Sunday, May 2, 2010

*195. ROSA ROSAL: The Vamp with a Heart of Gold

BAD GIRLS GO EVERYWHERE. Rosa Rosal aka Florence Lansang Danon, made her mark in Philippine cinema playing vampy roles that were a far cry from her real-life persona. She credits her Kapampangan mother, Gloria Lansang of Sta. Rita, for molding her into the successful achiever that she is today. This postcard documents her foray into the new medium of Radio, as a singer for Purico Radio Show in the 50s.

On screen, she smoldered as a sexy siren, the scheming contravida, the “other woman” who toyed with men’s hearts, the thorn in many a movie heroine’s side, wrecking homes and romances. But once the camera stopped, Rosa Rosal’s real persona surfaced, a woman of substance who set her heart to doing public service, a role that would be her passion all her life, leading to Asia’s most noble recognition of all—the 1999 Ramon Magsaysay Award.

Rosa Rosal came from a multi-cultural background, but it was her indomitable Kapampangan spirit fired by her mother’s example that saw her through her life’s darkest hours, emerging as one of the most accomplished movie stars of our time. She was born as Florence Danon y Lansang on 16 October 1931. Her father, Julio Danon, was already a fiftyish French-Egyptian when he met Gloria Lansang, an 18 year old Pampangueña from Sta. Rita. Before she was 5, Florence lost her father; her mother remarried, this time to Ruperto del Barrio, who had a buy and sell business in the busy Sta. Cruz district of Manila. This union produced 3 daughters and two sons, and in the small apartment where the Del Barrios lived, Florence took command as the “ate” of the house.

“Don’t allow God to wait for you”, was Gloria’s oft-quoted reminder to her children, and they grew up attending Mass, eating their meals together and openly showing their affection to each other. At the Antonio Regidor School where Florence studied, she extended her sisterly role, protecting classmates from bullies, while excelling in declamation contests.

The simple, idyllic life of the Del Barrios was disrupted by World War II, forcing Florence to quit her studies at Arellano High School. When the Japanese occupied Manila, Florence, barely in her teens, found employment as a news reader in an Escolta radio station. When a Japanese sentry found her listening inadvertently to an illegal broadcast, Florence was forced to leave the station and flee Manila. By then, the whole family was ready to evacuate to Laguna, but in Bacoor, they were caught in a crossfire between the Japanese and the Americans. Her aunt perished and her mother was seriously injured. While staying in the hospital, Florence saw the horrific consequences of war, and it was here that she saw her first blood plasma, an image that would haunt her for years.

When the war was over, Florence landed a job at the National Chest Center under the management of Dr. Sixto Francisco. She just didn’t do clerical work but also learned to operate the X-ray machine and helped out in the radiology department. One evening, while walking home, she chanced upon a film shoot happening on a street. A caster took note of this exotic gawker, and she was immediately signed up as an extra in a group scene, even meriting a brief close-up. When the film producer, Luis Nolasco saw Florence’s fleeting exposure, he sought out Florence and offered her a contract. He cast her immediately in the 1946 film, Fort Santiago. The next year, the sixteener played a sexy villain in Kamagong, alongside Leopoldo Salcedo, a film which proved to be a blockbuster.

At the cusp of stardom and a new career, Florence regretfully ended her work with Dr. Francisco, who gave her his blessings. Florence gained her now-famous screened name in one banquet for a visiting Hollywood producer. The tables featured floral centerpieces of gardenias (rosal) and roses, and when Florence picked up a ‘rosal’, Luis Nolasco saw the similarity and gave her the name—Rosa Rosal.

Soon, every studio wanted Rosa Rosal to join their stable of stars. Her meteoric rise to stardom was capped by her winning the “Queen of the Philippine Movies” title in 1948. LVN Studios, under Dña Sisang de Leon successfully wooed her away from Nolasco Brothers and Premiere Films with the promise of a fat paycheck, a house and a car. Indeed, at LVN, she made her most memorable films.

She had started out as a contravida, but now wanted to step out of her comfort zone. In 1950, she appeared as a sweet girl with no mean bone in the movie Biglang Yaman with Jaime de la Rosa. Then, Rosa landed the female lead in the historic movie Anak Dalita, a love story between a Korean war veteran and a prostitute, directed by Lamberto Avellana. Anak Dalita emerged as Best Film in the 1956 Asian Film Festival in Hongkong while Rosa Rosal earned a presidential citation from Ramon Magsaysay. The following year, Rosa did Badjao, a story about a noble Tausug princess and her marriage to a pearl diver. Dña Sisang was reluctant in giving the role to Rosa as she did not look ethnic at all; but Rosa pleaded, got the part and the movie went on to win 4 major awards in Tokyo.

Her other noteworthy acclaim was the classic Biyaya ng Lupa, where she played the lead, a farmer’s widow coping with her husband’s murder and a daughter’s rape. She was totally made unglamorous for this part, a far cry from her sultry image as a vixen in a slinky gown, bangles and dangling earrings. Rosa lost the Asian Best Actress Award by half a point when it was entered in the 1960 edition of the festival. In 1976, Rosa once again reprised her role as an oppressed sugar plantation worker in the controversial movie, Sakada.

She would also dabble in Radio as a singer, and appeared on TV in sitcoms (Yan ang Misis Ko, with Ronald Remy) and as a public service host (Kapwa Ko, Mahal Ko, Damayan) in the 70s. These appearances spotlighted her legendary spirit of volunteerism for Red Cross, an obsession that began way back in 1948, when American Ray Higgins took Rosa along to one of his blood donation drives under the auspices of the Red Cross. She saw a comatose young girl revived to life at the Philippine General Hospital after a successful blood transfusion. This life-changing experience led Rosa to become a volunteer for Red Cross on 4 July 1950.

Rosa was indefatigable in her work with the Philippine National Red Cross. She sought out funding for new blood testing equipment and for the improvement of Red Cross facilities, organized blood letting drives (Operation Dugtong Buhay, Operation Purple, Operation Blood Brother—with American donors from Clark Field), went on mercy missions even during the height of Martial Law and People Power Revolution and helped in establishing blood programs like blood testing, collecting and the commemoration of Blood Donors’ Month in July.

Rosa has dedicated over half her life to public service via her strong ties to Red Cross, leading to high profile recognitions both here and abroad. Aside from the prestigious Magsaysay Award, her other achievement is daughter Toni Rose Gayda, also a TV personality, her only child with American pilot Walter Gayda whom she met in Hong Kong in 1957. Her incredible career run is far from over, and this half-Kapampangan who started as a showbiz contravida has become a larger-than-life heroine with a heart of gold, joining the ranks of the most admired and most accomplished Filipinas in the country today.


Sam said...

Wow... In a book about the Filipino stars from the Golden Era, she was described as "Florence Nightingale of the Philippines"... I wasn't actually aware that Florence is her given name!

Oh, Rosa Rosal. What a beauty.

Anonymous said...

I first saw Rosa Rosal sometime in the mid to late 40's when she went to Cebu for the Purico Amateur Hour (my uncle was then Mgr.of PMC,the sponsors,and he was on stage with her to present,I think,the winner of said Amateur Hour singing contest)and I was besotted with her beauty;I thought she was the most beautiful person I had ever seen in my life and,even for one so young then (I was then about 11 or 12 years old only),I fell totally mesmerized -and madly in love with her! She was just incredibly beautiful!