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To Be Evita © - Part I

Evita

Buenos Aires, July 26, 1952. Argentina is wrapped in silence as the country listens to the official communique from the Subsecretariat of Information: "It is our sad duty to inform the people of the Republic that Eva Perón, the Spiritual Leader of the Nation, died at 8:25 P.M.

From that initial silence sprang forth the sound of weeping and the sound of corks popping from champagne bottles. These sounds reflected the love and the hate that Evita inspired. The sounds of weeping reached the street and took the form of interminable lines visible to all the world until the day of Evita's funeral on August 11th. The champagne glasses were raised in private.

Each Argentine knew who Eva Perón was; some, however, based their knowledge on their feelings while others depended on the rational interpretation of facts. Tangible reality began to take the form of myth and those of us who did not share Evita's chronological space in time but wished to know her found that for many years our way was blocked by silence. "We Do Not Speak of That" is not only the title of an Argentine film but also a signpost of our history.

The works that were published, the movies that were filmed, the voices that even today are raised in praise or condemnation confirm that Eva Perón has transcended both time and myth.

If life is a continual choice and we continue to evolve until the hour of our death, then on July 26, 1952, Evita, the child born thirty-three years ago in a small Argentine town, had reached the end of her journey: she had become forever Evita.

Los Toldos

Los Toldos Train StationHer story began on May 7, 1919, in Los Toldos, Province of Buenos Aires, when Juana Ibaguren gave birth. Four siblings preceded her: Elisa, Blanca, Juan and Erminda. Her father, Juan Duarte, had arrived in Los Toldos at the beginning of the century and had leased the farmland of La Unión with the goal of making it prosper. Everyone knew that the soil of the region was good for livestock and for agriculture. Juan Duarte belonged to an influential family in Chivilcoy and he and Adela d'Huart had several children there.

Prosperous and prestigious among the Conservatives of the area, patrón of an estancia, typical leader in the political struggles of the time, Juan Duarte was named Deputy Justice of the Peace in 1908.

But 1919 was not a good time for Conservatives. After long years of struggles, revolutionary in the beginning and abstentionist later, assured of electoral victory by the Saenz Peña Law after years of electoral fraud, the Radical Party headed to the polls and walked away with the power.

After the Radical Party President Dr. HipólitoYrigoyen dismantled the machinery which had prevented freedom of expression in the provinces, the Conservatives lost their last bastion in the Province of Buenos Aires. The Conservative Mayor and personal friend of Juan Duarte was replaced by the Radical Jose A. Vega Muñoz.

Juan Duarte's star began to decline and economic difficulties appeared on the horizon. When he was offered the job of administering fields in the neighboring vicinity of Quiroga, the family moved there but only stayed for a year. Erminda attended first grade in Public School Number One, but Evita was still too small to don the obligatory Argentine schoolchild's white smock.

Since Quiroga did not offer them the opportunities they had hoped for, the family returned to Los Toldos. While the older children had enjoyed their father's times of economic bonanza, the younger ones knew only the times of scarcity. Their situation became even more serious when Juan Duarte died on January 8, 1926, after a car accident in Chivilcoy.

Juan Duarte's funeral has been presented in both literary and dramatic form many times over. The rejection that Eva's family supposedly experienced is at the core of these presentations. Blanca and Erminda, Evita's surviving sisters, categorically deny these scandalous versions. Their half brothers and sisters had already lost their mother. Eloisa Duarte (their half sister) has a son, Raúl Guillermo Muñoz, who has stated in a document witnessed by a notary public that the two families have always maintained a cordial relationship.

From that time on, the problem of survival "became a struggle which took on a new aspect each day," as Erminda Duarte remembers in her book, My Sister Evita (pg. 20). Doña Juana sat at her Singer sewing machine day after day, sewing and sewing, never complaining, ignoring her doctor's orders to rest her ulcerated legs. "I have no time. If I rest, how can I work, how can we survive?" (ibid, pg. 31). Elisa worked at the post office. Blanca studied to be a teacher in the pampas town of Bragado.

Eva began primary school when she was eight. She attended first and second grade in Los Toldos. Her childhood was spent in contact with nature, climbing trees, raising silkworms, playing hide-and-seek, hopscotch and tag, wearing homemade costumes which replaced store bought toys and made her into whatever she wanted to be.

Her sister Erminda was her inseparable playmate and her brother Juan fulfilled their wishes: he made kites and even a piano with keys that moved; he was the architect who constructed their playhouses and the ringmaster of their circuses. Elisa and Blanca nourished their childhood fantasies with bedtime stories.

Junín

In 1930 Juana decided to leave Los Toldos with her "tribe," as she liked to call her family, to seek a better fortune in the nearby town of Junin, where Elisa had been transferred. Blanca would soon begin teaching at the Sacred Heart School and Juan would find work in the town's pharmacy. Erminda began secondary school at the Colegio Nacional and Eva was registered in third grade at Public School #1, Catalina Larralt de Estrugamon.

In Junin at lunchtime three people sat down at the family table because they preferred Doña Juana's homemade cooking over anything else the small town had to offer; with time they would become part of the family.

Major Alfredo Arrieta, Commander of the Military District, would marry Elisa. Don José Alvarez Rodriguez, rector of the Colegio Nacional, came with his brother, Dr. Justo José Alvarez Rodriguez, who would one day marry Blanca.

In Junin, the childhood theatricals of Los Toldos were replaced by roles on a real stage. Eva began to stand out for her ability to recite poetry. In her autobiography, The Reason For My Life, she would say, "Even as a little girl I wanted to recite. It was as though I wished to say something to others, something important which I felt in my deepest heart." (pg.21) The Commission of the Artistic and Cultural Center of the Colegio Nacional often organized theatricals. Erminda was a member and even though Evita wasn't, she was still allowed to join the group and participate in a play called "Arriba Estudiantes." In Junin Evita's voice was broadcast for the first time over the loudspeakers installed in Prime Arini's "House of Music." Once a week the young people of the town would take the microphone in hand and display their artistic talent for singing, reciting, or declaiming.

Evita's "profound artistic vocation" (as she herself spoke of her calling) was nourished by Junin's cinema, her teenage radio auditions and her collection of film star pictures.

In Junin Evita had to make her first choice: "Shall I remain a small town girl and marry here as so many girls do? Shall I be a teacher like Blanca? Or an employee like Elisa?" By 1935 Evita had made up her mind: "I'II be an actress.

The characteristics of Evita's personality fit her vocation. She herself would say in La Razón de Mi Vida, her autobiography, "Like the birds, I've always preferred the freedom of the forest. I haven't even been able to tolerate that minimum loss of freedom which comes from living with your parents or in your hometown. Very early in life I left my home and my hometown and since then I've always lived free. I've wanted to be on my own and I have been on my own." (La Razón de Mi Vida, C.S. Ediciones, Buenos Aires, 1995, pgs. 193-194).

The circumstances which surround Evita's leavetaking from Junin have generated countless versions, the most common of which involves Augustín Magaldi, nicknamed the "Gardel of the Provinces" [Carlos Gardel was a famous Argentine tango singer]. Depending on which version you hear, he's either interceding with Doña Juana, at Evita's request, to obtain her permission for Evita to go to Buenos Aires, or simply providing Eva with letters of introduction which will open the doors of stardom for her. Erminda's memory of the conflict caused by Evita's unshakable decision to go to Buenos Aires and Doña Juana's no less unshakable desire to prevent her from going, contradicts the Magaldi versions. After pondering the words of José Alvarez Rodriguez, who advised her not to stand in the way of her daughter's vocation, Doña Juana gave in. "The rector insisted so much, that Mother, clenching her teeth, took you to Buenos Aires.

Doña Juana returned alone, "furious with the Rector of the Colegio Nacional, furious with everyone, "having left Eva in the home of friends of the family, the Bustamantes" (Duarte, Erminda: op. cit., pg. 71). The little girl of Los Toldos and Junin had been left behind. Together with a few personal possessions placed in a suitcase and lost over the course of the years, Eva took with her the pedaling sound of the New Home Sewing Machine, the remembrance of toys wished for but never obtained, the impact of the discovery that there are poor and rich in the world and the emotional indignation felt when faced with injustice... these things she would always keep.

Eva Duarte Actress

Eva Duarte ActressEva was just one more provincial to arrive in the great city during the '30's. More and more people with brown skin and provincial accents were coming into greater Buenos Aires. Just as in the Creek theater, Buenos Aires presented two masks, one comic, the other tragic.

These were times of misery, unemployment, and hunger in a country which was one of the major producers of food in the world. These times were captured in the lyrics of the tango "Yira"... "when you split your shoes looking for some money so you can buy food," sang Gardel.

The industrialization process which began during the early part of the decade absorbed the workers pushed by the crisis to flee the interior and come to Buenos Aires. The upper and middle classes regarded these dark-skinned workers with horror. Buenos Aires had been a city of white skins and European architecture. Its inhabitants were not used to slums and "yesterday's mate [ herbal tea] drying in the sun" so it could be used again. The owners of the palaces on Avenida Alvear, the oligarchs, members of the landowing aristocracy, were used to traveling to Europe. They were not used to the slap-in-the-face reality of tenements and slums on their own doorstep.

Immersed in this reality, Eva Duarte dedicated ten years to her "passion for the arts." In 1945, having achieved the right to be considered a "star," she said in an interview for the movie magazine Radiolandia, "I am not an adventuress, although some (those who never forgive a young woman for succeeding) make me out to be one. I have spent more than five years dedicated to what is in me a firmly-rooted vocation: the arts. These have been five years of troubles, of noble struggles when I've known the uncertainty of adversity as well as the gratification of success" (Radiolandia, April 7, 1945).

Soon after arriving in Buenos Aires, Eva joined the Argentine Comedy Company (Compañía Argentina de Comedias), headed by Eva France, a front line actress on the Argentine stage. On March 28, 1935, she debuted with a small part in the vaudeville production, "La Señora de los Perez." The critic Augusto Guibourg wrote in his review, "Eva Duarte was very good in her small part" Crítica, March 29, 1935). She would not always be fortunate enough to be mentioned but she stayed with the Company until January of 1936, always playing in bit parts in "Cada casa es un mundo" , "Mme. San Gene" and in "La Dama, el Caballero, y el Ladrón.

Eva DuarteIn May of 1936 she went on tour with the Company belonging to Pepita Muñoz, José Franco and Eloy Alvarez, and in December she joined the Company of Pablo Suero in a new play, "Los Inocentes." In the early months of 1937 she was still with Suero's company when they performed for a few days in Montevideo.

When she returned to Buenos Aires she joined the company of Armando Discépolo, considered to be one of the best directors of those times. On March 5, 1937, "La Nueva Colonia," written by L. Pirandello, opened in the Teatro Politeama. In spite of the good reviews, the play was a failure at the box office. Augusto Guibourg noted that, "Juanita Sujo, Eva Duarte, Anita Jordan and Jordana Fain acted gracefully together in scenes that were skillfully directed" (Crítica, May 5, 1937).

In August Eva appeared for the first time on the big screen. She had obtained a small contract to act in the film, "Segundos Afuera." At the same time Radio Belgrano offered her a contract to participate in the radio theater drama, "Oro Blanco.

In the following years she would act simultaneously in the theater, in the movies and on the radio. As was customary among actresses, she made incursions into the areas of publicity and graphic arts. From 1938 to 1940 Eva appeared on the Buenos Aires stage as part of the companies of Pierina Dealissi, Camila Quiroga, and Leopoldo Tomás Simari.

Her appearances in the movies were less frequent. She was in "La Carga de los Valientes," "El más infeliz del pueblo" and "Una novia en apuros." She had to wait until 1944 to have a more important role in "La Cabalgata del Circo." She was the star of the movie "La Pródiga" in 1945, but it was never released to the public.

In his book, Días de Radio (Radio Days), Cesar Ulanovsky affirms, "By the beginning of the 1940's very few people doubted the sentiments and the effects that radio was capable of producing. Behind the polished walnut or mahogany cabinets were hidden the national identity documents of the era: multitudes of dreams, unleashed imagination, talented people trained in all the different kinds of entertainment ranging from drama to humor. Radio dictated the limits of possibility where fiction and reality mingled and singing voices raised or lowered the volume of people's lives as if illusion or disillusion were a sort of resounding destiny" (Ulanovsky, César: Días de Radio, ed. Espasa-Calpe, Buenos Aires, 1995, p. 121).

Evita on the radioEva Duarte had climbed up that stage early on and would continue to affirm her right to be there. In 1939 she and Pascual Pelliciotta headed the Company of the Theater of the Air, first in Radio Mitre, then in Radio Prieto. On May 1, 1939, the soap opera "Los Jasmines del '80" was broadcast for the first time. Eva's radio programs appeared on the Radio Argentina, El Mundo, and, finally, in 1943, on Radio Belgrano when she began a series which would continue until 1945, "The Biographies of Illustrious Women," among them Elizabeth I of England, Sarah Bernhard, Margarita Well de Pat, Isadora Duncan, Mme. Chiang Kai Shek, Catherine the Great.

"I was lucky," she said in the Radiolandia interview, "to go from one microphone to the next until I came to the one which for me is the best radio has to offer. In Radio Belgrano I found people who believed in my possibilities. Here I have reached the height of my career, a very rewarding career which began modestly but grew as I dedicated myself to my work, as I strove to perfect myself and to assimilate the very valuable lessons I received.

When Eva Duarte actress leaves the radio stage Eva Perón will take her place. Her voice will continue to reach each home, not as the incarnation of another woman's but as her own. By then she will have made a commitment to a cause and to a man, to Colonel Juan Domingo Perón.


To Be Evita ©
Biography
Evita Peron Historical Research Foundation
Translation by Dolane Larson
Hecho el depósito que marca la ley 11.723
May not be reproduced in total or partial form
without authorization of the FIHEP
April, 1997


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