The Mrs. Mottola Nobody Knows

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Mexican singer and actress Thalía arrives for her wedding

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After she became hugely popular, Thalía leapt from the Fonovisa label to EMI Latin, which funded two of her most outrageous, unforgettable videos. The sublimely tongue-in-cheek "Gracias a Dios" finds Thalía singing her thanks to God for giving her a good man — as she proceeds to playfully torture a captive shirtless male in an abandoned warehouse. The beefcake hero is straddled and shaved with a straight razor, drenched with a hose, and suspended upside down as Thalía, wearing a Louise Brooks wig, draws a sweet lil' heart on his chest with her lipstick. Fitting neatly into the "most memorable image" category is the sight of our heroine offering this dunce a "last cigarette" — and then lighting it with her candelabra brassiere!

"Gracias" never fails to delight more broad-minded viewers, but it is more than equaled by another of Thalía's wonderful acts of provocation, "Amor a la Mexicana." As this charming tune about loving "in the Mexican style" proceeds, one is put in mind of actor Ricardo Montalban's famous criticism of the stereotypes that Mexican people have been saddled with for decades: "the lazy Mexican, the bandito and the Latin lover." In the "Amor" video, Thalía and director Benny Corral revel in these stereotypes right from the opening shot, in which the lovely Ms. Sodi lies in a hammock, waiting for her Latin lover boyfriend to arrive (the gent is decked out — you guessed it — in the familiar bandido/"Cisco Kid" style) After a cockfight, some fireworks, a Frida Kahlo reference and the classic train-going-into-a-tunnel shot, the video reaches a sort of crescendo when Thalía is nearly grazed by her boyfriend's flying machete... but then she and her "macho" settle down to devour a nice juicy watermelon (one can almost hear Corral chuckling as the Freudian symbols fly by). Though none of her videos have topped the two described above, it should be noted that our gal elegantly sports a Salvador Dalí–like shower-faucet brassiere in "Piel Morena"; tells us about the strength of women of Hispanic heritage while lookin' good in green hair (!) in "Mujer Latina"; and is chased through the jungle by cannibal tribesmen in one of her earliest videos, "Un Pacto Entre Los Dos."

Thalía's more recent videos haven't been as adventurous visually, but her latest album, "Arrasando" does contain two incredibly catchy singles — one of which, "Entre El Mar y Una Estrella" had a stay in the Top 10 of Billboard's Hot Latin tracks — and two excellently chosen cover tunes, Perez Prado's "Menta y Canela" and Miriam Makeba's chronically hooky 1967 hit "Pata Pata" (both of which could have been rendered in English now that Thalía is comfortable with the language — but more on that below). I have to emphasize, though, that even if she never recorded a single song, her work in various telenovelas would still qualify her as a major Latin American star. To provide a point of comparison, the shows that established her reputation as an actress are less like American soaps than they are the quintessence of what old movie buffs refer to as "the woman's picture."

THANKS TO THE RERUN MILL AT BOTH GALAVISION and Univision, there hasn't been a month in the past few years when one of Thalía's last four soaps hasn't been on the air in America. In fact, Thalía's official web site notes that "close to a billion people around the world" have seen them. She hit her stride in 1992 with the wonderfully melodramatic "Maria Mercedes" and achieved superstardom with her next series, "Marimar" (1994) and "Maria la del Barrio" (1996). The shows are collectively referred to as the "Maria trilogy" by fans, and all three shows were produced by the husband-and-wife team of Valentin and Veronica Pimstein. Accordingly, Thalía's break with the Pimsteins, a novela called "Rosalinda" (1998) was much less popular with the viewing public, lacking as it did the flagrant emotionalism and near-frenzied edge of the earlier shows. The "Maria" novelas are all Cinderella stories: Thalía is a dirt-poor girl who meets a handsome man who, with his love, transforms her into a confident, dignified beauty. As she rises in society, she goes from wearing a shabby wardrobe (an Elly Mae rope belt, a Jughead-style cap) to sporty designer dresses that have the sort of big-shoulder action made famous by Linda Evans on "Dynasty." (Thalía, it should be noted, is a good deal smaller and slimmer than Ms. Evans.) Lurking on the sidelines, waiting to ruin Thalía's life, is a scheming villainess related to Our Heroine. With her boyfriend/husband's help, Thalía is able to overcome the gruesome plans of the evil relative — usually involving Our Heroine's being confined to a prison or a mental institution — and live happily ever after.

The second series, "Marimar," is generally agreed to be the best of the Pimstein shows. This may be due to the fact that male viewers enjoyed Thalía's appearances in a tattered shift (the only piece of clothing her character wears for the show's first few weeks) and a mermaid costume. But the show's general appeal clearly lay in the fact that it is the ultimate new-fangled-yet-old-fashioned take on Cinderella, with the villainess in this instance being a megabitch sister-in-law, who not only has her henchman kill Thalía's grandparents by setting fire to their flimsy beachfront shack, but then takes pleasure in giving our woeful heroine the bad news!

The extreme mix of suffering and redemption that characterized the "Maria" trilogy may well be the element that made the shows so incredibly popular. The same cannot be said for her one feature film, the U.S.-produced, English-language comedy "Mambo Cafe." An affable urban comedy about a failing eatery in Spanish Harlem, the movie stars Thalía as a New York–raised Puerto Rican who has developed airs since being enrolled at Boston College. Her performance is endearing, but the film wound up going straight to video.

Thalía's legion of fans have delighted in the versatility shown by their princesa: Throughout the '90s she maintained a demure image in her novelas and interviews, and was a fiery sex symbol in photo shoots, on stage and in music videos. The latter persona is complemented by the often campy nature of her costumes and production numbers, which has gained her a loyal following among Latin American drag queens, who dub themselves "Thalíos."

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