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Remembering Delia Fiallo, 'Mother Of The Telenovela,' Who Has Died At 96

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Cuban American screenwriter Delia Fiallo was known as the mother of the Spanish-language telenovela. She died yesterday at her home in Miami's Coral Gables neighborhood just a few days shy of her 97th birthday. NPR's Mandalit del Barco has this remembrance.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Steamy love affairs, secret love children, amnesia, murder - these were some of the melodramatic elements Delia Fiallo wrote into her telenovelas. They were huge hits throughout Latin America in the 1970s and '80s - soap operas named after their protagonist - "Rafaela," "Leonela," "Kassandra," and "Cristal." On that show, Cristina, who grew up in an orphanage, becomes a fashion model for the woman who abandoned her as a baby. Cristina has an affair with her mother's stepson and discovers she's pregnant.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CRISTAL")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character, speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character, speaking Spanish).

DEL BARCO: Fiallo wrote the storylines for dozens of novellas and hundreds of episodes on TV and radio over her long life.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DELIA FIALLO: (Speaking Spanish).

DEL BARCO: "The telenovela communicates emotions we all feel," she told CNN en Espanol in 2018. "For housewives stuck at home," she said, "watching telenovelas allows them to dream."

FIALLO: (Speaking Spanish).

DEL BARCO: Author Ilan Stavans calls himself a melodrama aficionado.

ILAN STAVANS: Envy; passionate, unadulterated love; rivalry; desire.

DEL BARCO: Stavans has written about the importance of the telenovela in Latin America, and he says Fiallo was a remarkable figure, writing for women in a male-dominated industry.

STAVANS: Stories about young women in search of their own place in the world, challenges with the upper class, with abusive husbands or abusive fathers.

DEL BARCO: Delia Fiallo was born in Havana on the Fourth of July in 1924. After earning her doctorate at the University of Havana, she began writing radio dramas in the 1950s. She told the University of Miami that one of her first stories was about a campesina, like the girl she'd seen in the rural provinces of Cuba.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FIALLO: (Speaking Spanish).

DEL BARCO: In 1966, after the Cuban revolution, she and her family fled in exile to Miami. From there, she wrote scripts that were produced and distributed for television stations in Venezuela.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ESMERALDA")

JAVIER RODRIGUEZ: (Singing) Esmeralda.

DEL BARCO: Her novellas were seen throughout Latin America. They were translated into Japanese and Czech, broadcast in more than 100 countries. Some were later rebooted for TV in Brazil and Mexico. But she told CNN en Espanol she wasn't happy about the way, for instance, they remade "Kassandra," her series about a gypsy maiden.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FIALLO: (Speaking Spanish).

DEL BARCO: "It was a failure," she said. Fiallo retired in 1985 but was active well into her 90s. Ten years ago, there was an award named after her for telenovela goddesses.

Mandalit del Barco, NPR News, Los Angeles.

(SOUNDBITE OF PETE ROCK FT. THE LORDS OF THE UNDERGROUND SONG, "THE BEST SECRET") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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