Her leading man in Cebu, who was her boyfriend in real life, had gone ahead to try his luck and break into the movies. Mom had heard that he had been hired by one of the smaller studios, and she felt confident that he would get her in. After all they were a love team in Cebuano movies.
So she packed her bags, and in the picture here, she is saying goodbye to her mom and eldest brother, leaving behind all that was familiar in pursuit of love and a career in Manila.
Upon arriving, she was dismayed because he did not pick her up at the port, and so she had to make her way to the big city. She moved in with her cousin, Luz, and spent the next three months trying to track him down. He had been incommunicado, but Mom was determined to find him. She learned from a friend that in his off-hours, he would hang out at a restaurant called La Buena Suerte in Escolta. And so she would hang out there too, day after day, making the trip from her little apartment in Sampaloc. Oh, the stupid things one does when one is a young fool in love!
Finally, she got tired of waiting and began to grow despondent about ever finding him and breaking into the movies in Manila. Out of the blue, the owner of La Buena Suerte called her to say that Tony (that was his name), was having lunch at the restaurant. Upon hearing this, Mom rushed out and took a cab to Escolta.
"Nakaharap sya sa pintuan, so kitang kita ko sya through the glass," (He was facing the door so I saw him clearly through the glass), Mom tells me. Her heart racing, she approached him, in an attempt to surprise him. She was all smiles when she tapped his table with both hands, "Huy! Kamusta?” (Hey, how are you?)
His response shocked her. "Naku, para syang nakakita ng maligno! At ang una nyang tinanong, 'anong ginagawa mo dito?'” (It was as if he’d seen a ghost, and his first question was, ‘What are you doing here?)
She told him that she had come to Manila to follow him, and so they could make movies together. "Masama na ang kutob ko, kasi ni hindi nya ako inimbitang kumain, or umupo,” (I already had a bad feeling, because he didn’t invite me to join him) she recalls the events like it was just yesterday.
The following exchange changed the course of her life.
"Hindi ka puede dito," (You don’t belong here) he told her in an irritated tone.
"Huh? Eh bakit? Bakit ikaw puede, ako hindi," (Huh? Why? Why can you belong here, and I can’t?) she retorted.
"Hindi ka puede dito, kasi hindi ka mestiza. Mga mestiza lang ang puede mag artista dito. Umuwi ka na ng Cebu." (You won’t make it here because you’re not a mestiza. Only mestizas are wanted as actresses here. Better go back to Cebu.)
Stunned, Mom couldn't even reply; instead she just turned her back and walked out on him. "Ano pa ba ang isasagot ko doon. Eh morena ako, hindi raw ako puede mag artista," (What could I have said to that. He says because I’m brown-skinned I couldn’t be an actress) she recalls.
Outside the restaurant and terribly despondent she spotted a bridge and started walking towards it in a daze. "Siempre napahiya ako. Malala pa sa busted ang inabot ko diba? Pero talagang love ako ni God," (Of course, I was humiliated. Worse than jilted, right? But God really loves me) she narrates.
Instead of the bridge, she found herself in front of the Quiapo Church. She went in, knelt down and cried her heart out. "Tulo lang ng tulo ang luha ko. Siguro ang tagal ko ng nakaluhod doon kasi sumakit na ang tuhod ko, so naupo na ako.” (My tears just kept falling. I must’ve been there for a long time because my knees really hurt. So I sat down.)
It was when she sat down, tired after crying for hours, that her gaze fell upon the Black Nazarene. "Naisip ko noon, teka lang, ang Nazareno nga, maitim. Pareho lang naman kami, bakit sya, ina-adore at pinupuntahan ng marami? So medyo gumaan gaan ang pakiramdam ko." (I thought, wait a minute. The Nazareno is black, dark like me. Why is he adored and visited by many?) Mom left the church that afternoon, still sad over her heartbreak, but confident that she could return to her blossoming career in Cebu.
A few days later, her cousin, Luz, a photographer friend and Mom did the rounds of the Big Three studios – Premiere, Sampaguita and LVN. "Sabi ko kay Luz, uuwi na ako ng Cebu dahil hindi raw ako puede dito. Ikutin na lang natin ang mga studio para man lang makapag picture ako at masabi ko na napuntahan ko." (I told Luz I was going back home because I was told I wouldn’t make it here. Let’s just visit the studios and take pictures so that at least I can say I went there.) And so they did.
It was close to 5 p.m. when they reached LVN studios on P. Tuazon in Cubao. The gates were closing, but the photographer they were with knew the guard, and so they were let in. "Pagod na ako noon so sabi ko, punta tayo ng canteen. Tamang tama naman, may nagtitinda pa ng kape. So nag kape kami ni Luz." (I was tired, so I asked to go to the canteen. Good thing there was someone still serving coffee. So we sat for coffee.)
A while later, their photographer friend returned with two people, Art Dimayuga, who was the public relations person of LVN at that time, and Ate Maring, LVN's wardrobe mistress and a relative of Dona Sisang, who owned LVN studios. "Gusto mo raw mag-artista, tanong ni Art sa akin. Siempre sabi ko, Oo, eh napahiya na ako ng sobra noong isang araw sa Escolta, di wala ng hiya hiya diba?" (I was told that you want to be an actress? Art asked me. I said yes. I had already been humiliated in Escolta, so I didn’t care if I was embarrassed again, right?)
Two days later, she returned, and Ate Maring had her scheduled for a screen test with Director Gregorio Fernandez (actor Rudy Fernandez’s dad) for a film that was to star Charito Solis. "Naghahanap sila ng contravida noon kasi nag-asawa na si Rosa Rosal. Ang timing nga naman ni Lord." (They were looking for a character actress because film meanie Rosa Rosal already got married. What timing, Lord.) Mom passed the screen test with flying colors, and was soon cast as contravida in the film "Malvarosa," and from there her star slowly began to rise.
"Sabi nila Chato (Solis) later on, noon daw araw ng screen test ko, nagbubulungan raw sila ni Leroy Salvador, 'sino iyan? Parang may-ari ng LVN, walang kakaba kaba kumilos!' Hindi lang nila alam, na talagang nilakasan ko lang ang loob ko kasi dumudugo pa ang puso ko noon, saka ano pa ba ang worse na puedeng mangyari, eh nasupalpal at napahiya na nga ako sa Escolta diba?" (Chato told me later that during my screen test, she and actor Leroy Salvador whispered to each other: Who’s that? She acts like she owns the studio. She’s so self-confident.’ If they only knew. After what happened at Escolta, what’s the worse that could happen to me?)
"Malvarosa" was followed by many other movies. After LVN stopped making movies, she moved to other independent studios in the mid-'60s.
It was during that time, on the set of one of her movies, that she spotted a familiar figure seated on the sidelines. He looked very thin and disheveled. Her director approached her and asked her if it was all right for the man to be a part of their film. "Bakit nyo ako tinatanong," (Why are you asking me?) she asked her director. "Eh kasi baka galit ka raw sa kanya. Boyfriend mo raw sya dati." (Because he says you might be mad at him; he was your ex-boyfriend.)
Shocked at his appearance, she quickly relented. "Hindi no?! Sige, isali nyo na, kawawa naman." (Okay, include him in the film, the poor soul.) Ironically, his small role in the film was that of her lover. And she says that it was only during the filming of the scenes that he could look at her. "Aloof sya all throughout. Eh di hindi ko na rin kinausap." (He was aloof, so I didn’t speak to him either.) After the film, she never heard or saw him again.
"It was the pain he caused me that drove me to really do my best. Hindi rin ako nagtanim ng galit, hinayaan ko lang, kahit ang sakit sakit ng ginawa nya sa akin. Hindi ko sya inaway, kaibigan ko pa rin ang pamilya nya," Mommy says. "Pag binigay mo lahat, I ga guide ka talaga ni Lord. Sya na ang bahala. Bakit imbes sa tulay ako napunta, sa simbahan ako napadpad? Bakit pasara na ang studio, pero yung photographer na kasama namin, kilala ang guard? Bakit noong dumating ako sa LVN, sya naman ang pag retire ni Rosa Rosal? Plano talaga lahat ni Lord iyan." (I don’t bear grudges, despite the pain he caused me. I’m still friends with his family. If you give your all, the Lord will guide you. Why did I end up in church instead of the bridge? Why was it that the studio was about to close but the photographer knew the guard? Why was it that when I got to LVN that was the time Rosa Rosal retired? It’s really all the Lord’s plan.)
Fast forward, almost 45 years, an elderly man at the wake of Mom’s executive producer's mother in Loyola Guadalupe asked to see her, and so she went to talk to him outside. He was the cousin of Tony's wife, and he told her all about the years that passed after their last encounter on the set. "The studio he was with folded up, that's why he had to ask to be in my movie. He fell on hard times, became an alcoholic, and his wife left him. He died, sometime in the 1970s."
"Kaya ang lesson dyan, wag ka talaga mang-aapi ng kapwa mo. Wag ka rin magtatanim ng galit. Ibigay mo lang ng ibigay kay God, ang mga laban na kung ikaw lang, hindi mo kayang ipanalo. Si Lord lang talaga ang bahala sa iyo. Nasupalpal nga ako sa Escolta, pero tignan mo naman ang kapalit? May career pa ako, binigyan ako ng asawa ng mestizo, at heto, awa ng Diyos, nandito pa rin tayo." (The lesson here is, don’t maltreat your fellow human being. Also, don’t bear grudges. If you’re in a struggle that you can’t win by yourself, leave it to the Lord, and He will take care of you. I was humiliated in Escolta, but look at what happened after. I have a career. I was given a husband who’s a mestizo. And, by God’s grace, we’re still here.)
Cathy S. Babao, mother, author, columnist, grief educator and counselor works as a communications consultant for various multinational companies, and teaches grief education at the Ateneo de Manila University.
She writes "Roots and Wings", a weekly column for the Philippine Daily Inquirer. She has written two books, Heaven's Butterfly, a children's book on grief, and Between Loss and Forever: Filipina Mothers on the Grief Journey, a finalist for the 2011 National Book Awards.
More articles from Cathy S. Babao:
Grief: Loss In The Sunset Of One’s Life
November 12, 2012
Cathy S. Babao discusses several ways that the elderly can help themselves after a loved one dies.
The Unusual Friendship Of The Mestiza And The Morena
May 15, 2013
Timeless actresses as different as night and day but close friends like no other.
June 3, 2014
Hilda Koronel and Becca Godinez share their stories on how to keep love alive when it blooms again.