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)

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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)

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)

The fabulous Tiongco Brothers

The world has embraced many male singing groups composed of
brothers like The Lettermen, The Osmonds and the Jackson Five but in the
Philippines , there has never been a singing trio as adored as the fabulous
Tiongco Brothers.

Their singing is so amorous, it was sought by kings.  And electrifying, it almost caused a
diplomatic ruckus between the Philippines and Indonesia .

Once, they had a command performance for the late King
Hussein of Jordan while in Indonesia , an heir to then Indonesian dictator threw
a jealous fit when his girl showed nepotism towards one of the Tiongcos after a
live performance.

“Nagkabunutan ng baril eh,” says Jun (Fernando Tiongco
Jr.).  “We sought refuge at the
Philippine Embassy, at pagdating dito, isyu na: ‘Indon threatened the Tiongco
Brothers’.

The popular trio were the first Filipinos who performed in
the world-class Sydney Opera House,  and
in Saudi Arabia as guest of the ARAMCO (American Oil Company).

“Biggest crowd namin, sa Australia and Saudi,” says
Jun.  In Australia , they performed for
ten consecutive years.

“We had a show at the Sydney Junior League Club, the biggest
in Australia , and we even became a regular guest of the ‘Melbourne Tonight,’
their most popular TV show.”

For exactly fifty years now,
the Tiongco Brothers  composed of
Emil, Jun and Arthur, have been regaling their audiences with good old hits
from The Platters, The Beatles and of course, Four Aces.

The trio’s repertoire ranges from Art Garfunkel to Harry
Belafonte, standard ballads like “Impossible Dream”, “You Are
The Sunshine of My Life”, “My Way”, “With These Hands”,  “What the World Needs Now”, “The Way We Were”
and the songs of  The Platters, The Beatles
and Paul Anka.

“When we started in
1959, you’d never succeed if you didn’t imitate foreign singers,” says
Emil.  “Then, there were only few
original Filipino music that made it to the hit chart. Unlike now that original
compositions are big hits. So, we sang the hits of foreign singers, and during
our stints abroad, we were introduced as the ‘Four Aces of the Philippines .’
Noong nakilala na kami, iniba na namin yung orchestration at nilagyan na namin
ng style ng Tiongco Brothers.”

Emil says, “Ako yung mahilig sa showbusiness. Nag-excursion
pa nga kami sa Sampaguita (Pictures) noon. Kumanta ako sa harap ni Linda
Estrella, hindi ako nahihiya.”

He started as a soloist. “Naging friend ko si Pepe Pimentel,
around 1955. He hosted ‘Melody Club’ on DZPI radio. I was dubbed as the  ‘Roy Hamilton of the Philippines ’. S’ya yung
singer ng ‘Unchained Melody’ and ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone.’  I was 16 years old then.

“Later, I joined a singing group called The Bachelors.  When it disbanded, I asked my brothers to
form the Tiongco Brothers. I’m the soloist, Arthur played the ukulele while
Jun, sa drums. Siya din  yung may
pinakamatayog na boses.

“Then, I asked Pepe, who was already hosting ‘Student
Canteen’ and ‘Darigold Jamboree’ to give us the break on television. That time,
we were just paid three boxes of Darigold and fifteen pesos per week.”

Jun adds, “Noong una
kaming kumakanta sa mga piyestahan, ang bayad sa amin, dalawang piso, limang
piso, maligaya na kami noon. Hilig namin, basta makakanta. Yung datung,
secondary lang.”

“Being brothers, we
are more tightly bound,” says Emil. “There is no leader in the group. We are
all equal. Either we perform together, or not at all.”

Further, Jun says, “When we started singing, an older
brother just died. He was killed by a carnapper. Maluka-luka mother ko noon.
Pero nung nagsimula na kaming kumanta, naka- recover ang nanay namin.”

The big break happened when they were featured as
‘serenaders’ for the Miss International candidates when the pageant was held at
the Araneta Coliseum in 1961. Their performance of “Magandang Bituin” caught
the attention of the pageant’s impresario, who got them as contract
artists.

The brothers’ first stop was the Tokyo Hilton in Japan . It
was followed by successful stints at Thailand , Hongkong , Indonesia , Malaysia
, Singapore , Guam, Okinawa, and other key cities in Asia, Canada , the U.S.
and the Middle East .

“Our only goal then was to prove that we Filipinos are
better than our foreign counterparts. Nakatayo ang bandera ng Pilipinas,
wherever and whenever we perform,” says Jun.

Emil says, “The key to live performances is to tell the
audience that you are singing for them.

“Cu-Cu-Ru-Cu-Cu,
Paloma,” he says, is their bumper number, for it never fails to earn a
three-minute standing ovation, while “MacArthur’s Park”, their
blood-sweat-and-tears number, ‘where they give their all.’

“But we also sing the coplas for the
Latin-American crowd and ‘Volare’ just in case we have an Italian in the
audience”, he furthers.

In 1968, they were so famous, they even did the movie “The
More I See You” with Amalia Fuentes and Eddie Mesa.

Due to the demands of live performances, they recorded only
one single, “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling”, and a Christmas Album that
remains a favorite during the yuletide season.

The group has been elevated to the TINIG Hall of Fame by the
National Press Club for their contribution to the entertainment world.

In Sta. Rosa where they live, they are as famous as the
Laguna landmarks. Emil used to run a bakery but eventually joined politics. He
became a councilor of Sta. Rosa for three terms, and now serves as a Provincial
Board Member of  Laguna and a
spokesperson for Lucida DS.

Arthur used to operate mini-buses but at present, serves as
a Councilor of Sta. Rosa, while Jun, who used to be a custom’s broker decided
to engage in his own business.

Recently, there has been an increasing demand for their
act.  A performance is scheduled at the
Mandarin Hotel on July 22 .

And like the proverbial wine that mellows through the years,
the fans are rediscovering that the Tiongco Brothers have only become finer
artists through time. (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)

The Emancipation of Liberty Ilagan

 

Before
Paul Anka and Neil Sedaka came to this shore, Ric Manrique Jr. and Pilita
Corrales were already stirring the romantic heart strings of Pinoys with their love songs.

During
what was known as the golden age of
tagalog
songs in the 60s, the Filipinos swooned over classic pinoy music such as Restie Umali’s “Dahil sa Iyo”,  Levi Celerio’s “Saan Ka Man Naroroon”  and
Tony Maiquez’ “Sapagka’t Kami ay Tao
Lamang
”.

And
then, there was the melancholic, “Sa
Bughaw na Buhangin
”  by Liberty
Ilagan, the angelic-faced actress in the drama movies of  Sampaguita Pictures.  “I wrote ‘Sa
Bughaw na Buhangin’
” on my way home from an idyllic vacation in Bonuan Blue Beach, Dagupan
City with my friend Jean
Lopez. I was so enamored by the beauty of that beach,” said Liberty.

Hers
was a name culled from  that special period in history when the country  was finally freed from the horrors of World War
II.  Just when the Manila streets came
alive to celebrate the liberation, the De Leon household was livelier with the
birth of a child, who was aptly named Liberty,
in honor of the homeland’s newfound freedom.

Thus began the fairy tale of Liberty
Ilagan, the new princess in the family of showbiz royalties.  Her grandfather, Hermogenes Ilagan was the father
of Philippine zarzuela, and her father, National ArtistGerry de Leon was  the acclaimed master in local filmmaking.

Of course, Liberty didn’t know that yet.  For until
her teen years, she was clueless about a lot of things.  “I don’t even have a favorite color,” she
agreed.  “When asked about my goals, I just said, ‘I want to be a success!”

“For
the longest time, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer,” she continued, “So, I
enrolled in courses preparatory to Law in Arellano University.  It was only when I was married to Rod
(Ongpauco) that I realized I had a penchant for interior design. I tried my
hand in decorating one of our restaurants, and ended up doing them all.  Ang
gusto ko pala talaga
  architecture.
So, I studied interior design sa PHID”.

As
a child, Liberty appeared in his dad’s movies: “Hindi Kita Malimot,” “So Long, America,”
and  “Isumpa Mo, Giliw.” “I was only three but I
was already serious in acting,” she said. At five however she had to give up the movies  to concentrate on her
studies.

Growing
up, she was fondly teased as “Bert” by her dad because of her feisty
demeanor.  “I was tomboyish,” she admitted.
But when she reached the age of  fourteen,
she was groomed as the next important debutante, and became a staple in sagalas—- a rite of passage to all the
beauties from well-placed clans.

It was
in one of those santacruzans, where
the renowned star-builder  Doc Perez of
Sampaguita Pictures saw her.

Her
father Gerry, a resident director of Premiere Productions, was reluctant to
allow her daughter to be a movie star. What he didn’t know was the fact that Liberty had already
auditioned and passed the studio screen test.

“I
talked to my dad,” related Liberty,
“I said: ‘You know dad,  you are a
doctor, but you’re not practicing medicine. Instead, you are doing what you
want to do with your life. Why won’t you allow me to do what I want with
mine?”

Finally
Gerry relented, on the condition that Liberty
wouldn’t go out without a chaperone, her Aunt Laling.  “True to his word, ikakasal na ‘ko,  kasama ko pa Auntie ko,” said Liberty.

Her
contemporaries in Sampaguita were Jean, Lopez and  Josephine Estrada, Eddie Gutierrez, Lito
Legaspi, and Jose Mari.  Their batch came
after the entry of Susan Roces and Amalia Fuentes, and before the emergence of the
Stars 66, namely: Rosemarie Sonora, Gina Pareño, Blanca Gomez and the late
Loretta Marquez.

Liberty was introduced in
the Susan Roces –Romeo Vasquez starrer  “Lover Boy,”(1959), opposite Jose Mari.  But her most unforgettable showbiz experience happened
on the set of her second movie, “Kilabot
sa Makiling
”(1959) with Lolita Rodriguez and Mario Montenegro.

“I
was Lolita’s child in the movie. In one scene, she was crying her heart out
because her husband, Mario was dying, crucified to the cross.  “Aarte
ako dapat.  Ang nangyari
, nalimutan kong artista pala ako at  nanood ako kay Lolita because I was
fascinated by her good performance”, said Liberty.

In
Sampaguita, she was groomed as a dramatic star. “Polar opposite sa personality ko. Kasi in
real –life, hindi ako ma-drama. Masayahin akoHindi
nga ako marunong umiyak eh.  Pero ang mga

roles ko, puro poor o kaya  pulubi.”

The adoring fans were mesmerized by her talent and beauty, but she didn’t get any acting award
because during her time,  Sampaguita had
a rift with the FAMAS, the lone awards-giving body of that period.

But
earning recognition wasn’t on top of her list.
She was young, and enjoying her stint in showbiz. She had a lot
to think about.  She was a ‘Jill-of-all-trades’.

Truth be told, she was also a scriptwriter.  She also does painting to while her time.
“I do portraits in oil. I was taught by an uncle to paint.,” she added.

Liberty was also among the
few female trailblazers in the field of independent production. She wrote and
produced the multi-episodic “Brown-out
under her own, Eye Productions.

Her
rendezvous in filmmaking ended when she married former actor Rod Evans (Rod
Ongpauco), a restaurant magnate.  They
have three children: Happy, So-eng (Sunshine in Chinese) and Love.  All are all successful restaurateurs like
their father.

“As
a mother, I’m a disciplinarian,” she admitted.
“Raising them is my greatest achievement because they are all responsible,
respectful and hard-working. I raised them in the same manner that I was raised
by my parents, aunts and uncles.”

Recalling
her childhood, she added: I was not born rich, pero feeling prinsesa ako as
a child.  I was loved.  I took up ballet and piano lessons. I was also
the favorite ng lahat ng matandang dalaga
na
auntie ko.  And the nicest of all, pinalaki ako na may matatag na faith in God.”

Her
faith, she said, is her secret to good life. “I also have heartaches. Nasunog ang bahay ko. Nahiwalay ako sa asawa
(Rod). I just surrender all my worries to the Lord.  Kapag
nagagalit naman ako sa tao,
I pray for them, at sana
tanggalin sa
heart ko yung galit. I
never question God’s will, even in my darkest hours. I took it from my aunt, si Aunt Pilar kasi, ang hilig magsimba noon. Lagi akong kasama.”

Liberty, at
present, is living a charmed life with her husband, U.S. based lawyer   Carlito Lardizabal.  “He’s my first crush. I was only thirteen,
when I first met him,” she explained.
After 32 years, they saw each other and rekindled an unrequited romance.

“I’m
doing my beach house in Marinduque. It’s a lot owned by my husband.  Hindi
na ako kumukuha ng
architect.  I
design the building and I just get an engineer to construct it. I’m also
developing a resort in Pansol, Laguna. Mana
ko sa tatay.”

As
to her plans?  “Ang dream ko ngayon is to
see the world. Malapit na akong matapos.  I will write a book, not about me, but about
the world”, said Liberty.
“I’m free at last, free from worries because all my daughters are settled.  I’m back to my jolly old self, doing only the
things that I love, and caring for the people who love me back.” (For comments, send e-mail to
gypsybaldovino@yahoo.com.)

Angel Esmeralda-Golden Boy of the 30s

The concept of life inspiring art, used to the hilt by reality-based TV series,
isn’t entirely new after all.  For even before the World War II,
Philippine movies have banked on real–life love stories to amass viewers.  In
fact, it was the formula used by Sampaguita Pictures to bounce back into the
movie biz after the war.  And it
worked.

Soon, the studio was casting real couples
like Pancho Magalona and Tita Duran, Alicia Vergel and Cesar Ramirez, Rita
Gomez and Ric Rodrigo in romantic movies that mirrored their lives. Even the
reclusive Lolita Rodriguez made some dramas with then husband, Eddie Arenas.

However, the tandem that paved the
way for this exercise was the couple Angel Esmeralda and Corazon Noble, who
appeared together in the 1938 “Binatang Bukid”.

Being a pioneer wasn’t strange to Angel.
After all, he was four years older than the film industry.

Angel was born in 1915—a
tumultuous period marked by Pancho Villa’s poignant Mexican revolution, but  a most opportune time for Angel, who would
grow up to be the filmdom’s golden boy.

As destiny had it, four years after his birth,
the Philippine cinema was born. In 1919, Jose Nepomuceno of Malayan Pictures produced
“Dalagang Bukid” based on the country’s most celebrated sarzuela, penned by
Angel’s dad, Hermogenes Ilagan.

Angel therefore grew up in an
environment that was suffused by the sounds and sights of colorful sarzuelas.

During Angel’s entry into movie
acting, there was a boon in movie making. Film studios that catered to the
insatiable appetites of eager movie fans were sprouting like mushrooms. There
were Sanggumay Pictures, X’Otic Films, Excelsior Pictures, Majestic
Productions, Oriental Pictures, Salumbides Pictures, Parlatone Hispano Filipino
Inc, LVN Pictures and Sampaguita Pictures.

Incidentally, Angel did his first and
last films under the same studio.  He was
19, when he did his first movie “Ang Dangal”(1934) under Parlatone –Hispano-Filipino
Inc. His last was “Pipo” (1970) starring the late Charito Solis under
Nepomuceno Productions. “Ang Dangal” featured Angel opposite Dado Garcia and
Patsy.  His brother Gerry (de Leon) also
starred in the film. (The first film
outfit in history was Malayan Pictures. It was later renamed as Parlatone- Hispano-Filipino
Inc, until it finally became the Nepomuceno Productions.) 

Angel’s contemporaries were Rogelio
dela Rosa, Rudy Concepcion, Carmen Rosales, Angelito Nepomuceno, Leopoldo
Salcedo, Rosa del Rosario,  Ana Maria,  Fe Crisostomo, soprano Rosario Moreno,  Flora Mirasol, Oscar
Moreno, Carlos Baltazar, Elsa Oria, Fernando Poe Sr., Patricia Mijares, Fely Vallejo and Ely Ramos who died at the zenith of his
career.

Years of acting in sarzuela paid off
very well for Angel because it prepared him for the instant movie stardom.

As a contract star of Parlatone
Pictures, he did close to twenty movies in a period of three years, that
included: “Sa Paanan ng Krus”  (1936),  “Mga Pusong Dakila” (1937), “Nasaan ka, Irog”
(1937), “Anak ng Kadiliman” (1937), “Ruben” (1938), “Ang Pagbabalik” (1938), “Isang
Halik Lamang” (1938), “Lihim ng Dagat-Dagatan” (1939), “Yaman ng Mahirap” (1939)
and “Langit sa Karimlan” (1939).

In 1940, he became a most bankable star
and did a record seven movies in one year, under five different film outfits:
“Cadena de Amor” for Sanggumay Pictures, “Pangarap” with Corita Sta. Maria and
”Prinsesa ng Kumintang“ with Mila del Sol
under LVN Pictures, “Bawal na Pag-ibig” and “Binatang Bukid”  under his home studio Parlatone- Hispano-Filipino
Inc, “Santa” and “Tala sa Kabukiran” for Majestic Pictures, and “Estrellita” and
“Kahapon Lamang” under Sampaguita
Pictures.

During the Japanese occupation, he
busied himself onstage as romantic lead to radio queen Tiya Dely Magpayo in “Nasaan Ka, Irog” under the
direction of Lamberto V. Avellana at the Manila Grand Opera House.

His winning streak continued after
the war with hits such as “Buenavista” (1941), “Mariposa” (1941), “Liwayway ng
Kalayaan”(1946), “So Long America” (1946),”Ligaya”(1947), and “Meme na Bunso” (1949).  He also directed “Maria Kapra”(1947)  starring Jose Brillante,  Jose De Villa and  Linda Estrella.

In 1951, Angel migrated to Guam as an American citizen. But each time he went home,
he would still go back to his movie roots, and in fact did two in 1954,  ”Dasalang Ginto” and “Ang Manyika ng Sta. Monica”.

“He did some trading there, mostly
of Philippine products like bangus
and other local produce,” says Leslie, his third child.

At 30,
Angel became a father to Lourdes,
who met a tragic end from the hands of the Japanese soldiers during the fateful
Battle of Manila in 1945.  Eventually, Angel
had six children: Lourdes,
Melvin, Leslie, Marlon, Angel (Rebecca) and Jay.

“He was a great father,” says Leslie. “He was
a disciplinarian. I remember that when I was in Grade II, sinumbong ako ni  mommy, ang hina-
hina ko daw sa
Math. My father talked to me. Sabi n’ya, ’starting tomorrow, walang tutulong sa ‘yo and you will become good in Math.’ Alam mo, I ended up taking engineering.”

Angel’s career lasted for 36 years. In 1981, he was honored with the Walang Kupas
Lifetime Achievement award by the Donya Josefa Edralin Marcos Foundation,
together with his wife, Corazon Noble. He died in the Philippines in
1985 at the age of 70.

Angel Esmeralda was a true showbiz royalty.  His father was the famed playwright Hermogenes
Ilagan, the acclaimed father of Philippine sarzuela. He was among the 13
children of Hermogenes and wife Casiana de Leon.  He was uncle to Liberty Ilagan, brother to
national artist Gerry de Leon, husband to movie queen Corazon Noble, and father
to one of the finest actors who ever graced the cinema, Jay Ilagan.

In the spiritual world, emerald was the stone
on the Ephod representing the tribe of Judah. But in the movie world,
Angel was the most striking emerald in the tribe of pre-war actors.  (For
comments, send e-mail to gypsybaldovino@yahoo.com)