Sunday, March 31, 2013

*327. TONY SANTOS SR.: The Actor's Actor

TONY AWARD. Tony Santos Sr., stars as a sea gypsy with fellow Kapampangan Rosa Rosal, in the 1957 classic movie, "Badjao". He immersed himself in this role, even going to the extent of treating his hair with hydrogen peroxide to achieve that sun-bleached look.

 “Oras ng ligaya, halina tayong mag-saya” goes the theme song of the popular TV variety show in the 60s that starred celebrity icons Sylvia La Torre, the late Oscar Obligacion, Vic Pacia and Eddie San Jose. Viewers would occasionally see the director of the program—Tony Santos Sr.--make regular appearance on the show, wherein he coached and coaxed would-be child stars through a hilarious “tawa-iyak” performance exercise . 

But long before he became an acclaimed director, this half-Kapampangan was known for being a superb actor, known for portraying assorted characters with vivid realism and dramatic intensity. Antonio “Tony” Santos Sr. was born in 1920 to parents Dr. Gregorio Santos, a CaviteƱo and Aurelia Pineda, a Kapampangan. The eldest, Santos was raised in the strictest Victorian way, together with his six brothers and five sisters. 

It was no wonder then that four sisters (Remedios+, Montserrat, Rita+ and Anunciacion) became nuns. In Tondo, where he grew up, he was sent to school ran by Belgian religious sisters, who noted his incorrigible behaviour and his involvement in street brawls. He only shed his nickname--“Terrible Tony”—when he left the environs of Tondo to begin high school at San Beda College. 

After finishing high school though, he drifted back to his Tondo ways. He couldn’t keep a job, and worse, the coming of the War dashed all prospects of earning a decent living. Santos discovered that he could dance, and he put this talent to good use by joining a dance troupe that performed at the Life Theater during the Japanese Occupation, for PhP 20 weekly. 

Santos led a double life during the difficult wartime years, performing onstage and involving in guerrilla activities at the same time. In 1944, Tony joined Hunter’s ROTC guerrillas, saw action in Laguna and rose from the ranks to be a 1st Lieutenant. Upon Liberation, he pursued his love for the stage and joined a performance group organized by Rogelio de la Rosa that performed around the country. He assumed different roles—one day, he was in the chorus line, the next day, he was the musical director, and the next, an errand boy. 

It was Director Gregorio Fernandez, also a Kapampangan from Lubao who gave him his break as an actor, casting him as a cop in the stage play, “Magtiis ka, Puso”. Soon, he was in demand as a thespian, and made the rounds of stage houses like Orient Theater and Manila Grand Opera House, playing title roles in such plays as “Stevedore”, “Judas”and “Tondo Boy”. 

It was but a matter of time that he made t a leap to the movies, in 1946, then still a small industry struggling to rise from the ruins of a devastating war. He made an indelible impression in his first film “Garrison 13”, where his performance as a counter-spy earned raves for the newcomer’s expressive face and natural acting skills. His output in the next years was incredible; there was one day in 1948 that he reported for the shooting of 3 films for 3 different roles, shot in different locations. In the morning, he shot his scenes for the horror film “Doctor X”, in the afternoon, he was a villain in “Misterioso” and in the late evening, he played second lead in “Kontrabando”. 

Santos was such a versatile player, appearing as an old man in “Krus na Kawayan”, as a villain in “Singsing na Tanso”and “Talisman”, and was a comic foil in “Miss Philippines”. In no time at all, the awards came in: a Best Supporting Actor Maria Clara trophy for “Hantik”, in 1950. In 1956, he starred as a disabled war veteran in the Lamberto Avellana-directed “Anak Dalita” that won the top Golden Harvest Award given by the Federation of Motion Pictures of Southeast Asia. To feel what it was like to be a cripple, Santos held his left arm immobile even while off the set. For his role as a sea-faring gypsy in “Badjao”, he dyed his hair for a sun-bleached look, earning his second Maria Clara Supporting Actor Award for that LVN classic. In 1959, “Biyaya ng Lupa”, a family drama set in lanzones country, teamed up Santos with fellow Kapampangan Rosa Rosal for the third time (after”Anak Dalita” and “Badjao”) and earned more raves for the gifted actor. 

Santos never forgot his love for directing and writing even when he was acting; by 1957 he had already completed “Banda Uno”, “Troop 11”, “Dama Juana Gang”and “Chaperone”—all moderate successes. By the time the television medium reached the Philippines, he was all set to give directing for TV a try. Here too, he left his mark, and couch potatoes would remember him for megging TV cult hits like the aforementioned ”Oras ng Ligaya" and many more for ABS-CBN. He continued to act through the 80s in such movies as "Sakada" (1976), "Ang Alamat ni Julian Makabayan"(1979"), "Sister Stella L."(1984), "Tagos ng Dugo" (1987) and "Huwag Mong Itanong Kung Bakit"(1988). 

With his passing in the 80s, this half-Kapampangan left a void in the world of Philippine entertainment that only a few artists could fill—an artist who gave life to every character portrayal, performing with real grit, spirit and soul, delighting and thrilling an audience for over four long decades.

Monday, March 11, 2013


PETAL ATTRACTIONS. "Parada Floral" or Maytime floral parade to honor the Virgin Mary, with town beauties as participants. Sta. Rita, Pampanga. Dated 21 May 1937.

Festivals revolving around flowers have been around for centuries; the Floralia was an ancient Roman event held in May to honor the goddess of flowers, Flora. Cypriots also observed Anthestiria, a flower carnival dedicated to the wine god, Dionysus, that was first celebrated in Athens. Then, there's the world-famous Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California (began in 1895) that features fantastic giant floats made with millions of roses and other flowers. Valencia, in Spain, boasts of its "Batalla de Flores" in July, while Belgium has its "Flower Carpet". More recent, and closer to home is Baguio’s “Panagbenga’, which, like the Pasadena event, also showcases themed floral floats using the colourful blooms of the mountain city as main decorations.

One traditional festival with strong ties to the Blessed Virgin is what is popularly called “Flores de Mayo” (Flowers of May). Today, it is still celebrated in many towns and provinces, ever since its inception in the 1870s. Believed to have originated in Bulacan with the printing of Mariano Sevilla’s book of devotion entitled “Flores de Maria (Marikit na Bulaklak na sa Pagninilaynilay ng mga Deboto kay Maria Santisima)", a translated work that affirmed the 1854 dogma of the Immaculate Conception.

Held in Marian month of May where the blooms of the country are at their brightest. “Flores de Mayo” is marked with the recitation of the Rosary every afternoon at the parish church. In Sta. Rita town, grand floral parades (Parada Floral) were once held regularly in which barrio muses, with bouquets in hand, troop to the church accompanied by the faithful and a music band. Upon arrival, they would lay down their floral offerings at the foot of Mary’s altar, beautifully decorated and heavy with the scent of sampaguitas, rosals, camias, roses and dama de noche flowers.

Other Central Luzon towns had children participants, who, in their Sunday best, sang Marian hymns and also offered flowers to the Virgin by strewing the church aisles with fragrant petals. Bouquets were then presented to Our Lady as evening fell and votive candles were lit.

The rites of “Flores de Mayo” has been intertwined with “Santacruzan”, a processional pageant that recalls the finding of the True Cross by Empress Helena. Today, the two have been collapsed into one Maytime event. For us Catholics, when words are not enough to express our praise for our Holy Mother, we say it best with God’s own fragrant creations--we say it with flowers!

Sunday, March 3, 2013


 OFFICERS' MESS. Interior of the Officers' Club, located in the perimeter of the Clark Parade Ground, was a favorite haunt for officers who looked forward to nights of unwinding and socializing. Along with the NCO Club and the Airmen's Coconut Grove, the clubs were main sources of entertainment for many military personnel of all ranks in the late 50s.

Back in 1959, “see you at the club!” was on almost every Clark personnel’s lips after the day’s work was done. Officers, NCO’s and airmen alike trooped to the 3 main clubs located at the base—to hang loose, socialize, and bond with buddies and families. A Clark Air Base guide printed that year, unrtyiduced in glowing terms, the 3 social centers to ‘newbies’—just arrived at the headquarters of the U.S. Thirteenth Air Force.

 The Officer’s Club, located by the Parade Ground, was “a tastefully furnished, air condition club with a schedule of events that can’t be beat”. Regular features included dances, variety shows, special game nights with prizes, buffet and exclusive family dinners, stag nights with entertainment, bridge tournaments and several monthly functions for officers’wives. Downstairs in the club, you step into the quiet candlelit atmosphere of the “Rathskaller”, with its superb “charcoal-broiled” foods ( sirloin steak was the specialty!) and excellent service.

Adjacent to the main club building one can find amenities such as a barber shop, a beauty parlor, an outdoor patio with a service area, and a swimming pool that provides perfect relief from the hit, tropical weather. The Officers Club also maintains a club annex on the hill in the officer’s quarters area.

“Where every member is a V.I.P.”, was the boast of the NCO Club (along Dyeess Highway, near Lilly Hill), which also prided itself as “the finest in the Air Force”. The air conditioned indoor patio has a seating capacity of 1,100, and its main feature is a beautifully decorated bandstand where a 16-piece dance band (Iggy de Guzman and his band) regularly performs 6 nights a week, while Western music holds forth the other night.

 Other attractions include exciting bridge, pinochle and shuffleboard tournaments, two nights of games a week, highlighted with floor shows, contests (at one time, there was a hula hoop competition!) and special family menus (the onion rings were to die for!) A Stag Room and a barber shop—both air-conditioned—are open for use by patrons. On the drawing board at that time are a modern health room and a swimming pool with patio. In 1986, the NCO Club was moved near Silver Wing. A most relaxing feature is the T-Bar 3 Room, designed and decorated with a Western motif, complete with cattle horn wall hangings, authentic Western-inspired rug and a plush cocktail lounge.

Meanwhile, at the Airmen Open Mess, one can find the company of “lower four” airmen in the remodelled and modernized club that also has a Stag Room, cocktail lounge, TV and game room and a spacious ballroom with a tropical motif.

The recently-enlarged dining area has endless offerings for everyone’s leisure—from nightly dances, game events, special formal dances, weekly floor shows and special Sunday breakfasts. For members’ convenience, there is a barber shop and a gift shop located at the club. Weekly, the “Mr. Big Shot”contest is held in the club, with the winner getting a free, all-expense paid week-end trip to Manila.

All the fun came to pass after the Pinatubo eruption which buried Clark—and with it, all the fond memories of clubbing in-base. The building housing the NCO Club is now home to a call center company. The Officer’s Club, still at the parade ground, is also being used as an office while the Airmen’s Mess has become an adjunct of the casino. But for military servicemen assigned to Clark in the late 50s, the 3 clubs were the places to be and to be seen, where homesickness, boredom and other worries were momentarily forgotten, through wholesome leisure and safe entertainment, under the shadow of the legendary red-light district of Balibago just a few kilometers away.