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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)

Amalia Fuentes, Miss Number One

For five decades, she has mesmerized the moviegoers with her
beauty and allure. As filmdom’s Miss Number One, she notched the record as the
first actress to become an independent film producer. She was also the highest
paid movie star of her generation.

We’re talking of the great Amalia Fuentes, probably the most
beautiful actress to ever grace the silver screen.

For the longest time, she has ensconced herself in her
private havens—an opulent mansion in New Manila and a tranquil house in Tali
beach, Batangas.  In this two-part
article, she shares her thoughts on life, family and fame, and why she is
considered a true showbiz evergreen.

Amalia first appeared onscreen in the 1955 film, “Movie Fan”
at the tender age of 15. As early as then, her beauty was flawless. But
ironically, she doesn’t put much premium on the physical.

“Of course, I’m
grateful that I was born beautiful. But I can’t take credit for it.  Ayokong maging proud dahil lang doon.  I want to be recognized for my
achievements,  na may narating ako,
either for myself or for others. I love women, who in their lifetime, have done
something about their lives, other than just being beautiful,” says Amalia in
her usual candor—arched eyebrows, and all.

And indeed, through her glorious reign as movie queen,  she proved that she’s more than just a pretty
face.  She was a risk-taker, a
trailblazer — a woman ahead of her time.

After seven years as a contract star of Sampaguita Pictures,
she turned freelance, put up her own AM Productions, and in the process made
history as the first actress who stood against the powerful studio system.

“It was a big
gamble,” says Amalia. “I was only 21 but I have a very good family support
system. Of course, at the back of my mind, there was this fear of failure.  Baka mauwi ako sa pagtitinda ng balot sa
Quiapo, gaya ng sinasabi ng iba.  Like
every thing in life, nandyan lagi ang danger. But even dangers can be utilized
positively. Kasi, kapag alam mong, you can fall, you will be more careful.”

And Amalia was truly careful, her gambit paid off.  Her foray into film production suited her to
a T.  She says, “In a way, I am a control
freak. I wanted to make movies that would prolong my career.  Putting up my own film production was
inevitable.”

That bold move was complimented by another smart
decision—she raised her talent fee to the hilt. If her colleagues were
getting ten thousand or less, per film, she asked for fifty. And while the
country’s biggest male star, Fernando Poe Jr, was getting thirty, Amalia was being
paid a hefty sixty thousand pesos per movie.

“That time, ako lang ang female lead na freelancer,” relates
Amalia. “Walang mai-partner kina Bobby (Vasquez), Ronnie at Joseph (Estrada).
Halimbawa, ‘pag si Bobby ay nag-over price, kukunin ng producer si Billy
(Castelvi). Pero noon, ako lang ang leading lady na available. I was doing 16
movies a year.”

Amalia continues, “Ang unang kumuha sa akin ay si Atty.
Esperidion Laxa of Tagalog Ilang-Ilang Productions, for the movie
“Iyong-Iyo”.  Ang katwiran ko,  I gave up
the security of a studio system, and I had to make sure that what I
would get was well worth it.  I was able
to buy a Mercedes Benz car because of that film.”

And that’s not all. A luxury soap that prided itself in
having glamorous Hollywood endorsers like Jane Fonda and Debbie Reynolds, got
Amalia as the first Lux model in the Philippines . The company paid her a cool
100 thousand pesos for the job.

The soap commercial did not only break record in the
country, it was also used in the United States .  In order to accommodate Amalia,  the company removed the word ‘Hollywood’ and
replaced it with ‘world’, in its teaser: “Nine out of ten most beautiful
actresses in the ‘world,’ use Lux.”

Amalia, the captivating star, had truly arrived.

As a film producer, Amalia was the mother
of reinvention—way before pop queen Madonna was even born.  “Ako ang unang lumabas na vampire doon sa
“Ibulong Mo sa  Hangin”, she says.

“Artists should always reinvent themselves. You cannot rely
on your past glories. Noon sa Sampaguita, puro pa-tweetums ako, but when I
started producing my own films,  I
chose  roles, na hindi ko nagawa
noon.  There were also roles, na kahit
ayaw ng mga fans, ginagawa ko.  Kasi, I
wanted them to see me on a different light.
I was willing to take a risk. With my own studio, naging madali yun. Ang
feeling ko, kahit hindi kumita ang pelikula, I was able to prove
something.  At  nagawa ko ang gusto ko.  Kung hindi ako nag-produce, hindi siguro ako
nanalo ng award.”

In the process, Amalia also realized that her
pretty face and immense popularity have hindered her from getting
character-driven roles.

She explains, ”In the awards department,  hindi ako masyado, kasi noong time ko,
nandiyan si Charito (Solis) na nangangatog-ngatog ‘yung baba kapag
umiiyak.  Ang mga roles ko noon, safe
lahat. Walang  producer na gustong
mag-gamble na babayaran ako ng fifty thousand para papangitin lang  o gawing pulubi. Safe movies ang gusto nila,
yung sure na kikita at magbabalik sa kanilang investment.”

She continues, ”At saka ang mga tao noon, kapag lumabas kang
kontrabida, akala nila salbahe ka rin  sa
tunay na buhay. People tend to believe what they see on screen. So, even
actresses before were afraid to tackle roles that were out of the ordinary”.

But why was she so driven?
What motivated Amalia?

“Darling, we were poor,” she says nonchalantly. “I lost my
father (Alvaro Muhlach Sr.) when I was five years old. What am I gonna do with
my life? Ayokong lumaki kagaya noong mga nakikita ko sa paligid  noon, na nagkukutuhan sa hagdanan.  When I was a child, we just have enough money
to buy gas for our lamp. Kasi  ang light
namin sa Mindanao , yung de- gaas lang. Yung kinki ba.”

And that explains her
strong money sense. Like the fictional
Scarlett O’Hara, she vowed never to go hungry again. “I lived through
poverty. Yung mga taong nag-aakala, that they will never be poor, akala lang
nila yun.  Andyan lang yun. Darating din
yan, kapag hindi sila maingat sa kabuhayan nila.”

Today, Amalia remains as busy, doing housing projects here
and there and spending her precious time with husband Joey Stevens, and their
son Geric, who is  taking up Law  at the Ateneo de Manila University.

As a starry-eyed orphan who made millions out of hard work,
good sense and sheer determination, Amalia rightfully earned her place in the
hearts of every dreamer who tinkers on the art of the possible. For comments, send e-mail to
gypsybaldovino@yahoo.com)