To Be Evita ©
- Part I
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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,
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.
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,"
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.
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
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).
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.
Be Evita ©
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