Sunday, March 27, 2011

*242. BENTOT: The Comedian Who Never Grew Up

BENTOT PO ANG SIYANG PANGALAN KO. The comedy star from San Simon was born as Arturo Vergara Medina and started his showbiz career on the 'bodabil' stage in the 40s. He developed his trademark, annoying high-pitched kiddie voice by mimicking his 8 year old nephew.

Pugo: Ako ay si Don Mariano
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.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

*241.CREATURE COMFORT FOODS

CUT AND BASTE. A woman prepares a bayawak for what would be another exotic Kapampangan adobo dish. This picture's provenance is attributed to Pampanga, ca. 1911.

Many years ago, a roadside restaurant was put up along the highway between the Bamban-Mabalacat boundary, that specializing in exotic delicacies: dishes made from deer venison, wild fowls and snakes. It created quite a stir when it opened, catering to a niche market with the taste for the strange, the bizarre and the unusual.

Indeed, Kapampangan cooking has often been described as a cuisine of extremes. In times of plenty, a cook will spare nothing to come up with the most lavish creations using the finest ingredients he can find—from lamb chops to imported turkey, quezo de bola, olives and expensive canned creams. But in times of profound want, he will eat anything that’s available out in the field, the forest or even his own backyard--be it something that crawls, croaks, slithers and flies.

True, Kapampangans have made dishes out of bugs, insects, mollusks, beetles, woodworms, amphibians, snakes and reptiles. But these creatures also appear in the food specialities of other countries, prized for their taste and valued for their nutritional benefits. Arabs, like Kapampangans, feasted on sun-dried locusts—but they served theirs with milk. Jamaicans and Native Americans ate roasted beetles. New Guinea natives supplemented their diet with lizards and mice. Vietnamese restaurants offered snake dishes in their menu, which were believed to enhance male virility. At the Chatuchak weekend market in Thailand, I have seen some large species of cockroaches sold by the glassful as some sort of a protein food.

Closer to home, Igorots, like Kapampangans, also ate dog meat---there was even a lively dog trade in Baguio in the early part of the 20th century. However, it is on the Kapampangans that the dogeater label got stuck, a reputation that has become permanent—and quite legendary. In Macabebe, a sweet and spicy dog stew known as “Kubang Asu” is a favorite pulutan of beer guzzlers, while in Mabalacat, it is cooked “lutong Bumbay” style, laced with red chili peppers and mashed potatoes. Similarly, the Stone Age Tasadays of Mindanao ate tadpoles and frogs, but I am pretty sure not in the same manner that the finicky Kapampangans prepared them—stuffed with ground meat and spices, then deep-fried.

My father used to recount how he relished “ebun pau” (turtle eggs) which were collected by the dozens under mounds of sand near rivers and streams. When boiled, he said, the eggs had a soft toothpaste-like consistency, almost runny and with a taste that's creamier, more 'malinamnam' than chicken eggs.

Rarer than these amphibious treats however, are the reptilian delicacies, which are challenging to prepare and perhaps, even more daunting to eat. Topping the list is the ‘barag’ (monitor lizard) which also goes by the name “banias” among Kapampangans.

“Ali ya manenaya ing barag keng burak nung ala yang panenayan tugak" (The barag will not lie in wait in the mud if no frog awaits him), so goes a Kapampangan saying. But the barag’s patience can also be his undoing, with the hunter unwittingly becoming the hunted. Barags were captured with live baits of chicks, frogs or birds. Thus trapped, they were slit by the neck, skinned, disemboweled, beheaded and chopped into small pieces for cooking.

Barags were often cooked like caldereta or adobu. The meat is first marinated with soy sauce, garlic, vinegar, salt and spices then boiled with water until the liquid dries up. It is then stir-fried with oil and is served as a main dish or as a pulutan. The taste is said to be akin to that of chicken, except more flavorful.

All these Kapampangan exotica have been met with a mix of delight and disgust, shocking the faint of heart and fascinating the adventurous few-- which just goes to show that, taste—like beauty—is relative, an acquired preference brought about by circumstances of culture, history and the whims of nature. Kapampangans, however, have brought their own special flair in cooking these creatures, turning them into unique, delectable treats. Today, a few of these dishes have gone mainstream, like the adobung kamaru and tugak betute.

Who knows, the pest that you see crawling under your house today may be the next big thing on your plate. One man’s vermin, may yet be another man’s viand. When that happens, you will most likely have a creative Kapampangan kusinero to thank for.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

*240. GALO B. OCAMPO, Champion of Philippine Arts & Culture

GALO B. OCAMPO, as Director of the National Museum. The multi-talented artist was a painter, sculptor, scenographer, writer, teacher, columnist, museum curator, cultural-activist and a proud son of Sta. Rita, Pampanga. ca. 1960s.

The title of “most multi-facetted artist of the Philippines” may very well belong to Kapampangan Galo B. Ocampo, who, in his lifetime, was a painter, muralist, art professor, heraldry expert, scenic designer, museum curator, writer, cultural activist and one of the Thirteen Moderns who revolutionized Philippine Art.

Ocampo first saw the light of day in Sta. Rita, on 16 October 1913, from a religious family that counts a number of priests and nuns as members. He studied in local schools before enrolling at the College of Fine Arts at the University of the Philippines in 1929. After graduating in 1934, he began his long career as an artist of note, starting as a muralist with fellow artists Victorio Edades and Carlos “Botong” Francisco.

Joining forces, the trio painted the first Philippine mural at the Capitol Theater in 1935, and another one for State Theaters. On his own, Ocampo executed the mural “Hispanidad” for the University of Santo Tomas. His works with the Edades Studios during the Commonwealth years reflected his new aesthetic sense that ran counter to art conservatism taught in academes.

Ocampo went on to make another first—conceiving the first painted image of the “Brown Madonna” in 1938, a Filipinized version of the Blessed Virgin, which would become a popular theme for other painters to follow. That same year, he also held his first exhibit in tandem with Diosdado Lorenzo in Baguio. He would continue experimenting with colors, lines and decorative distortions, consistent with his modernist leanings. His ethnic painting “Moro Dance” reflected this then non-traditional approach, characterized with flattened objects and spaces that made the painting look more like a tapestry.

Ocampo turned to his other muse—writing-- even as he continued painting. In 1937, he published a book about church art in 1937, entitled “Philippine Churches and Other Scenes”. He became a prolific contributor of art articles for some of Manila’s leading dailies, including Sunday Tribune. Twenty years later, in 1957, he co-authored the pioneering book, “The Art of the Philippines”, the first coffee table book to trace the history of the country’s art from the pre-colonial to the contemporary times.

In 1940, he took on a teaching job at the UST College of Fine Arts. His career as an educator would continue through the 70s, even assuming the deanship of the Department of Fine Arts of the Far Eastern University in 1971.

The War years briefly put a halt to his rising career; he joined the guerrilla movement and attained the rank of a captain. He put his brush to good use by becoming a scenographer for the stage productions of Fernando Poe, Sr., a cover he used for his underground activities.

After the War, Ocampo went to the United States to take a special course in Heraldry in Washington D.C. (1947) and art studies at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (1948). He put his learnings to good use in art competitions, winning a number of prizes for his works, including “United Nations” (2nd prize, UN Art Contest, 1949), “Pounding Rice”, “Igorot Dance” (2nd prize and Honorable mention, Art Association of the Philippines Contest 1951), "Bayanihan" (1st Rotary Golden Anniversary Award, 1955).

His art took on a different turn in the 50s, infusing the haunting images of doom that were part of his war experience. Flagellants became his signature subjects, starting with “Ecce Homo” (Behold the Man), that showed a hooded, bound Christ, crowned with thorns and surrounded by warplanes, smoke trails and parachutes.

In 1956, Ocampo was granted a scholarship to study Genealogy and Heraldry in Madrid, Spain, becoming the only Filipino member of the International Institute of Genealogy and Heraldry. The next year, he was sent to Rome under the sponsorship of Cardinal Rufino Santos, to study Liturgical Art at the Instituto Internasionale de Arte Liturgica (he would design the stained glass windows of Sto. Domingo Church) . Because of his expertise, Ocampo was commissioned to create the coat of arms of the Philippine Republic and the personal seals of the President, the Vice President, as well as those of the Archbishops of Manila.

In 1959, the professor undertook a major project for the Archdiocese of Manila, saving and collecting church antiques for an ecclesiastical art museum housed at the Manila Cathedral. When Macapagal was elected president in 1961, he named his kabalen as curator of the Presidential Museum in Malacañang and then as National Museum Director. In 1964, Ocampo was honored by the City of Manila with a Patnubay ng Sining at Kalinangan Award for his achievements in the field of art and culture.

At the advanced age of 59, Ocampo finally held his long overdue first Solo Exhibit at Galerie Bleue in 1973, entitled Anthropographic Designs, which paid tribute to the early Filipinos. A retrospective exhibit was held in 1982 at the Museum of Philippine Art. Three years later, on 12 September 1985, Galo B. Ocampo, the consummate Kapampangan artist who helped enrich and transform Philippine art, passed away in Arlington, Virginia.