Friday, June 28, 2013

Looking for the Real Eva Peron

ROSEMARY HARRIS: Today's visiting author is my good friend, MWA-NY Chapter President, Annamaria Alfieri (aka Pat King.) After writing a series of business books so successful they were featured on Oprah... (yes, THAT Oprah..) Annamaria turned her considerable talents to historical fiction with a debut novel , City of Silver, which was named one of the best first novels of that year by Deadly Pleasures Magazine and about which the Washington Post (yes, THAT ...) wrote "as history and glitters!"

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



  1. Hi Annamaria, welcome to JRD! What a fascinating character...I'm always curious about what you choose to use in your book that's real, and what to fictionalize.

    Can you tell us a little about that?

  2. Welcome, Annamaria! In your book, a woman who resembles Evita is killed, and one of the questions is, was the murder intended to be of Evita herself? Did anything like that happen in actuality?

  3. Eva Peron really is fascinating. Largely than life, and yet someone most of us can relate to and, on some level, even sympathize with. She's the perfect inspiration for a character.

    Makes me think about a version of THE WOMEN starring Eva Peron, Imelda Marcos, Jackie Kennedy, Winnie Mandela... with who as the contented cheerful (up until now) wife Mary Haines?

  4. Very interesting--for some unknown reason, the song "Don't cry for me Argentina," from the movie was playing in my head earlier this week. Love it when things like this happen! Sounds like a great book~congrats and best wishes on its success.

  5. Great to meet you, Annamaria.

    This story fascinates me. Like so many, I assumed I had the full story of Eva Peron. Such a fascinating character; I can't wait to read your book.

    And the cover is marvelous!

    (Singing songs in my head now.)

  6. Hi Annamaria--What a challenge to take a real person as the jumping off point for a novel. And what an interesting and complex person Eva must have been.

    She must have had enemies, so I'll second Linda's question. Was there ever a real attempt on Eva's life?

  7. Eva Peron was such an interesting person. I wonder how much we know about her was "history" as presented by her enemies. Look at poor old Richard III and his treatment by his successors!

  8. Hi Annamaria,

    Good to find you here! I have the same question Linda asked. I am very curious if you based your character of the murdered woman who looked like Evita on a real life event where Evita was thought to be the intended victim. [Sorry--such a mouthful. I'm not awake yet!]

  9. Hello to you all. I am going to take the questions in order.

    So to Roberta. I do a TON of research. I write a lot of details into the story ass i am drafting. But then I cut everything that slows down the story. I love blogging in this way, because it allows me to talk about the fascinating stuff I have had to leave out.

  10. Hi Linda, It's great to see you here. There was never an attempt, per se, on Evita's life, but she was DESPISED by the upper classes of Buenos Argentina. She herself hated them with a vengeance. They were so happy to learn she was dying at the age of thirty-three--a horrible death of a uterine malignancy--that they scrawled on the walls of their fancy neighborhoods--"Viva el Cancer." I cannot imagine thinking such a thought much less writing it on a wall--not even if it were killing Hilter.

  11. Hallie, I too sympathize with Evita. She was so poor and hopeless as a child. I think she was a true believer in the cause of the poor, albeit with some moral corner-cutting. A conversation with the women you list would indeed be fascinating. As far as I know, none of those powerful women started with less than Eva, and none rose further. When she died, she was the most famous and the most powerful woman in the world.

  12. Thank you JP, Marianne, and Deb. Pat, historians have a terrible time teasing apart what is myth and what is real. There are still papers being published where they argue back and forth about what role she actually played in the events I portray in Blood Tango. The basis of that musical that we all seem to be singing in our heads was actually an anti-Peronist polemic written by an Englishwoman--Fleur Cowles. It makes Evita out to be nothing but an ambitious viper and Peron a weak man, subject to her wiles. That's what you see in the the stage musical and the movie. The Brits hated Peron because his presidency ended their financial hegemony over Argentina. So Cowles (and also Time Magazine)portrayed her that way.