Manuel Puig was born on December 28, 1932, in the small town of General Villegas in the Argentine Pampas. According to his own account, the provincial elevation of machismo and authority made his daily existence extremely unpleasant in his youth, so that he sought escape by going to the movie theater. Puig’s childhood immersion in the Hollywood superproductions of the 1930’s and 1940’s became a powerful influence in his life and work.
In 1951, Puig left the provinces to begin his studies at the university in Buenos Aires, expecting the big city to resemble Hollywood. Disappointed by reality, he left Argentina for Italy on a grant to study cinematography in 1956. In Italy he pursued his dream of working in the film industry, acting as an assistant director at Cinecittà in Rome until 1962. During this time, however, he became disillusioned with life on the set and began his first novel, La traición de Rita Hayworth (1968; Betrayed by Rita Hayworth, 1971), in part to express his disenchantment. As Puig later explained, that novel was an attempt to discover why he suddenly found himself at the age of thirty without a career or money and with the knowledge that his life’s vocation was a sham. From that time onward, the betrayal of reality by illusion and the seduction of the individual by popular culture would be constant themes in his writing.
From 1964 until 1967, Puig worked as a clerk at Kennedy Airport in New York while he finished Betrayed by Rita Hayworth. Following its publication, he returned to Buenos Aires and began a second novel, Boquitas pintadas (1969; Heartbreak Tango, 1973). His return to his home country was short-lived. Following the banning in Argentina of his third novel, The Buenos Aires Affair, Puig spent three years in exile in Mexico and then returned to New York in 1976. At that time he published what is perhaps his best-known work, El beso de la mujer araña (1976; Kiss of the Spider Woman, 1979). He later collaborated with director Hector Babenco on a film adaptation that premiered in 1985. He remained in exile for the rest of his life. Puig continued to write novels, plays, and screenplays, and his work has been translated into fourteen languages.
In 1989, Puig moved to Cuernavaca, Mexico. The following summer he underwent emergency surgery for an inflamed gallbladder and died shortly afterward.