Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Happy Anniversary Scandalous Women!

Okay, I'm actually a month late on the anniversary front but that's because I've been hard at work researching my next few posts for Scandalous Women. It's hard for me to believe that it was a year ago that I first started this blog to share the stories of these remarkable and, in some cases, notorious women. It's truly been a labor of love for me.

As you can see Scandalous Women has a new look in honor of the blog's first year in existence. In addition, starting November 2nd (my birthday), I'll be running a new contest all month.

Anyone who leaves a comment will be entered in a raffle to win a bottle of Ralph Lauren's new fragrance Notorious. After all what else would a Scandalous Woman wear?

The winner will be announced on November 30th.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Bloglovin and Premio Dardos

I just joined Bloglovin

Follow my blog with bloglovin´

Scandalous Women has also received the Premio Dardos award from Nothing Elegant.

This award is given for recognition of cultural, ethical, literary, and personal values transmitted in the form of creative and original writing...that's the general idea. Here it is, more eloquently, in Portuguese:

O conceito deste prémio passa por reconhecer valores culturais, éticos, literários e pessoais, transmitidos de forma criativa e original nos pedacinhos rabiscados por cada blogueiro que o receba.

The rules of this award are as follows: show the image of the award on your blog, link back to the blog that gave the award, and nominate 15 other blogs that you consider deserving the same.
So here are my 15 blogs in random order:

Friday, October 17, 2008

Evita - The True Story of Evita Peron - Part II

"Don't cry for me Argentina, the truth I never left you, all through my wild days, my mad existence, I kept my promise, don't keep your distance!"

Evita on the balcony of the Casa Rosada in Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Weber's Evita.

When we last left Eva, she and Peron had married after his release from prison. Peron announced his candidacy as part of the newly formed Labor Party. Eva broke new ground by being the first candidate's wife to stand by her husband in a political campaign. At each campaign stop, Eva greeted the people, handing out campaign buttons.

She even took a tentative step at making speeches on her own. On February 8 a group of working women met at Luna Park to show their support for the Labor Party ticket. Peron was ill and couldn't attend. Eva was sent in his place. It was supposed to be her debut as a speaker- but they wouldn't let her speak. Every time she tried, the women shouted, "We want Perón!" In a few months that would all change.

When the results of the election that took place on February 24, 1946 were tabulated, Peron had won by 52% of the vote. He was now the President of Argentina and Evita, at the tender age of 26, was its First Lady. Eva immediately caused a sensation by the dress she wore for a gala event. She wore a one shouldered dress, and she was seated next to the Cardinal at dinner. Photos appeared in all the papers, of Eva's bare shoulder only inches away from a man of the cloth. The Oligarchy was scandalized, but the people loved the pictures of their Evita looking glamorous. Soon after the inauguration, Eva and Peron moved into the 283 room of the Unzue Palace. Eva didn't forget her family, her brother Juan became Peron's presidential secretary, and her sisters' husbands were all given positions in the government.

Argentina, at this time, was one of the richest countries in the world. Its years of neutrality during World War II had made it a creditor nation. There was a steady market for Argentine beef and goods in post-war Europe, as well as a steady influx of skilled immigrant workers. But Argentina also had a reputation, particularly in North America, of harboring Nazi war criminals. Peron himself was seen as if not a Nazi himself, someone who had been sympathetic to the Nazi cause. He certainly saw Mussolini as someone to be admired. It was around this time that the first articles about Evita appeared in North American magazines. Newsweek even referred to her as 'La Presidenta'. She deeply fascinated people in the United States who had never seen someone like her before in politics. Peron flamed the anti-American feeling in Argentina, he claimed the US was trying to control and influence domestic policies in the country.

Now Eva had to define what role she would play as First Lady of Argentina. Would it be strictly a ceremonial role, like previous First Ladies, opening shopping centers, serving tea to the women of the oligarchy, presiding over State Banquets? Instead, Eva defined herself by her relationship to Peron as President and Leader.

"This is a foundational circumstance and is related directly to my decision to be a President's wife who does not follow the old model. I could have followed those models. I want to make this clear because sometimes people have tried to explain my "incomprehensible sacrifice" by arguing that the salons of the oligarchy would have been closed to me in any case. Nothing is further from the truth nor from common sense. I could have been a President's wife in the same way that others were. It is a simple and agreeable role: appear on holidays, receive honors, "dress up" and follow protocol which is almost what I did before, and I believe more or less well, in the theater and the cinema. But I was not just the spouse of the President of the Republic, I was also the wife of the leader of the Argentine people"

Eva Peron, The Reason for my Life.

Soon after the inauguration, Eva began to work 3 days a week in an office at the Ministry of Labor. People came to her to ask for favors or financial assistance. Eva would listen to their problems and then act. She would hand out 50 peso notes that she kept under a blotter on her desk. She also began to work more directly with the labor unions, trying to understand their problems. Labor had put Peron in power, and it was essential to keep them happy. Lilliane Guardo, the wife of Ricardo Guardo, the majority leader of Congress became Eva's de facto lady-in-waiting cum social secretary. It was she who helped smooth out the rougher edges on Eva's persona, helping to transform her from well known actress to polished First Lady. Lilliane had four children, and it was hard for her to work the hours that Evita demanded. Eva solved the problem by having a car pick her up and take her home at night. When Lilliane complained of not being able to spend time at their place in the country, Eva arranged for her travel to and from their country estate. Eva worked long hours, it was not uncommon for her to work until 3 o'clock in the morning, take a brief nap, and return to her office at 7. She began to visit factories, and to visit poor neighborhoods, to see for herself how the people lived. Like Princess Diana, she had the common touch. She wasn't afraid to hold the hands of lepers, or to kiss people suffering from syphyllis. It wasn't only for a photo opportunity, Evita really cared about the working class. Despite her success, she still considered herself to be one of them. She also considered herself to be a bridge between Peron and the people. She traveled to the interior of the country to visit the workers in the many provinces of Argentina.

In 1947, Eva was able to buy a newspaper, Democracia, which surprise, surprise turned into a pro-Peron paper. Evita took her revenge on Bramuglia, the lawyer who had treated her so poorly while Peron was in prison, who was now Foreign Minister by making sure his name never appeared in the paper (he was always listed as Foreign Minister) and that his picture was cropped so that he was unrecognizable. The more photos of Eva that appeared in the paper, however, the more circulation rose. Eva took great care with how she was dressed, she felt she owed it to the people to always look glamorous. That meant big hats, lots of jewelry, and furs. One special room in the palace was devoted to her furs, another for her hats, and many more for the many dresses that she wore. At one point, it was noted that Eva had worn 306 dresses in less than a year. She even had a room for the huge amounts of perfume that she brought back from Europe. It was later written that Evita's collection of jewelry was the largest owned by any woman since Cleopatra! When one of her advisors suggested that she might want to tone it down a bit, Evita replied "The poor like to see me beautiful, they do not want to be protected by a poorly dressed woman. You see they dream about me. How can I let them down?"

"Let's hear it for the Rainbow Tour, it's been an incredible success, we weren't quite sure, we had a few doubts, would Evita win through? And the answer is yes, and no, yes and no."

Peron and the chorus in Evita as Eva embarks on her European Tour.

It was also in 1947 that Evita embarked on what became known as the Rainbow Tour of Europe. It was her first trip abroad and she was the first wife of an Argentine President to be invited on an official visit by a foreign government. The invitation was initially extended by Franco to Peron, but it was decided that diplomatically it would be endanger Peron with the UN and the United States to visit a Facist dictatorship. Instead it was decided that Eva would take Peron's place. Even before she left, the anti-Peron press in the US began printing unflattering articles about the trip. It was reported that Foreign Offices hand their hands tied, that they were being forced give a convincing demonstration of welcome or risk having loans called in or exports from Argentina mysteriously disappear. The New York Times later speculated that Eva's trip cost an estimated $4MM, and called it "the most original diplomatic mission in recent times."

In June of 1947, Eva and her entourage left Buenos Aires on two planes, for Evita and the other for her considerable wardrobe. Her itinerary had now grown to encompass not only Spain but Italy, France, Switzerland and Monaco. There was also talk of Eva visiting England, and having an audience with Queen Elizabeth, the future Queen Mother. Unfortunately Eva dithered on the dates of her trip, and consequently it turned out the Royal Family would be in Scotland for their annual summer holiday during Eva's trip. When she found out, Eva took it as a personal affront, not understanding how rigid the Royal Family's schedule was and always has been. So Eva never made it to England.

However, she was acclaimed in Spain, 3,000,000 people warmly greeted her on her arrival. Eva spent 15 days in Spain, where Franco awarded her the Great Cross of Isabel the Catholic, named after Queen Isabella of Ferdinand and Isabella fame. There was one tricky moment when Eva, after receiving the cross, gave a speech to an enthusiastic crowd. She raised her hand over her head in her characteristic salute, which was reported in the press, as a facist salute. Where ever she went, Eva made the time to visit the neighborhoods of the ordinary workers, and their institutions to see how the Europeans dealt with the underclass. But it wasn't all hearts and flowers. In Italy, where she had an audience with Pope Pius XII, the Communist Party demonstrated against her, claiming that the Perons were nothing but Facists. There's a myth repeated in the musical that Evita was called a 'whore' by someone in the crowd, when she complained, another gentleman informed her that he was still called a general even though he had retired years ago. The press followed the tour with a religious fervor, reporting almost daily, of what Eva was wearing, saying, and doing. In Argentina, Eva's success was greeted with cheers, even by her detractors, who despite their negative feelings toward her, couldn't help swell with pride at how their country was being received. While she was in France, Eva was showered with dresses and jewels. She developed a liking for French couture, and ever after most of her wardrobe came from France. In Monaco, Eva made the acquaintance of Aristotle Onassis who later claimed that he had slept with her and given her a check for one of her charities.

"And the money kept rolling in from everyside, Eva's pretty hand reached out and it reached wide.

The Money Keeps Rolling In number from Evita.

There were rumors both while she was alive as well as after her death about the Evita Peron Foundation that was created after Eva's return to Argentina. That contributions were forced, and that Peron and Eva siphoned millions of dollars into a Swiss bank account. Whatever the case, the Evita Peron Foundation became her passion in the five years left before she died. The Foundation came about from the visits that Eva had made to the poor in Europe. Originally it would have falled to Argentina's First Lady to be invited to be the President of the Sociedad de Beneficencia, which was had been run by aging society ladies. But they weren't doing enough for the poor in Eva's opinion. The Foundation gave Eva a way to control how the money was distributed. The money came not only from private donations, mainly from the unions and private corporations, but also from the government. It was true that any company that didn't donate to Eva's foundation found that they suffered financial losses. But the charges that the Foundation was used to launder Nazi gold were spread by anti-Peronists after her death and were never proven. It would take pages to list all the hospitals, schools, nursing schools, and other social services that were created with money from the Foundation. Many of these social services and buildings still exist in Argentina to this day.

There was also a cosmetic change that came over Eva as well. No longer did Eva wear the elaborate hairdos, large hats, over jeweled, and flamboyant dresses. Her hairstyle was simple, the dresses and suits black and tailored, with just jeweled Peronist medallion on the lapel, which she wore even when she slept. Eva also became involved with woman's suffrage, working hard to help marshal support to pass a bill finaly granting women in Argentina the right to vote, 27 years after women in the US were granted the same rights. She also became the first President of the Peronista Women's Party.

Eva was often described as a "South American Eleanor Roosevelt" but she had more in common with Hillary Clinton than Eleanor. Like Hillary, Eva was not the woman behind the man, but the woman who stood next to the man. In the Casa Rosada, Juan Peron is the only Argentine President to be painted with his wife, instead of alone. Eva's manicured hands eventually ended involved in all aspects of the government. Peron knew what a political asset his wife was, even though he had the support of the army and the descamisados, it was Evita who made it all work. Peron let it be known that Eva represented him and his views, that he relied on her above anyone else in Argentina for advice. The army of course resented her interference.

In 1950, Eva fell ill while appearing at a political rally. She was taken to the local hospital where it was discovered that she had uterine cancer. Eva was never told of the seriousness of her illness, she was only told that she was suffering from anemia. But she must have sensed that something was wrong because she redoubled her efforts, working like a woman who knew the clock was ticking. For Peron, it was have been a double blow, knowing that the woman who had been his helpmate was now suffering the same disease that had killed his first wife. For a year Eva refused to see any more doctors. By the time that she submitted to a hysterectomy, it was too late, the cancer had spread.

Peron was gearing up for another run for President after having pushed through a revision to the constitution that allowed for two consecutive six year terms. It was the people of Argentina, her beloved descamisados, who demanded that Eva become Vice President. Time Magazine, which had been banned from the country, wrote "Never before in Argentina, or any other country in the hemisphere, had a woman been groomed for Vice President." Unfortunately for Eva she was forced to decline due to pressure from the army. They were worried that would happen if Peron died in office, leaving Eva in the Presidential hot seat. In her speech renouncing the honor, she urged her followers to give Peron and the party their unconditional loyalty.

The army needn't have worried since Eva was already in the final stages of the cancer that would shortly take her life. She lost more and more weight, eventually she weighed only 80 pounds. There were days when she couldn't even get out of bed, the pain was so great. It was while she was ill that she dictated her autobiography La Razon de mi Vida (The Reason for My Life) and its sequel. The books sold hundreds of thousands of copies. A ballot box was brought into her hospital room so that she could vote for the first time. The truth of Eva's illness was kept, not only from her, but also from the people of Argentina. Various reports stated that she was suffering from anemia, overwork, stress, and even appendicitis.

Even before her death, Eva became a living icon to the Argentine people. Her picture appeared alongside the religious icons that were kept on the mantelpiece and prayed too. As her life slipped away, Eva's speeches became more violent, filled with visions of destruction. They were later used after her death, in later years, by a different generation of Peronists to justify political violence. Two months before her death she was declared the Spiritual Chief of the nation. Her last public appearance was, heavily sedated, at Peron's second inauguration. She was not seen again until after her death, when thousands paraded by her coffin as she lay in state.

Her last months were spent in a small, shabby room in the Presidential palace, where she was infrequently visited by Peron. Perhaps it was just too much for him, having already experienced the death of one wife. There were already rumors about him and other women. While Peron loved Eva, it was not to the extent that she loved him and worshipped him. On July 24th Eva said her last words, 'Eva se va,' Eva is leaving. At 8:25 pm that evening, she took her last breath. She was only 33 years old. The nation immediately went into a deep mourning that wasn't seen again until Princess Diana died in 1997. Restaurants, shops, movie theaters, and public transport were shut down. The Argentine flag was flown at half mask. Dr. Pedro Ara was brought in to start the embalming process on Eva's body. By the time he was finally done, a year later, she looked like she was still alive.

Peron finally lost his grip on the country in 1955. There were many factors that led to his political demise, one being that by 1952, Argentina's post war boom had gone bust. Argentina had turned into a police state, with the government cracking down on the media, using brute force against opponents. Although Eva's death was blamed for his unpopularity, Peron made many mistakes in his arrogance. The biggest mistake he made was insulting the Catholic Church by not only legalizing divorce but also prostitution as well. The Church pulled all its funding for schools in the country. He offended the oligarchy and the army by parading a string of mistresses who were barely out of their teens. He finally lost the support of Eva's beloved descamisados who saw his behavior as disrespectful to Eva's memory. He fled the country when the generals seized power from him, bouncing around from country to country, until he finally settled in Spain.

After he fled, the true extent of the Peron's greed was discovered, as houses were uncovered filled with jewelry, clothing and artwork. Rumors circulated that Eva and Peron had squirreled away millions of dollars in Swiss bank accounts. Peron's behavior while in exile lent credence to the rumors, since he lived high on the hog, for someone who supposedly fled with no resources. Of course, it was always possible, that he was being supported by the numerous Argentine exiles who showed up at his door in Spain for an audience.

As for Eva, the incoming regime were in a quandary. The expensive monument that was supposed to house her coffin was not complete, and the government worried that any monument would become a Peronista shrine. Her family, in exile in Venezuela, washed their hands of her. Eva's body then disappeared from 16 years. There is speculation that it was buried under an assumed name in Italy until such a time as Peron needed it.

In 1973, Juan Peron was elected President of Argentina once again at almost 80, and his third wife Isabel became Vice President, the role that Evita had hoped to fulfill. But the Peronista dream was over. From a distance, he looked great, but up close he looked old and tired. Isabel tried to fill Eva's shoes by dressing like her, but she was a pale imitation. Before Peron had been in office for a year, he died from pneumonia, and Isabel became the first female President of Argentina. She tried to hold onto her position by trotting out Eva's body but to no avail.

Although it was hoped that Eva would be forgotten by the Argentine people, she continued to hold sway over Argentine politics for the next three decades after her death, and is still a factor in the country. Her body was finally laid to rest by her family in the very same cemetary where her most vocal detractors are buried. The tomb is very unassuming, and impregnable, to keep grave robbers at bay.

In 1976, Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber released a concept album of their new work 'Evita' based on the life of Eva Peron. The story is that Tim Rice had been on vacation in Argentina and became fascinated with the stories he'd heard about Eva. The collaborators used a book by Mary Main called 'Woman with a Whip' who was very anti-Peron as the source material for the musical. The release of the album and the subsequent hit single 'Don't Cry For Me Argentina' turned Eva into a folk heroine for a new generation and made her internationally famous. In 1978, the London production opened starring Elaine Paige and rock star David Essex, followed by the American production starring Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin. Despite the historical inaccuracies (Che Guevara who functions as a Greek chorus in the musical, although born in Argentina , was only 24 when she died and had left the country in 1951 to go on a motorcycle tour of South America. There is no record of him having met her and he was in medical school during Peron's first presidency. His father however was a Peron supporter.) and Lloyd Webber's statement that he found Eva personally repugnant, the musical has several songs that sound like Eva could have written them herself, including 'The Actress Hasn't Learned the Lines You'd Like to Hear,' and 'High Flying Adored.' In a way, they turned Eva's story into the quintessential Cinderella story but with politics. The 2007 London revival featured an Argentine actress in the role.

A hue and cry rose about the musical. Eva's supporters were horrified that their heroine had been turned into a social climbing whore, who used men on her rise to the top. Anti-Peronists couldn't understand why anyone would want to write a musical about a neo-facist. A TV movie starring Faye Dunaway appeared on NBC in 1982, that was a little more historically accurate, and speculation was on as to who would play Evita in the movie version of the musical. After going through directors and actresses, Madonna was finally announced as the new star to be directed by Alan Parker. Argentines were outraged that a woman like Madonna, known for her provocative lyrics and clothing, would play a woman many consider to be the Latin American equivalent of the Virgin Mary.

"You let down your people, Evita, you were supposed to have been immortal, that's all they wanted, not much to ask for but in the end, you could not deliver."

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice were wrong when they wrote those words for Che Guevara to sing in Evita. In the end Evita was immortal, still young and beautiful, at the age of 33. Love her or hate her, there is no denying the power of Evita. If you ask the average person who Juan Domingo Peron was, he couldn't tell you, but if you say the name Evita, you'll see recognition if only for the musical. Eva's memory continues to haunt Argentina. Few would deny that Eva was notorious and unscrupulous, but given her background and her limited opportunities, she took the only route she could. Eva broke new barriers for women, showing them just what a woman could achieve, she gave hope to the poor who had none, and gave them a future.

If Eva were alive today, she would probalby be President of Argentina like the current President Cristina Kirchner, who was herself the wife of a former President. Although she now rejects the comparison, Cristina once said in an interview that she identified herself "with the Evita of the hair in a bun and the clenched fist before a microphone" (the typical image of Eva Perón during public speeches) more than with the "miraculous Eva" of her mother's time, who had come "to bring work and the right to vote for women."

Eva has now passed into legend, a thought that would no doubt please her. When she once asked her friend Lilliane Guardo how she would like to be remembered, Lilliane answered as a good mother. Eva replied that she wanted to be known as a woman of history. It appears that she got her wish.

Sources include: Wikipedia

The Official Eva Peron website

Evita, The Real Life of Eva Peron - Nicholas Fraser & Marysa Navarro
Evita: First Lady of Argentina - Darlene R. Stille
Eva Peron: A Biography Alicia Dujovne Ortiz and Shawn Fields

Monday, October 13, 2008

Evita - The True Story of Eva Peron - Part I

"Oh what a circus, oh what a show, Argentina has gone to town, over the death of an actress called Eva Peron!"

Che Guevara in Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's musical Evita.

In 1978, two Englishmen, Andrew Lloyd-Weber and Tim Rice premiered a new musical in London about the second wife of Argentine President Juan Peron. They called it “Evita.” The musical became a smash success, spawning productions around the globe, launched the career of Elaine Paige, won Tony Awards for Mandy Patinkin and Patti LuPone. Actresses from Liza Minnelli to Meryl Streep were dying to play Eva Peron in the movie version which eventually ended up starring Madonna. But how close to the truth was “Evita”? And how did this illegitimate daughter from a backwater town in Argentina come to be revered as practically a saint in Argentina?

Eva Maria Duarte was born on May 7, 1919 in the small town Los Toldos in Argentina. Her father Juan Duarte was not married to her mother, he had another family in another town. Her mother Juana Ibarguren, who met Juan Duarte when she was 15 years old, became his mistress, eventually bearing him five children of whom Eva was the youngest. When she was little more than a year old, her father returned to his family, abandoning them to a life of grinding poverty. They had to move from their comfortable house to the slums of Los Toldos to a two room shack. Rumors flew and persisted through out Eva's lifetime that her mother resorted to prostitution to take care of her family. The reality was much humbler, Juana took in sewing to support her family until each child was old enough to work.

When Eva was 6, her father died in a car accident. Juana dressed the children up and took them to the funeral although their presence was considered an affront to his legitimate family. They were forced to walk to the grave-site, while his family rode in comfort. For the rest of her life, Eva and her sisters were unable to come to terms with their illegitimacy. When Eva married Juan Peron, the registery of her birth was changed to not only make her three years younger but also to imply that her parents had been married. And in her autobiography, Eva glossed over her childhood years, starting her story with her arrival in Buenos Aires at the age of 15.

As a child, Eva was skinny, with long black hair and big staring brown eyes. At the age of 8, Eva went to the local one room school house, but she was often absent, due to illness. When she was 11, the family moved to Junin, where her oldest sister Elisa had gotten a job with the post office. Eva's mother turned her house into a guest house, which again led to rumors that her mother ran a brothel, and that Eva and her sisters were forced to entertain the 'boarders.' The reality was far less salacious. Her mother Juana rented the rooms to two elderly bachelors who were kind to the Duarte girls. Eva from childhood was ambitious for more out of life than a small town job and then marriage. She yearned to be an actress like her idol, Norma Shearer.

"On this night of a thousand stars let me take you to heaven's doors, where the music of love's guitar plays forever more." Agustin Mgaldi in Evita.

In the musical 'Evita' the young Eva Duarte meets tango singer Agustin Magaldi, who she seduces into taking her with him to Buenos Aires. However there is no record that Magaldi appeared in Junin, the year that Eva turned 15. In any event, Magaldi was a chubby Mama's boy who traveled with his wife, not the suave matinee idol he appears in the musical. Another more credible version is that Eva's mother initially chaperoned her in the city, that they went around to all the radio stations, until they found one that could use a young girl. Juana then left Eva in the care of some friends, while she reluctantly returned to Junin. However she got there, she was on her own at 15, with just a battered cardboard suitcase and her dream of a better life.

"What's new Buenos Aires? I'm new, I wanna say I'm just a little stuck on you, you'll be on me too."

Buenos Aires was the third largest city in the Americas, after New York and Chicago. If Eva could make it there, she could do anything. The next few years were tough ones for Eva. The life of a struggling actress is never easy, and in 1930's Argentina it was even worse. Theater companies had no permanent troupe of actors, and more than once actors on the road could find themselves unemployed and penniless if the show failed. More than once, Eva found herself having to submit to the casting couch to get even a small part in a play. Over time, Eva acquired the polish and skills necessary to be successful. She began to spend her time hanging around the office of Sintonia, the movie magazine that she had read as a child, making friends of the writers to acquire favorable mentions in the pages. She also began to act on radio in soap operas, which were as popular in South America as they were in the United States. After a few years, Eva was able to form her own company with the help of her brother Juan, who had contacts with one of the major soap companies. He convinced them to sponsor all her programs.

By 1944, when she met Juan Peron, she was earning about 6,000 pesos a month. She had learned the value of appearances, making sure that she was seen in all the best restaurants and cafes. When Eva met Juan Peron, he was a colonel in the Argentine army, and had just been made both Secretary of Labour and Secretary of War after the army had seized control of the government in 1943. Almost twice Eva's age at 48, he was a childless widower, his first wife had died of uterine cancer six years before. In early 1944, an earthquake rocked the small town of San Juan at the foot of the Andes mountains killing 6,000 people. Peron came up with the idea of an artistic festival to raise funds for the victims. Eva attended the gala concert with a close friend, but she left that night with Peron (expressed in the song "I'd be Surprisingly Good For You." Peron had a mistress at the time, a young girl that he used to introduce to people as his daughter. Eva took care of the mistress by hiring a truck to move her stuff into Peron's apartment, kicking the mistress out on the street (In Evita, this is the "Another Suitcase in Another Hall" sequence).

Eva had now hitched her wagon to Peron's rising star. Juan Domingo Peron was born on October 8, 1895. Although his paternal grandfather had been a doctor, Peron's father became a farmer and landowner. Like Evita, Peron was illegitimate, but he seems not to have suffered the psychic wounds that Eva suffered from, although it was not public knowledge. By the time Peron turned 16, his parents had married. Peron attended military school and joined the army at the age of 21. He was tall, taller than most Argentine men at the time, macho, with black hair and a movie star smile. He suffered from a mild form of psoriasis that required medicine that also made him look good in photos. He had traveled to Europe in 1939, staying for two years, visiting all the facist countries. He was particularly taken with Mussolini, attracted to the pomp and ceremony of the facist rallies. Like most successful politicians, Peron was charismatic. While other members of the government avoided the press like the plague, Peron was always ready to talk to them. He also had the ability to reflect and interpret the mood of his supporters and also to shape it. He appeared enigmatic and evasive at times. While Secretary of Labor, Peron helped the government to establish the minimum wage, paid holidays, and medical care for the workers, which was revolutionary at the time in Argentina and hated by the wealthy landowners. The Oligarchy or Aristocracy as they are called in Evita had been the dominant political power in Argentine life. in 1930, 1,804 people owned the equivalent in area of Holland, Switzerland and Belgium. They were mainly conservative and more concerned about keeping and consolidating their power. The army coup changed all that and in particular Peron's courting of the working class who had been overlooked by previous regimes.

The image that people most associate of Eva, the smiling, laughing blonde came from her first starring role on film, which she got because Peron provided the film stock to the production company. She also in 1944 became the first president of the newly formed actor's union in Argentina. Soon Eva added a political radio show to her line-up caled "Towards a Better Tomorrow," which consisted solely of content designed to promote Peron. From being apolitical, Eva took to politics with a vengeance. Using the most ordinary language, designed to appeal to the working class, Eva conveyed what she wanted people to believe about Peron. Eva's political education at first consisted of her sitting in on Peron's meetings with his supporters. By now they were living together openly. She would sit quietly, not saying anything, but absorbing everything. She was seen as inconsequential and unimportant.

In 1945, Peron became Vice-President of Argentina, but while he was popular, he was also accumulating enemies, even amongst the army. Rumors began that Eva had been a prostitute on her way up. This was used to explain her 'hold' as it were over Peron. Prostitutes, far from being seen as victims, were considered to be exploiters of men. Only a prostitute or a femme fatale could hold such sway over a powerful man like Peron. What they didn't realize was that it was the other way around, Peron was the one who held sway over Eva. Like other power couples, it was also thought that it was ambition not love or sex that held them together.

In October of 1945, Peron was forced to resign by his opponents within the armed forces and he was arrested on October 9th. Mass demonstrations by the trade unions forced his release 9 days later. His release date October 17th was later celebrated as a major holiday in Argentina. Peron's supporters became known as 'los descamisados' or shirtless ones, a derogatory term which soon began to define the entire working class of Argentina. While Peron was in prison, Evita went to Peron's friend and lawyer Bramuglia, to have him file a writ of habeas corpus to get him released, which would have meant that Peron would have had to leave the country, possibly for good. Bramuglia treated Evita poorly, telling her that she would ruin Peron's political career. After one visit, he slammed the door in her face so hard that she fell over. Evita wrote Peron a letter in prison expressing her deep love for him.

"My adored treasure, only we are seperated from those we love can we know how much we love them."

Four days after Peron's release, he and Eva were married. Peron was planning a run for President and it was seen as prudent that he be married. Soon afterwards, all material related to Eva's career as an actress quietly disappeared, her last film was never released, and she refused to talk about that part of her life anymore. She was now the wife of a presidential candidate, with no past but a glittering future.

"A New Argentina, the voice of the people, cannot be, and must not be, and will not be denied!"

Stay tuned for Part Two of Evita's story, from years as wife of President Peron to her early death.

Sources: Wikipedia
Evita - The Real Life of Eva Peron - Nicholas Fraser & Marysa Navarro
Evita - The Musical - Andrew Lloyd Webber & Tim Rice

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Scandalous Mystery

A reader wrote to me recently that she was looking for information about a particular Scandalous Woman.

"Here is what little I know of her: She was married and widowed, seduced her next husband by literally serving herself up for dessert. She was carried into the dining room while laying nude on a silver platter, covered only in fruit."

Wow, I would love to know who this woman is. If anyone has any ideas, leave a comment or email me. I would love to share her story with readers.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Truth About Mata Hari - Part II

For ten years, she managed to hold sway over Europe, dancing in Monte Carlo, Berlin, Vienna, and Spain. She even auditioned for Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe, although she was incensed that he sent Massine to audition her instead of showing up himself. She danced in Operas, and in music halls. But time was running out, she was pushing forty, and in the wake of her success, came imitators. The one role that she was most suited for, she never got, Salome in Richard Strauss’s opera, although she tried desperately. She was no longer as original as she had once been. She took to holding concerts in her mansion in Neuilly, where she danced accompanied by a Sufi holy man and master musician, Inayat Khan. Otherwise, she was supported by her various lovers, many of whom were officers.

Everything changed for Mata Hari when the war started. She was in Berlin where she had been engaged to perform for several months in the autumn. When war broke, Mata Hari tried to get out of her contract. Her dresser kept her jewels and furs for lack of payment and her bank accounts were frozen by the Germans. With very little money, Mata Hari took a train to Switzerland but ran into difficulties because she didn’t have a Dutch passport. She finally made it back to Holland, where she became the mistress of Baron Edouard Willem van der Capellan. But Holland was too staid for her after the bright lights of Paris, so Mata Hari resolved to go back to perform.

It was in Holland that Mata Hari made her first mistake. She had been approached by a man named Karl Kroemer, the honorary German consul in Amsterdam, to spy for Germany. He offered 20,000 francs and told that it was a test, and that she could earn more if she was successful. Here was where she made her first mistake. Mata Hari accepted the money, but she had no intentions of spying for Germany. She felt that the money was owed to her for having to leave her furs and jewels behind, and having her accounts frozen. Kroemer apparently gave her several bottles of invisible ink which she later told her interrogators she emptied in the river.

Her second mistake was to give conflicting reasons for her trip to a British security officer while enroute from Holland to France, which instantly raised alarms. Initially she said that she was going to perform, but then she admitted that she was going to join her lover. A notation was placed in her file that she was now considered “undesirable” and should be refused entrance to the UK. What was the reason? Could be that any woman, traveling alone, who was fluent in several languages had to automatically be assumed to be a spy? Or was it the fact that Mata Hari made her living dancing scantily clad and admitted that she had lovers? From that moment on Mata Hari was under constant surveillance by British intelligence.

Her third mistake was her constant wanderlust. Mata Hari seemed to forget that there was a war on as she crossed back and forth from Holland via Britain to France and then to Spain. She requested a pass to go to Vittel to take the waters although the town was near the front lines and was considered dangerous for civilians. She seemed to know very little of what was going on in the war, despite the fact that it was on the front pages of the newspapers every day, and the officers she entertained were more interested in forgetting about the war than talking about.

Her fourth mistake was falling in love for the first time in her life. How could falling in love have led to Mata Hari’s downfall? Mata’s love was a Russian officer, named Vladimir de Massloff, at twenty-one he was eighteen years her junior. From the moment they met in July of 1916, they developed a deep relationship, she called him Vadime, and he called her Marina. Mata later told people that they were engaged to be married, despite the disapproval of his superior officers. Her love for Vadime led her to her final mistake.

Mata wanted to settle down with Vadime, she was tired of the years of travel and sleeping with other men for money. She had met Georges Ladoux, the head of the Deuxieme regime, which was the French counter-espionage group, when she was still trying to get a pass to travel to Vittel. Ladoux already knew that the British considered Mata Hari to be dangerous and possibly a German spy. By this time, Mata also knew that she was being followed by at least two French agents.

Georges Ladoux was in a tricky situation. France was not doing well in the war, and the country and the intelligence community has yet to recover from the debacle that turned into the Dreyfus Affair which had been an international cause celebre. Arresting a high profile spy would do wonders for the morale and restore French pride. Ladoux admitted to Mata Hari that she was suspected of being a German spy. He then asked her to spy for France! Mata Hari agreed but asked to be paid one million francs, believing that this money would set her and Vadime up after the war.

Why would both the Germans and French try to recruit Mata Hari as a spy? She was well known in Europe, her every move had been reported in the gossip columns of the day. Pictures of her had appeared in the paper almost daily, she was famous in an era before television, radio and movies. Even without her fame, Mata Hari was a striking woman; she stood out in a crowd, not just because of her height but also because of her beauty. The whole idea of a spy is to blend in, no? Espionage had yet to achieve the allure of James Bond and shows like Alias and MI-5. It was considered a rather dirty but necessary evil. Both the Germans, the French and later the Russians, who also tried to recruit Mata Hari as a spy probably assumed that if she would take money for removing her clothes on stage and from men, why not to spy?

Ladoux sent Mata Hari off to Holland to await his instructions, not knowing that she was walking into a trap of his making. On her way, she was detained in Britain, under suspicion that she was a spy named Clara Benedix. When Mata Hari told the arresting officer that she had been recruited by Ladoux to spy for the French, unbeknownst to her, Ladoux informed the British that contrary to what she had told them, they were certain that she was suspected of being a German spy, just not the one they were looking for. Mata Hari was released but she was not allowed to enter Holland. Instead she was sent to Spain, where she made the acquaintance of a German officer named Kalle. Mata Hari took the opportunity presented in front of her to do a little spying. She managed to discover that the Germans knew that the French had finally broken the code. Writing all the information down that she was given by her new lover, she took the information to the French consulate in Madrid to be sent to Ladoux.

Back in Paris, Mata Hari was ready to reap the reward of all her hard work. Instead, after rendezvousing with her lover, Ladoux gave her the runaround. The noose was tightening, and she was eventually arrested in February 1917. She was brought in front of Captain Pierre Bouchardon, who was an investigative magistrate of the Third Council of War. The Third Council of War was the military court that tried espionage crimes. At first, Mata Hari didn’t realize the seriousness of what she was being charged with, and she waived the right to council. After telling Bouchardon her story, she naturally thought she would be released as she was in England. Naturally flirtatious, she thought that she could charm her way out of the interview. But Bouchardon was not inclined to be merciful. As far as he was concerned, Mata Hari was the worst kind of woman. He had recently discovered that his wife had cheated on him with another man. Instead she was sent to one of the worst prisons in France, Saint-Lazare.

Bouchardon interrogated Mata Hari repeatedly trying to break her story, but she stuck steadfastly to her story. But the dismal conditions inside the prison began to break her spirit. After years of luxury, first class accommodations and a fastidious detail to her personal hygiene, Mata Hari couldn’t cope with the freezing cell, and dirty conditions that she was forced to accept. She wrote repeatedly to Bouchardon to be released or at least moved to better accommodations. Her attorney, Maitre Clunet, was also not equipped to deal with the charges that Mata Hari was facing. Fifty-three officers, who Mata Hari had ‘entertained’, were called in for questioning but every single one told the investigators that Mata Hari had never asked them about anything regarding the war or the military. Joseph Devignes, the attaché that Mata Hari, had confided the information that Kalle had given her, turned against her. But the cruelest cut of all was from Vadime, who told investigators that the relationship hadn’t been serious, and that he had been about to end it, when Mata Hari was arrested.

Investigators were stuck. They had examined her accounts, her jewelry, her make-up to see if she had anything that could be turned into invisible ink. They read the reports of the surveillance on her, but they still had no evidence that Mata Hari was a spy for the Germans. Finally Ladoux revealed the contents of the messages that had been transmitted from the German military attaché in Madrid to Berlin, concerning the spy known as H21, later identified as Mata Hari. Remarkably, the messages were in a code that German intelligence knew had already been broken by the French, leaving some historians, including Pat Shipman, to suspect that the messages were contrived by Ladoux to implicate Mata Hari. The fact that she had been in custody for two months before these cables were given to Bouchardon were highly suspect. In light of the fact that both Ladoux and Devignes were both arrested after Mata Hari’s execution for being double-agents, it seems likely that either the Germans threw Mata Hari into the mix to deflect suspicion away from the double-agents that they had working for them, or Ladoux faked them in order as an act of unbridled ambition. Capturing a German spy would have done wonders for his career, particularly a beautiful famous woman. Ladoux also claimed that it was Mata Hari who offered to spy for France not the other way around.

Whatever the case, Mata Hari was doomed from that point on. No matter how many letters she wrote to Bouchardon or Ladoux proclaiming her innocence, the die was cast. Her subsequent admission that Kroemer had given her 20,000 francs to spy for Germany and that she had kept the money as payment for her stolen furs and clothing added to her supposed guilt. Even her own country, neutral in the first World War, seemed to care what happened to her. When they finally learned of Mata Hari’s arrest (the French had kept the news from the Dutch consulate), they were largely silent. And the French weren’t exactly forthcoming with the information about why she had been arrested (they cited that old chestnut national security).

Mata Hari’s trial in July of 1917 was a travesty. Clunet was out of his depth defending Mata Hari in court, and it never seems to have occurred to either one of them to try and find another attorney who had experience with espionage trials, and there was no money to pay for one. Mata Hari’s letters were automatically read, and all the letters that she sent to her former lover Baron van Capellan were confiscated. Only one of her lovers, Henry de Marguerie came forward to defend her at her trial. Not once were Baron van Capellan or her maid questioned about the money that Mata Hari claimed the Baron had given her. It could easily have been proven that the money the prosecution claimed was for services rendered in espionage, came from her lover. Of the eight charges brought against her, Mata Hari was found guilty of every single one, despite the lack of evidence that she had caused the death of 50,000 soldiers.

If Mata Hari had been a spy for the Germans, she has to go down in history as one of the worst. Inspector Clouseau could a better job of spying. She had ample opportunity to ask her many lovers after they were sated to spill the beans about the war but she didn’t. Her only known attempt to spy for Ladoux, she wrote the information in a letter that anyone could have read, and when she couldn’t get in touch with Ladoux, she told Devignes the story, hoping he would get the information to Ladoux.

While she kept Maitre Clunet busy filing appeals, Mata Hari was now on death row. Finally all the appeals were exhausted and the date for her execution was set. Mata Hari wrote letters to her daughter, Vadime and her maid, none of which were ever sent. The date of the execution was set for October 15. On the day of her execution, at barely five o’clock in the morning, Mata Hari dressed plainly in a long black velvet cloak and was taken by automobile to the barracks where the firing squad awaited her. She was accompanied by two nuns from Saint-Lazare, Maitre Clunet, her lawyer and Pierre Bouchardon. When she saw the firing squad she whispered cheekily to one of the nuns, "All these people! What a success." She refused to be tied to the stake or to wear a blindfold, impressing everyone with her courage. She was 41 years old. After the final bullet was put into her brain, a sergeant major declared, "By god, this lady knows how to die."

The next morning the papers were full of the story of her execution. One newspaper even declared that Mata Hari had confessed to being a German spy, which was not the truth, but it no longer mattered. She had now passed into legend. No criticism of the execution was allowed in the papers and were suppressed or modified. The overall tone was that France had been saved by Mata Hari's death. Four days after execution Ladoux was arrested for being a double-agent, along with one of his agents Pierre Lenoir.

After her death, her body wasn’t claimed by any of her family. Instead it was taken and donated to science, although her head was embalmed and kept in the Museum of Anatomy in Paris. In 2000, archivists discovered that the head had disappeared. No one knows what happened to it or to the rest of her body. When her ex-husband was told of her death, said “Whatever she has done in life, she did not deserve that.” Of course, he was also hoping that Mata Hari had left a will or an inheritance for her daughter Non. Unfortunately after all her debts were paid, there was nothing left. Tragically, Mata Hari’s daughter died suddenly just as she was getting ready to leave Holland for Indonesia to work as a schoolteacher. She was 21.

Ladoux was eventually acquitted of the charges of espionage but his career was effectively over. By the time he came to trial, the war was over, and he was saved. He later wrote a book about Mata Hari, a highly colored tale of how he brought down the most infamous spy in World War I. It wasn’t until 2000, that some of the files were released that proved that Mata Hari was innocent of espionage. The rest of the files will not be released until 2017. So why was she accused? Both Bouchardon and Ladoux could not get past the fact that Mata Hari was a beautiful woman who loved men, and gave herself freely to them, no matter the nationality. As far as they were concerned, she was a promiscuous and immoral woman, and for that alone she should have been condemned. Mata Hari's fatal mistake was that she loved officers, no matter what the nationality, not a good thing during wartime. Actually Mata Hari should have been given a medal for providing comfort and solace for a few hours to all the officers that she entertained.

Despite the new evidence, the myth of Mata Hari continues to hold sway. After her death, stories abounded that she had blown a kiss to her executioners, that she had appeared naked. In the 1930’s, Greta Garbo starred as the sexy sultry spy. It is this interpretation that many people think of when they think of Mata Hari. At her trial, Mata Hari made the distinction that there was Margaretha Zelle Mcleod and then there was Mata Hari. She has gone down in history as the very image of the femme fatale, beautiful, charismatic but deadly. But the woman who was once called "an orchid in a field of dandelions" was much more than a promiscuous courtesan who loved officers too well, she was a woman who, after fleeing a bad marriage, managed to reinvent herself, whose ambition and talent took her to the top and almost contributed to her downfall.

Sources: Wikipedia
Sisters of Salome - Toni Bentley, Yale University Press, 2002
Femme Fatale: Love, Lies, and the Unknown Life of Mata Hari, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2007