Annamaria is back with a new novel just out this week that features a woman many of us think we know...or do we?
ANNAMARIA ALFIERI: Blood Tango, my third South American historical mystery, launches this week, and Evita Perón is a character in the story. Fictional versions of Evita have appeared in other works, most famously in the Tim Rice/Andrew Lloyd Webber musical that carries her name. In researching the background events of my story, I quickly learned that the character played by Patti Lupone and Madonna is not the lady most biographers present. In fact, even for historians steeped in the facts of her life, there is no clear picture of the tiny woman who became the most famous female figure of her time.
There is no one answer to the question
Who was the real Evita?
Here is what we know for sure: The little girl, born a bastard child who grew up with her Mother's maiden name—Ibaguren, later took her father's name, Duarte. At the age of fifteen, she left the small, sad, remote town where she had grown up, and moved to Buenos Aires to pursue her dream, born of childhood trips to the movies and an addiction to movie magazines: to become an actress. After some minor roles in plays and movies that barely kept her alive, she finally achieved some success as an actress in radio soap operas. Then, she met Juan Perón, and eventually became the first lady of Argentina and the most famous woman in the world.
Depending on where one looks, one finds very different Evitas. I have found three.
Two are extreme:Extreme Evita #1—the Whore: the young woman who slept her way into roles in the theater and movies. In this characterization, she is the embodiment of an ambitious bitch, without morals, who will do anything to get ahead and stay ahead. Her first real success was on the radio as a soap opera star, but her real climb to the pinnacle of Argentinean fame and fortune began when she became the mistress of Juan Perón, the most powerful man in the country. This is the Evita one finds in 1940’s and 50’s accounts in places like Time Magazine, in British anti-Peronist polemics, and this is the Evita that wound up in stage musical: Evita.
Extreme Evita #2—the Saint: This is the Eva, great benefactress of the poor, who worked tirelessly once she became First Lady. She kissed the sick, even lepers, who came to her for charity. This is the passionate supporter of Perón, the man she considered the only hope for the lowest level workers. Her sympathy for the poor was sincere—she had risen from abject poverty herself. She was a she-wolf, a relentless enemy of the oppressive oligarchy and all members of the idle ruling class.
That she died a very painful death of cancer when she was only thirty-three made it easy for those who wanted to canonize her to make their case.
Which one of these two extremes was the real historical Evita?
To me, both are real. There is no doubt that Eva Duarte lived with Juan Peron for almost two years without the benefit of marriage. It is also quite possible that she slept with directors or producers of plays and movies when she was a teenager desperate for a break. I imagine such a thing was often required of a starving girl with stars in her eyes.
Though cohabitation out of wedlock is hardly considered a reason to call a woman a whore these days, and few would call the casting couch a form of prostitution, in the 1940's, lots of people would have thought so. Her real behaviors would have been an excuse for anyone who hated her enough to discredit her.
Nor is there any doubt that Evita spent huge amounts of her time listening to and trying to ameliorate the problems of the poorest in Argentina. She did kiss them, even if they were sick. As first lady of a nation (a role she seems to have invented) she did see to it that record numbers of hospitals were built and nurses trained. She founded schools and programs for poor children. She got women the vote (albeit because she knew most of them would vote for Perón.)
The character in Blood Tango emerged as an Evita who embodies both the good and the bad found in the facts of Eva’s life: An energetic, dynamic, ill-educated young woman with a chip on her shoulder about how the upper classes treated her and her family when she was a child. A dreamer without any reason to hope who, against all odds, wanted to be somebody. A girl whose powerful (from her poverty-stricken point of view) father had abandoned her family, who longed for a truly powerful man to take care of her (and the rest of the poor). A politically naïve, but charismatic young person with a talent for mass-communication who was easily manipulated by a cool, withdrawn, massively ambitious politician who, at the moment when he met her, sorely needed an attractive mouthpiece.
Evita’s tale is fascinating. And thereby hangs the story of Blood Tango.
ROSEMARY: Learn more about Annamaria and her historical mysteries at