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Doraluz Vargas, a television critic for El Nuevo Herald, has called Rivero the "King Midas" of the genre. Nearly everyone he works with calls him a maestro, a genius of legendary talent. His headquarters may look like the bedroom of a starstruck teenage girl, but Arquímedes Rivero studies novelas with a formulaic vigor that borders on the scientific.
Born in Pinar del Rio, Cuba, in 1930, he broke into the business as a deep-voiced Casanova on Cuban radio-novelas in the Fifties. In 1954, five years before the Fidel Castro-provoked exodus began, he immigrated to Venezuela. Though he possesses the honeyed baritone of a full-bodied Adonis, Rivero is neither tall nor meaty a disadvantage that effectively ended his acting career upon the advent of televised novelas. He became an executive with Venevision, a division of the Cisneros Group, one of the largest media corporations in South America.
That he now lives and works in Miami is a sign Spanish-language networks are investing some of their greatest talent in the local industry. Since 1998, Venevision has coproduced seven novelas here with local production company Fonovideo, and two more after building its own studio, Venevision Productions, a year and a half ago. Work on the tenth show began more than a month ago.
But Rivero's company, under contract to provide exclusive programming to Univision, has always played second fiddle to Mexico City-based Televisa. The Mexican firm supplies 36 percent of the network's programming; Venevision provides 17 percent. (The remainder of the schedule is dominated by Univision-produced news, talk shows, variety shows like Sábado Gigante, and sports.)
As Rivero well knows, programming of telenovelas on Univision is about demand: Most U.S. Hispanics are Mexican, and they want to watch shows from their homeland. So when Venevision started producing in Miami in 1998, he began developing a novela of a different sort: He hired his favorite actors from Venezuela, other Latin American countries, and even the U.S., but consciously cast more Mexicans than any other one nationality. He taught all of his actors to speak in the neutral accent of newscasters and to avoid regional slang.
The result is that Rivero's novelas, including Olvidarte Jamás, are set in the United States but have a Panamerican identity or one that might be called Miamian.
Rivero is famous for his casting, a skill he says he acquired through many years of imagining characters for radio. "He is a master," marvels director Yaky Ortega, who has worked on a number of projects with Rivero, including Olvidarte Jamás. "How he molds new actors, how he creates a family with such harmony between the characters."
It's a harmony that remains even when the actors hail from disparate countries. On the wall directly opposite his desk between the display of stars Rivero has pasted cut-out photos of the cast of Olvidarte Jamás, names typewritten beneath each. He looks at them happily. "And we have a beautiful couple," Rivero announces. "Sonya Smith, she's Venezuelan, and Gabriel Porras, he is Mexican, and they make a very attractive couple." He is not wrong. The couple stares out from the middle of the wall. Sonya Smith grew up in Caracas with her Venezuelan mother but was born in Pennsylvania, her father's home. She is tall and blond with sea green eyes and a refreshingly Roman nose (for a telenovela star, she looks surprisingly natural). In person and on television she is breathtakingly pretty and possessive of a sort of sparkling gravitas. Gabriel Porras is equally good-looking, dark to Smith's light, with charismatic brown eyes.
Rivero pauses, smiling fondly at their photos. "We have a lot of faith that this is going to be an international success. Un gran boom."
Olvidarte Jamás begins with the rape of a frightened and weeping teenage Luisa by Gonzalo Montero, the long-haired, earring-wearing alcoholic son of Gregorio Montero, patrón of a large and impossibly successful ranch on the outskirts of Miami where Luisa is employed as a domestic.
When Luisa refuses to terminate the resulting pregnancy, Don Gregorio burns down the humble dwelling where she lives, killing Luisa's grandmother (her only living relative) and causing the girl to miscarry. Luisa leaves the ranch, but not alone: One of Don Gregorio's daughters (which of the three is one of many mysteries for the viewer to uncover) suffered through an illegitimate pregnancy of her own and secretly entrusts Luisa with the care of the baby girl, Carolina. To protect another from the tyrannical wrath of Don Gregorio, Luisa agrees to take the infant and find her a home.
Eighteen years later, Luisa has raised Carolina, now a young woman. She has also somehow made a fortune, but decides to exact revenge. She returns to work for the Monteros as a domestic, disguising her true identity by trading her trendy officewear for the dirndls and peasant skirts that apparently are all the rage among domestics working on ranches near Miami. Her hair is dyed blond, her eyes masked in colored contact lenses, and she calls herself Victoria. Not even her adopted daughter knows her past or her agenda.
Gonzalo Montero is still drunk and lecherous, but with shorter hair. Gregorio Montero remains rich and evil. Victoria/Luisa, though calculating and prone to sarcasm, continues to be our heroine. In addition to revenge, she must maintain a vigilant watch over Carolina, who has no idea that making out with certain members of the Montero family may actually be incestuous. Fortunately the object of Carolina's affection, the popular Alejandro Montero, was not fathered by the man everyone thinks he was. (It's all fairly complicated.)