Tuesday, March 27, 2012

*287. LETTY ALONSO: The Kapampangan Kontrabida Beauty from Lubao

THE BEAUTY IS A BIDA. Leticia Johnson Arrastia came from the landed Arrastia-Salgado family of Lubao, of Spanish-Filipino ctock. The LVN star of the 50s became the wife of fellow movie star, Mario Montenegro and quit the movies soon after.

The ‘50s decade is regarded as the golden age of Philippine cinema—when the works and performances of Filipino producers, directors, actors and actresses animated the screens of theater houses, captivating audiences both here and abroad. Leaving their marks in Philippine cinema arts were Kapampangan artists led by Rogelio de la Rosa, the Best Actor of the 1959 Asian Film Festival, Manuel Conde, of “Genghis Khan” fame which made waves at the Venice Film Festival in 1952, pioneering director Dr. Gregorio Fernandez and alluring screen goddesses like Lota Delgado, Rosita Noble, Rosa Rosal, Lydia Montañez and Gracita Dominguez.

To this august roster of Kapampangan artists from this glorious decade, we add the name of Letty Alonso, the beauty from Lubao, who despite a short career in the movies, made her presence felt in a few films with her memorable and convincing performances, mostly as a beautiful but scheming ‘kontrabida’.

Letty was born as Leticia Arrastia y Johnson in 1932, the daughter of Esteban Arrastia y Salgado and Rosalia Johnson y Espinosa. Esteban’s father, Valentin Roncal Arrastia, was a Basque from the Navarra region in Spain. He had settled in Lubao to seek his fortune, and it was here that he met and married local girl, Francisca. Together, they successfully established various businesses from their vast land holdings that included sugarlands, rice fields and fish ponds. In no time at all, the Arrastias would become one of the influential and leading families of Lubao.

Her father, however, would die young at the age of 29. Growing up fatherless, Letty would be raised alone by her mother Saling, but surrounded with caring cousins, grandparents, relatives and friends of the large Arrastia clan.

The Arrastia women earned quite a reputation for their flawless mestiza beauty, which was validated early on with the victory of Juanita—Esteban’s older sister—at the Pampanga Carnival of 1926, where she was chosen as the Queen. Letty’s cousin, Beatriz, would become the mother of world-class socialite beauty Isabel Preyler, while another cousin, Ruby Arrastia would find fame in the U.S. as an actress-singer-dancer named Neile Adams---and the 1st wife of Steve McQueen.

At age 18, Letty caught the eye of , Dña Narcisa ‘Sisang’ de Leon, the matriarch-founder of LVN Pictures Inc., who was impressed with the Spanish-speaking beauty with high cheekbones, fine lips and straight legs. She immediately convinced her to be an actress. LVN Pictures, founded in 1938, was then one of the leading film studios of the country, with a proven track record as a builder of stars. Its stable of artists ranked among the best in the industry: Rosa Rosal, Rogelio de la Rosa, Carmen Rosales, Lilia Dizon, Delia Razon, Mario Montenegro. Soon, Letty became one of LVN’s contract stars, assuming the screen name of Letty Alonso.

Her first movie was ‘Bohemyo” released in 1951, playing the role of a villainess who intrudes in the love affair of Delia Razon and Mario Montenegro--who would later figure importantly in her life. So effective was her portrayal that she would be typecast as the perennial ‘kontrabida’ in her next movies: “Señorito” (with Manuel Conde), “Tatlong Labuyo” (again with Mario and Delia) and the romantic comedy “Batangueña” (with Jaime dela Rosa) all completed and shown in 1953. Letty would also be chosen as a celebrity endorser for such major brands like Cortal and Camay Soap, touted as “the soap of beautiful women”.

It was while with LVN that Letty met a fellow ‘artista’, the handsome Roger Collin Macalalag who was known to thousands of movie fans as Mario Montenegro (b. 1928/d.1988) . Born to a Filipino father and a French mother, Mario was a former U.P. student who had joined the Hunters ROTC Guerilla unit during the war. Discovered for the movies after the war, he had been cast in the World War II drama, “Capas”, filmed in 1949. He found fame in LVN costumed epics and historical films.

After their marriage, Letty retired from the movies to raise her children with Mario. A daughter, Honeylet, was a popular commercial model and occasional film actress in the early ‘80s. Honeylet’s own daughter, Valeen Montenegro Vicente, is also a budding young actress today.


Trinity Mallari said...

I just read about this. My Aunties told me that Letty Alonso is also part of our Mallari Clan. May i know the surname of Francisca? Just tracing my roots.

Denise Vicente said...

Hi Trinity the last name of Francisca is Salgado (according to my grandma Letty) :)