biographies. While doing research in Brazil, did you find much information that was unique – that you’d never seen in any of the biographies you’ve read?

I collected a lot of information from imported biographies and autobiographies, but there is much in the book drawn from magazines and newspapers that circulated in Brazil at the time. So, that part of the information is new even to foreign readers.

And finally, any other book(s) in the works?

Yes, there is a new book about the divas in the kitchen. Literally at the stove, as I write about them in a moment of intimacy in their homes – more precisely while cooking in the kitchen. In the book, I share a number of fascinating stories and I introduce each diva’s favorite recipe. I also try to somehow decipher what made such sophisticated women – rich and with so much help at home – take to the kitchen. Stay tuned!

The book Divas in Brazil is for sale at and to learn about my follow-up book, just visit the same site. Soon it will be on Amazon.

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