He moved to Lapa, Rio de Janeiro’s bohemian district, where he lived with a prostitute, an effeminate gay man and seven children. He started a show-biz career doing one-man drag shows at the Blue Danube basing his act on Josephine Baker, the black entertainer from St Louis who found success in Paris.
One night an abusive patron accosted him and the man ended up dead shot in the back. João Francisco was convicted of murder and served 10 years in prison.
On release he won the Best Costume award at the 1942 Carnaval as Madame Satã, based on the character in Cecil DeMille’s Madam Satan, 1930 about a woman who wins back her husband by dressing as Satan as a woman for a party in a dirigible. From there he became a drag star using several personae including “The Negress of the Bulacoche”; “Saint Rita of the Coconut Tree”; “Jamacy, the Queen of the Forest”; “the Shark”; and “the Wild Pussycat”.
Offstage he was a butch gay man, a hustler, and known for his violent temper. In total he served 27 years in prison.
He died of lung cancer at age 76.
In 2002 his life was made into a film.
- Rogério Durst. Madame Satã: [com o diabo no corpo]. São Paulo: Ed. Brasiliense, 1985.
- Karim Ainouz (dir & scr). Madame Satã. Scr: Marcelo Gomes & Sérgio Machado, with Lázaro Ramos as Joao Francisco dos Santos/Madame Satã. Brazil & France 105 mins 2002.
- Bacalhau. “Apresento João Francisco dos Santos o Madame Satã”. Centro Cultrural de Capoeira Ventre Livre. Agosto 12, 2009. http://www.portalventrelivre.com/?p=725.