Archive | June 2011

Lilia Dizon-femme fatale of the 40s

In the taxonomy of flowers, pure-as-white lily symbolizes majesty. On the silver screen the splendor of lilia is captured by its namesake, the  femme fatale of the 50s, Ms. Lilia Dizon.

For two decades, Lilia’s on-screen characters sizzled as the anti-thesis of the  Maria Clara prototypes  that dominated the post-war movies. During her heydays, she was the Venus, the bathaluman, the engkantada, the sultry screen siren ala Rita Hayworth.

But unlike other alluring stars, this Lily was no dummy.  After all, fleur de Lilia  notched the record as the first Philippine actress ever to win an international award, as Asia’s Best Actress for the film “Kandilerong Pilak” in 1954.

The win came as a welcome respite from her six nominations (and losses) in the FAMAS.  Her triumph was particularly significant because that year, Lilia lost to Gloria Romero for her portrayal in “Dalagang Ilocana.”

The FAMAS trouncing however was very well compensated by Dizon’s unprecedented win in Cambodia, where she competed against 27 actresses from the Asian region.  “Prince Norodom Shihanouk even came here to personally hand me the Asia’s Best Actress award.  I’m proud of  the recognition, but it’s bittersweet,  because it took another country to recognize my acting ability,” reminisced Lilia.

She started her luminous showbiz career as Carol Strauss, a  singer in Lotus Theater.  Her first break in the film industry came in 1948 when writer–director Susana de Guzman,  tapped her to do “Probinsiyana.”  It was also  De Guzman,  who christened her Lilia, based on her name in her first movie, while the  surname  Dizon was culled from her mother’s last name. “In ‘Probinsiyana’,  I was one of the nemesis of  movie diva Carmen Rosales. I was nervous but I wasn’t totally lost because of my training on stage,” said Lilia.

At the age of 16, Carol, the singer  turned into Lilia, the film star.  At seventeen,   she married Gil de Leon, a five-star character actor, who was then 33.

One fateful day, film director Nemesio Caravana spotted Lilia furiously running across Avenida street to escape a strong rain.  And based on her natural  running  agility, the director sought her out to be his lead star  in  “Kaaway ng Babae”  under LVN Pictures.

Lilia was thrilled, but there was a problem—she had  a contract with Premiere Productions.  Together with husband Gil, Lilia talked to Premiere producer Dona Adela Santiago  to allow her do “Kaaway ng Babae” for LVN.  The couple’s case was founded on the studio’s inability to fulfill its part of the deal in Lilia’s contract—that she’d be provided  her own house.  The discussion turned sour, ending with Gil tearing Lilia’s contract to shreds, and in the process emancipating her.  The rest, as they say, is history.

“I stayed in LVN for a good eighteen years.  In a year’s time, I was able to build my own house  on  Boston Street,” said Lilia.

In  “Kaaway ng Babae,” Lilia tackled the dual role as the charming Lydia and the macho man Tenorio.  She was to disguise as a man in the company of his unknowing boss, a woman-hater played by Jose Padilla Jr.  There was this crucial scene,  where she had to run on track like other boys. So, ran she did, and transformed her status from a supporting  player into a  lead star.

Among her many films, Lilia considers “Kandilerong Pilak” as her most important.. And for obvious reason—it gave her  an international acting  award.  “I played the avenging daughter who witnessed the murder of her parents.  It  was  directed by Lamberto Avellana.”

Another film that left an indelible mark was “Sanda Wong.”  “In 1955, Premiere got me again to do this film, which was actually a collaboration between  Premiere  and a Hongkong film outfit.  It was directed by the master filmmaker, Gerry de Leon. It was even shown in Hongkong.”  The movie cemented Lilia’s reputation as the first Filipina actress to make it in the mainstream Asian market.

However, she regards “Bathaluman,” as her most memorable because it captured  her on-screen persona as the ultimate goddess of beauty.  “For the movie, Anastacio Caedo crafted a life-size statue of myself”, said Lilia.    “It was an exact replica. When  the film was finished, my producer Dona Sisang de Leon gave me the statue.  For a while, it served as the main attraction in  my  dress shop cum beauty parlor in Araneta, the  Bathaluman House of Beauty.  The statue was so beautiful that passersby actually stopped to admire it.”   Alas, the life-like statue was not meant to last.  It was smashed to pieces by  husband Gil, in one of their many spats.

Among her leading men, Lilia puts Leopoldo Salcedo on top of the list. “He’s a good actor, so versatile and a good coach.  In a way,  he was my mentor because he taught me a lot about  acting “,  said Lilia.

She also likes Jose (Pepe) Padilla Jr., whom she describes as a most natural actor. “No over-acting for him.  Natural lang”.

And of course, there’s Rogelio dela Rosa, her leading man in “Haring Kobra.”  Lilia said, “Rogelio is  Rogelio.  He’s different, very dignified. He really commanded respect. He was a senator and almost became a vice president”.

At the age of 36,  she left the movies.  It was also the time when she had a bitter separation from Gil. Her marriage with De Leon  produced three children: Christopher , Pinky and Lara Melissa.  Lilia went to her father Abe Strauss in the United States. While in the U.S.,  she married Antonio Abad and raised two more children: Toni and Connie Abad.
Lilia came back on  the silver screen in 1974 via the historic “Tinimbang ka Ngunit Kulang” directed by Lino Brocka. The movie marked the acting debut of a living legend, Lilia’s only son  Christopher de Leon.

Aside from having an impressive body of work and being a role-model for strong woman personages, Lilia’s showbiz legacy is fortified by her children, four of five are in showbusiness: Christopher, Pinky de Leon, Lara Melissa de Leon and Toni Abad, who is a singer.

Two years ago, GMA 7 summoned her from the U.S, where she is based, to play an important role in the telenovela, “Narito ang Puso Ko.”  “But that’s all.   I am now retired. I might have problems in memorizing my lines.  Ayokong magkalat,” quipped Lilia.

Why indeed should a queen settle for an exit that’s less grand?   Lilia Dizon did not wither before the public eye because she had chosen to fade, just at the right time, as a beautiful flower should.  After all, Lilia is also a flower. (For comments, send e-mail to gypsybaldovino@yahoo.com)

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Judge Espie

Bob Hope and company didn’t have the monopoly of entertaining the allied troops in Vietnam.  In 1968, while the Hollywood celebrities staged their performances in the more secured areas of Hanoi, somewhere in the dangerous outskirts of Saigon  was a  very young Filipina nightingale named Esperanza Fabon,  who — for seven months,  was  singing her heart out to regale the  soldiers at the height of war.
At the age of 15, the nimble Espie was using her singing voice and already doing her patriotic duty as a certified OFW.  It is no surprise then that today, she still serves her country, not as a sweet chanteuse that most of us knew but as the voice of justice in her career as an  honorable lady of the Court of Law.
Yes Virginia, the teenybopper who gave us “Rosita Cha-Cha-Cha” is now Judge Esperanza Fabon-Victorino of the Pasig Regional Trial Court.
“I was basically a singer,” begins Espie when asked about her past showbiz life. “When I was a child I was a regular fare in amateur singing contests.  Pati mga fiesta, sinasalihan ko.  Tatlong yardang tela or candy ang prize but I was happy because I loved singing.  Imagine, at twelve, I was already performing in Clover Theater.”
Espie started her Clover career as a curtain-raiser (the performer during intermission) and graduated as a star in the main act.  She then joined “Tita Betty’s Children Show” on DZXL where she was hailed a champion.
At 15, she decided to apply as an entertainer in Vietnam. “Kasi maraming nagpupunta doon. Natanggap naman ako. Habang nagse-shelling ang mga sundalo, kumakanta kami.  ‘Pag sinabing ‘shelter!’, balik kami sa shelter,” she recalls.  She was accompanied in Vietnam by her mentor, her father Aurelio, a native of  Aruroy, Masbate.
“When I came back in 1969,  Nora Aunor was the champion in ‘Tawag ng Tanghalan.’  Nauso ang maliliit, at nasama ako doon.”  With her in the bandwagon were Perla Adea, Eva Vivar, Dolly Favorito  and Rhodora Silva.
The popularity of showbiz tandems soared to its zenith as the Nora Aunor –Vilma Santos rivalry  turned into a contest of love teams. Vilma was paired with Edgar  Mortiz, while Nora had Tirso Cruz III.  And then, there was the Eddie Peregrina – Esperanza Fabon loveteam.
“But before that,  I was already doing Johnny de Leon’s  ‘Operetang Putol-Putol.’  When it was made into a movie, I was invited by Kuya Ike (Lozada) to join the cast.  It was an easy start because no high-strung drama was required.  All you had to do was to sing near a plant or any stick with leaves. P’wede na,” she says.
“The movie stars today are very lucky because they have quality movies as platforms to showcase their talents.  During my time, we shoot movies for two to three weeks , tapos,  ipapalabas na.“
But while the films of the 60s suffered from outdated technology, Espie stressed that they sure enjoyed the overwhelming patronage of the masses. “Noon,  tunog-lata ang sound, but the local movies were well received. Maraming fans noon, specially during film festivals. Wala kang makitang part ng kalsada na walang tao. Parang hindi totoong mundo,” she says.
And how could she be more correct.   Espie realized that  showbiz is truly a world of make-believe,  when she was no longer an ‘insider.’ “I felt rejected when I attended the wake of Papang Salvador.  He was my mentor in Clover Theater so I went there to pay my last respect.  Parang nahihiya ako because I was no longer active in the business and I felt too big’ because of my  pregnancy.

So, I approached an old friend to accompany me to the altar. Alam mo, she refused me. Ang rason n’ya,  she was talking to someone,  e nakaupo lang sila.  So, ang showbiz pala marami ka lang kaibigan pag sikat
ka.“
Espie’s signature song was “Rosita Cha-cha-cha” but unlike the fancy Rosita who only cared about her  cha-cha,  Espie had a family to raise. “I was the bread winner, by choice.  My father was busy taking care of me. So, all our income went to the family. I have no regrets because I love my family, at  parang hindi naman work yung singing sa akin.  It was my passion.”
As the eldest in a brood of nine, she was–of course,  the disciplinarian.  So strict was she, she was even teased as “Hitler” by her brothers and sisters.  However, Espie admits that she was tempered by showbiz.  “Sa showbiz, kailangan friendly ka at mahaba ang pasenysa para marami ka ring friends.“  This training was put to good use later when she had to wheel and deal in her career and in her family life.
Her happiest moment was when she won in the Awit Awards as the Most Promising Female Singer,  with Tirso Cruz III as her male counterpart.  She was one of  the four major winners that year, that also included Nora Aunor and Eddie Peregrina.  “First time kong nagpa-parlor at nagsuot ng gown.  It was the first time that I felt I was a legitimate part of showbusiness,“ says Espie.
Needlessly, her favorite film is “Mardy.”   “Because I was in the title role,” she says in all candor.   “Aksidente lang ‘yun.   Kasi, Vilma (Santos) was busy doing so many projects.  To finish the movie, our director  Ateng Osorio rewrote the storyline with me as the leading lady.”  Mardy went well at the tills and even merited a nomination in the FAMAS.
Among the multi-hued showbiz personalities that crossed her path, Espie considers Eddie Peregrina as the most significant. And why not?  He almost became her off-screen sweetheart. Espie says, “I was already falling in love with Eddie when the news leaked that he was married.  He admitted the truth to my mom because they were close. When we got to talk, I told him I don’t want to be a mistress and I don’t want to hurt another woman. He cried.”
“And then I realized that in this life, hindi mo talaga makukuha lahat. I also learned that I have a great deal of control. I was heart-broken too.  Sabi ko, hindi ko kaya, but I was wrong dahil nakaya ko. “
Espie said that their friendship had a closure many years later, when it was her turn to get married to her childhood sweetheart Jimmy Victorino. “I had my radio program then at DZBB, “Espie Espesyal.” He came to the studio and asked me if I was happy with my decision, and I assured him that I’m confident I was doing the right thing. Eddie was caring and malambing, and a true genius. He even composed and recorded a song for me, “Love Me Espie.”
“My showbiz career was very short but very gratifying, not only financially but also aesthetically,” admits Espie.  “I was able to fulfill my dream as an artist.  Ang feeling ko,  napawalan ko ang sarili ko na masayang masaya ako.”  (For comments, send e-mail to gypsybaldovino@yahoo.com)

The Triumphs of Esperanza Fabon

Esperanza Fabon became famous during the psychedelic 60s, along with Nora Aunor and Vilma Santos.  She came at a time when the stars’ popularity was determined by a musical device called the jukebox.

In order to be proclaimed a king or queen, a singer had to have a fan-base represented by the thousands of buyers of 45rpm records in Raon and the multitude of beer garden and cabaret patrons who would play their favorite songs in the jukebox for ten cents each.

The favored hits then were those of Edgar Mortiz,  Victor Wood and Eddie  Peregrina.  And when there’s Eddie, there surely was Espie.   Afterall, it was also the era of Guy & Pip, Vi & Bot and other showbiz love teams— some of whom eventually became real couples, like Perla Adea & Romy Mallari.

However, unlike the other formidable tandems, her team up with Peregrina was short-lived due to the latter’s marriage to Lyn Madrigal. The demise of their loveteam eventually ushered their exit from the showbiz hot spot.  And not long after, from the showbiz itself.

Espie’s parents traced their roots from Masbate and Sorsogon,  but she was born in Manila, the eldest in a brood of nine.  “Prolific ang parents ko. Actually, we’re eleven,  but my older sister and brother died,” she said.

Espie was a regular singer at the Clover Theater and even had a short stint in Vietnam during the war.  In 1969, at sweet sixteen,  she joined the biggest musical extravaganza of that period,  Johnny de Leon’s “Operetang Putol-putol” on DZXL.

Her musical works were influenced by early idols like Dionne Warwick, The Carpenters, and  Diana Ross & The Supremes.  But she became a household name not through their music but via an original “Rosita Cha–Cha-Cha.“

Espie bid farewell to her showbiz rendezvous when she married her childhood sweetheart, Jimmy Victorino. “On and off ang relationship namin, but he was my first and only boyfriend,” admitted Espie.

“He even followed me to Vietnam.  Fifteen ako noon.  He was sixteen.  May promotions ang kapatid niya.  Pero hindi kami nagkita kasi rural yata yung place na kinakantahan ko.” “Jimmy was a neighbor.  And even as students we’re neighbors,” she recalled.

“I studied in Mapa High School while he went to San Sebastian. So, every  afternoon, he would wait for me at sabay kaming uuwi, round- trip sa jeepney.  Ganun yung date namin noon.”

Espie became the breadwinner in the family when she joined showbusiness. “When I got married, I and Jimmy bought a house for my parents and a passenger jeepney.  Mabait na tao si Jimmy,” said Espie.

And he was very supportive too. In fact, Jimmy, a lawyer by profession, was the one who encouraged Espie to take up law after seeing her keen interest in his career. “Our eldest was three years old, when I studied law at the University of Santo Tomas. Luckily, after five years, natapos  ko. While I was studying, I gave birth to two more daughters.  So, I had to stop for two semesters.  Immediately I reviewed for the BAR, and luckily, I passed,” she said.

“Jimmy was the best father my children could ever have,” Espie continued, describing her husband who was killed in an ambush in 1986.  Insiders claim that the ambush was a desperate move to silence Jimmy about a high-profile legal case. He was only 36 when he died.

“It was very tragic. I was 35 and our children were so young.  The eldest was nine, the other was seven, and the youngest was  four-and- a- half.  I was so pampered by Jimmy, and I didn’t know what to do.  Katatapos ko pa lang mag- BAR and I had no job. I was finishing my thesis for my MBA at Ateneo, when it happened,” she recalled.

At thirty five, Espie was a single mother, alone and very afraid. “Sa wake pa lang ni Jimmy, I already received death threats from mysterious callers. Related sa death ng husband ko, to prevent me from pursuing his case,” she revealed.

“I would always pray to the Lord to keep us safe. One night, I prayed and asked Him,  kung puwede sana  bigyan Niya ako ng kahit  five years to live. Kasi, more or less, kaya nang mabuhay ng mga anak ko after five years,” she says, while reflecting on her state of uncertainty during those trying times.

“Every New Year, I and my three children would come out in our veranda. Binibilang namin ang  bawat taon na nalagpasan namin.  They would say, ‘O, Mommy naka- two years na tayo,“ said Espie.

Losing the only man in her life was so devastating for her.  “It took me six years to recover.  And I got very sick.  Lagi akong nasa ospital. But after each examination, the result was negative. It must be my body’s reaction sa nangyari sa husband ko.”

When Jimmy died, Espie had no choice but to pursue a career in law. “I wasn’t allowed by Jimmy to practice my profession because he thought that one lawyer in the family was enough.  But when he died, I joined the Office of  the Solicitor-General. I stayed there for eleven years,” said Espie.

She claimed that her open policy helped to strengthen the bond between her and the children.  “I open my heart to them. They know everything.  Kahit yung mga budget sa ulam, alam nila.”

But even then, Espie recognized the fact that there were truths that needn’t be shared, like her fear of failure and the pressure of raising her children single-handedly. “It’s good that I have very supportive parents.  But there were times, na hindi ko talaga kaya.  I would drive aimlessly along Araneta Avenue, and then I would stop at one quiet spot just to scream, to release my heartaches.  Kasi, ang bigat ng dibdib ko. After that, I would go home. Okey na ako. I didn’t allow them (my children) to see that I was afraid. Lahat ng anak ko, matapang,  because they saw that in me.”

Espie’s efforts did not go unnoticed.  In one essay, her daughter Magnolia paid tribute to her  Mama.  She wrote, ”Often, she (Espie) would come home tired from a stressful day at work but still manages the menial tasks of going through our closets to make sure that our clothes are mended or that our hangers are of the same kind and color.  From her office in Makati, she would pick us up in school, and bring us all the way to Quezon City  for our ballet class.  She would wait patiently for us and then drive us all home after hours of waiting.  Despite her tight, stressful schedule, she still put in so much of herself in rearing us.  I am truly blessed to be given a mother, who do not only provides for all the necessities and throws in a lot of extras but who also nurtures me as a mother does to a child.  Mama is my ‘Tanging Ina’ and I can never ask for more.”

Espie considers her children as her greatest treasure and achievement. Her oldest daughter, Margarita Eugenia is a lawyer.  The second, Magnolia Eugenia, is a chef, with a master’s degree from U.P. and a Management diploma from Ateneo.  Her youngest, Eugenia took her PhD as a scholar in Amsterdam.  (They are all named after Jimmy’s mother, Eugenia.)

And Espie?  Today, Esperanza Fabon-Victorino is at a vantage position to give something that was denied to her family—justice.  As the Judge of the Regional Trial Court in Pasig, she is a picture of confidence and contentment —-a far cry from the sad and fearsome widow that she once was.

(For comments, send e-mail to gypsybaldovino@yahoo.com)

Mutya Crisostomo: Beauty and Soul

Hers is a story similar to those in the pages of a fairy tale book. She was a teen idol and a beauty queen, who evolved to become a glamorous executive that promotes physical perfection of Asian women.

She is Mutya Crisostomo, daughter of Tony Ferrer and Alice Crisostomo.

Success seemed to be her birthright.  After all, her mother was the 1970 Mutya ng Pilipinas, while her dad was at one time, the most popular male star of Philippine cinema.

At 14 however, Mutya realized that success was something she had to work for. Her parents separated after 18 years of marriage, leaving her and brother Falcon the products of a broken home.

Because of hurt ego, Alice tried to be independent. As a result, she and Mutya had to work to support their new “family.” “Malaki ang hirap ni Mutya sa amin,” she admits. “Siya ang nagpa-aral sa kanilang magkapatid. At 14, she was the family’s breadwinner. Ako naman ang kanyang mother, secretary, manager, driver, lahat na.”

Having been born in a family of filmmakers, Mutya decided to help her family, the only way she knew – via show business. Thanks to her fine lineage, she was an instant star, first at GMA-7’s “That’s Entertainment” and later, as a contract star of Viva Films.

She belonged to the first batch of “That’s Entertainment” stars who became the idols of the ’80s: Jean Garcia, Ana Abiera, Nadia Montenegro, Sheryl Cruz, Lotlot de Leon, Tina Paner, Donita Rose and Manilyn Reynes. “Pero ‘di niya pinabayaan ang pag-aaral,” Alice adds. “After her classes, takbo kami sa “That’s…”

In the process, Mutya became a role model to other stars who did not let go of their studies despite hectic showbiz commitments. “Yung mga teachers, sabi nila Jennifer (Sevilla), ginagawa daw example si Mutya nung mga professors sa UST. ‘Di nagpapabaya sa studies.” Under Viva Films, Mutya did “Wolly Bolly,” “Row 4: Baliktorians” (1993), “Apoy sa Puso” (1992), “Ngayon at Kailanman” (1992), “Tag-araw, Tag-ulan” (1992), “Wooly Booly 2: Ang Titser Kong Alien” (1990), “Valentina” (1989), “Rock-a-Bye Baby: Tatlo ang Daddy” (1988), among others.

“Matagal din siya sa showbiz, almost six years din. She quit when she was 20,” Alice continues.

Mutya’s exit from showbiz marked the beginning of her new conquest, as a beauty queen. “Nung bata pa siya, lagi niyang pinaglalaruan ang aking crown. Gusto niya talaga,” says Alice.

Her fairy mother came in the form of Reneé Salud, who prodded her to join Mutya ng Pilipinas. Luckily, just like her mom who won the title 20 years before, Mutya was proclaimed as Mutya ng Pilipinas 1990. Two years later, she was crowned as second runner-up in the 1992 Miss Asia Pacific contest.

After achieving her childhood fantasy, Mutya was ripe to put her education to good use. And as a Mass Communication graduate with Marketing major, she was a shoo-in for any major position in a corporate world. “She used to be the Brand Manager of Ponds here.

Now, she heads the global team of Ponds, Unilever in Singapore,” says her proud mom. And as Mutya piled success after success, she kept her feet on the ground, knowing that her priority was her family, including his estranged father. “When Tony had a heart attack, April of last year, si Mutya ang nag-asikaso ng lahat. She even solicited the needed blood from her officemates. That made Tony very happy.”

Mutya also enjoys harmonious relationship with her half-sister, Maricel Laxa. “Maricel is two years older than Mutya,” says Alice. “When I married Tony, he did not say that he has another daughter. When Mutya was in Grade One, lagi siyang nagkaka-tonsil dahil sa kabibili ng ice cream, kaya ‘di ko binibigyan ng pera. Tapos, nagka-tonsil na naman. Kaya pala, binibigyan ni Maricel ng pera. Doon ko nalaman na magkapatid sila. Sabi ni Mutya sa akin: Mommy, may pinsan ako sa school. Laxa ang apelyido.”

To this day, Maricel and Mutya remain very, very close, and so are Alice and Imelda Ilanan, Maricel’s mother.

December of 2008, Mutya met her prince in Greenbelt. He is Genesis “Jinggoy” Buensuceso, a metal sculpturist based in New York. He is a native of Bataan, who had a successful one-man exhibit in Manhattan and was featured in The New York Times. “Mutya saw his artworks. That time, inaayos niya yung condo niya sa Singapore. Magpapagawa sana siya, kaya nakipag-appointment kay Jinggoy,” says Alice. “There was something about Jinggoy that was completely good. Even at their very first meeting, their chemistry was palpable. Nag-usap sila, nakalimutan na nila yung time. Nakalimutan na nila na kasama kami.”

“One time, she told me: Siguro ito na hinihintay ko, Mommy. Ipagdasal mo nga ako. Kasi, nagdadasal siya for the right man eh.” So, at 30-something, Mutya found her prince. Sept. 9, last year, Mutya and Jinggoy exchanged “I dos” at the Botanic Gardens in Singapore with only the closest family members and friends in attendance.

As the 21st-century embodiment of a successful woman, Mutya lives true to her name as the muse of her parents, her husband, and all the girls who choose to do good. (E-mail comments to gypsybaldovino@yahoo.com [1])

Victor Wood-the jukebox king

During
the rowdy 70s, Victor Wood was the first name in music.  He was the lord of tin pan alley, the
proverbial jukebox king.

His
was a dizzying success that he himself found very hard to comprehend. After
all, he was once among the beggars sleeping in Quiapo church. No, he wasn’t a pauper,
although he was practically a vagabond who frequented the church, very drunk, due
to desperation.

“One
night, while deep in praying, lasing na
lasing ako
,  I asked God ‘ba’t pa ‘ko isinilang, ganito lang naman
pala ang buhay
,” he recalled. “Ayun,
ten years later, naging Victor Wood ako.

His
was a from-nothing–to-something Cinderella story.  “Mine was an uphill climb because when I was 13,
my neighbors said bobo daw ako because
I couldn’t even finish high-school”, he stated.

Victor
was born in Buhi, Camarines Sur but moved early on to Bustillos, Sampaloc where
he spent most of his childhood, alone. Her mother Rosario Nobleza was an herbolaria back in his hometown while
his dad Sgt. Kocky Wood was, well, absent most of his life.

“To make ends meet, I worked as a newsboy.  I’d wake up at four to pick-up the morning newspapers.
At around six, tuloy ako sa school. Being
in a squatter’s area, puro siga ang nasa
paligid ko,
like the Sigue—Sigue Sputnik,” he continued.

“I
moved to Binangonan during my early teens. There, I was fishing to survive. Nag-kargador din ako.”

It
was there, where he started to hone his singing talent.  He said, “When I joined and won many amateur singing
contests, it dawned on me that I could have a future in this field.”

However,
he was extremely shy.  In fact, he tried
to join “Tawag ng Tanghalan” but
never made it beyond audition. He said, “Kasi,
‘pag nasa
stage ako, nanginginig ako.
My whole body perspired due to nerves.  Hanggang nawala ang ‘Tawag’, hindi ako
pumasa.

“But I didn’t give up on my dreams. To
overcome my shyness, I frequented the wakes. I was ‘omnipresent’ in all the lamayan just to get myself used to
singing in public.”

When
Victor was in late teens, he worked as extra in the movies, until he was
discovered by Pablo Gomez.  “I was about
19, when I became a supporting actor. Doc Perez of Sampaguita Pictures was kind
enough to give me a break. He said na
pang-kontrabida daw ako
”, he said.

It
was Pilita Corrales however who paved the way for his professional singing. “She
was the girlfriend of Eddie Guttierez then”, he added. “In one of their shoots,
I asked her if she could give me a break to sing in ‘Stop, Look and Listen.’   Pareng Ato (Renato del Prado) and Randy
Pimentel used to accompany me to the studio, when Pilita was the featured star.
Orly Punzalan who was the producer
advised me to visit the set each Thursday as a pinch hitter should any of the
guests became unavailable.

“I
was paired with Elizabeth Ramsey. Eh, si
Ramsey, ang kapal ng mukha nun when
it comes to performing. Ayun, nawala ang
nerbiyos ko
. She’s my role model in a way.”

While
doing the show, Victor’s gift of music was noticed by the late Oskee Salazar, who
introduced him to Vic del Rosario of Vicor Records.

“My
first two recordings, ‘Love Can Fly’ and ‘Take My Hands For A While’ bombed”,
he admitted.   “Then I took a hard look at Eddie Peregrina,
who just had a guitar but was churning one hit after another.  It was then when I sought his composer Boy ‘Daryl’
Garcia and asked him to write me a song.”.

That
was how the iconic “I’m Sorry My Love” was born.  “Vic was hesitant to release it, initially,”
he continued. “Ang dami raw piyok.  I reasoned that it was a ‘crying voice’, a
singing style which I concocted that combined the styles of the top three
singers at that time.  My lower voice was
patterned after Tom Jones, the middle range was that of Engelbert Humperdinck’s
while the high tone was Ray Charles.”

Del
Rosario agreed to release it, but only in Cebu
as a test market. The decision however came with a warning that it would also
be his last chance.  For Victor, the
third try proved to be the charm.  In a
snap, the song became number one.  The
rest is, of course, history.

As
musiclandia’s golden boy, his popular songs were transformed overnight into hit
movies—“Mr. Lonely”(1972), “Sweet Caroline”(1971), “I Went To Your Wedding”
(1972), “You Are My Destiny” (1973), etc.  He could acquire and furnish a mansion in a
week, his fans arrived in truckloads right at his frontyard.  He was dishing six albums per year, and
starred with supertars — from Amalia Fuentes (Jesus Christ, Superstar, 1972)
to Nora Aunor (Pearly Shells, 1972).  He
was also the celluloid’s Batman (Fight Batman, Fight, 1973), the Shazam (Shazam, Boom, 1974), and the pinoy troubadour (Trubador, 1972).  He was
larger than life.

His star power dimmed when he
suffered a rare form of vertigo during the late 70s due to non-stop song
recording.  Minsan, nakabalot na buong katawan ko because I was sick, nagre-recording pa rin ako. Yung balancing ng
ear ko, hindi na tama.  Each time I’d hear a noise, nanginginig ako. I couldn’t even think
because there was this constant buzz on my ears.  Sikat
na sikat pa ako noon
but I wasn’t thinking of even, fame. What I wanted was
to regain the tranquility,” he explained.

While
Victor was practically a recluse in his basement, a rumor that he was shot by Bongbong
Marcos surfaced. To disprove it, he was forced to appear on Joe Quirino’s TV show.
But what would have been the solution turned out as the last nail that sealed
his fate.

“The
segment was taped but Joe introduced it as a live performance,” he said. ”Kaso, gumalaw yung tape, tapos naputol pa. Since then, all my
attempts to appear in public became nil. Kasi,
hindi na daw ako yung totoong
Victor  Wood.”

Looking
back at his glory days, he said: “Showbiz is a world of make-believe. The
reality only seeps in when fame is gone.
But I try not to harbor anger or regret.   We should learn to live, today and disallow
sad experiences to linger so that we won’t have to live with our pain for the
rest of our life.”

And
that’s exactly what he has been doing.  This
week, the music album “Father & Son” will be released.  It is a collaborative work with his 20
year-old son, Simon. He also devotes his passion into the art of abstract
impressionism, conducting regular exhibits here and mostly, abroad. Among
others, he’s also into wellness music, to be released next month in a website
under Woodstone brand.

“This
is the best time of my life”, he claimed. “Because I have all the time to do
the things that I love.”

So
what if he lost the fame that was once his. For once in his life he was king.
And not many people could claim the same.
(For comments, send e-mail to
gypsybaldovino@yahoo.com)

The inimitable Amalia Fuentes

“I am what I am. I am my own special creation. So, come take a look, give me the hook or the ovation. It’s my world that I want to have a little pride in. My world, and it’s not a place I have to hide in. Life’s not worth a damn, till you can say: I am what I am!” Jerry Herman (La Cage aux Folles)

From an esoteric village in Davao, a 15 year-old waif got the better of her mother to allow her on “Holiday in Movieland,” a weekly event where the stars of Sampaguita Pictures made themselves available to sign autograph for fans.

Amidst the throng of onlookers, her pristine beauty stood out and caught the attention of sound engineer Joseph Straight, who took a photograph. Days later, that stunning picture served as the girl’s passport to moviedom.

And thus began the legend that is Amalia Fuentes.

“I was in Grade Six, when I first heard the term BB. ‘Beauty and brains’ daw ako because I was always the valedictorian in class. Accelerated nga ako e. Four years lang ako sa elementary”, relates Amalia.

But while she was scholarly, her comely appearance also competed for attention. One of those who took notice was an elementary teacher, who chose her as muse in their school parade.

Of course, her mother Concepcion, being a skillful mananahi was thrilled. After all, she could fashion her most splendid creation for her favorite child. To their chagrin however, the parade went on without their muse in sight.

Apparently, Amalia, who was already willful as a child, jumped off the float to avoid the sweltering noontime sun. Oh yes, even as a child, Amalia did some things differently.

Her ideas were also far from customary. “Even then, in my heart, I felt that a beauty contest is like an archaic practice that shouldn’t be encouraged in our culture. I feel that it promotes the wrong kind of values, because young girls will grow up thinking that they can rely solely on their beauty to succeed.”

Amalia backed her claim by an early experience. “When I was in high school, my teacher entered me into a beauty contest, where the winner would be based on the amount of money raised by the candidate. Because we were poor, I lost to a cross-eyed Chinese. Unfortunately, she was mocked by the crowd when declared the winner, kasi nga, duling. Ako naman, I felt bad for the system. Kasi, instead of contests like that, schools should encourage competitions that would persuade the students to do better.”

She continues, “Of course, I’m glad that God gave me a chance to be an actress, and use my face, my beauty, for a purpose. But the bottom line should be: What have you achieved with that beautiful face? Still, what’s more important is my brain. Kita mo, kahit hindi na ako artista, napapakinabangan ko pa rin.”

As fate had it, Amalia wasn’t able to further her education due to a rewarding showbiz career. But when she had the chance, she studied Business Law in the University of Southern California at Berkely, even if she was already in her fortys. “It’s not enough to rely on money,” she says. “Remember the saying, ‘A fool and his money will soon be parted?’

As she grew up, she broke many boundaries. After all, she was raised thinking that the universe is boundless. “Never kong ipinasok sa isip ko, na because I’m a woman, I am inferior to man. Remember, we’re seven children. I am the only girl. My mother never made me feel that I couldn’t do some things because I’m a woman. She instilled in me that whatever a man can do, I can probably do better. I can only be restricted by my own limitations, not by people’s perceptions”, she philosophies.

In fact, nothing fazes Amalia. “I was known for being very vocal, very frank”, she admits. “Pero, hindi ako nagkikimkim ng sama ng loob. If I don’t like you, I would say it, so that I can get it out of my system. Para I never have to pretend. For me, it’s easier that way, than to keep something inside.”

“I don’t want anybody to ever feel that I am a push over”, she continues. “Yung “Anna Karenina”, iniwan ako ni Bernal (Ishmael) in the middle of the filming. Hindi ko siya sinuyo, and I ended up directing the movie. Hindi ako nagpapa-bluff.”

No movie actress had a cacophony of film roles better than Amalia. Her filmography boasts of filmdom’s most intriguing titles: “Asawa Ko, Huwag Mong Agawin” (1987), “Pagmamahal Mo, Buhay Ko” (1980), “Buhay: Ako Sa Itaas, Ikaw Sa Ibaba” (1978), “Kung Ako’y Patay Na, Sino Ako?”(1975), “Kapatid Ko Ang Aking Ina” (1969), “Dalawang Daigdig ni Carlota”, “May Lalaki Sa Ilalim ng Kama Ko,” “Lulubog, Lilitaw sa Ilalim ng Tulay,” “Pwede Ako, Pwede Ka Ba” and “Room 69”, among others.

Her enduring brilliance could be attributed to a chameleon-like persona that evolved in synch with the times. When it was the period of musicals, she did “Jesus Christ, Superstar” (1972). When the bold wagon proliferated, she had “Mga Reynang Walang Trono” (1975). When it was time to do action flicks, she did “Urduja”.

Even to this day, Amalia’s horror films are among the most popular cult classics peddled in European and Mexican websites, such as “Dugo ng Vampira” (1971) aka “Blood of the Vampire,” “Creatures of Evil” or “Curse of the Vampire” and “Kulay Dugo Ang Gabi” (1966) aka “The Blood Drinkers” or “The Vampire People”.

“Lahat ng films ko, paborito ko. Parang mga anak ko lahat ‘yan, kasi lahat sila ay pinaghirapan ko”, she says. Along her journey she met remarkable personages, who defined her life. One of them was the late Doc Jose Perez, the famed star-builder of Sampaguita Pictures. “He was my Svengali. I respected him kasi ang feeling ko, he really knew what he was doing. At hindi siya katulad ng ibang producer na walang pakialam kahit magpakamatay ka. Ang hinahangad niya para sa artista ay kung paano kami bubuti.” (Svengali is the fictional hypnotist in the sensational 1894 novel, ‘Trilby’ who transforms the lead character into a great singer.) And then, there were those, who allowed her to see life on another light.

“May naging artista ako na dating sikat na leading man, anak pa ng Gobernador. Despite his old age, he arrived at the set of my movie, “Almira,” in a motorcycle. I found him groovy so I teased him. Sabi niya, hindi daw siya nagpapa-groovy. Naka-motor daw siya because he couldn’t afford a car. I also know a movie queen, who became a caterer. Samantalang noong kasikatan niya, naku, hindi gumagamit ng fancy ‘yon. We can also learn from other people’s experiences”, she explains.

“Life comes with setbacks,” she muses. “Kung hindi ka nakatikim ng failure, hindi mo mapapahalagahan ang mga nakakamit mo sa buhay. Katulad ko, because we were poor, iniiwasan kong gumawa ng bagay na magiging dahilan para maghirap ako..”

She furthers, “I also made many mistakes. Hindi mo puwedeng ihiwalay sa buhay ang pagkakamali. Sometimes, we only learn through our mistakes. Maybe, a person should be judged based on how he was able to rise from his failures.”

In all these, Amalia found solace in her family, particularly, her brothers Cheng and Alex “ I was fifteen when I started in showbiz. So, Alex was 13 while Cheng (Alvaro) was 11. Inari ko silang obligasyon, na walang iwanan through thick and thin. I will always be there for them, kahit wala kaming ama. Kaya ang mga kapatid ko, they will never say anything bad against me. Ang tahanan, mahalaga. Without a family, you’re like a stray dog in the street.”

“I am what I am. And what I am needs no excuses …. It’s one life and there’s no-return and no-deposit…. Life’s not worth a damn till you can shout out: I am what I am!” (For

comments, send e-mail to gypsybaldovino@yahoo.com)

Jose Mari, poster boy of the 60s

Eleven years ago, this visionary taught us that there is such thing as a telenovela  by  introducing  “Marimar.”

Many may also remember him as the main protagonist in the first physical bout by a congress official captured on television.

The younger film aficionados on one hand could easily identify him as the father of sexy actress Cristina Gonzalez.

But without a doubt, children of the 60s knew him by heart for they grew up chanting his name in a rhyme that goes “Amy-Susie-and- Tessie, Romeo- Juancho –and- Jose Mari’, and so on, and so forth.   This verse delivered in a sing-song manner, matched by a rapid hand drill was a major source of amusement to young  pinoys at that time.

Jose Maria Gonzalez a.k.a. Jose Mari first came into the Filipino consciousness when he was introduced as the ‘first star of 1959” in the movie “Palaboy.”  And rightly so, for the next six years, he reigned as filmdom’s top male matinee idol.

His showbiz journey started when he became a poster boy for a softdrink.

“I posed for a Coke ad with Amalia (Fuentes), where I was paid 75 pesos,” he says.  “I didn’t know she was an actress.  Aba, nung lumabas ang commercial, ‘pinahahanap ako ni Doc Perez. Tapos, maganda ang offer. Kikita ako ng 35 thousand per picture.  Makakabili na ako ng 3 Mercedes Benz at that time, di ba?  Kasi, dose mil lang ang Mercedes noon eh.  Yung 35 thousand noon ay malaki pa sa kinikita ngayon na pang-limang milyon kasi, hindi ka makakabili ng isang chedeng.” .

“I was already 24 when I joined showbiz”, he continues, “pero ayaw ‘pasabi ni Doc Perez because he packaged me as a 17 year-old matinee idol.  In reality, I was already an electrical engineer.  In fact, I had four companies.  May eroplano pa ako noon.  I already passed a Clark Field exam for Korean war pilots.  Magpipiloto sana ako sa U.S. Air Force but my papa convinced me to work for him as Vice President of our company, yung Romago (Electrical Company., Inc.).”

His was an instant stardom. “In my first movie,’Palaboy’, I portrayed the brother of Gloria Romero. Pumutok yon, tapos, sunod-sunod na. Most of my movies paired me with Susan (Roces).”

While practically a newcomer, acting didn’t faze Jose Mari because he had been on so many plays while he was a student.  “Hindi naman ako nanibago. Nag-a-acting ako dati sa La Salle .”

He has only the fondest memories of his heydays. “Ibang klase ang mga fans noon. They would visit you at your house, na may dalang regalo. Those who couldn’t buy gifts brought flowers. I was the only star who received four thousand fan mails a week.  I hired eighteen secretaries to handle that. ‘Pag sinasagot ko, may colored photo pa.

“In Sampaguita, the movie stars were trained to talk in English.  Tinuturuan kami para mag-make-up sa sarili, may reading, may drama class.  Professional talaga ang dating.  And when we arrived late on the set, may multa worth 500 pesos.  In today’s standard, that would amount to 50 or 100 thousand pesos.  Training yun sa professionalism.”

He adds: “My favorite films were “Handsome”, “Palaboy” and my action film, “Sugat sa Balikat.” Anim na taon lang akong nag-artista, from 1959 to 1966.  Eventually, I had to choose between my corporations and the movies.  Saka noong 1966, wala ng script ang mga pelikula.  Noong nawala na, ayoko na.”

Later years saw Jose Mari in and out of the limelight as a congressman for the lone district of San Juan City in the 11th Congress,  an electronic expert who analyzed the composite tape of the Ninoy Aquino murder for the 1984 Agrava Commission, and as an executive of  Bureau of Broadcast and RPN 9.

When asked about the physical quarrel in Congress that was captured by a live TV, he simply said: “Minura ako ng sergeant- at- arms. Kinarate ko s’ya. Hindi mainit ang ulo ko.  ‘Wag mo lang akong hihiyain sa maraming tao. Napikon ako.”

A man has got to defend his honor some time. After all, his good name is a legacy of his father, Roque.  “He is my personal hero. He taught me the value of honesty, saka ang pagtulong sa mahirap.  When he died, we learned that he sent 600 students to college.  Nagpuntahan sila during his wake.

“The saddest part of my life was when I joined politics and realized that I cannot make a difference. Yung pangarap ko, parang bula na nawala.  Akala ko kasi noon, may makikilala akong  honest na pulitiko. Hindi ko masikmura yung gagalawin yung pera ng taong-bayan.  I saw the reality.

“We’re still in the dynasty age, where families rule each municipality. Habang ganoon, hindi tayo aasenso because they have their own interest eh.

“I started in public service when my brother Paco got involved in a case. The judge was asking for three thousand pesos Lumapit ako sa NBI. ‘Sige, bigyan natin ng mark money’.  Ayun, nakulong ang judge. After that, I received 27 thousand letters from different families na nagpapasalamat sa akin. Doon napukaw ang social consciousness ko.  It was also one of my proudest accomplishments. Imagine 27,000 families ang inapi n’ya.”

Now, just how “Marimar” came into being?

“When I was president of RPN 9 during the time of  FVR (Fidel Valdez Ramos), I was looking for a series, both American or local, that could be pitted against the prime time shows of major networks.  I started dubbing Mexican telenovela in tagalog in  ‘La Traidora’. Eh medyo kumakagat.  Then, my friend Pedro Font, the Director of Sales of Televisa Internacional,  offered me ‘Marimar’.

“When I saw it, I said:’Naku, ‘eto yung hinahanap ko!’ Taas ang balahibo ko. Pinoy na pinoy ang dating.  Ang ganda ng editing at fast-paced lahat.

“But then, our sales force negated the idea dahil hindi raw maiintindihan ng mga Filipino dahil fast-cutting. Ganoon kababa tingin nila sa Filipino viewers samantalang  nanonood ng  American films ang mga pinoy? But I believed in my idea and I said: ‘Yung hindi susunod sa akin, mag- resign.”  The rest is history.

Jose Mari is married to former model, Charito, for almost 45 years now.  They are blessed with five children and ten apos.

(For comments, send e-mail at  gypsybaldovino@yahoo.com)