28 shares honors with the birth of novelist Manuel Puig. He was born
in 1932 in the small town of General Villegas, Argentina, to Baldomero and
María Elena Delledonne Puig. His father was a failed cattleman and
rancher, but his tenacity for hard work eventually paid off in elevating the
family status from lower to upper middle class.
Puig best known novel,
Kiss of the Spider Woman (1979), about Luis Molina and Valentin Arregui,
tells the tale of two cellmates in a South American prison.
a middle-aged homosexual, is found guilty of immoral behavior, and Valentin
is a political prisoner. To escape reality, Luis invents romantic
situations from the movies, while Valentin tries to keep his mind on his own
During the time they spend together, the two grow to understand and
respect one another. The book was made into a 1985 film
starring William Hurt, Raul Julia, and Sonia Bragga.
Puig grew up in an area of Argentina known as the Pampas.
It's a desert region that is considered romantic and enchanting by most
Argentines, but Puig hated it. "There's nothing less romantic," he
said, "than...the total absence of landscape—no trees, no rain, only this
grass that grows by itself, which is excellent for cattle, but not for
The only thing he loved about his hometown was its tiny
movie theater that showed a different movie every day. The first
film he saw there was The Bride of Frankenstein. After that,
he went nearly every night at 6 p.m., sitting in the same seat, desperate to
escape the reality of his surroundings. He watched every movie that
played the theater for years, including films made by Alfred Hitchcock,
John Ford, and Frank Capra.
As a youngster, Puig occasionally dressed for school as a
girl and was attacked and beaten on several occasions. The movies,
Puig said later, saved him from the bleakness and the boredom of the real
world around him. They helped "[me] not to go crazy. You
see another way of life. It doesn't matter that the way of life shown
by Hollywood was phony. It helped [me] hope."
1946, Puig fled his hometown for the bustling city of Buenos Aires, where he
was enrolled in a U.S. boarding school. In 1955, he went to Rome on a
scholarship to study filmmaking and directing under Vittorio De Sica and
Cesare Zavattini at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia. He
eventually made his way to New York City, supporting himself as a ticket
clerk, lecturer, and dishwasher. His most memorable experience working
for Air France was selling a plane ticket to Greta Garbo.
Puig tried his hand at writing screenplays, but they all
turned out to be shallow imitations of the movies he'd seen as a child.
Then he began a screenplay that started out with a narrator speaking in
voice over. He thought the voice over technique would last for only a few lines,
but he kept on writing, and eventually he realized that he was drafting not
a screenplay but a novel.
Betrayed by Rita Hayworth (1968) was Puig's first
published book. Not coincidentally, it's the story of a boy growing
up in a boring small town, where he constantly fantasizes that his life is a
Hollywood movie. Puig went on to write more novels, many of them
almost entirely in dialogue. He said that he preferred writing
dialogue because he was uncertain of his grammar, and he preferred letting
his characters make all of his novels' grammatical mistakes.
Puig enjoyed life in New York, every day proved to be a financial struggle.
His published works in Argentina paid little, and when Juan Perón, the
dictator with whose policies Puig strongly disagreed, died and his wife, Isabel, succeeded
him, he received even less. She cut off his income entirely from the
film, Heartbreak Tango, and ensured that his works were attacked in
In 1987, Puig's play, Misterio del Ramo DeRosas, was
produced in a London theatre, but a fire cut its run short. After
spending years ''in an unsuccessful search for a good husband," he settled
in 1989 in Cuernavaca, Mexico, where he died on July 22, 1990.
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