Eva Peron: Legend lives on 70 years after her death

26 Jul

Mention the name Eva Peron her fellow Argentines will likely differ on the legacy of the former Argentinian First Lady who died on this day 70 years ago.


Mention Evita to older generations in Europe or the United States and they might burst into a dramatic rendition of "Don't Cry For Me Argentina," the chart-topping torch song from the 1978 Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice hit musical.

From poor girl to first lady

The musical was based on Peron's rags-to-riches biography, though her storied life seemed predestined for recounting in books, films and on the stage. Born into poverty on May 7, 1919, Maria Eva Duarte — nicknamed "Evita" or little Eva in Spanish — left her rural village of Los Toldos to pursue an acting career in Buenos Aires. There, the struggling actress met the soon-to-be Argentinian President Juan Domingo Peron.

Her life would be forever transformed.

Married soon after their meeting, Eva's husband was elected president the following year in 1946, making her the First Lady of Argentina at only the age of 27. In the following six years, Evita, as she was known, championed labor rights and female suffrage. Besides running the Ministries of Labor and Health, she also founded and ran both the charitable Eva Peron Foundation as well as Argentina's first large-scale female political party, the Female Peronist Party.

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A report by Australia's Special Broadcasting Service commemorating her 100th birthday in 2019, described Peron as having been "hated and loved with intensity in equal parts." "Some saw her as a saint, a benefactress, a revolutionary, a woman determined to bring social justice to every corner of the country," the report added. "Others judged her as ambitious, adventurous, resentful, selfish and false, full of hatred and hypocritical." Peron eventually succumbed to uterine cancer on July 26, 1952. She was only 33. 

Canonized in popular culture

Peron is among those cult real-life figures whose stories continue to be immortalized through song and dance, both on stage and screen. In the 1940s and 1950s, the prodigious American theater-writing team of composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist-dramatist Oscar Hammerstein II also produced a series of hit musicals for Broadway.

Two of their productions "The King and I" and "The Sound of Music" are based on the lives and reminiscence of Anna Leonowens and Maria von Trapp respectively.Both were coincidentally governesses: Leonowens was an English governess to Thai King Mongkut's children in the early 1860s, while von Trapp, who originally planned to become a nun, ended up marrying the widowed Austrian Captain Georg von Trapp, whose seven children she had cared for.   

While some creative liberties were taken with both stories, they boasted hit songs that are still popular. 

Meanwhile, some recent musicals have also focused on diversity and inclusivity. The 2013 Broadway adaptation of "Kinky Boots," the music and lyrics for which was written by 80s pop legend Cyndi Lauper, is based on the true story of Steve Pateman, who, inspired by drag queen Lola, tried to save his family-run shoe factory in Northamptonshire from closure by creating "Divine"-branded fetish footwear for men. 

The film was a hit, for giving a platform to the LGBTIQ community and the biases they face. Meanwhile, Lin-Manuel Miranda's multiple-award winning 2015 rap musical "Hamilton" tells the story of American founding father and first Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton, whose face graces the country's $10 note.

By casting non-white actors as the founding fathers, Miranda described the musical as being about "America then, as told by America now." "Evita" remains a crowd-pleaser to this day, with productions being staged in various European countries, including Germany.


Author Brenda Haas

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