Sylvia La Torre: Ibyang po naman, ako,
Rosa Aguirre: Aling Charing, pangalan ko
Leroy Salvador Jr.: Badong..
Bentot: Ang kuya koooooo..
In the 1960s, one of the most memorable TV theme songs that I learned to sing until I suffered from “last song syndrome” was from the comedy serial, “Tangtarang-tang”. Line by line, the catchy song was sung by the different characters from the long-running hit show, punctuated by a man-child named Bitoy, in short pants and trademark baseball cap.
The comedian who played the overgrown son of Don Mariano (Pugo) was no other than Bentot, whose character—Bitoy--- always got the adults in the sitcom in trouble due to his childish pranks. Bitoy was a Peter Pan of some sorts, an endearing child figure trapped in a grown-up man’s body, not unlike Fred Montilla's "Bondying". On and off the TV and movie screen, the comic would always be in character, leading thousands of enthralled TV viewers just like me to believe that Bentot never grew up.
Bentot was born in San Simon, Pampanga in 1928, with a regular name—Arturo Vergara Medina. He began his showbiz career by joining 'bodabil' shows where he put his voice-acting to good use in comic sketches. At age 19, he signed up for his first movie under Sampaguita Pictures, "Maria Kafra", filmed in 1947, billed as Ben Cosca. Ben was a natural for the radio medium; his trademark child's voice was learned from mimicking his 8 year-old nephew. When Pugo was looking for someone to replace his late partner Tugo, he found the funnybone Ben Cosca.
The leading comedians of his time had rib-tickling names like Chichay, Menggay, Tolindoy, Lopito, Casmot, Pugo and Tugo, so Ben decided he needed a single catchy name too, to make his mark in the light comedies he was already making. And thus, Bentot was born. Bentot was immediately cast in the radio program, “Sebya, Mahal Kita”, which also included Sylvia La Torre, Rosa Aguirre, Eddie San Jose and Pugo. For the next two decades beginning in the 1950s, Bentot kept us in stitches with his high-pitched baby voice, his tantrums, mischiefs and funny antics that always spelled trouble.
When Bentot left Sampaguita Pictures in 1951, he became a contract star of LVN Studios founded by Doña Narcisa “Sisang” de Leon, who cast him as a lackluster boxer in the 1957 “In This Corner”. The next years, Bentot appeared in “My Little Kuwan” (1958), “Puro Utos” and “ Sparring Partner” (1959) and “Triplets” (1960) where he played three roles. But it was the movie permutation of “Sebya, Mahal Kita” that would establish him as a comedian of note. His co-stars from “Sebya” joined him in the movie “Nukso ng Nukso” (1960) and it proved to be a blockbuster hit.
In 1961, "Tang-tarang-tang", a spin-off of "Sebya" and sponsored by San Miguel Brewery, was started on DZRH, with practically the same cast. Again, it was met with resounding success by radio listeners nationwide. At about the same time, Philippine television was starting to blossom with the surge in TV advertising spending by multinational companies like Procter and Gamble, Colgate, Pepsi and Coca Cola. Producers sought to duplicate the success of the “Tang-tarang-tang" by transposing the serial on television, while retaining the comedic formula and the same powerhouse cast. The gamble paid off with the airing of “Tang-tarang-tang” in 1962 on Channel 3.
The plot revolved around the family of Don Mariano (Pugo), his son Badong (Leroy Salvador Jr.), his love interest Ibyang (Sylvia La Torre), daughter of Aling Charing (Rosa Aguirre) who were of humble means. Providing the foil was Bitoy (Bentot, getting a second billing after Pugo), Don Mariano’s youngest, who became one of the most unforgettable characters from the series. The TV series was later made into a movie, where Bentot earned a CAT Award nomination, the Philippine counterpart of the TV Emmys.
Bentot would remain active for through the 70s, passing away in 1986 due to heart failure. His son, Bentot Jr., attempted to carry on his father’s legacy by joining the movies also as a comedian, and reprising the same role that his father had so successfully popularized, a character that has become one of the classic icons of Philippine film and television history.