Abel Santa Cruz, leading Argentine playwright who penned 84 films, 60 plays and hundreds of radio and TV scripts, died Feb. 4 in Buenos Aires of complications from leukemia. He was 79.
Born and raised in Buenos Aires, Santa Cruz graduated with the equivalent of summa cum laude from the Faculty of Philosophy & Letters, and devoted 10 years to teaching. He then embraced entirely the parallel writing career he had started in 1937 in humor magazine Patoruzu under the pen name Dr. Lepido Frias. There he created the schoolroom stories of “Jacinta Pichimahuida,” which years later became a classic telenovela.
In 1939 he started writing for radio, where his greatest success was the sitcom, “Que pareja!” (What a Couple!), which lasted 20 years. In 1940 his uncle, tango lyricist Enrique Santos Discepolo, helped him to launch his film career and two years later his long string of legit hits kicked off with “Esta Noche, Filmacion” (Tonight, Filming).
There was an unprecedented demand for his talent and name; in 1956 alone, eight films were released bearing his signature as either author or co-author. He set a similar record in TV when four shows he wrote ran simultaneously during 1973.
Santa Cruz attained his fame with the escapist, uncompromising, sexless fare imposed by the censorship of longstanding fascist-tainted governments, but in his best works he overcame those shortcomings with his wit, craftsmanship and gift for plotting.
He was a crusader for education in his work (via roles such as the professor played by Luis Sandrini in three films). His films also featured men of dignity at odds with then-prevailing blurred ethics and fears (the heroes of “Malevo,” “El Rafa,” “Nazareno Reyes,” “El Oriental” and “Juan Without Name”).
Another key to his scripts’ allure was the free-spirited behavior of youths who were inches ahead of contemporary unpermissive mores. Along these lines, comedies starring singer Lolita Torres – who never kissed her leading men – were immensely popular.
He is survived by four children from his first marriage, several grandchildren and his fifth wife, actress Eve Ziegler.