Pepe Pimentel–Mr. Entertainment

Before “Eat Bulaga’s” Laban O Bawi or “Wowowee’s” Pera O Bayong, there was “Kwarta O Kahon.”  It was “the game show” for 38 years, starting
in 1962.

The man behind that is Mr. Entertainment
himself, Pepe Pimentel.

He wasn’t your ordinary impresario.
After all, he’s also the first champion of “Tawag ng Tanghalan”, and a host to many
successful television shows, including the original “Student Canteen” and “Hamon sa Kampeon” with Tia Dely

On top of being a radio and TV superstar,
Pimentel has been a film comedian and a product endorser, famous for his running
gag on his supposed tiff with his mother–in-law.

With these impressive accomplishments,
it comes as a total surprise to know that the winsome entertainer is
practically unschooled. More so, if one is to consider that he speaks three
languages—English, Filipino and Spanish. Truth is, he only learned to read
and write when he was twenty-five.

“Let’s just say, wala akong hilig mag-aral,” he volunteers.
“But when I learned reading and writing, I would rather spend my time reading
than watching television or movies.”

His was an extra-ordinary odyssey. Early
on, he thought he was a goner. But his world changed when he met Cecilia, his
second wife.

“When her dad learned that she was
dating a separated man (Pepe was separated from his first wife), she was sent to
Iloilo,” he says.
“Roger Nite, a colleague in ‘Kwarta O Kahon’, noticed my sadness and encouraged
me to write her a letter. Naiyak ako.
Sabi ko, ni bumasa nga hindi ako marunong, sumulat pa.
He taught me to
write, each night for a month.”  Talk of
the magical power of love.

His journey to self-rediscovery went
on from there. “One night, alone in my sleeping quarter, which was actually
just one of the dressing rooms in the ABS-CBN studio, it dawned on me that I
already knew fifty songs. And If I could memorize them just by listening, I am
therefore not dumb. In that instant, I realized for the first time that I was
not dumb. I cried out of joy, and from then on, I started believing in myself. I
ended up making more money that any of my eleven brothers.”

Pimentel’s extra-ordinary odyssey to
stardom started in 1953, when he was encouraged to join the amateur singing
program, “Melody Club” in DZPI. The show  provided the catalyst that helped him overcome
his inferiority complex.

As fate had it, the pianist in the “Melody
Club” was the same pianist in “Tawag ng Tanghalan”,
a national amateur singing contest in DZBB.

With his encouragement and a modicum
of exposure from the “Melody Club”, Pimentel joined the contest and became its
first national champion via the song “Angelitos

Back then, championship in a national contest
wasn’t the passport to fame. So, little did change for Pepe. However, in 1956, “Melody
Club” host Pinggoy Pengson transferred to CBN and took all the ‘melody clubbers’
with him, including Pepe.

napunta ako sa
Student Canteen, first as singer earning five pesos per week.
I sang once a week but I went there everyday. One day, Leila invited me to
introduce one of the contestants. That’s how I became a co-host to Leila Benitez
and Armando Datuin for seven years. My salary also increased to sixty pesos per
week”, he says.

“I was the funny man there (Student Canteen)”,
he continues. “Nagbabakla-baklaan ako.  Leila would introduce me as Linda, and I would
interview the contestants. But I stopped doing it because one time, while I was
dating Cecille in Luneta, there was this group of students who harassed me. Nakipagsuntukan ako dahil akala, bakla ako.”

the landmark “Kwarta o Kahon”, he
says “It was copied from “Bidding The
Box”, an American TV show during the 50s. It was originally titled “Mahiwagang Kahon”, a prime-time radio
show hosted by Jaime dela Rosa and produced by
Alto Broadcasting System, which was owned by Antonio Quirino. When CBN bought
ABS, they got me to handle the show as host and producer. It was basically a
quiz show, where all the participants were professional contestants, meaning
they were the same winners in all the other quiz shows. So, after almost two
years, the show was cancelled.

“But I believe in it,” he says. “No
one owned its format, so I decided to produce it myself for KBS in 1962 as “Kwarta O Kahon”. I transformed it into a
family show, where participants would come from all over the nation. I invited
them by mail. Plus, I made sure that the contestants were genuine, and the
winners would get their exact prizes.”

“Then came a time, when I wanted to
give out a car for a prize. A brand-new car that time would only cost forty
thousand. The management refused. I decided to be a block-timer so that I could
have more freedom in improving the show. The station managers said ‘No’.  I did not give up, and in doing so, I found
out that no one owned the rights to the show. In the end, I had it copyrighted
in my name. ‘Kwarta..’ was such a phenomenon,
it lasted for thirty-eight years.”

As an entertainer, Pepe never uses
derogatory words to elicit laughter. “I’m proud of that. It’s important to be
nice. Ako, the way I talk to authorities,
that’s the same way I talk to security guards.”

Despite his success, he considers
having his parents as his greatest achievement, “Itinakwil ako ng father ko for three- and- a- half years. Nagtampo siya, but I wasn’t able to
reason out because it was a different time. Noong
araw, hindi ka puwedeng mangatwiran sa
parents. But I never begrudged him
because he was misinformed. My sister watched when I won in “Tawag… She said, it’s time for me to go
to Papa to patch things up. So, nag-barong
ako, dala ko ang
trophy, kinu-kwento
ko sa kanya, pero parang wala siyang nadinig
. My dad only called on me, one
day before he died, in 1958. Dumating ako
doon, ‘di na mabuksan ang mata niya.
But when our eldest announced my
presence, he smiled, meaning, pinatawad
na ako.”

For nine years now, Pepe Pimentel serves
as guardian to his constituents in Laging Handa, Quezon City as barangay captain. “When I like
what I do, pinu-pursue ko talaga.”

Pepe Pimentel achieved success
because he has the courage to embrace the life that the Lord made for him. More
significantly, he used his wisdom to always do the right thing as he conquered many
defeats, including illiteracy.  (For comments, send e-mail to