Buenos Aires in the 1930s was known as the "Paris of South America". The center of the city had many cafés, restaurants, theaters, movie houses, shops and bustling crowds. In direct contrast, the 1930s were also years of great unemployment, poverty and hunger in the capital, and many new arrivals from the interior were forced to live in tenements, boardinghouses and in outlying shanties that became known as villas miserias.
The Sociedad de Beneficencia (Society of Beneficence), a charity group made up of 87 society ladies, was responsible for most charity works in Buenos Aires prior to the election of Juan Perón. Fraser and Navarro write that at one point the Sociedad had been an enlightened institution, caring for orphans and homeless women, but that those days had long since passed by the time of the first term of Juan Perón. In the 1800s, the Sociedad had been supported by private contributions, largely those of the husbands of the society ladies. But by the 1940s, the Sociedad was supported by the government.
Eva's autobiography, La Razón de mi Vida, contains no dates or references to childhood occurrences, and does not list the location of her birth or her name at birth. According to Junín's civil registry, a birth certificate shows that one María Eva Duarte was born on 7 May 1922. Her baptismal certificate, however, lists the date of birth as 7 May 1919 under the name Eva María Ibarguren. It is thought that in 1945 the adult Eva Perón created a forgery of her birth certificate for her marriage.
Eventually, owing to Eva's older brother's financial help, the family moved into a bigger house, which they later transformed into a boarding house. During this time, young Eva often participated in school plays and concerts. One of her favorite pastimes was the cinema. Though Eva's mother apparently had a few plans for Eva, wanting to marry her off to one of the local bachelors, Eva herself dreamed of becoming a famous Actress. Eva's love of acting was reinforced when, in October 1933, she played a small role in a school play called Arriba estudiantes (Students Arise), which Barnes describes as "an emotional, patriotic, flag-waving melodrama." After the play, Eva was determined to become an Actress.
It is often reported that Eva traveled to Buenos Aires by train with tango singer Agustín Magaldi. However, biographers Marysa Navarro and Nicholas Fraser maintain that this is unlikely, as there is no record of the married Magaldi performing in Junín in 1934 (and, even if he had, he usually traveled with his wife). Eva's sisters maintain that Eva traveled to Buenos Aires with their mother. The sisters also claim that Doña Juana accompanied her daughter to an audition at a radio station and arranged for Eva to live with the Bustamante family, who were friends of the Duarte family. While the method of Eva's escape from her bleak provincial surroundings is debated, she did begin a new life in Buenos Aires.
Upon arrival in Buenos Aires, Eva Duarte was faced with the difficulties of surviving without formal education or connections. The city was especially overcrowded during this period because of the migrations caused by the Great Depression. On 28 March 1935, she had her professional debut in the play Mrs. Perez (la Señora de Pérez), at the Comedias Theater.
In 1936, Eva toured nationally with a theater company, worked as a model, and was cast in a few B-grade movie melodramas. In 1942, Eva experienced some economic stability when a company called Candilejas (sponsored by a soap manufacturer) hired her for a daily role in one of their radio dramas called Muy bien, which aired on Radio El Mundo (World Radio), the most important radio station in the country at that time. Later that year, she signed a five-year contract with Radio Belgrano, which assured her a role in a popular historical-drama program called Great Women of History, in which she played Elizabeth I of England, Sarah Bernhardt, and the last Tsarina of Russia. Eventually, Eva Duarte came to co-own the radio company. By 1943, Eva Duarte was earning five or six thousand pesos a month, making her one of the highest-paid radio actresses in the nation. Pablo Raccioppi, who jointly ran Radio El Mundo with Eva Duarte, is said to have not liked her, but to have noted that she was "thoroughly dependable". Eva also had a short-lived film career, but none of the films in which she appeared were hugely successful. In one of her last films, La cabalgata del circo (The Circus Cavalcade), Eva played a young country girl who rivaled an older woman, the movie's star, Libertad Lamarque.
Within a few years, the foundation had assets in cash and goods in excess of three billion pesos, or over $200 million at the exchange rate of the late 1940s. It employed 14,000 workers, of whom 6,000 were construction workers, and 26 Priests. It purchased and distributed annually 400,000 pairs of shoes, 500,000 sewing machines, and 200,000 cooking pots. The foundation also gave scholarships, built homes, hospitals, and other charitable institutions. Every aspect of the foundation was under Evita's supervision. The foundation also built entire communities, such as Evita City, which still exists today. Fraser and Navarro claim that due to the works and health services of the foundation, for the first time in history there was no inequality in Argentine health care.
As a result of her success with radio dramas and the films, Eva achieved some financial stability. In 1942, she was able to move into her own apartment in the exclusive neighborhood of Recoleta, on 1567 Calle Posadas. The next year Eva began her career in politics, as one of the founders of the Argentine Radio Syndicate (ARA).
By early 1945, a group of Army officers called the GOU for "Grupo de Oficiales Unidos" (United Officers Group), nicknamed "The Colonels", had gained considerable influence within the Argentine government. President Pedro Pablo Ramírez became wary of Juan Perón's growing power within the government and was unable to curb that power. On 24 February 1944, Ramírez signed his own resignation paper, which Fraser and Navarro claim was drafted by Juan Perón himself. Edelmiro Julián Farrell, a friend of Juan Perón, became President. Juan Perón returned to his job as Labor Minister. Fraser and Navarro claim that, by this point, Perón was the most powerful man in the Argentine government. On 9 October 1945 Juan Perón was arrested by his opponents within the government who feared that due to the strong support of the descamisados, the workers and the poor of the nation, Perón's popularity might eclipse that of the sitting President.
Six days later, between 250,000 and 350,000 people gathered in front of the Casa Rosada, Argentina's government house, to demand Juan Perón's release, and their wish was granted. At 11 pm, Juan Perón stepped onto the balcony of the Casa Rosada and addressed the crowd. Biographer Robert D. Crassweller claims that this moment was very powerful because it was very dramatic and recalled many important aspects of Argentine history. Crassweller writes that Juan Perón enacted the role of a caudillo addressing his people in the tradition of Argentine Leaders Rosas and Yrigoyen. Crassweller also claims that the evening contained "mystic overtones" of a "quasi-religious" nature. Eva Perón has often been credited with organizing the rally of thousands that freed Juan Perón from prison on 17 October 1945. This version of events was popularized in the movie version of the Lloyd Webber musical. Most historians, however, agree that this version of events is unlikely. At the time of Perón's imprisonment, Eva was still merely an Actress. She had no political clout with the various labor unions, and it is claimed that she was not well-liked within Perón's inner circle, nor was she liked by many within the film and radio Business at this point. When Juan Perón was imprisoned, Eva Duarte was suddenly disenfranchised. In reality, the massive rally that freed Perón from prison was organized by the various unions, such as General Labor Confederation, or CGT as they came to be known. To this day, the date of 17 October is something of a holiday for the Justicialist Party in Argentina (celebrated as Día de la Lealtad, or "Loyalty Day"). What would follow was shocking and nearly unheard of. The well connected and politically rising star, Juan Peron, married Eva. Despite Eva's childhood illegitimacy, and having an uncertain reputation, Peron was in love with Eva, and her loyal devotion to him even while he had been under arrest touched him deeply, and so he married her, providing a respectability she had never known. Eva and Juan were married discreetly in a civil ceremony in Junín on 18 October 1945 and in a church wedding on 9 December 1945.
During Perón's time, children born to unmarried parents did not have the same legal rights as those born to married parents. Biographer Julie M. Taylor, professor of anthropology at Rice University, has said that Evita was well aware of the pain of being born "illegitimate." Taylor speculates that Evita's awareness of this may have influenced her decision to have the law changed so that "illegitimate" children would henceforth be referred to as "natural" children. Upon her death, the Argentine public was told that Evita was only 30. The discrepancy was meant to dovetail with Evita's earlier tampering with her birth certificate. After becoming the first lady in 1946, Evita had her birth records altered to read that she had been born to married parents, and placed her birth date three years later, making herself younger.
Biographer Robert D. Crassweller writes, "Peronism was not fascism", and "Peronism was not Nazism." Crassweller also refers to the comments of U.S. Ambassador George S. Messersmith. While visiting Argentina in 1947, Messersmith made the following statement: "There is not as much social discrimination against Jews here as there is right in New York or in most places at home."
It had been the tradition of the Sociedad to elect the First Lady of Argentina as President of the charity. But the ladies of the Sociedad did not approve of Eva Perón's impoverished background, lack of formal education, and former career as an Actress. Fraser and Navarro write that the ladies of the Sociedad were afraid that Evita would set a bad Example for the orphans, therefore the society ladies did not extend to Evita the position of President of their organization. It has often been said that Evita had the government funding for the Sociedad cut off in retaliation. Fraser and Navarro suggest that this version of events is in dispute, but that the government funding that had previously supported the Sociedad now went to support Evita's own foundation. The Fundación María Eva Duarte de Perón was created on 8 July 1948. It was later renamed to, simply, the Eva Perón Foundation. Its funding began with 10,000 pesos provided by Evita herself.
On 22 August 1951, the unions held a mass rally of two million people called "Cabildo Abierto." (The name "Cabildo Abierto" was a reference and tribute to the first local Argentine government of the May Revolution, in 1810.) The Peróns addressed the crowd from the balcony of a huge scaffolding set up on the Avenida 9 de Julio, several blocks away from the Casa Rosada, the official government house of Argentina. Overhead were two large portraits of Eva and Juan Perón. It has been claimed that "Cabildo Abierto" was the largest public display of support in history for a female political figure.
The streets of Buenos Aires overflowed with huge piles of flowers. Within a day of Perón's death, all flower shops in Buenos Aires had run out of stock. Flowers would be flown in from all over the country, and as far away as Chile. Despite the fact that Eva Perón never held a political office, she was eventually given a state funeral usually reserved for a head of state, along with a full Roman Catholic requiem mass. A memorial was held for the Argentine team during the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki due to Eva Perón's death during those games.
Following his FLIGHT, a military dictatorship took power. The new authorities removed Evita's body from display, and its whereabouts were a mystery for 16 years. From 1955 until 1971, the military dictatorship of Argentina issued a ban on Peronism. It became illegal not only to possess pictures of Juan and Eva Perón in one's home, but to speak their names. In 1971, the military revealed that Evita's body was buried in a crypt in Milan, Italy, under the name "María Maggi." It appeared that her body had been damaged during its transport and storage, such as compressions to her face and disfigurement of one of her feet due to the body having been left in an upright position.
In 1971, Evita's body was exhumed and flown to Spain, where Juan Perón maintained the corpse in his home. Juan and his third wife, Isabel, decided to keep the corpse in their dining room on a platform near the table. In 1973, Juan Perón came out of exile and returned to Argentina, where he became President for the third time. Perón died in office in 1974. His third wife, Isabel Perón, whom he had married on 15 November 1961, and who had been elected vice-president, succeeded him. She became the first female President in the Western Hemisphere. Isabel had Eva Perón's body returned to Argentina and (briefly) displayed beside her husband's. Perón's body was later buried in the Duarte family tomb in La Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires. The previous removal of Evita's body was avenged by the Montoneros when they in 1970 stole the corpse of Pedro Eugenio Aramburu, whom they had previously killed. Montoneros then used the captive body of Aramburu to pressure for the repatriation of Evita's body. Once Evita's body arrived in Argentina, the Montoneros gave up Aramburu's corpse and abandoned it in a street in Buenos Aires.
Eva Perón has become a part of international popular culture, most famously as the subject of the musical Evita (1976). Even today, Evita has never left the collective consciousness of Argentines. Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the first elected female President of Argentina, and many other Leaders attest that women of her generation owe a debt to Eva for "her Example of passion and combativeness".
As early as 1978, the musical was considered as the basis for a movie. After a nearly 20-year production delay, Madonna was cast in the title role for the 1996 film version and won the Golden Globe Award for "Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy." In response to the American film, and in an alleged attempt to offer a more politically accurate depiction of Evita's life, an Argentine film company released Eva Perón: The True Story. The Argentine production starred Actress Esther Goris in the title role. This movie was the 1996 Argentine submission for the Oscar in the category of "Best Foreign Language Film."
By the late 20th century, Eva Perón had become the subject of numerous articles, books, stage plays, and musicals, ranging from the biography The Woman with the Whip to a 1981 TV movie called Evita Perón with Faye Dunaway in the title role. The most successful rendering of Eva Perón's life has been the musical production Evita. The musical began as a concept album co-produced by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber in 1976, with Julie Covington in the title role. Elaine Paige was later cast in the title role when the concept album was adapted into a musical stage production in London's West End and won the 1978 Olivier Award for Best Performance in a Musical. In 1980, Patti LuPone won the Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical for her performance as the title character in the Broadway production. The Broadway production also won the Tony Award for Best Musical. Nicholas Fraser claims that to date "the musical stage production has been performed on every continent except Antarctica and has generated over $2 billion in revenue."
In 1995, Tomás Eloy Martínez published Santa Evita, a fictionalized work propounding many new stories about the escapades of the corpse. Allegations that her body was the object of inappropriate attentions are derived from his description of an 'emotional necrophilia' by embalmers, Colonel Koenig and his assistant Arancibia. Many primary and secondary references to his novel have inaccurately stated that her body had been defiled in some way resulting in the widespread belief in this myth. Also included are allegations that many wax copies had been made, that the corpse had been damaged with a hammer, and that one of the wax copies was the object of an officer's sexual attentions.
In a 1996 interview, Tomás Eloy Martínez referred to Eva Perón as "the Cinderella of the tango and the Sleeping Beauty of Latin America." Martínez suggested she has remained an important cultural icon for the same reasons as fellow Argentine Che Guevara:
The morning after her death, while Evita's body was being moved to the Ministry of Labour Building, eight people were crushed to death in the throngs. In the following 24 hours, over 2000 people were treated in city hospitals for injuries sustained in the rush to be near Evita as her body was being transported, and thousands more would be treated on the spot. For the following two weeks, lines would stretch for many city blocks with mourners waiting hours to see Evita's body lie at the Ministry of Labour.
In his 2002 doctoral dissertation at Ohio State University, Lawrence D. Bell writes that the governments that preceded Juan Perón had been anti-Semitic but that his government was not. Juan Perón "eagerly and enthusiastically" attempted to recruit the Jewish community into his government and set up a branch of the Peronist party for Jewish members, known as the Organización Israelita Argentina (OIA). Perón's government was the first to court the Argentine Jewish community and the first to appoint Jewish citizens to public office. Kevin Passmore writes that the Peronist regime, more than any other in Latin America, has been accused of being fascist. But he says that the Peronist regime was not fascist, and what passed for fascism under Perón never took hold in Latin America. Additionally, because the Peronist regime allowed rival political parties to exist, it cannot be described as totalitarian.
Eva Peron appears on the 100 peso note first issued in 2012 and scheduled for replacement sometime in 2018.
During her tour to Europe, Eva Perón was featured in a cover story for Time magazine. The cover's caption–"Eva Perón: Between two worlds, an Argentine rainbow"–was a reference to the name given to Eva's European tour, The Rainbow Tour. This was the only time in the periodical's history that a South American first lady appeared alone on its cover. (In 1951, Eva appeared again with Juan Perón.) However, the 1947 cover story was also the first publication to mention that Eva had been born out of wedlock. In retaliation, the periodical was banned from Argentina for several months.
Time Magazine published an article by Tomás Eloy Martínez—Argentine Writer, Journalist, and former Director of the Latin American program at Rutgers University—titled "The Woman Behind the Fantasy: Prostitute, Fascist, Profligate—Eva Peron Was Much Maligned, Mostly Unfairly". In this article, Martínez writes that the accusations that Eva Perón was a fascist, a Nazi, and a thief had been made against her for decades. He wrote that the allegations were untrue: