|The international "Betty" phenomenon started in Colombia with "Yo soy Betty, la fea" (I am Betty, the Ugly) on October 25, 1999. The telenovela was created by Fernando Gaitán and starred Ana Maria Orozco as Beatriz 'Betty' Pinzón Solano, a sweet and intelligent ugly duckling who fell in love with her womanizing boss, Armando Mendoza Sáenz (Jorge Enrique Abello).|
This tender, comedic story was told over the course of around 335 half-hour episodes (which were re-edited into 169 hour-long episodes for rebroadcast in the U.S.) and became such a national obsession in Colombia that streets were practically empty whenever an episode was playing. It spawned a weekly 26-episode follow-up series, "EcoModa", in 2001, and was even the inspiration for an animated children's series, "Betty Toons". The original series was dubbed into many languages for export to numerous international markets, including Romania, Brasil, Malaysia, Czech Republic, the Philippines, Turkey, Hungary, Dominican Republic, Japan, and China.
Most of the international remakes were produced using the typical telenovela format, and almost all of them followed the basic storyline and pacing of the Colombian original pretty closely. The most notable exception has been "Ugly Betty," which used the usual U.S. primetime television convention of broadcasting one episode per week (for an average of 22 episodes per season) and diverged completely from the original telenovela's plots.
As the story begins, Armando Mendoza is put in charge of EcoModa, a prestigious fashion house in Bogotá, by the company's outgoing president, Armando's father, Roberto Mendoza, who has decided to retire to London with his wife, Margarita, after 35 years of running the company. Armando's girlfriend, Marcela Valencia, and her brother, Daniel, are also executives at EcoModa, having inherited their share of the company from their deceased parents, Julio and Susana Valencia. Their sister, Maria Beatriz Valencia, is also a major stockholder. Daniel was also considered for the company's top position, but Armando ensured that he would get Marcela's support with the board of directors by surprising her with a public announcement of his intention to marry her that September.
Daniel received one vote Maria Beatriz and one from Roberto, but Armando got one vote from his own sister, Camila (who had been "exiled" to Switzerland after she married a poor man without her parents' approval), one from Margarita, one from the company's Marketing Director, Mario Calderón (representing minority shareholders), and the final deciding vote from Marcela.
Maria Beatriz had been the ugly duckling of the Valencia family, but after a number of surgeries she transformed herself into a new woman. She spends most of her time jet-setting around the world with her studly young chauffeur. She only returns to Bogotá for special occasions.
At the same time that he is taking over the reins of the company, Armando also has to replace Roberto's secretary, Carmencita, who is also retiring, but his choice has to have Marcela's stamp of approval.
Although not particularly interested in the fashion world, Beatriz "Betty" Pinzón Solano decides to apply for a position at EcoModa, after having had no luck finding a job anywhere else. She suspects that her inability to find employment probably has to do with her appearance, so she decides not to attach the customary photo to the résumé that she remits to Saúl Gutiérrez, the head of the Personnel department at EcoModa.
Roberto, Marcela, and Armando himself all have concerns regarding Armando's notorious skirt-chasing ways, so Betty would seem to be the perfect choice to be his secretary. Not only is she intelligent and qualified, but she will also hold no temptation for Armando's libido. Betty's appearance, however, isn't considered to be appropriate for the secretary of the company's new president, so Gutiérrez hires Marcela's pretty blonde friend Patricia instead. Armando isn't pleased to have a woman whom he considers to be Marcela's spy as his secretary, so he requests to see the qualified ugly girl, Betty, and ends up hiring her.
To appease Marcela, Armando doesn't fire Patricia. Instead, he stations the decorous blonde outside his office, as more of a receptionist than a secretary, and sequesters the much more qualified Betty in an old storage closet that is accessed from within his own office. Mario, who besides beign Marketing Director is also Armando's best friend, relentlessly teases his buddy about his ugly new assistant.
Not wanting to upset her father, Hermes, Betty lets him think that she has been hired for a position more fitting for someone with her education and abilities. She doesn't want him to know that she's just a secretary, nor that she's tucked away in a closet. If he were to discover the truth, her father would probably demand that she quit, but knowing that her family is depending on her income, she tries to speak as little as possible about her office duties.
Betty soon proves herself to be loyal and completely trustworthy. Before long, Armando entrusts her with his "black book," which contains information about all of his love affairs, dates, etc. Marcela soon discovers that Betty has this book in her possession and she asks Patricia to get her hands on the book, but they're unsuccessful. From this point onward, Marcela considers Betty to be her sworn enemy, believing her to be an accomplice to Armando's constant infidelities.
At EcoModa, Betty initially feels like a complete outsider, judging herself quite the ugly duckling in comparison with Patricia and the many models who work for the design house. Soon, however, she meets a clique of middle-class female employees who have been dubbed the "cuartel de las feas" by the company's petulant designer, Hugo Lombardi. Like Betty, the members of the cuartel don't quite measure up to the standards of beauty that give women like Patricia an advantage in society. Mariana, Marcela's secretary, is a young and good-humored woman who claims to have the gift of second sight. Inesita is Hugo's patient, motherly assistant. Aura María is the sassy receptionist and single mother who is constantly in search of a rich man to be a husband for her and a father figure for young her son. Bertha, a wife and mother who is struggling with her weight, is the secretary of the smarmy Personnel Director, Gutierrez. Sofia, the hot-tempered secretary of Gustavo Olarte, the company's head of Accounting, is dealing with the infidelity of her husband, Efrain, who recently left her for a young wannabe model named Jenny. And Sandra, Mario's tall secretary, believes that her height hinders her ability to find a husband. After somewhat reluctantly allowing Betty to enter their tight-knit circle, the members of the cuartel tried to protect Betty by keeping her from discovering that Armando's last secretary, Mireya, had to leave the company because she had fallen in love with him.
On Armando's behalf, Betty meets with textile supplier Miguel Robles, from a company called Ragtela, and he offers her a "commission" if she will influence Armando into signing a contract with his company. Because Betty's father is having financial troubles, Betty feels that she can't turn down the offer, even though she knows it will look like she's taking a kickback and not just earning an earned commission. Betty does ultimately decide to have Armando sign with Ragtela, though, because she truly believes that the fabric supplier is offering the best deal for EcoModa. With the help of Olarte, Daniel finds out about Betty's commission, but before he gets the opportunity to drop that bombshell on Armando, Betty decides to tell her boss all about it herself, which completely diffuses the impact of Daniel's revelation.
Patricia constantly finds herself plagued by financial troubles, deservedly so, because of her extravagant taste for luxuries that she cannot afford, so she constantly tries to get money from the men in her life. She also tries to latch onto Armando's pal Mario Calderón, but she gets very annoyed after she begins a sexual relationship with him and quickly discovers that he has also had a fling with Aura Maria. Freddy, the mailroom clerk at EcoModa, also isn't pleased to learn of Aura Maria's flirtation with Mario, because he has had his eye on the receptionist for quite a while.
Patricia is also in cahoots with Armando's enemy, her best friend Marcela's brother, Daniel Valencia. At one point Daniel forces himself on Patricia, but she doesn't tell Mario or anyone else about it. Soon after this she finds herself having a pregnancy scare and tries to use the situation to force Mario (or even Daniel) into a commitment, but she soon learns that she is indeed not pregnant. Bertha soon discovers the truth and shares the information with her office pals, none of whom can stand Patricia, and they all have a little fun with their pretentious nemesis. Eventually, Mario and Daniel find out that neither one is going to be a daddy in the near future and they both cut Patricia out of their personal lives.
Armando begins to depend on Betty more and more. They bond further on one peculiar occasion when Armando, having lost a bet with Hugo, is forced to go out to a gay bar in drag. As Armando (or Lily, as Hugo dubbed him) tries to leave the bar he finds that he can't get his car out of the bar's driveway because it's blocked in. He calls the one person he can count on, Betty, and she soon shows up in a taxi and brings him to her home so that he can change into some of her father's clothing before he heads home to see Marcela, who has been waiting for him.
Before an important board meeting, at which Armando is going to give a presentation detailing his business plan, Daniel tries to prevent Armando's success by having various employees who are under his influence (Olarte, Ortiz, and Patricia) sabotage the document that Betty is working on. Ultimately, Betty works all night and, with a little help from her friends, she is able to deliver the document in the nick of time, saving the day for her boss. Armando is so relieved that he even asks Betty to deliver the presentation at the meeting.
Wishing to follow through on his promise to double the company's capital in a short span of time, but lacking the necessary experience to do it, Armando undertakes projects that leave EcoModa deeper in debt. When the banks threaten to seize the company, Armando and Mario devise a plan; Armando asks Betty to create a dummy corporation that would appear to seize EcoModa, but will in fact leave it in Armando's control, though it would technically be under Betty's legal ownership. Betty is aware of the illegality of such an undertaking, but she is so moved by Armando's need for her help that she decides to take the chance. Together they create a puppet company called Terra Moda.
Armando and Mario learn that Betty has a close relationship with someone named Nicolas, who is actually just a friend of Betty's since the two were children. The two EcoModa executives fear that Betty might be influenced by Nicolas to take full control of Terra Moda and shut them out, effectively taking over the company. In order to avoid such an outcome, Mario suggests to Armando that it's imperative for him to seduce Betty, in order for him to keep her in his thrall. Having noticed that the ugly assistant is clearly besotted with her bellicose boss, Mario convinces Armando that it wouldn't take much effort for him to get Betty to forget all about this Nicolas Mora person.
Armando reluctantly succumbs to Mario's coersion and agrees to tell Betty that although he has been fighting his feelings, he is in love with her. Of course, this declaration is far the truth. Even though there are qualities that Armando admires about Betty, he is physically repulsed by her. Even though Betty wonders how a man like Armando could have feelings for her, she is blinded by love, so the two start dating secretly. Betty starts telling her friends that Nicolas is her boyfriend, so they won't be suspicious about her relationship with Armando. Betty soon decides to make herself more attractive for Armando, as well as to make a better impression as a serious business woman, so she goes for a makeover, but the results fall far short of making her look like anything but a circus clown.
Fearing that Betty is still "involved" with Nicolas, Mario coerces Armando into making love with Betty. After drinking a lot of alcohol, Armando goes through with it and is surprised to discover that he actually has cultivated real feelings for Betty. He also comes to realize that his love for Marcela has just been an illusion. Because of this, Armando promises Betty that he will end his engagement to Marcela very soon, conscious the fact that he will not really be able to do it, even though it's exactly what he truly wants to do.
Before departing from Bogotá on a business trip, Mario leaves a long letter in which he lists detailed instructions that his "esteemed president" should follow in order to keep Betty in love. Mario's letter also serves to remind Armando of their motives, to inspire him to keep the plan in motion. Mario tries to cheer Armando up by telling him that the charade will end as soon as Betty doctors the balance sheet for the next Board Meeting, which will conceal the seizure of EcoModa by Terra Moda. Of course, the letter is unnecessary, because by this time Armando already loves Betty and doesn't need to be forced to keep wooing her.
Unfortunately, Betty discovers Mario's letter accidentally and is devastated. She mistakenly believes that Armando has been conning her throughout their entire relationship, not knowing that in his heart the con had ended a long time before. After mourning the loss of the love she shared with Armando, Betty seems to lose her sense of joy and her enthusiasm for life. To keep Armando from suspecting that she knows about his deceit, she pretends that she still loves him, even though she doesn't do a very good acting job and it is immediately obvious to Armando that something is wrong. Mario asks Armando if he's jealous of Nicolas, but instead of admitting that he actually is jealous, Armando hides his true feelings by making his friend think that his only concern is to prevent Nicolas from stealing his company from him. Betty overhears this and Armando's words seem to confirm all of the things that she had read in the letter. She has no idea that Armando just can't admit to Mario, or even to himself, that he really loves her. As an act of revenge, Betty conspires with Nicolas to make it look like they are indeed dating and that they might be siphoning money from Terra Moda to buy expensive things, like a car. Betty also decides not to disguise the balance sheet that Armando is supposed to present at the upcoming Board Meeting.
When Hugo's assistant Inesita becomes ill, Betty and her EcoModa friends rush to her side. Outside Inesita's home, Armando, who is consumed by jealousy, gets into a violent tussle with Nicolas. Betty is appalled by Armando's behavior and she slaps his face, shocking everyone present.
Catalina Angel, a twice-divorced, freelance public relations executive and business associate of EcoModa, discovers the truth about Betty and Armando's affair, so she suggests to Betty that she should quit her job and work for her, which Betty agrees to do right after the Board Meeting. Betty briefly succumbs to Armando's supplications and considers disguising the balance sheets, but she changes her mind when she overhears a conversation between Armando and Mario in which they discuss where they will send her after the meeting (to protect her, although she does not know this), so she presents the real balance sheet to the stockholders.
Roberto expresses his disappointment in the way that Armando has handled the family enterprise. Betty presents her letter of resignation and retrieves her belongings from her "office" and prepares to leave, but is stopped by Marcela, who insists on seeing what is inside Betty's garbage bag. Betty doesn't want Marcela to see the evidence of her affair with Armando, but she is forced to do so after Marcela threatens to call security. After seeing all of the cards and trinkets, Marcela confronts Armando regarding his infidelity and the schemes that he and Mario had gotten involved in.
Betty becomes Catalina's assistant and goes with her to Cartagena. Armando is desperate to find her, but in deference to their daughter's wishes, Betty's parents refuse to tell anyone where Betty has gone. Betty is soon distracted by the attentions of a man named Michel Doinel, who seems to be attracted to the beautiful person that she is inside. Catalina decides to treat Betty to a makeover and she ends up being completely transformed.
Back in Bogotá, there is trouble at EcoModa because technically everything is still in Betty's name. They desperately need to find her so they can officially transfer ownership and then work towards resolving the company's financial woes. Eventually, Betty gets word of what is going on back at home, so she reluctantly agrees to return, in order to straighten things out.
When Betty returns to EcoModa, everyone is completely mesmerized by how much she has changed. At a board meeting it is agreed that because of her business abilities, as well as her legal ownership, Betty should run EcoModa until the company is stable once again. Feeling partial responsibility for the company's current state, she decides to do all she can to fix things as quickly as possible, so she can finally be finished with EcoModa, for once and for all. Her return brings about more misunderstandings and jealousy, as Armando worries about Betty's relationship with Michel, and Betty wonders about Armando's relationship with a Venezuelan woman named Alexandra Zingg, whom he'd recently met during a business trip.
Armando reads Betty's diary and realizes how deeply he has hurt her, so he gives up all hope of getting her back and he decides to let her try to find happiness without him. Eventually, after working side by side and seeing how much pain Armando is in, Betty comes to realize that he really does love her. They work through all of their misunderstandings and she ends up forgiving him for his past transgressions. The two get married and soon discover that they are expecting a baby. After their daughter Camila is born, the happy couple's friends and family all gather at the baby's crib to see the new arrival. The looks on people's faces seem to imply that the infant is quite ugly, but the beaming smiles of the proud parents and grandparents make it quite clear that they are all looking down upon the most precious baby in the entire world.
- Yolanda Rayo performed the theme song, "Se Dice de Mí". The original version of the song was a milonga (a kind of tango) from 1943 by Tita Merello and the Francisco Canaro orchestra.
- The events of most episodes took place Monday through Friday. One major exception was Betty and Armando's wedding, which took place on a Sunday.
- Product placement was used prominently in many episodes. Among the real-world brands that were featured throughout the telenovela's run: Max Factor cosmetics, Orbitel and Comcel telecommunications, and Mercedes-Benz and Skoda automobiles. Pantene's logo received the most screen time because it could be seen a few times during the opening sequence of every episode, as well as in the background of numerous scenes. Most of the international adaptations of YSBLF would follow the original's traditions of featuring product placement and celebrity guest stars. Some versions even changed their protagonists' work place from a fashion house to an advertising agency, specifically so they could have more opportunities to integrate their sponsors' products and services into story lines.
- In the tenth episode, after having stayed up all night working on a business plan for Armando, Betty fell asleep in her office and was brusquely awakened by the menacing Daniel Valencia. In order to stay awake after that incident she called the cafeteria and ordered a cup of strong black coffee, which she wanted delivered to her office. The woman she was speaking to wasn't sure which of Armando's secretaries was making the request, so Betty clarified by saying, "Yo soy Betty, la fea" (I am Betty, the ugly one).
- The two episodes in which Armando had to dress up as "Princess Lili" were not Jorge Enrique Abello's last experience acting in drag. He later starred in the novela "En los tacones de Eva", which was sort of a twist on the themes of Tootsie and Mrs. Doubtfire. Abello's character, Juan Camillo Caballero, was a womanizer who fell in love with a woman named Isabella, but after a series of mishaps she ended up breaking up with him. The only way he could insinuate himself back into her life was by dressing up as a fifty-something woman, taking the name Eva Leon, and getting a job as Isabella's assistant. The series also featured "Betty la fea" alums, Patrick Delmas (Michel) and Jorge Herrera (Hermes).
- At the beginning of the series, Roberto Mendoza's retiring assistant was named Carmencita, but in the episode in which Armando and Betty first make love, he tells her that his father's trusted secretary was named Susanna.
- In one episode, Daniel Valencia learns that the address for Terra Moda is Calle 42, 1655. This is the home address of the Pinzón-Solano family.
- In the episode in which Armando and Betty perform a karaoke version of "Si los dejan," Armando returns home, where he is greeted by his dog, a husky, but after a few appearances we never see this dog again. Perhaps he had gone to the same place where the Brady family's dog Tiger ("Brady Bunch") and Richie Cunningham's brother Chuck ("Happy Days") both went.
- In early episodes there were inconsistencies regarding the makeup used on Ana María Orozco. In some episodes her mustache and uni-brow were very distinct, but in other episodes they were more subtle. Also in early episodes, you can clearly see that Betty's fingernails are immaculately manicured, which seems to be at odds with the persona of someone who doesn't pay much attention to matters of style, appearance, or beauty.
- The lifespan of the friendship between Betty and Nicolás was contradicted in dialogue throughout the series. Early on, Betty told Armando that she knew Nicolás from their time together at their university. In other episodes there were references that stated that they had known each other since childhood, or even from infancy. In all of Betty's flashbacks, though, the earliest one in which Nicolás was shown was the occasion of her fifteenth birthday.
- In one episode, Armando refers to Marcela's friend Mónica Agudelo as "Mónica Lenguisky", which is not only a play on the word "lengua" (tongue), relating to Armando's belief that Mónica is una chismosa (a gossip), but also probably references Bill Clinton's infamous intern, Monica Lewinsky. Since Armando was drunk on whiskey at the time, it is possible that the epithet was also related to his drink of choice.
- Chilean former Miss Universe Cecilia Bolocco appeared as herself in a very important scene during which Betty had just learned of Armando's betrayal. According to Bolocco, Fernando Gaitán asked her to write her own lines of dialogue (about how a beautiful woman can feel just as used and betrayed as an ugly woman) because he wanted her words to be as sincere and heartfelt as possible.
- When Catalina first suggested that Betty should come to work for her, she was originally going to bring her to Miami, Florida, but as the story line was starting to play out, it happened to coincide with preparations for the Miss Colombia pageant, so the details were rewritten so that Cata and Betty would go to Cartagena, Colombia, instead.
- When "Yo soy Betty, la fea" originally aired in Colombia (10/25/1999 - 5/10/2001) it consisted of around 335 half-hour episodes. It had its U.S. premiere on August 8, 2000, but since the episodes were re-edited to a length of one hour, over time U.S. viewers began to catch up to Colombian viewers, especially after producers RCN (Radio Cadena Nacional) extended the novela's run, due to its immense popularity. On March 1, 2001, U.S. broadcaster Telemundo cut back to half-hour episodes for the remainder of the original run. Telemundo pre-empted YSBLF a number of times to keep themselves from catching up to the Colombian broadcasts. The final episode aired on May 10, 2001 in Colombia, and just one day later on Telemundo in the U.S. It has been said that the finale was filmed the day before it aired in Colombia, which is very unusual.
- "Yo soy Betty, la fea" inspired an animated series called "Betty Toons", which RCN aired in Colombia. It was later broadcast in the U.S. on the Cartoon Network and on TeleFutura.
- In one episode, Mario Duarte's (Nicolás Mora) song "Religiones" is played during a scene in which Nicolás is driving the Terra Moda Mercedes, and Nicolás makes some disparaging comments about the song. Mario Duarte later portrayed himself in another episode.
- Ana María Orozco (Betty) and Julián Arango (Hugo Lombardi) were married and they went through a divorce during the run of the series. Perhaps some of their real-life animosity helped to make that of their characters seem more authentic.
- After having been divorced for a few years, in 2006 Ana María Orozco (Betty) and Julián Arango (Hugo Lombardi) co-starred once again, in "Amas de casa desesperadas," which was the Colombian/Ecuadorian adaptation of "Desperate Housewives." She played Susana Martini, the Teri Hatcher character (Susan Meyer), and he played Tomás Salgari, the Doug Savant character (Tom Scavo). Lorena Meritano (Gabriela on "EcoModa") played Verónica Villa, the counterpart of Nicolette Sheridan's character (Edie Britt). Exteriors for the Argentinian and Brasilian versions, with different casts, were filmed at the same studio lot's cul-de-sac. In 2008, Univision produced a version of "Amas de casa desesperadas" that was produced specifically for their audiences in the United States. This version was also filmed in Argentina and co-starred Scarlet Ortiz (Alejandra Zingg on "Yo soy Betty, la fea") as Susana Martínez (Susan), and Lorna Paz (Patricia on "Yo soy Betty, la fea") as Leonor Guerrero, the Felicity Huffman character (Lynette Scavo). This remake also featured Talú Quintero (Margarita on "Yo soy Betty, la fea") as Felicia, who was played by Harriet Sansom Harris on "Desperate Housewives".
- In 2009, Jorge Enrique Abello (Armando) went on to star as Mauricio Hernández in "A Corazôn Abierto" (An Open Heart), an 80-episode, Colombian, telenovelized adaptation of ABC's hit "Grey's Anatomy" developed for RCN, the company that created "Yo soy Betty, la fea" ten years earlier. Production of "A Corazôn Abierto" was shepherded (pun intended) by none other than "Betty" creator Fernando Gaitán. The show's female protagonist, María Alejandra Rivas, was played by Verônica Orozco, the sister of Ana María Orozco (Betty).
- The sequel, "EcoModa," was a weekly series that premiered first on Univision in the United States on Sunday, December 2, 2001, and lasted for one 26-episode season, which concluded on June 2, 2002.
- According to information given on the series, Betty had worn braces from the age of 15 until shortly before her wedding, when she was 27. That's 12 years! Typical treatment time is from 6 months to 6 years, depending on various factors, although the average is 2 years.
- It was reported in the September 19, 2001 issue of Daily Variety that NBC was developing a half-hour sitcom for U.S. audiences based on "Yo soy Betty, la fea". Former "Friends" writer Alexa Junge was the leading candidate to script the adaptation. Of course, this project never came to fruition. Producers Salma Hayek and Silvio Horta later created a one-hour dramedy for ABC, which began airing in September 2006. This series was "Ugly Betty", of course.
- During the September 12, 2010 episode of Univision's celebrity dance competition program, "Mira Quién Baila" (Look Who's Dancing), YSBLF actress Scarlet Ortiz (Alejandra Zingg) and her partner danced to a tango version of the YSBLF theme song, "Se Dice de Mí". "La fea más bella" actress Niurka Marcos (Paula Maria) was also among the ten contestants.