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He invented the Brazilian novela

He invented
      the Brazilian
      novela

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By Francesco Neves

"God is a good playwright. He is able to get his interpreters fighting desperately
for their roles under the illusion that they can improve it with a personal contribution,
when He, protective of his work, does not allow improvisation. Only a complaint: He
repeats Himself a lot, since all His plays have the same ending—death. I know it is
unethical to badmouth a colleague, but God suffers from a millenary lack of
imagination."

From Apenas um Subversivo by Dias Domes

Hundreds of people went to the São João Batista cemetery in Rio and thousands more
from the sidewalks and from their high-rise building windows accompanied in silence, on
May 19, the passage of the cortege with Dias Gomes’s body. Some waved white handkerchiefs,
others exhibited makeshift banners, many saying "Bem-amado" (Well-beloved), the
name of one of his best known works. You might think the illustrious deceased was a great
sports figure or TV star and not the controversial playwright who became popular and
famous by writing TV novelas (soap operas) that changed the language of this genre in
Brazil and created a gallery of memorable characters who are still remembered more than
two decades after being created on the little screen. OBem-Amado—arguably his
most popular work—a hilarious soap from 1973 depicting life, politics, corruption,
and hypocrisy in the little fictitious town of Sucupira, still resonates in the Brazilian
collective consciousness.

Despite being 77 years old, Dias Gomes was still very active and going through a happy
phase in his life, according to friends. He died in a car accident, May 18, in the early
morning, on avenue 9 de Julho, in the southern region of São Paulo, when the taxi in
which he was riding with his wife Maria Bernardeth made a wrong turn and was hit by a bus.
The writer, who was not using a seatbelt, was thrown out the car. His wife and the driver
escaped with minor injuries. The couple had come from Rio (the distance between Rio and
São Paulo is 250 miles) to see a presentation of Giacomo Puccini’s opera, Madama
Butterfly. After the show they ate at a traditional pasta house, the Famiglia Mancini
restaurant, where they shared mineral water, Italian red wine, fettuccini, and minced
filet mignon, spending $40. They stayed less than 50 minutes in the restaurant, leaving a
little before 2 AM.

Bernardeth, 36, with whom Dias Gomes, had two girls—Maíra, 12, and Luana,
8—confirmed earlier reports that she wanted to wait for another taxi: "I didn’t
want to get into that taxi because the driver had been rude to me and I had the impression
that he was a drunkard. The waiter stepped in, trying to convince Dias to wait for a
driver known by the restaurant, but he did not want to wait and we ended up taking that
taxi." It was past two in the morning. According to the story taxi driver Ozias
Patrício da Silva told police, Dias Gomes had chosen his car, instead of one of the
fancier taxicabs that stay at the restaurant’s door, to help him. "I took you took
your car because you work for a fleet and I wanted to give you a hand," the
playwright told him.

Dias Gomes had been married to another famous soap opera writer, Janete Clair, until
her death in 1983 from intestinal cancer. The couple had three children: Guilherme,
Alfredo, and Denise. Nobody would think they could have such a lasting union. They were
the opposite of each other. While he was cynical, irreligious, communist and socially
conscious, Janet was a romantic Catholic girl who did not care for politics. They first
met while working at Rádio Difusora in São Paulo in 1945 and were married in 1950, but
started living and writing together before that.

Early Start

Alfredo de Freitas Dias Gomes was born in 1922 in Salvador, the capital of the
northeastern state of Bahia. He moved in 1935 with his family to Rio. The author was 15
years old when he wrote A Comédia dos Moralistas (The Moralists’ Comedy), his first play.
The text was the winner of the 1939 National Service of Theater’s Competition for
amateurs. Three years later Gomes debuted on professional theater with Pé-de-Cabra
(Crowbar), a play that went on tour throughout Brazil starring legendary actor Procópio
Ferreira. Dias Gomes would become internationally known in 1962 when his play O Pagador
de Promessas (The Payer of Vows), turned into a movie by director Anselmo Duarte, won
the Golden Palm at the Cannes Film
Festival. As a play, the work had a long and successful career at the TBC (Teatro
Brasileiro de Comédia—Brazilian Theater of Comedy) with actor Anselmo Duarte
starring in it.

In 1944 the writer moved to São Paulo where he worked at Radio Pan Americana writing
scripts and adapting stories. In 1945 he wrote the novel Duas Sombras Apenas (Only
Two Shadows), the first of a series of books written in the ensuing three years that
included Um Amor e Sete Pecados (A Love and Seven Sins), A Dama da Noite (The
Lady of the Night) e Quando É Amanhã (When It’s Tomorrow). In July 1991, Dias
Gomes became one of the 40 members of ABL (Academia Brasileira de Letras—Brazilian
Academy of Letters). He was buried at the Academy’s mausoleum.

Firebrand

A militant communist, he was seen as a threat to national security for most of his
life. After a trip he made to the then Soviet Union in 1953, he was fired from Rio’s
Rádio Clube where he worked writing radio scripts. He then started writing under several
different names. During the military dictatorship, which lasted from 1964 to 1985, Dias
Gomes was constantly singled out by the censors. He was one of the first victims of the
military. In 1964, the same year his O Pagador de Promessas play premiered in
Washington, D.C., he was fired from Rio’s Rádio Nacional because of the Institutional Act
No. 1, issued by the new regime. The Act started the so-called Cleaning Operation, which
put thousands in prison, took the political rights of 141 opponents of the regime and
placed leaders aligned with the military in command in universities and labor unions.

One of Gomes’ most famous soap operas was written in 1975, but was vetoed by the
military and shown on TV only ten years later. It was Roque Santeiro (Roque the
Saint-Maker), a caustic satire of corrupted politicians, which when aired reached up to
90% of the Brazilian TV audience tuned in. Besides Roque Santeiro, he had other texts
censored, including O Berço dos Heróis (The Heroes’ Cradle), A Revolução dos
Beatos (The Revolution of the Blessed Ones), Vamos Soltar os Demônios, (Let’s
Free the Demons), and A Invasão (The Invasion).

President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, himself a victim of military arbitrariness, said
in a statement, "As a citizen, Dias Gomes was a democrat. As a dramatist and
novelist, he always showed the best of the Brazilian people. We will miss his talent.”

"He was courageous in his positions, mostly when defending the citizenry,"
said writer Carlos Nejar, adding: "The most interesting thing about Dias Gomes was
that he linked with much wisdom the popular and the erudite. He created characters with
the face and the soul of Brazil. He also helped to bring together the population and the
Brazilian culture through television."

Among the unforgettable characters created by him were the corrupt mayor Odorico
Paraguaçu, the goody-goody Cajazeira sisters, Dona Redonda, the widow Porcina, and Roque
the Saint Maker. In 1976 he introduced the fantastic realism on TV soap operas with
Saramandaia, in which a woman would set on fire everything around her when sexually
aroused, a man had wings and another one had ants coming out of his nose. He protected as
a jealous mother his texts and did not like to see them changed even when adapted to
cinema. "Of all my works adapted to movies I only like O Pagador de Promessas,"
he said once. "In the others I don’t even recognize my text." To actors who
improvised over his text he used to send this message: "I can do without
contributions."

Dias Gomes was not writing novelas anymore, but kept working on smaller
projects. One, which he finished, was Vargas, a mini-series based on the life of President
Getúlio Dornelles Vargas (1883-1954). He was also working on another mini-series he
called Ninguém É de Ninguém (Nobody Belongs to Nobody).

In an interview with weekly magazine Época, he said, "Today I avoid novela.
There is not enough time to polish the text. For me, to write a novela is a
solitary work. It’s only you and God. It’s almost like a marathon, the shortest way to a
heart attack. Today the novela has become a group work. They have found an
industrial solution for the novela, but with this it lost its authorship."

In Apenas um Subversivo (Just a Subversive), a memoir released in May 1998 by
Editora Bertrand, the author wrote: "I am able to pilot my boat through the winds,
but I know there is plenty of sea ahead. Maybe I will never reach port. I hope I never do
because the best part of the trip is to be in it." That release was also the
beginning of the publication of the seven-book complete works by Dias Gomes, whose last
volume, a book with short stories, is scheduled to appear in early 2000.

HIS WORK

Plays

A Comédia dos Moralistas (1937)

Pé de Cabra (1942)

João Cambão (1942)

O Homem que Não Era Seu (1942)

Amanhã Será Outro Dia (1943)

Zeca Diabo (1943)

Eu Acuso o Céu (1943)

Beco Sem Saída (1944)

O Existencialista (1944)

A Dança das Horas (1949)

O Pagador de Promessas (1959)

A Invasão (1960)

A Revolução dos Beatos (1961)

O Bem-Amado—Odorico, o Bem-Amado, e os Mistérios de Amor e da Morte (1962)

O Berço do Herói (1963)

O Santo Inquérito (1964)

O Túnel (1968)

Vargas—Dr. Getúlio, Sua Vida e Sua Glória (1968)

Amor em Campo Minado (1969)

O Rei de Ramos (1968)

Campeões do Mundo (1979)

Novelas (Soap Operas)

A Ponte dos Suspiros (1969)

Verão Vermelho (1970)

Assim na Terra como no Céu (1970)

Bandeira Dois (1971)

O Bem-Amado (1973)

O Espigão (1974)

Saramandaia (1977)

Sinal de Alerta (1978)

Roque Santeiro (1985)

Mandala (1987)

Araponga (1990)

Irmãos Coragem (1995)

Fim do Mundo (1996)

Miniseries

O Pagador de Promessas (1988)

As Noivas de Copacabana (1992)

Decadência (1995)

Dona Flor e Seus Dois Maridos (adapted from Jorge Amado’s novel) (1998)

TV Specials

Um Grito no Escuro (1971)

O Santo Inquérito (1979)

O Boi Santo (1988)

Um Grito no Escuro (1971)

Cinema

O Pagador de Promessas, directed by Anselmo Duarte (1962), Golden Palm in Cannes

O Marginal, directed by Carlos Manga (1974)

O Rei do Rio, directed by Bruno Barreto (1985)

Amor em Campo Minado, directed by Pastor Vera, Cuba (1998)

TV Series

O Bem-Amado (1980, 1984)

In the Bookstores:

Amor em Campo Minado

Apenas um Subversivo

O Bem Amado

O Berço do Herói

Os Caminhos da Revolução

Decadência

Derrocada

Os Espetáculos Musicais

Os Falsos Mitos

A Invasão

Meu Reino Por Um Cavalo

Odorico na Cabeça

O Pagador de Promessas

Peças da Juventude

As Primícias

Rei de Ramos

O Santo Inquérito

O Santo Inquérito

Sucupira Ame-a ou Deixe-a

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