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”..so 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.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for posting this.

Sheryl Santos-Aquilizan

alex r. castro said...

You're welcome, Sheryl. You are a Santos--so i assume you are related to the esteemed actor?

Haidee Soriano said...

Thank you for posting this. I just clarify some things about my grandfather.
1. He has 4 sisters who became a nun.3 Dominican nuns (Remedios, Montserrat, Rita) and 1 Agustinian nun (Anunciasion). As of today, only Srs. Montserrat and Annunciasion are Still alive.

Haidee Santos Soriano

alex r. castro said...

Thanks for the corrections. My major source for this article was a Sunday Times magazine feature of him from the 60s, which listed down the names of your grandaunts as such. I have amended the article based on your input.

Mario Dimaculangan said...

Tony Santos Sr was a great actor and director. I grew up watching Oras ng Ligaya. His son, Tony Santos Jr was a regular of that show. Just wondering what happened to him after the Oras ng Ligaya went off the air.

Unknown said...

The other sister of Lolo Tony is Thomasa Santos Limbo our Grandmother.

alex r. castro said...

Thanks for the additional info. Would u know what town of Pampanga did the mother of the late actor come from?

Anonymous said...

Director Tony Santos Sr taught me in 80's TV series with me Tommy Abuel and Connie Angeles, I made a double of him in the movie sister Stella L (salvage scene) he is from sta.Rita pampanga. He used to live in antipolo St, sampaloc Manila of where we had fun. I missed him a good person.

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