Woman who was 'The Girl from Ipanema' is sued by composers' families

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The Independent US

According to the words of the classic Brazilian song of nearly 40 years ago, she was "tall and tan and young and lovely". Today, however, the "Girl from Ipanema" – real name Helen Pinheiro – is a little older and, thanks to a lawsuit filed against her by the families of the song's composers, suddenly a lot less carefree too.

It was long ago revealed that when songwriters Antonio Carlos "Tom" Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes wrote the 1962 hit that sparked a worldwide craze for the bossa nova sound, they had been inspired by the vision of one teenager strolling down towards Rio de Janeiro's Ipanema Beach. That that girl was Ms Pinheiro.

Both men are dead, but their families contend that Ms Pinheiro, now 54 years old, has gone too far in commercially exploiting her fame. The suit, filed in May, says that while she may indeed have been that girl, "she does not have the legitimacy to use, at her pleasure, the work and images" of the writers. It adds that Ms Pinheiro is "unjustly profiting from the image and the work of the late composers".

In reality, Ms Pinheiro has been living off the song for almost four decades. It propelled her into a successful career as a model and Brazilian TV soap star. She apparently courted legal trouble, however, when she recently opened a jewellery clothing shop in Sao Paulo, the Brazilian capital, called "Garota de Ipanema" – "The Girl from Ipanema". Inside hangs a photograph of her with Jobim and de Moraes.

Ms Pinheiro says she is saddened by the legal action. "I think that they want compensation for the store's name. The song is theirs, they own the rights and that's OK," she conceded. "But I was the muse behind it. If I hadn't inspired the song it wouldn't have been written." She also says she is convinced that the songwriters would disapprove of the suit were they still alive. Jobim once said that de Pinheiro was a "green-eyed girl, blonde and dark, a mixture that is so beautiful. She was a creature from God." He remained friendly with her for years and wrote the accompanying text when she modelled in 1987 for the Brazilian edition of Playboy magazine.

The song, with the lilting Latin rhythm that made bossa nova so popular, was turned into a global hit in 1963 by Stan Getz, the late tenor saxophonist and the singer Astrud Gilberto. It remains a favourite today. Just a week ago, Joao Gilberto, the 70-year-old Brazilian samba master, featured the song in a performance at the Montreal International Jazz Festival. Others who recorded cover versions included Frank Sinatra.

Lawyers for Ms Pinheiro in Sao Paulo have indicated that means not only to fight the legal action but to return fire, suing the estates of both the writers for damages.