In 1970, the well-regarded Berlinale was halted abruptly by the forced resignation of all the festival jurors when the American film “o.k.” won as Best Picture. At the sideline of the ruckus was one esoteric actress from the far east, who remained unruffled and even grabbed the front-page away from the controversy.
We are talking about Gloria Sevilla, who at that period was at the center of the Visayan film universe.
In 1970, she was the first Filipino artist whose film merited an exhibition at the snooty Berlin International Film Festival. The movie was “Badlis sa Kinabuhi” (Destiny), a feature in the festival’s Informative Division.
At Berlinale, Gloria made an indelible impression in the minds of the European cineastes by arriving fashionably late at her own film’s opening night.
The instant she descended from the spiral staircase wearing a Rudy Fuentes terno accentuated by fresh garlands of sampaguita and vanda orchids, the discriminating German press knew they had a cover story.
And for Gloria, she knew that her journey in the scene-stealing had begun.
In 1973, the same success transpired right at the heart of Kremlin during the Moscow International Film Festival, where her film “Gimingaw Ako” (I Miss You) also notched a record as the first movie from the Philippines to be shown in Russia of the pre-Cold War.
So what if Italian diva Gina Lollobrigida was in attendance as a festival juror. Even among queens of the high-society, the smart Visayan swan proved she could be a head turner. Go ask former Chilean First Lady Hortensia Bussi Soto, who couldn’t take her eyes off Sevilla’s crystal-studded hablon terno.
She also caused a minor stir, when like a true royalty, she demanded the display of the Philippine flag for the festival’s final award ceremonies or the actress from the ‘filipin’ would stage a walk-out. The organizers acceded, of course.
“Nung tumingala ako, nakita ko, lahat ng countries may flag, pero tayo, wala. I felt so sad. At that time, they didn’t know our country. Sabi nila, ‘Where is filifin?’ So, I asked them if they know Bataan or Corregidor?’ Kilala nila Bataan saka Coregidor pero ang tawag nila sa country natin ‘ filifin,” Gloria recalls.
“I’m proud of our country because I believe that it’s a wonderful nation, with equally beautiful people. Even our actors are very good. Hindi nahuhuli sa ganda at talino.”
Gloria admits now that the scene-stealing stunts were pre-conceived. “They were conscious efforts. Maybe because when I was growing up, I weathered a lot of jokes about my appearance. My classmates would tease me as tikling (a small bird with wiry legs). I was so thin and dark, and for the longest time, I never thought that I’m pretty.”
What do wise men say when life gives us lemons? Make a lemonade! And that’s exactly what she did. “I told myself that someday, hahangaan n’yo rin ako”, she says.
“When I was in Grade Four or Five, I already knew that I wanted to be in showbusiness. From morning ‘til night, I was inside the movie theater. When I got out, I already memorized all the dialogues of my favorite character. My favorites then were Oscar Moreno and Tita Duran.”
Her film career started when she was fourteen. “My mentor was my father’s compadre, Danilo,” says Gloria. “He convinced my dad to allow me to join the movies after seeing me in one declamation contest. He took me and Mat (Ranillo) to an audition for Azucena Pictures’ “Princesa Tirana.” Luckily, I bested the other sixty wannabes who auditioned for the role. Mat also got the male lead role.” Mat later became her real-life husband.
“Princesa Tirana” was followed by a string of hits, like “Leonora,” “Pailub Lang (Be Humble)” and “Gloria Akong Anak” (My Child Gloria).
As fate would have it, Gloria was destined for greater heights. She caught the interest of one of the owners of Premiere Productions who visited Cebu, and saw the long queue of patrons in one of her movies. Soon, the young Santiago was convincing Bonifacio Sevilla, to allow his 17 year-old daughter to try her luck in Manila.
Gloria’s most unforgettable experience happened during her initial days in the metro. “When I came to Manila, kahilera ko ang mga ekstra sa mahabang pila na kumukuha ng pagkain. It prompted me to question my decision. ‘Why did I even go here?’ Queen of Visayan Movies, tapos, dito pumipila ako sa pagkain,” she recalls. “And then, noong first shooting ko, yung mga big stars like Efren Reyes Sr, saka si Mario Montenegro, hindi naman nanunuya, pero tinitingnan nila kung mahusay akong umarte. So, I proved to them that I can act. Noon kasi ang tingin nila sa mga Bisaya, atsay lang kaya ginawa kong challenge sa sarili ko ‘yun. ”
As a true-blue Cebuana, Gloria, naturally had a difficulty expressing herself in tagalog. She hurdled the obstacle by studying tagalog, with a lot of help from Liwayway Magazine, which she read from cover to cover.
After an introducing role, in “Mga Banga ni Zimadar” with the proper billing as the Queen of Visayan Movies, Gloria’s third movie, already catapulted her to an instant stardom. In “Ifugao.” she was supposed to portray the character of Aniway, the main villain. However, Premiere Productions matriarch Dona Adela Santiago recognized her potential and promoted her to take the female lead opposite Efren Reyes Sr.
In the movie, Gloria wore a prosthetic breast for a scene that required frontal breast exposure, while Efren Reyes went on to win as Asia’s Best Actor.
Gloria’s proudest moments were her numerous acting victories at the FAMAS. Her first was a Best Supporting Actress win for “Madugong Paghihiganti”(Bloody Revenge) in 1962. “Wala akong dialogue doon kasi pipi ako,” she says. “I was a rape victim in the movie. Leopoldo Salcedo was my avenging brother.”
Gloria’s second Best Actress win was for the movie “Badlis sa Kinabuhi” in 1969. But her most memorable triumph happened in 1973, when she and daughter Nadia Veloso made history as the first real-life mother and daughter to win as Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress in the FAMAS, for the movie “Gimingaw Ako.”
Gloria, at present, is regularly seen in “Ganda ng Lola Ko” (QTV, 2005) and Captain Barbel (GMA 7-2006). Her latest film is the yet unreleased “Care Home,” a Nora Aunor starrer, directed by Gloria’s daughter Suzette Ranillo.
Her other movies are: “Kay Tagal Kang Hinintay” (2002), “Lapu-Lapu” (2002), “Bida si Mister, Bida si Misis” (2002); “The Flor Contemplacion Story” (1995) , “Matud Nila” (I Don’t Give a Damn) (1991), “Guhit ng Palad” (1988), “Dyesebel“ (1978), “Pinakasalan Ko ang Ina ng Aking Kapatid” (1977), “Minsa’y Isang Gamugamo” (1976), “Banaue” (1975), “Mag-inang Ulila” (1971), “With These Hands” (1970), “Gahaman”, which in 1964, won for Ben Perez the honor as the first Best Actor of the FAMAS, “Sangang Nangabali” (1952), “Buenavista”, “Pailub Lang”, “Pepe en Pilar,” and many more.
Because Gloria is still active in the entertainment industry, she is also aware of its problems. “I wish the government will give more support to the local film business by limiting the importation of foreign movies and the Asian tele-novelas,” she says. “The foreign tele-novelas are taking away the jobs of local actors, directors and writers.”
Being a creation of the Visayan cinema, Gloria also dreams of reviving the film industry of her origin. “I want to go back to my roots, and help revive the Visayan film industry,” she says. “Maraming mahuhusay sa Visayas, actor man o singer.” She sees efforts such as Cesar Montano’s “Panaghoy sa Suba” as a positive initiative to revive the film industry of her region.
Despite her showbiz success, she considers her family as her greatest achievement. “I have seven gifted children, and I married two lovely men,” she says.
In real life, Gloria was twice a widow. Her first husband was also her first love. He was Mat Ranillo, who died in a plane crash in 1969. She got married the second time to Amado Cortez, a movie actor and director who also served as the country’s ambassador to the U.S. until his death in 2003. .
“I’m so grateful to God dahil lahat ng pangarap ko, nakuha ko. Hindi man ako naging mayaman, naging artista naman ako.” The secret of her success? “Prayers and hard work. When I want to get something I really work hard for it.”
Very much like the modest swan Odile, who magically transforms herself to become the lovely Princess Odette in Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake”, Gloria Sevilla has painstakingly and successfully molded herself into becoming the respected actress that she is today. Go, go Glo! (For comments, send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org)