RIO DE JANEIRO - When it comes to kid's television, Brazilian superstar Xuxa is no Mr. Rogers.
A former centerfold model, Xuxa (pronounced SHOO-shah) drew mobs of fans to her TV shows for children. Blond and leggy in hot pants and thigh-high leather boots, she would emerge from a flying saucer, blowing kisses to a sea of screaming, sobbing youngsters.
That was a decade ago, and the show made Xuxa Meneghel an idol of a generation. While she has toned down the sexpot image, Xuxa continues to break taboos - and raise questions about the example she sets for children.
Brazil has been buzzing about her since just before Christmas, when she and her boyfriend, Luciano Szafir, appeared on a national TV variety show. Xuxa dropped a bombshell: She is pregnant.
The audience cheered and applauded. No one mentioned marriage, a natural question in this Roman Catholic country.
Szafir, who sat beaming beside her, apparently had only a cameo role in Xuxa's production.
"No matter what happens between Luciano and me, now I will have someone who is mine alone," Xuxa said, scarcely looking his way.
The news set all Brazil, young and old, talking - as much about Xuxa's cool treatment of Szafir as her unwed pregnancy.
"She's wrong," says Pammella Rocha Moreira, a sixth-grader. "It's not important to get married, but how is she going to raise the baby without a father?"
"It was the worst possible example, especially for someone in her position," says Valdecir Pinto de Souza, a barber. "But this is Brazil, anything goes."
Szafir, a model and budding actor, said he and Xuxa are happy with the arrangement.
Xuxa claimed she was misunderstood, but her protest didn't convince many people. For a year, she had spoken about going to a sperm bank unless her Prince Charming came along.
As a teenage fashion model, Xuxa shot to fame when she moved in with soccer legend Pele, then 40-something. At 18, she was posing nude for men's magazines.
Her television career took off, leading to endorsements, records, movies and Xuxa dolls. She took her show across Latin America and into the U.S. cable market. Her fortune is estimated at $50 million.
But Xuxa was lonely on her 18-acre estate on Rio's outskirts. Manager Marlene Mattos kept her on a short leash, and Xuxa had few boyfriends.
Then, Szafir appeared.
Reappeared, actually. The two had met as models at a photo shoot in 1988.
But the businesslike nature of their union was disconcerting to many people. The two kept separate homes and rarely showed affection. It seemed Xuxa had chosen Prince Charming for his genes.
Behavioral experts worry Xuxa's new image will confuse children. She is 34 years old, yet seems to have gone from childhood to motherhood without growing up.
Anna Veronica Mautner, a sociologist and psychoanalyst, notes Xuxa comes across as a child herself, with a little-girl voice and golly-gee manner. That isn't slowing business interests. Manufacturers are battling for licensing agreements with Xuxa Promotions and Artistic Productions. Media reports say the company expects 1998 earnings to jump 50 percent, to about $16 million.