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In the newspaper Última Hora, 1975

CLÁUDIA CELESTE

Rio de Janeiro, RJ, 1952-2018

Cláudia Celeste began her career as an actress in the 70s, becoming the first travesti to appear in a Brazilian soap opera, despite the prohibition of the military dictatorship. Ten years later, she was cast in Olho por Olho on TV Manchete, making history again as the first travesti to act in a soap opera from beginning to end. Throughout her career, she also won and organized beauty contests, had a punk band and performed in theaters and nightclubs around Brazil and Europe.

published on 07/29/2021

Singer, dancer, actress, miss, producer, director, author and many more. Cláudia Celeste began to get to know her talents and vocations as a corporal. At 18, she was already terrorizing the barracks. It was in the army that she started doing her eyebrows and makeup. After serving, at 20, she went from Irajá to Copacabana, in order to get a job with the recently acquired makeup diploma. According to her, working as a hairdresser and daily life at the salon were the final incentives to transition, starting to take contraceptives after being amazed by Divina Valéria in the play “Valter ou Valéria”. That same year, when she went to accompany a friend in an audition for theater, she also ended up being invited and was selected. However, she could only debut on the stage of Beco das Garrafas, as a GoGo-Girl dancer. At that time, travesti shows in theaters were not allowed and had a very recent history. "It all started in 1961, when Ivanah, a french, appeared in a theatrical show for the first time. The following year another french came, Coccinelle, who caused a scandal by appearing on the cover of Manchete, posing in the swimming pool of the hotel where she had stayed, Copacabana Palace. In 1964, travesti shows were launched with Brazilian artists Rogéria, Valéria, Marquesa and Brigitte Búzios, but were soon banned by the military dictatorship, in 1969." After four years, in 1973, Teatro Rival obtained the first government license to produce “O mundo é das Bonecas”, inviting Cláudia to be one of the highlights, along with other well-known travestis at the time, such as Jane di Castro. After the success of this presentation, she started working as a dancer for several productions, performing in nightclubs such as Bolero, Holliday, Erotika and Barbarella.

As Bonecas também podem Poster //  Bonecas com algo mais Backstage // Gigolettes in Sukata Club

Show rehearsals of Bonecas com tudo em cima

In the 1975 newspaper Última Hora, Cláudia was already named “the great mystery of Rio's nightlife” and an “international travesti starlet”. While dancing with Sydney Magal in Era uma vez no Carnaval , she became known as the “mysterious hare of Carlos Imperial”, a controversial producer who baptized her with the surname Celeste. Quickly reaching a trajectory of projection and knowing her potential, she ended up becoming interested in participating in Miss Brazil. The contest elected the most beautiful travesti or transformista in the country, but soon it had to change it's name to Miss Boneca Pop because of the direct reference to the competition that already existed. Claudia won the title of Miss Brazil Pop in 1976, the same year the contest had its last edition. A year later, director Daniel Filho watched Transetê no Fuetê in Rival Theater, a show in which Cláudia participated, and decided to recreate one of the numbers in his soap opera on Globo, Magic Mirror. At the time, no one in the team knew that Cláudia was a travesti and there was a determination by the Federal Censorship that would prohibit her appearance on TV. She was cast to partner with famous Sônia Braga and Lima Duarte, but soon after her first scene, she became the highlight of newspaper headlines; “Cláudia (or rather, Cláudio), travesti who deceived everyone”, “The first travesti on TV”, among others. Despite having filmed more scenes, they ended up being canceled before the notification of prior censorship, making Cláudia permanently removed by Globo. Furthermore, as many did not know what had actually happened, many questions arose about how she would have achieved such a feat: “Why can't Rogéria and Valéria make television, and Celeste can? What criteria did the censors use?”

Typical costume and coronation moment at Miss Brasil Pop, 1976

Paris Paname at the Brigitte Blair Theater // Claudia and Jane di Castro in Gay Fantasy // Duo Wagner at El Molino de Barcelona

In 1979, still digesting her television experience and a few more participations in films and plays, Cláudia moved to Europe and started to perform in theaters and big companies, just as some friends had already done. She traveled through Germany, France and Spain, where she met Paulo Wagner, her husband and performance partner for over 30 years. However, the shows paid very little in general, which caused several Brazilian travestis to start prostituting in order to pay for operations. In search of another path, Celeste decided to return to Brazil, working as a producer and director of shows like “Brasileiríssimo” with Rogéria. As nothing is by chance, being back provided her with one of the greatest experiences of her life. Ten years after the first appearance on TV, the opportunity to star in a soap arose in the competitor Rede Manchete. In 1987, Claudia won over 200 contestants and was chosen to give life to the prostitute Dinorah in the soap opera Olho por Olho. Her character starred with Beth Goulart and was a romantic partner with Mario Gomes. She constantly gave her opinion and guided her character's script, such as the suggestion for a trip to Paris. As the military regime had ended, Cláudia managed to participate from start to finish, in more than 130 episodes, being the only one to carry out such a feat for decades in the country. She hoped that Dinorah would bring her notoriety and generate other opportunities, but she felt a gradual erasure and loss of space, as cisgender actors playing travestis in totally stereotyped narratives became recurrent.

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Newspaper clippings and excerpt from the soap opera Olho por Olho on TV Manchete, 1988

Cláudia only participated in two more films in the eighties: Beijo na Boca, also starring Mário Gomes, and futuristic trash Punks, The Children of the Night, with Lady Francisco. At the time, like her friend Cláudia Wonder, she tried a career as a rock singer, forming with her husband the band Coisa que Incomoda and the show Febre.  The two were inspired by punk and new wave movements, creating new versions of classics by mixing Brazilian sounds and unusual lyrics. In 2012, thirty-six years after the last edition of Miss Brasil Pop, Celeste passed the crown to the winner of the first edition of  Miss T Brasil, a contest she also directed. In 2016, she was honored at the first edition of the TransArte Festival, an event in Rio de Janeiro that explores issues of gender identity and sexuality. In her later years, she was also involved in several projects, including a book to rescue the history of transvestite shows, called O Glamour das Divas. Cláudia died of pneumonia on a Sunday morning in 2018, aged 66. Her transgression and pioneering in the fight for rights and space in the art world, her bodily modifications in the midst of civil-military dictatorship and the early understanding of the need to archive LGBT+ memory for future generations, can never be erased.

Fever, show developed with Wagner Borges, 1980

Research References:

Junior, Aureliano. For a history of trans beauty pageants: creating memories and tradition for an event aimed at transvestites and transsexual women, 2017

Silva, Pedro Pepa; Visnadi, Marcus; Mohallem, Bill. Diva that annoys, Geni Magazine, 2013 

Celeste, Claudia. Website/Personal Blog; atrizclaudiaceleste.blogspot.com

Claudionor Caetano Lopes: Actress profession. Newspaper Reflor, 1982

Remind transvestites and transsexuals from soap operas. tvefamosos.uol.com.br, 2012

First transvestite to act in a Brazilian soap opera, she dies at the age of 66. oglobo.globo.com/cultura/, 2018

Remind characters who were transsexuals or transvestites in soap operas. terra.com.br/diversao/tv/, 2015

Marchi, Majorie. The Influence of “BEAUTY” in the formation of Brazilian Transvestite and Transsexual Identities. S! Magazine, 2012

Soliva, Thiago Barcelos. Under the symbol of glamour: a study on resistance and social change, UFRJ, 2016