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Eva "Evita" Perón: 1919–1952: Political Leader

Worked As An Actress

Juana Ibarguren Duarte moved her family to Junín, where one of her older daughters had secured a job in the post office, in 1930. Juana Duarte ran a small boardinghouse in Junín; despite the improved economic circumstances, however, young Eva Duarte felt stifled by life in the small town. From her weekly visits to the cinema, she dreamed of becoming an actress like her idol, Norma Shearer, who had also escaped a poverty-stricken childhood. After completing her secondary studies in Junín, fifteen-year-old Eva Duarte traveled to Buenos Aires to look for work on one of the popular radio serials that dominated the airwaves. Although her enemies later claimed that the young woman had seduced a famous tango singer to make her way to the capital, it is more likely that her mother accompanied her on her initial foray into Buenos Aires. Either way, Eva Duarte was soon living on her own in the capital and within weeks had joined the theater company of Eva Franco. The following year she found more work with the traveling theater company of José Franco and in 1937 made her film debut in the movie Segundos afuera and her radio theater debut in the soap opera Oro blanco.

At a Glance . . .

Born María Eva Ibarguren Duarte on May 7, 1919, in Los Toldos, Argentina; died July 16, 1952; married Juan Perón on October 22, 1945. Education: Completed secondary school in Junín, Argentina. Religion: Roman Catholic. Politics: Women's Peronist Party.

Career: Eva Franco theatrical company, 1935; José Franco theatrical company, 1936; film and radio work from 1937 onward; spokesperson, Association of Argentine Radio, 1943; unofficial representative, Department of Labor and Welfare, 1946; chair, María Eva Duarte de Perón Foundation, 1948; published My Mission in Life, 1951.

Although she acted in twenty plays and five movies, Duarte's work as a radio actress in at least two-dozen soap operas and historical dramas made her famous throughout Argentina by the late 1930s. She appeared regularly in the fan magazines and earned a considerable salary of five thousand pesos a month in 1943. When the Association of Argentine Radio was founded in August of 1943, Duarte was chosen to be its spokesperson. Yet her life took an abrupt turn on January 22, 1944, when she met Colonel Juan Domingo Perón at a benefit concert for earthquake victims that he had organized in his capacity as the country's secretary of labor and welfare.

Born in 1895, Perón had entered the Army in 1915 and slowly made his way through the ranks. Left a widower by his first wife's death of uterine cancer in 1938, Perón had traveled to Europe, where he became an admirer of the Italian Fascist government of Benito Mussolini. After a military coup in June of 1943, Perón used his political and propaganda skills to emerge as one of the leaders of the new government. One month after meeting Eva Duarte, Perón helped engineer the removal of the sitting president and secured the position of minister of war, a crucial office given Argentina's declared neutrality during World War II.

The couple began sharing adjoining apartments almost immediately and Duarte continued her film and radio work. In September of 1945, however, Perón was forced out of office and eventually jailed in an attempted military coup. Conservative business interests, upset at the government's policies that included establishing a minimum wage, paid holidays, and medical care for workers, had organized the coup and remained hostile to Perón throughout his career. In the month after the attempted coup, however, Perón had rallied enough support from the military establishment and organized labor to make a triumphant return to Buenos Aires. His appearance at Casa Rosada, the president's official residence, on October 17, 1945 in front of a crowd of 200,000 supporters marked the beginning of Perón's domination of Argentine politics for the next ten years.

As Perón was immediately declared the front-runner for the presidential elections set for May of 1946, the couple sealed their relationship in a civil ceremony on October 22, 1945. The marriage was followed by a religious ceremony in December, and the Peróns set off together on the campaign trail. Eva Perón's appearances were the first time a candidate's wife had taken an active role in the political arena in the country. Abandoning her entertainment career, Perón quickly learned to use her performing skills as a passionate orator and striking public figure. While the upper classes derided her ostentatious style, she immediately became the country's biggest celebrity.

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: Jan Peck Biography - Personal to David Randall (1972–) Biography - PersonalEva "Evita" Perón: 1919–1952: Political Leader Biography - Worked As An Actress, Became Political Leader, Death Moved A Nation