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Media : Lives of Rich, Famous Keep Spain Enthralled : The country's gossipy weekly magazines sell twice as fast as the leading newspapers, which are thoughtful but stolid and gray.

November 06, 1990|STANLEY MEISLER | TIMES TAFF WRITER

MADRID — The leading newspapers of Spain are stolid and gray and thoughtful, befitting a nation that transformed itself from a dictatorship to a democracy in the late 1970s and early 1980s with the press chronicling and analyzing and encouraging every hesitant step of the way.

A glance at the newspaper headlines would make any visitor believe that Spaniards spend most of their time gossiping about the ideology of the ruling Socialist Party, the annual growth in gross national product, the future of Europe, and the rivalry of labor unions.

Actually, most Spaniards read far more titillating stuff, as is obvious at any of the enormous, street corner newsstands where gossipy weekly magazines sell twice as fast as newspapers. With their garish covers and insinuating headlines, the magazines reflect more accurately what really interests the country--real-life soap operas, deeply rooted in Spanish culture, involving the rich, famous and powerful.

Take the story of the rich and beautiful Koplowitz sisters and their cheating husbands, for example--a story that has entertained Spain for two years.

Alicia and Esther Koplowitz lived tranquil lives of leisure while married to two cousins, Alberto Cortina and Alberto Alcocer. The men ran the gigantic construction firm that had been started by the Koplowitz sisters' late father, a Jewish refugee from the Nazis.

Then one of those weeklies published a photo of Cortina leaving a luxury hotel in Vienna with the young, exuberant wife of the Marques de Cubas. That naturally infuriated his wife, Alicia. The Spanish press then revealed details of an affair Alcocer had with a secretary, equally infuriating sister Esther.

Macho Spanish society tends to pooh-pooh such affairs. Also, it was rumored that some business rival had leaked information about the infidelities. But the Koplowitz sisters, although they had little business experience, turned on their respective husbands, wrested control of the $2-billion construction company from them and started divorce proceedings.

The feat of the Koplowitz sisters, both in their late 30s, earned them the admiration of many Spanish women, and their adventures are still reported every week in the Spanish magazines.

Another case involving Deputy Prime Minister Alfonso Guerra could have enormous political impact because he has been a close associate of Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez since the fascist years when the Socialist Party was illegal. Guerra, whose arrogance shines through almost every news account, seems to be despised by most journalists. But he is widely recognized as a paragon of organizational efficiency for the Socialist Party and the government. Gonzalez, perhaps unwisely, has stated that, if Guerra were forced to leave the government, he would leave as well.

The problem centers on Alfonso's brother, Juan Guerra, a businessman accused of setting up shop in a government office in Seville. The stories imply that Guerra, invoking the influence of his brother, peddled contracts and arranged government jobs and favors for friends and contacts. All this is under investigation now by government prosecutors.

None of this would have come to light, however, if Juan Guerra had not strayed from his matrimonial home a few years ago and taken up with a young nurse. When his wife, Maria de los Angeles Lopez Rubio, surprised him with his love one night, the angry Guerra batted his wife around so badly that a judge sentenced him to jail for three days.

After Guerra refused last year to increase his support payments from $1,500 a month to $6,000 a month, an angry Angeles took a dossier with details about his shady business activities to Manuel Fraga, a well-known conservative politician. Within weeks, the magazine Epoca broke the scandal.

The tale turned tragic a few weeks ago, however, when the 43-year-old Angeles collapsed from a cerebral hemorrhage and died in a hospital in Seville.

In her last interview before the collapse, she told a reporter for the magazine Tribuna: "The best thing that could happen to me is death. Until I die, no one will leave me in peace." Both brothers Juan and Adolfo Guerra showed up at the funeral while prosecutors insisted her death would not prevent them from mounting a case.

Another story that Spain has taken to heart is that of Isabel Pantoja, the beautiful Andalusian singer once married to Francisco Rivera, better known as Paquirri, the leading bullfighter in Spain. Although courted by several other men, Pantoja proclaimed to the Spanish press that she was a virgin on her wedding day in 1983. This marriage, set against a background reminiscent of an old-fashioned Spanish novel, came to an end in a bull ring three years later when Paquirri was mortally gored.

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