She lived a long and fruitful life, finding fame in two different worlds: as Yolanda Marquez, she made waves as a pre-war movie star on the silver screen. As Mary Prieto, she became a celebrated personality in Philippine high society, becoming a classic icon of style and grace.
Yolanda Marquez was born on 1 January 1920, in San Francisco, California, the daughter of a Kapampangan father from Macabebe, lawyer Generoso Hernandez. Instead of focusing on a career in Law, Generoso pursued his first love—music—and soon, he found himself working the jazz circuit in America.This led to his meeting with a Mexican beauty—Marina—credited by daughter Yolanda as a major influence in her life.
Yolanda grew up in California and was schooled in San Diego. She made an important decision at age 14, opting to come back to the Philippines to stay in Macabebe, her father’s hometown. It was here that she met her father’s cousin, the celebrated Miss Pampanga of 1926, Rosario H. Paganiban. Rosario had been married a few years with the established director, Vicente Salumbides, and had even acted in his movie productions. She lost no time in opening doors for the young Yolanda so that she could explore a career in the movies. Her first movie was Milagro ng Nazareno from Parlatone Films, where she co-starred with Angel Esmeralda (Nepomuceno). It was an unprecedented success and Yolanda was on her way.
Surprisingly, her output over a period of 2 decades was limited to just 9 film appearances, but those were enough to propel her to national fame. Add to that her talk-of-the-town Americana ways—she was the first Filipina actress to don shorts and slacks on the celluloid screen, considered daring in those times. Soon, she was starring opposite major stars like Rogelio de la Rosa (“Sanggumay”), Leopoldo Salcedo (“Magdalena”), produced by Nick Osmeña and Amado Araneta, Ely Ramos (“Madaling Araw”, “Dahong Lagas” from Sampaguita Pictures), Rudy Concepcion (“Gabay ng Magulang”, “Walang Tahanan”), Carlos Padilla, Ernesto la Guardia and Teddy Benavidez.
Yolanda found herself becoming an A-lister in the movie industry. She developed her sense of proper decorum and style while working as an actress, as studio heads trained their artists by giving etiquette lessons and dressing them up in the latest outfits created by current designers. Like all actors, Yolanda’s career was put on hold by the War, with the family leaving Manila to seek refuge in Macabebe. But when the horrors of the war started to wane, Yolanda came right back in the swing of things.
Resuming her celebrity life, she continued to hobnob with the glamorous, the influential, the rich and famous. In 1944, she met a dashing basketball star from La Salle, Leo Prieto (later a PBA Commissioner), who was swept off his feet by the beautiful Yolanda.. They became man and wife, settled in Forbes Park and remained married for 65 years, (ending only with the Philippine Basketball Association commissioner’s death on 7 April 2009).
Post-War, Prieto took to the theater to fulfill her passion for acting, joining the Manila Theater Guild and appearing in such productions as Auntie Mame. Teahouse of the August Moon and 40 Carats. In the next '60s decade, Prieto reinvented herself and joined the elite Karilagan Models that included Conchitina Sevilla, Joji Felix Velarde, Gloria Romero, Chona Kasten and Barbara Perez. She performed alongside them in fashion shows abroad, walking the runways of the 1964 World’s Fair.
Later, Prieto took her knowledge of social graces and style to good use by becoming a member of the faculty of the popular personality development school, John Robert Powers Philippines. She taught etiquette, art of conversation, deportment and conduct to students, composed mostly by young, married women.
Back at home in Makati, Prieto ran the household with flair and efficiency, while also involved in charitable and religious activities. Though a widow, she continued to be active, writing her biographical book, “No Regrets” in 2009. The guiding light of grace and style succumbed to complications due to pneumonia on 11 June 2010, leaving behind her children, Leo Jr., Mike, Marylou, Tony and a host of grandchildren.