Dujone Ortiz has written a very thorough and intimate biography of Eva, with many insights into her character. Each chapter is well written and entertaining. The chapters on Eva’s childhood, in which Dujone Ortiz speculated about Eva desiring a father for most of her life due to the fact that her father abandoned Eva’s mother and her four siblings when she was one year old, indicating that Eva perhaps had a fantasy of going to meet him and when that fantasy was shattered at his death in 1926, was very eye opening, as she may have been searching for a parental figure in her relationship with Peron.
Dujone Ortiz provides good insights into Eva’s relationships with the men she dated before Peron and quotes that Eva once told Erminda(her sister) she would only marry a prince or a president and that ‘rarely are fantasies like this recognized in reality.’ She also states that Eva’s classmates were divided on her saying that she was ‘soft but with the soul of a leader… she would later evoke whole litanies of opposite terms… the white and the black myth.’ The author hypothesizes that Eva was annoyed by the real Peron and instead created a fantasy of him as larger than life and that this carried over into her speeches and fanatical devotion to him. In her last chapter, Dujone Ortiz writes, when speaking about Peron’s third marriage to Isabel Peron that ‘a softer Peron, one who tended gardens and made mayonnaise– this was not the Peron loved by Evita. She only called him Peron, hardly ever Juan, even less Juancito. Oddly enough, his first wife, Aurelia Tizon(Peron so intimidated his first wife, Aurelia, that she called him only ‘Commander’) had done the same. She (Evita) had loved only the imaginary man. In the end, he was the outcast.
This biography leaves no question unanswered about Eva’s life and her personal history. What I found most interesting was Dujone Ortiz stating that Eva’s history was shaped both by her name changes and her hairstyles. To quote Dujone Ortiz ‘She was born Maria Eva Ibarguren but her mother baptized her as Eva Maria Duarte. When she was an actress her name was Eva Duarte(or Durante). When she married Peron she became Dona Maria Eva Duarte de Peron. On her return from Europe she was Eva Peron. She wanted the people to call her Evita. She died before anyone knew her real name.’ This is very interesting. Was Eva trying to reinvent herself? Was she trying to take on different personas? Was she unsure of who she truly was?
I found the analysis of Eva’s hairstyles and her mannerisms and dress interesting as well. Dujone Ortiz notes that Eva’s chignon was in the shape of a fist and that she wore it low on a neck, at a fragile part of the body. I personally wore my hair this way to get a feel for Evita’s character and it is an elegant look, but difficult to maintain and perhaps Eva herself did this to show she was in control.Dujone Ortiz wrote that Eva’s chignon was her signature look and that before she developed this hairstyle that she would wear her hair in interesting manners, like ringlets or straight and stated that this was ‘the hairstyle of an Evita who had not yet taken control.’ She also writes about Eva bleaching her hair from black to blonde. ‘As brunette had entombed her, blonde liberated her.’ I disagree. I think Eva looked much better with dark hair.
The chapter on Eva’s death is intriguing as well, but I have covered Eva’s death in an earlier post. I must emphasize, though, that while Dujone Ortiz is very sympathetic to Eva, she does not shirk from mentioning the atrocities of Peronism, and has an interesting section on the Nazis, as well as the fact that the Perons did use torture. She states while Eva was not directly involved, these accounts mention two of her cronies and that several anti Peronist women were subjected to electric shocks in the vagina and that one was pregnant and lost her child. Lastly, the photographs in this biography, while very commonly seen, show Eva’s analysis and journey from a 15 year old girl leaving Buenos Aires to her dying, fragile body as well as photographs of her corpse and of the shrines to Evita commonly seen in Argentina.
This is truly the best biography on Eva I have found. If I could give it more than 5 stars I would. To quote one of the blurbs ‘For those in the early stages of Eva infection, Dujone Ortiz’s biography may be the best quick fix.’ Highly recommended
Eva Peron and feminism– this is a complicated subject, as are most topics related to Evita Peron. I must start by saying that Eva herself never identified as a feminist and when she spoke about feminists, it was merely to dismiss them as women who did not know how to be women. To quote Fraser and Navarro, ‘Eva’s ideas about feminism were Peron’s, and Peron’s ideas about feminism were what was to be expected.’
Still, Eva’s legacy on Argentine women was, for the most part, positive. Before Evita, Argentine women were purely chattel– they spent their lives subservient to men, were taught to tolerate machismo and their husband’s affairs, could not vote and had no rights whatsoever.
It must be emphasized, though, that the struggle for women’s equality in Argentina did not begin with Evita. Many feminists before Evita were struggling for women’s rights, such as Alicia Moreau de Justo, a physicist and pacifist, who for many years struggled for women’s right to vote and Victoria Ocampo, a feminist writer who often noted that when Argentine women married, they exchanged one prison for another and there was no friendship between women in that country– merely opposition. Eva may have won the vote for women, but she is in part indebted to her predecessors.
Eva wrote in ‘La Razon de Mi Vida’ that she was not a feminist by any means. She quoted Peron to say that ‘feminists want to be men. It is as if to save the workers I make oligarchs out of them.’ While this attitude was not uncommon in the 40s and 50s, it is insulting to modern ears.
It cannot be denied, though, that many women who were not interested in politics entered this arena because of Eva’s active role as a politician which was never heard of before. Delia de Parodi, a close friend of Eva’s, was one of the first Argentine congresswomen. I also personally believe Eva paved the way for Argentina’s two female presidents, Isabel Peron, her successor, and the current president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.
I must state, though, that while Eva was no feminist, neither was she a misogynist. She definitely had a heart for women, after seeing the abuse her mother endured as the ‘other woman’ in her relationship with Eva’s father Juan Duarte as well as being used by men sexually herself. Eva did believe a woman’s place was in the home but she still believed there should be more women in government since she believed it would create a more peaceful world. To quote Dujone Ortiz Eva’s feminism was more ‘visceral.’
Eva did support getting women the vote, however, I personally believe she only got women the vote so they would vote for her husband, and after giving women the vote, about 60 percent of them voted for her husband and Peron’s landslide victory in 1951 was partially due to giving women the vote.
The feminists I have previously mentioned did not like Evita, since they were from the upper class(feminism was considered an upper class movement in Argentina) and also considered her a prostitute who used sex to rise to the top. Also, some feminists in Argentina today do not consider Eva a feminist icon. To quote one, “I do not admire Eva Peron. … She is the antithesis of feminism. She did everything Juan Peron told her to do… and only gave the vote to women to consolidate her husband’s power.” Though an unduly harsh assessment, it's not entirely inaccurate.
In closing, Eva’s legacy on Argentine women was mostly positive, although she would never have supported women’s liberation herself. I consider this one of the most ironic aspects of her story.
According to Eva’s family, Evita’s desire to entertain began when she was quite young. Photographs of the young Evita show her dressed up for circus events and it was said as a child she loved to recite poems in school. It’s unknown when she began to decide to be an actress, however, her interest in Norma Shearer is well known and covered especially well in Dujone Ortiz’s biography. In fact, in Eva’s young acting days, many of her old stills somewhat resemble Norma Shearer, particularly in her hairstyle.
It is known Eva became an actress when she moved to Buenos Aires as a fifteen year old girl, however, it took her nearly a year before she found any kind of role, and likely had to suffer through humiliating auditions which likely included what would today be termed sexual harassment. This must have made an impression on many young, impressionable actresses such as Evita, especially in such a strongly Catholic country in which a girl’svirginity was still considered her best asset to bring to a marriage.
Eva was at first assigned small parts and non-speaking roles, as any aspiring actress would have been back then. As a fifteen year old girlcoming to Buenos Aires with dreams of becoming the next Norma Shearer,this was likely a very rude awakening for Eva. When Eva became First Lady, she tried to destroy many of her acting stills since she considered
her career as an actress beneath her new position. While nowadays many actors enter politics, for example Ronald Reagen and Arnold Schwarzenegger in the US, in Argentina acting was considered a less than honorable profession and the idea of an actress marrying a politician, let alone the President, was scandalous. Fortunately for us, Eva’s attempt to destroy all traces of her acting career were unsuccessful, and there are many beautiful photographs of Eva in her glory days. A simple google search for Evita Actress will bring up many of these, but I have attached a few of my favorites.
Eva is said to have told her confessor, Father Benitez, that ‘my acting was passable in film and mediocre on stage but if I managed in something, it was radio.’ However, Eva would have a long way to go from her arrival in Buenos Aires in 1935 before this humble and honest admission of hers. In the mid 30s, Eva mainly had roles in plays, was an extra in a film about boxing, and dated around, succumbing often to the ‘casting couch.’
According to Fraser and Navarro, in their biography Evita: The Real Life of Eva Peron, from about 1938 to 1939, Eva lived with an young actor for awhile who wanted to marry her, however, it was said he one day up and abandoned her for another woman. I have covered this sad tale in my novel, in the ending of Chapter 4. If this story is true, it was that young man’s loss and not Evita’s.
In 1939, Eva’s big break finally came when she began dating Emilio Kartolowicz, a Chilean actor a bit older than her who was likely the only one of her love interests other than Peron to truly care for her as who she was and not merely as a toy or for her looks. She began to get parts in not just plays but movies during the early 40s. As a writer, Eva’s acting career was the hardest part of my story to craft given the lack of evidence. However, much can be deduced. For example, in one of Eva’s roles ‘The Fatal Kiss’ she plays the role of a nurse who is tending a victim of syphilis. To have been cast in this role, Eva must have showed a soft and gentle side. Also, the photographic evidence remaining shows a young woman eager to please and confident yet simultaneously vulnerable and naïve.
Nowadays, Hollywood and politics are closely entwined, with films such as The Butler and The Iron Lady being if not smash hits, than at least widely received. However, in the 30s and 40s, this idea was almost alien at least in Argentina. In the US, many patriotic films were made, however, Argentina was officially neutral in World War Two and if women in politics were a rarity in the United States and Europe, in South America they were almost unheard of. Any political awareness Eva may have had before meeting Peron would have been limited to reading newspapers in cafes and how government restrictions affected her work.
In 1943, there was a military coup that indirectly affected Eva. This was the year Eva had entered radio and due to many restrictions on radio broadcasting, Eva found a scriptwriter and began to broadcast a series on ‘Heroines of History’ in which she played among many famous women, Empress Carlota of Mexico and Elizabeth I of England. Perhaps she was 'auditioning' for her own historic role.
Eva’s last two films were made in 1944 and 1945 respectively. In 1944, Eva was cast alongside Libertad Lamarque in La Cabalgata del Circo(the Circus Cavalcade). Her rivalry with Libertad was the stuff of Latin American legend– catfights on and off screen. Eva had begun dating Peron around the timing of the filming, and was flaunting her position as Peron’s mistress in the fact of her coworkers. Understandable given Eva’s youth, but not one of her kinder or more flattering moments. Libertad often rebuked Eva telling her to show up on time. Years later, Libertad would only state that ‘if I had known what Eva would become, I would have been more careful.’Many hostile biographers to Eva state she had all her previous rivals exiled from Argentina. This would have been impossible back then. However, Libertad Lamarque was blacklisted and while allowed to return to Argentina,
she was never given work in the Argentine film industry again. Thus, she moved to mexico and continued to sing and act there.
That is not to say Eva was always harsh to other actresses. Many actresses and performers often have catfights with each other, (think Madonna vs Lady Gaga) and Eva and Libertad were no exception. In fact, many of those who knew Eva when she was younger said one of the reasons Eva was not given any ‘diva’ roles was because she was not the ruthless woman she was portrayed as later, but on the contrary was gentle and kind to those around her. Given Eva’s later kindness and love to the poor, this is certainly more
likely than the musical number ‘Good Night and Thank you.”
In 1945, Eva played her last role, La Prodiga, the story of a beautiful Lady Bountiful who gave her life for her lover and cared for the poor. It was said to have been her favorite role. Knowing what we now know about Eva, perhaps it was a premonition.
My fascination with Cleopatra beganin 2001, parallel to my Evita journey, although I did not know it at the time. Like Evita Peron, I found out about Cleopatra in the children's book 'Lives of Extraordinary Women: Rulers, Rebels (and what the neighbors thought), and as with Evita, felt compelled to learn more about this woman. Who was the queen of the Nile, really? How did she feel? What was her role in history? Why did the Romans hate her and why did we, as the West, accept their version of such an accomplished queen at face value? As with Evita, I discovered that the real Cleopatra was much more interesting than the Liz Taylor had portrayed her or Octavian had written about her, much as Evita was far more than Madonna or what Lloyd Webber stated she was.
I also was shocked-- albeit pleasantly so-- to discover Cleopatra was not merely a B.C. version of Paris Hilton. She had her sex appeal, and her reputation as a lover was well-founded, but she was also incredibly intelligent, a woman who could likely have comfortably talked chemistry with Marie Curie or politics with any modern head of state. Reality is more elusive than film portrayals, but often far more fascinating.
In high school I did my senior report on Cleopatra to discover her role in history. I discovered that the reputation she acquired was mostly unjust and began to learn the meaning of the phrase 'the winners write the history books.'