Monica Lewis, Chiquita, United Fruit & All Things Banana

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Chiquita Banana Map

Everyone remembers Carmen Miranda (b. 1909–1955) as the woman with the tutti-frutti hat (made famous by the Busby Berkeley musical, The Gang’s All Here). The video’s banana-themed choreography is still just as amazing today as it was back in 1943.

Monica Lewis (b. 1922–2015) got her start at the swanky Stork Club in New York City before a radio appearance led to her gig with Benny Goodman’s orchestra, when she replaced Peggy Lee. “America’s Singing Sweetheart” also worked with Frank Sinatra and was even proposed to by Ronald Reagan (in his days as an actor), though she declined.

Back in the days of banana republics, Chiquita was originally called United Fruit Company, which was popularly known as the capitalist enemy. There’s a scene in the outrageous 1963 Russian agitprop film, Soy Cuba (I am Cuba), where a farmer sets his crop on fire and commits suicide in an act of resistance. His last words are “United Fruit,” spoken with a thick Cuban accent just before he drops dead next beside the conflagration.  The scene was meant to depict the degrading forces of capitalism, namely the United Fruit Company.  It was the opposite of the wholesome image we saw in the later Chiquita ads.  What would you expect of an early 1960’s agitprop Soviet film romanticizing the Cuban revolution and disparaging the evil capitalist enemy 90 miles away?  The bad Americans who would install dictators to protect American interests, i.e. United Fruit, in what became known as “banana republics”.\?

The original film was shot in East German black & white infrared film before being acquired by Milestone Pictures in 1994 and consequently rereleased by Martin Scorcese and Francis Ford Coppola the following year.

Here is the Chiquita Banana commercial, sung by Monica Lewis.

Carmen Miranda in the famous tutti fruitti hat sequence from The Gang’s All Here.

In the Soy Cuba trailer, the gringos are the bad guys.

A fascinating documentary on the making of Soy Cuba. The guy singing in the bar was a member of the famous doo-wop group, The Platters, who moved to Cuba after the 1959 revolution.

Finally:  Bananas were originally grown in India.  The banana that your great grandmother ate was much tastier than what we have now:  It was called the gros michel.  It A fungus wiped out that variety years ago.  A new strain was devised, called the giant cavendish, but it isn’t as good.  At present there is another fungus that is threatening the banana population.  A world without bananas would be an impoverished one.

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