Wednesday, August 17, 2011

*264. '60s Singing Star: HELEN ALVENT GAMBOA of Sta. Ana

SHING-ALING SINGING STAR, Helen Gamboa of Sta. Ana jumpstarted her showbiz career by joining a beauty pageant where she placed 2nd. She went on to become one of the most popular stars of the Shindig Age, appearing in movies and recording her own cover versions of international hit songs. This autographed fan photo of Helen dates from 1967.

Helen Gamboa, one of the most popular, multi-facetted celebrities from the 60s, hails from the town of Sta. Ana. She first made a name for herself as a beauty queen, then became a singer of note, joined the movie bandwagon and became an icon of the ‘shing-aling’ decade.

Born on 7 May 1946, Helen came from a talented family that included big sister, Elaine, also a budding beauty who had been a finalist in the 1955 quest for Miss Philippines to the fledgling Miss Universe Contest. Inspired by her sister, the 5'6", 15 year old Liberal Arts student from Sta. Isabel college student enlisted for the 1961 Miss Press Photography of the Philippines (Miss PPP), then a prestigious beauty search conceived by an association of renown Philippine photographers. Previous winners like Mila Ocampo and Edita Vital had used the contest as a springboard to greater fame in Philippine movies. Helen surprised everyone by placing second to favorite Cynthia Ugalde.

Helen was swamped with movie offers after that, and she chose to do a movie with Larry Santiago Productions. She was introduced in “Gorio and his Jeepney “ with Chiquito in 1962, based on a hit comic strip drawn by Larry Alcala for Manila Times. Directed by Pablo Santiago, the movie was an instant hit and Helen was on her way. She followed this up with “Hugo, the Sidewalk Vendors” (with Bering Labra) and “Sakay and Moy” (with Oscar Obligacion and Cris de Vera), whose main characters were drawn from Philippine ‘komiks’. From her initial PhP 1,000 talent fee, she commanded Php 40,000 in her next films, a princely sum in the mid '60s.

She starred with almost all the leading men ‘hotties’ in those times—from Fernando Poe Jr. (Kumander Fidela, 1964), Joseph Estrada (Bantay Salakay, 1966) and Romeo Vasquez (Doble Trece, 1967). But Helen would find enduring success with her ‘now generation’ movie musicals that showcased her singing and dancing talents to the hilt—Let’s Go, DJ Dance Time, Top Tunes, The Nite Owl Dance Party (1964), Shing-aling-a-loo, Mash ‘K Pops, Operation: Discothèque (1967), Bang-shang-a-lang, Boogaloo, Let's Go Hippie (1968) and Grind, Grind (1969).

Her recordings also hit the local billboard charts, and her debut album with Jonal records produced the monster hit, “Together Again”. She did successful covers of the songs of Petula Clark (“Kiss Me Goodbye"), Lulu (“I’m A Tiger"), Mary Hopkins (“Those Were the Days”) and Jeannie C. Riley (“Harper Valley PTA”).

Her showbiz career was cut short when she eloped with Tito Sotto ( Vicente Castelo Sotto III), who was a band leader of the very popular combo, Tilt Down Men. Tito was the grandson and grandnephew of two senators, Vicente Y. Sotto and Filemon Sotto. He would go on to follow their footsteps and become a senator himself after a successful music career.

Nevertheless, Helen continued to appear in carefully selected projects on TV, hosting Eat Bulaga, and Lovingly Yours, Helen, after the demise of Helen Vela. She also pursued her recording career with RCA Victor International, where she did covers under the name Bunny Chanel. Helen has been a FAMAS Best Supporting Actress nominee for “Kailan Mahuhugasan ang Kasalanan” (1989) and has won an Urian Best Actress Award for “Unsung Heroine” (1996). Today, she plays a bigger role as the wife of a Philippine senator, mother of Romina Frances, Diorella Maria, Gian Carlo and Ciara Anna and grandmother to Romino and Victorio.

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