He spent his primary years at the Lubao Elementary School, then enrolled at the Pampanga High School (1921-25). Choosing to be a dental surgeon, he went to the Philippine Dental College. To help finance his studies, he worked at as a tax agent for the Bureau of Internal Revenue. He also started making the rounds of production companies and became an actor for Tomas Lichauco's Mayon Photoplay Corporation after auditioning in March 1928.
The movie with Mayon was never finsihed as Lichauco left for the United States. Undaunted, Yoyong auditioned next for Jose Nepomuceno and won a leading role in a 1928 film. The silent film, “Anak sa Ligaw” started his long and productive career in Philippine moviedom, both as a successful actor and an even more accomplished film director.
Yoyong still managed to make his parents happy by finishing his dentistry course in 1929 and passing the board that same year. After a short private practice in Lubao, he decided he could not resist the lure of the spotlight and went on to pursue a full time career in acting. He did not find it difficult landing his next role given the resounding success of his first film. Yoyong's next assignment was a starring role in another silent-- “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” with Sofia Lotta, under the direction Faustino Lichauco of Mayon Photoplay. The picture was never released though, so Yoyong moved on to team up with Sofia yet again in the movie version of the popular Tagalog poem of Florentino Collantes, “Ang Lumang Simbahan”.
The newbie actor shared his good fortune with his kabalen and nephew, Rogelio Regidor, whom he introduced to Jose Nepomuceno when the “father of Philippine movies” was scouting for new talents. Nepomuceno took one look at the handsome 6-footer and cast him with another Kapampangan-American mestiza, Rosa Stagner. The couple was launched in the 1929 movie hit, “Ligaw ni Bulaklak” as Rogelio de la Rosa and Rosa del Rosario.
Yoyong was a much-sought after actor in the 1930s, appearing as a dandy in the film, “Collegian Love”. As a young sajonista influenced by American ways, he wore a blazer with a hanky sticking out of his pocket, and a white buntal hat that was to become his signature look. He appeared as the hero “Dimasalang” in 1930 and followed that up with “Moro Pirates” with Nena Linda. In the next two years, he was in “Ang Lihim ni Bathala” and “Taong Demonyo”, his first talking film.
Not content with playing leading men and character roles in films, Gregorio transitioned to work behind the camera as a director. His first directorial debut was the movie, “Asahar at Kabaong” (Bridal Garland and Casket, 1937), starring Purita Santamaria, made under Philippine Films. His work was noticed by other film outfits and he steadily found freelance work, directing “Tatlong Pagkabirhen” for X’otic Films (1938), “Celia at Balagtas” and “Señorita” (1939), in which he directed his own nephew Rogelio de la Rosa, by then a big star. It was only shown shortly after World War II at the Life Theater in Quiapo.
Yoyong had an enduring and most productive career at LVN Studios, a film outfit began in 1938 by the legendary grand dame of Philippine movies, Dña. Narcisa de Leon. Dña. Sisang asked Yoyong to make a film out of the hit war drama play, “Garrison 13”, and the subsequent film version (in which he played a co-starring role to Linda Estrella) proved to be a blockbuster hit, earning an unprecedented P145,000 at Dalisay Theater alone. Yoyong became a favorite director of Dña. Sisang thereafter.
His LVN-produced films include “Dalawang Daigdig” ( as director-actor, 1946), “Miss Philippines" (1947), “Puting Bantayog” (1948), “Kampanang Ginto”, “Capas” (1949), “Candaba” (“isang kapanapanabik na pelikula na tanging si G. Fernandez lamang ang maaaring mamahala!”), "Kontrabando” (1950), “Bayan o Pag-ibig”, “Dugo sa Dugo” (1951), “Rodrigo de Villa” (a color film co-produced with Persari Films of Indonesia, 1952), “Iskwater”, “Philippine Navy”, “Dagohoy” (1953) and “Prinsipe Tiñoso”, “Singsing na Tanso” (1954).
1955 was his best year ever, directing “Dalagang Taring” and the most acclaimed movie of the year, “Higit sa Lahat”, starring Rogelio de la Rosa and Emma Alegre. It garnered 6 awards at the FAMAS, including Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Director. As the Philippine entry to the 1956 Asian Film Festival, “Higit sa Lahat” won for Yoyong a “Best Director” trophy and another “Best Actor” award for Rogelio de la Rosa. The next year, he was kept busy with the 18th anniversary offering of LVN Pictures, “Medalyang Perlas” and the classic, “Luksang Tagumpay”, which won Best Picture honors at the FAMAS.
The close of the decade saw him megging “Hukom Roldan”, “P10,000 na Pag-ibig”(1957) , “Ana Maria” and another critical hit “Malvarosa” (1958). The film won for Rebecca del Rio, a Best Supporting Actress trophy at the Asian Film Festival and a FAMAS International Prestige Award of Merit. He ended the 50s with “Ay , Pepita”, “Casa Grande” and “Panagimpan” (1959) and started the 60s with “Emily” and “Kung Ako’y Mahal Mo” and “Awit ng mga Dukha”.
In 1961, he retired in San Juan together with his family. He had eight children with his beautiful wife, Marie Paz, daughter of Bulacan governor Jose Padilla Sr. whom he married in 1936 in Lubao: Ma. Luisa (aka Merle Fernandez, bold star of the 70s), Maria Paz, Maria Isabel, Jose, Maria Teresita, Emmanuel, Rodolfo (aka the late Rudy “Daboy” Fernandez) and Mary Anne. But he came out of retirement in 1963 to direct “The Macapagal Story”, based on the life of his fellow Lubeño Pres. Diosdado P. Macapagal. He did two more movies (“Ang Nasasakdal”, 1963, “Daing” 1971) before he permanently called it quits, but not before being awarded the 1967 “Gantimpalang Gatpuno” (Mayor’s Award) as one of the 37 illustrious pioneers of Philippine Movies, on the occasion of Manila’s golden foundation day.
Dr. Gregorio M. Fernandez died in the late ‘70s and left behind a legacy of classic and multi-awarded films, visual testaments to Kapampangan creativity at its best. His son Rudy continued that tradition until his death, but the torch has been passed on to Rudy's son (with Alma Moreno, also a Kapampangan), Mark Anthony Fernandez, himself a rising star of TV and Cinema. His grandfather Yoyong must be proud.