Thereza de Orléans e Bragança, Brazilian Society Doyenne, Dies at 93

Thereza de Orléans e Bragança, Brazilian Society Doyenne, Dies at 93


Thereza de Orléans e Bragança, an elegant society figure in Rio de Janeiro who gained a measure of international celebrity in the 1950s and ’60s before transforming herself into a princess by marrying into Brazil’s royal family, died on June 27 in Rio. She was 93.

Her stepson Dom João Henrique Orleans e Bragança said the cause was heart failure.

Ms. Orléans e Bragança was one of the last vestiges of a now largely vanished postwar high society in Rio, an “old money” class, sprinkled with remnants of an even earlier era of Brazilian royalty and aristocracy, that prized elegance and discretion over ostentation.

“She belonged to an era that doesn’t exist anymore, Rio in the 1950s,” her stepson said.

She was known for her exquisite taste and a sense of style that made her the epitome of chic in Rio de Janeiro. Her association with American movie stars like Rita Hayworth and Bing Crosby, who reportedly offered her a movie role, which she turned down, provided fodder for the society page — so much so that there was a popular samba song written about her.

In 1954, Life Magazine ran an article about her, titled “The Best Dressed Woman in Rio de Janeiro,” that described her life with her husband at the time, Carlos Eduardo Souza Campos, a polo-playing banker. “Possessed of a huge wardrobe and unerring taste,” Life wrote, “she brilliantly adorns this idyllic existence.”

When she was 61 — by then divorced and seemingly past her prime as a society swan — she married Dom Joāo Maria de Orléans e Bragança, a direct descendant of Portugal’s King João VI, who had moved the Portuguese court to Brazil in 1807, fleeing Napoleon. Her niece Claudia Souza Campos said the family liked to joke that it was Ms. Orléans e Bragança’s crowning achievement.

Thereza de Jesus Cezar Leite was born on Jan. 11, 1929, to José da Silva Leite and Branca Queiroz Cezar dos Santos in Ubá, a small city about 150 miles north of Rio. Surviving relatives remember few details about her familiy and early life.

Ms. Campos said she believed that Ms. Orléans e Bragança had got her start working as a fashion consultant for clients of a prominent Rio seamstress, and that her advice about fabrics and cuts, especially for wedding dresses, was much sought after.

After marrying Mr. Souza Campos in 1947, the two became fixtures in Rio’s social scene. They were frequently spotted at the elite Gávea Golf Club and the Rio de Janeiro Country Club. The couple would entertain in their four-story 20-room mansion in Rio’s tony Copacabana section; one event was a dinner for 70 in honor of Prince Aly Khan, the international playboy and, for a time, the husband of Ms. Hayworth.

The couple would travel to Europe every year so that Ms. Orleans e Bragança could keep up with the latest fashions. And they would spend January and February, the South American summer, in Petrópolis, a mountain city north of Rio where the Portuguese colonial court had traditionally gone to cool off.

Ms. Orléans e Bragança and Mr. Souza Campos divorced in 1972 amid money troubles that forced them to sell off most of their property. Even though she continued to appear in the society pages, much of the shine had come off. Brazil was embarking on its “lost decade” (1981-92), when the bill from the military dictatorship’s spending spree came due and hyperinflation made the national currency almost worthless.

The “old money” class’s influence was further diminished when the nation’s capital moved north to Brasilia. A loss of federal money in Rio led to a downward spiral of worsening municipal services and rising violence. Many rich Brazilians simply fled to Miami or São Paulo, the nation’s financial capital.

Ms. Orléans e Bragança married Dom Joāo Maria in May 1990. His great-grandfather Pedro I had declared Brazil’s independence from Portugal in 1822 and crowned himself emperor. (Brazil continued as the only monarchy in the Americas until 1889, when the military forced Pedro II into exile.)

Dom João Maria was Pedro II’s grandson. Born in France, he returned to Brazil in 1925, at 19, as a nonreigning monarch to serve in the air force. He had one son with his first wife, the Egyptian princess Fátima Scherifa Chirine.

Dom João Henrique said his father and stepmother had been very much in love and had spent most of their time living quietly in Paraty, a colonial beach town south of Rio. “They were very happy together even if there were no more parties and galas,” he said. Dom João Maria died in 2005 at 88.

In addition to her stepson and her niece Ms. Souza Campos, Ms. Orleans e Bragança is survived by her sister Magda Leite Memória and five other nieces and nephews. A son from her first marriage, Carlos Eduardo Jr., died in August 2019.

Ms. Souza Campos said her aunt never quite recovered from Dom João Maria’s death, and when her son died, she was devastated. She spent her last months in bed not answering the phone.



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