Thursday, April 14, 2011

*245. FERNANDO POE JR.: Da King's Kapampangan Connection

THE ONCE & FUTURE 'DA KING'. Fernando Poe Jr., (aka Ronnie Poe, Ronwaldo Reyes) at age 18. FPJ had Pangasinan and Kapampangan blood in his veins,--which, ironically, his presidential rival--GMA--also had. This rare autographed fan photo was issued just about the time "Lo' Waist Gang" was released, the movie that catapulted him to stardom. Ca. 1957.

Many of the most iconic roles in Philippine movie history—Flavio (Ang Panday), Aguila, Totoy Bato, Roman Rapido, Teodoro Asedillo, Pepeng Kaliwete -- were essayed by an actor who would build a reputation as legendary as the characters he portrayed: Fernando Poe Jr. His was a long and illustrious career, from the time he was introduced to the silver screen in the 50s, to the peak of his fame in the 60s and the 70s, and all the way to a major professional move with his bid for the 2004 presidency.

The King or FPJ, as he is known to his millions of fans, was born on 20 August 1939, the son of Spanish mestizo Fernando “Nanding” Poe Sr.—himself an esteemed actor and a director of San Carlos, Pangasinan and Fil-American Elizabeth “Bessie” Gatbonton Kelley. Bessie was the product of the union of Engr. Arthur Kelley of Iowa and Marta Reyes Gatbonton, a Kapampangan from Candaba, Pampanga

Ronald Allan Poe was the second of six children; his siblings included Elizabeth, Andy (who, in real life was named Fernando Jr.), Genevieve, Fredrick and Evangeline. A half-brother is Conrad Poe, son of Fernando Sr. with Patricia Mijares, an actress.

One of the perks of being the son of a celebrated actor-director and producer were small roles in his father’s movies in the 1940s. Tragically, Poe Sr. died in October 1951, of rabies, leaving behind a devastated Bessie to raise her family singlehandedly. Ronnie finished his elementary schooling in 1953. He spent his high school years in San Sebastian College, Mapua and University of the East, but dropped out to help his mother support the family. It was just a matter of time that he joined the movie industry, working odd jobs as messenger boy and as a stuntman before becoming an actor. At age 14, billed as Fernando Poe Jr., he was launched in the movie “Anak ni Palaris”, which was not exactly a hit for Everlasting Pictures. But FPJ as a full-fledged actor, was on his way.

The movie that would make him a star was the 1957 youth-oriented film, “Lo’ Waist Gang”, from Premiere Productions. Just 18, he was paired with Corazon Rivas, and the movie started a national fashion craze for low-waisted pants. In 1961, he founded FPJ productions; subsequently, he formed other film companies like D'Lanor, JAFERE, and Rosas Productions.

In 1965, he played lead in the WWII movie, “The Ravagers”, considered as one of the most influential Filipino films. He would win the FAMAS Best Actor Award in 1967 for “Mga Alabok ng Lupa”, and he would repeat this feat with Asedillo (1971), "Durugin si Totoy Bato", "Umpisahan Mo, Tatapusin Ko"(1983), and Muslim Magnum .357 (1987). The 1960s were indeed, FPJ’s heyday, earning the title of “King of Philippine Movies” for his widely-popular action films. But perhaps, his biggest catch was another superstar of that era, Susan Roces (born Jesusa Sonora) whom he married in 968, three years after their first movie team-up entitled, “ Ang Daigdig Ko’y Ikaw”. They would star together in many movies that drew crowds and made money at the tills: “Bayan Ko, Lumaban Ka”, “Pilipinas Kong Mahal” (1965), “Zamboanga” (1966), “Langit at Lupa” (1967), “Sorrento” (1968), “Perlas ng Silangan” (1969), “Ikaw ang Lahat sa Akin” (1970), “Salaginto’t Salagubang” (1972), “Mahal, Saan Ka Nanggaling Kagabi” (1979), “No Retreat, No Surrender—si Kumander” (1987).

FPJ would also become the most highly paid talent for commercials, reprising his Panday character in San Miguel Beer ads that won raves and awards from the local advertising industry in the 80s. His later movie hits were “Kahit Konting Pagtingin”, “Dito sa Pitong Gatang”, and his last outing was with the billiard champ, Efren “Bata” Reyes (also a Kapampangan) in “Pakners”.

In 2004, FPJ announced his candidacy for presidency under the “Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino" (KNP) party. It was said that he was prevailed upon to run by his bosom friend, ex-president Joseph Estrada, against re-electionist candidate Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who was installed as president after he was deposed. He lost in the controversy-marred election. In a weird twist of fate, both FPJ and GMA had Kapampangan and Pangasinan blood running in their veins (GMA's parents were from Lubao and Binalonan, respectivey).

Later, on December 11, FPJ suffered a stroke and lapsed into a coma while attending an after-work socials. He died three days later at age 65, leaving behind wife Susan, an adopted daughter, Mary Grace Poe-Llamanzares, current MTRCB Chair, and two other children from other relationships, Lovi Poe (an actress) and Ronnian Poe. He rests in the family plot at the North Cemetery in Manila. On 24 May 2006, FPJ was posthumously proclaimed as a National Artist

FPJ’s death mask, cast by National Artist Napoleon Abueva, can be seen at the Center for Kapampangan Studies at the Holy Angel University, alongside the death mask of another great Kapampangan, Ninoy Aquino Jr.

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