In 1950, Sampaguita Pictures star-builder Doc Jose Perez bestowed one sprightly newcomer a screen name that signified “a beautiful flower”, perhaps sensing that through time she’d flourish like a pretty blossom.
And what a revelation! True to her name, the flower did bloom beautifully, even longer than some of his finest movie queens. That girl was Bella Flores. And yes, she was beautiful.
Bella Flores was a legend of an actress who, for more than five decades, had given the word ‘villain’ a good meaning. So solid was her status in the film industry, her image alone as prima contra-vida ensured the film’s success. Ask Belli Floree, the comedian in GMA 7’s “Nuts Entertainment,” who made a career out of mimicking the feisty la Bella.
“I started acting when I was sixteen”, said Bella. She was introduced by a friend to Nestor Reyes, an assistant director of Premiere Productions. “The moment he saw me, he said, ‘Don’t go to Premiere (Productions) unless you receive a call from me. ’N’un pala, type n’ya ako”.
A whirlwind romance ensued that fateful meeting. The two eventually got married and stayed together, in good times and bad, for twenty years.
“My parents were furious when I eloped”, she said. “When I got home, my brothers and sisters surrounded me to shield me from my father. Pero ‘day, naabot pa din ako ng sampal”. Bellas’s parents were Matias Dizon Dansel and Emilia Papa Dansel, businessfolks from Manila with roots from San Antonio, Nueva Ecija.
“It was a love-at-first-sight”, she admitted. It was a period when Bella looked at life through a rose-colored lens. “Akala ko noon, iisa lang ang lalaki”. To her dismay, she saw first-hand that happy endings oftentimes happen only in the movies. Her married life was marred by her hubby’s philandering. And soon, Bella found herself as a true damsel in distress.
At seventeen, the movie villain was a betrayed wife. In fact, she considered her marital woes as her most painful ordeal. “Doc Perez forbid us from talking about our problems. No one knew I was suffering,” she said. “Kahit nagugutom ka, kaya mong tiisin. Pero ‘pag kinakaliwa ka pala, nakakasira ng thinking sa trabaho. Maraming nangyari sa amin, pero nakakahiyang sabihin. Anyway, nalampasan ko na.”
The marriage lasted until the time of Mr. Reyes’ death in the United States. “No regrets,” said Bella. “He was my first love, and our union produced a beautiful and talented daughter.” Her unica hija is Ruby Rose Reyes, who is based in the United States, specializing in the promotions of local talents. Bella has three grandchildren, Rey Rudolph Dingdong Domingo who studied in Ateneo de Manila, Abigail Rose Algara and Adrian Jasper Paolo Algara. “All of them are honor students in America,” said the proud lola.
But while her married life was in limbo, her career was going full blast. For her initial salvo, she did “Lumang Bahay sa Gulod” for Balaraw Pictures. And then, she went on doing film after film for her home studio, Sampaguita Pictures.
Her favorite movie was “Roberta”(1951), where she played the heartless madrasta to Tessie Agana’s forsaken Roberta. It was a mammoth hit. “Sus, ginoo! Hindi lang milyon ‘day. To think that it was made for only 37 thousand, I think.” Roberta” literally saved Sampaguita Pictures from bankruptcy and catapulted it back to mainstream movie making after its film vault was gutted by a fire. (“Roberta” was directed by Olive La Torre, the father of Sylvia La Torre.)
The movie also ensured Bella’s niche in the movie industry as the lead villain. In a way, Bella laid the foundation for the archetypal contravida in Philippine cinema—- from her forceful voice to the arched eyebrows and menacing stare.
“Lahat ng movie queens, nasampal ko,” she beamed. “ Sila Gloria (Romero), Amalia (Fuentes), Susan (Roces), si Nora (Aunor), naku, ang dami”, said Bella.
Butat the height of the Nora Aunor mania, Bella wasn’t spared by Aunor’s fanatic followers. “Ang mga fans ni Nora (Aunor) gusto akong patayin. Binabato nila ako saka kinakurot. They didn’t know that I was kind to Guy. Kasi nakikita nila, inaapi ko si Guy sa pelikula. Hinabol ko pa ng plantsa ‘yan eh.
“There was one time, hindi ako makalabas, kasi nag-aabang ang mga fans niya. I told Nora to go out and explain to them that we are friends. Sabi ko, labasin mo na yung mga teachers doon o. Nag-iiyakan na. Ayaw umalis sa gate.”
But there was one spanking incident that wouldn’t skip her mind. In the movie “Kiko”, Bella received the spank of her life from actor Van de Leon. ”Ang lakas! Nag-rebound ako. Umikot ang ulo ko, saka nakakita ako ng mga estrelya. Hindi ko makalimutan talaga”.
And that’s not all. Another shooting incident almost left her dead. It transpired in the shoot of “Kilabot Sa Makiling.” It was a fight scene between her and the leading lady, Lilian Leonardo. “We were fighting very close to a 15- foot cliff. I told her to turn around, pero ayaw umikot. Nahulog kami. Tumama ang ulo ko sa bato. Hinimatay ako”.
Those experiences while horrible, sealed her faith in God. “It assured me that God loves me, that He is protecting me”, said Bella. In the years that followed, her faith in God served as the touchstone that motivated her to help people from all walks. “Benevolent ako. It’s my way of thanking the Lord for His gifts to me — my daughter and grandchildren and my wonderful career”.
Bella said she has no trade secret, except for her dedication. “I have no acting coach. I think my acting talent is an inborn ability. It’s God’s gift. I give a hundred percent time in studying my scripts, and really, pakikisama. Lahat pantay-pantay.”
Despite her on-screen image as villain non pareil, Bella didn’t consider herself a trouble maker. “Pero pag inaway ako, lalaban ako talaga,” she admitted. This was put to test when the late Rita Gomez went through a jealous pit over actor Ric Rodrigo. “Nagselos yata sa akin, kasi voluptuous ako noon. Nagsabunutan kami n’yan. Wala akong inuurungan, basta hindi ako pinagmulan.”
Bella said that no actress ever fazed her. Although she admitted that she admired the acting prowess of Lolita Rodriguez and the late Charito Solis. “Pero maski si Lolita, nilalabanan ko talaga. Talagang binibigay ko capacity ko. Kay Charito, hindi rin ako umurong.”
In later years, between film and teevee assignments, Bella indulged in occasional ballroom dancing or playing bingo at SM Mall. Surprisingly, she was also open to love affairs, and added that respect was really her main consideration in any relationship. “Hindi ako pinalaki ng Panginoon, para bastusin. Sometimes, I can be fooled, pero ‘pag natuklasan ko, out agad. Maski sa friend, out agad.”
So, did she ever think of retiring? Well, it was the farthest from her mind. And why should she? Until before her death, more than half- a- century later since she started, she was still very much in-demand, and can even afford to reject a project or two, if they’re not to her liking. “I will be in this industry for as long as there are fans who love me”, she said.
In a span of five decades, Flores had done countless of works on film and television that included: “Ganda ng Lola Ko” (QTV, 2006); “D’ Anothers” (2005), “Mga Anghel na Walang Langit” (ABS-CBN, 2005), “Crying Ladies” (2003), “Kapitan Ambo: Outside de Kulambo” (2001), “Pamasak Butas” (1999), “May Isang Tsuper ng Taxi” (1990), “Sapagka’t Kami’y Mga Misis Lamang” (1976), “Kung May Gusot, May Lusot” (1972), “Mag-inang Ulila” (1971), “Hey There, Lonely Girl” (1970), “Si Darna at ang Planetman” (1969), “Huling Baraha” (1968), “Magnificent Bandidas” (1968), “Juanita Banana” (1968), “Pitong Krus ng Isang Ina” (1968), “Kaibigan Kong Sto. Niño” (1967), “James Batman” (1966), “Dolly Sisters” (1964), “Ang Senyorito at ang Atsay” (1964), “Sabina” (1963), “Trudis Liit” (1963), “Apat ang Anak ni David” (1963), “Siyam na Langit” (1963), “Dalawang Kalbaryo ni Dr. Mendez” (1961), “Hani-hanimun” (1961), “Angel sa Lansangan” (1959), “Talipandas” (1958), “Prinsesang Gusgusin” (1957), “Kanto Girl” (1956), “Dispatsadora” (1955), “Mariposa” (1955), “Biyenang Hindi Tumatawa” (1954), “Diwani” (1953) and “Bernardo Carpio” (1951).
Bella Flores may be called by many names—primera contravida, queen of terror, empress of fear, etc, but her remarkable achievement in the film industry is a testament that a rose by any name is still a rose.
Flores died on May 19, 2013, in Quezon City General Hospital due to complications from a hip surgery. She was 84.
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