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Telenovela Pioneer Delia Fiallo Dead At 96

Delia Fiallo in her home in 2018. The Cuban writer moved to Miami with her family in 1966.
Delia Fiallo in her home in 2018. The Cuban writer moved to Miami with her family in 1966.

Delia Fiallo, the author and screenwriter whose peers and fans often called her the "mother of the telenovela," has died. She was 96 years old. Her daughter, Delia Betancourt, confirmed to NPR that Fiallo died Tuesday, in her home in Miami, Fla., just days before her July 4 birthday.

Fiallo scripted hugely popular dramas such as Cristal, Lenoela, and Rafaela during the 1970s and 1980s, which were broadcast throughout Latin America.

Her stories were filled with melodrama — amnesia, murder, illegitimate children, lost family members returning and torrid love affairs. She dealt with more serious subject matter too, such as rape and drug abuse. And while she was interested in escapist entertainment, her wide viewership gave her a sense of responsibility to approach her plotlines with a sense of taste and a message in mind, she told the Orlando Sentinel in a 1987 profile.

"At face value, a novela is comfortable and inexpensive entertainment for the whole family," Fiallo said. She later added, "I feel that all topics can be broached in a novela, as long as it is done in a way that is not crude, that does not hurt the viewers' sensibilities."

Fiallo was born on July 4, 1924 in Havana, Cuba. She earned a doctorate in philosophy and literature from the University of Havana, and got her start writing dramas for the radio. In 1966, she and her family left in exile for Miami, Fla. From there she restarted her career, brokering a deal with two television stations in Venezuela which would produce and distribute the scripts she wrote. The process was fast: "I've written scripts that were to be filmed that very day and that would air that night," she told the Orlando Sentinel.

Fiallo retired after her 1985 show Cristal. In 2011 the Summit of the Telenovela and Ficion Series Industry Awards created an award named after her to be given to pioneers of the industry. In a release announcing the news, Fiallo called the honor the most important of her life, because it also "reward[s] the work of others who have contributed to ... the world of telenovelas and fiction series."

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