Eva Peron: A Brief Biography

Who is the real Evita? History tells us she was born María Eva Ibarguren on November 21, 1919, in the tiny town of Los Toldos, huddled on the edge of the vast Argentina pampas. The daughter of a ranch manager and his mistress, Eva lived under a cloud of illegitimacy for most of her childhood, culminating in the traumatic events of her father's funeral, when she and her family were refused entry by his lawful wife. In her autobiography, La Razon de mi Vida, Eva writes, "From every period of my life, I retain the memory of some injustice tormenting me and tearing me apart."

A lively, intelligent girl in love with American films and yearning for a life beyond the endless expanse of grassland, seventeen-year-old Eva left her home for the bright lights of Buenos Aires.

Within three years of her arrival, Eva had carved out a career as a radio and film actress, and the press linked her to a number of powerful suitors.

In January 1944, Eva encountered a fast-rising and immensely popular politician named Juan Perón at a fund-raising concert organized to help earthquake victims. Within weeks, she was sharing his apartment. Perón went on to become Minister of War and Vice President of the Republic, but political unrest at the end of World War II eventually led to his arrest and imprisonment. Freed in a populist revolt, Perón subsequently married Eva and was elected President of Argentina with a huge popular mandate.

With a blend of democratic principle and despotism dubbed "Peronism," Juan Perón became one of the most admired and maligned leaders of the modern era. Yet even as she shared her husband's vision of Argentina's manifest destiny, Eva herself became the object of intense, almost mystical adoration by the country's common people. She gained international attention during her Rainbow Tour of Europe to promote Argentinean interests, and at home she was instrumental in the formation of the Perónist Women's Party, as well as The Eva Perón Foundation for charitable works among the nation's poor.

The poor, in turn, clamored for Eva to assume political office beside her husband, and despite growing dissent from military and political opponents, she was put forward as the vice-presidential candidate.

It was, however, a goal Eva would never realize; she was subsequently diagnosed with terminal cancer. Renouncing her political aspirations, Eva Perón fell into a steep and sudden decline, and on July 26, 1952, she died at the age of 33.

A measure of her enormous appeal among her fellow citizens could be seen in the outpouring of grief that followed her death. Close to a million Argentineans crowded the streets of Buenos Aires for her funeral procession, and an estimated three million filed past her casket to pay their last respects. The myth of "Saint Eva" was kept alive by frequent requests to the Vatican for her canonization. Forty thousand such appeals were received in the two years following her death.

Here the story of Eva Perón may well have come to an end for much of the world -- an intriguing, enigmatic figure tragically cut down in her prime. But 21 years after her death, her myth was revived when Tim Rice happened to hear a documentary about Perón on his car radio and, on the spot, spawned the notion of Evita , a musical treatment of her life.

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