Monday, August 25, 2008


By Oscar Miranda

Source: Weekend Magazine, March 25, 1984

NATIONAL artist Gerry de Leon regarded her as one of the two greatest actresses he ever directed; Manuel Conde says she is one of the best all-time, all-around performers in his book; co-star J. Eddie Infante remembers her intensity and her professionalism; film cognoscenti Hammy Sotto describes her as the first “thinking woman” in Filipino movies. The present crop of movie fans will hardly recognize her since her 20-odd films do not get any exposure on the afternoon television circuit, although the last film she made here, Ang Bagong Maestra, drew raves during the Gerry de Leon Retrospective at the Manila International Film Festival last year.

She is, of course, Erlinda Cortes, a Laguna lass born of a Danish father, who first aspired during her early teens to be a singer while breadwinning for a family of brothers and sisters orphaned during the Philippine liberation 40 years ago. Mary Boone, she was called then, singing ballads on radio until the studio head, Simoun Almario, urged her to try her luck with LVN Pictures. Doña Sisang de Leon, the grand old lady herself, noted Mary’s aristocratic mestiza good looks and immediately signed her up with the name Erlinda carries to this day.

She was cast forthwith in Tagumpay, a lachrymose opus with Rogelio de la Rosa and Arsenia Francisco and impressed the director (Ramon Estella) and the crew during the first take of her first scene. The scene calls for Rogelio de la Rosa – playing a returning war hero – to break the news of Erlinda’s sweetheart – played by Fidel de Castro (no relation to the strongman of Cuba) – having died in the battlefield. Erlinda’s mute but nevertheless heart-rending reaction so uncharacteristic of the cater-wauling school of acting prevailing at the time, so stunned the entire production staff on the set and by mid-afternoon, the LVN compound was a-buzz with the discovery of a new dramatic star.

Immediately, she was cast in another Estella directed film, Angelus with Carlos Padilla and Ben Rubio where she battled the Devil for the soul of the man she loved. But Erlinda is not the niña bonita type, so dear to the heart of Doña Sisang and so gloriously exemplified by the Mila del Sols and Tessie Quintanas of the day. Also she was not the buddy-buddy barkada sort of a person, although she befriended Joan Page at LVN, an American actress cast in several Pugo-and-Tugo comedies. And because Erlinda was quite fluent with the English and American idiom, she was categorized as some kind of classy performer suitable only for sophisticated parts. This reputation ws further reinforced when she was cast in The End of the Road, an all-English dialog local film produced by the Ateneo Alumni Association to honor one of its hero-comrades, Manny Colayco. The film was backed by the Soriano resources and was considered one of the few serious movies of that era. She was also cast in an important role in American Guerilla in the Philippines starring Tyrone Power, the leading Hollywood matinee idol and directed by Fritz Lang, one of the all-time great directors.

Her choice of roles wer as eclectic as they come – she played Juliet to Oscar Moreno’s Romeo in a Tagalog movie version of Shakespeare’s great love tragedy; she was Brunhilde to Manuel Conde’s Sigfredo, the Tagalog version of that German epic; she starred with a Hollywood import, Robert Neal in some unforgotten tropical island romantic romp which also starred Carmen Rosales. She worked for Premiere Productions, Lebran and various independent film companies playing nuns, society girls, barrio teachers.

In 1951, Erlinda was among the first local showbiz personalities to brave the bombs and winter discomforts of wartorn Korea to entertain our very own PEFTOK troops. The group was headed by Leopoldo Salcedo, Oscar Obligacion, Joan Page and Rustie Carpio and others. It was her warm and deep friendship with Joan Page that induced her finally to travel to the United States.

Her private life was not – as they say in those times – peachy keen and she thought travel would provide her with the opportunity and objectivity to sort out her feelings about her relationships. She never planned to stay long in the United States but when she hit New York, it was love at first sight. She was totally captivated by the city’s rhythm – she identified with the cosmopolitan ambience and decided to stay. But she was still Filipino with roots fro the old country running deep. News about her filtered through the showbiz grapevine. Erlinda was spearheading various Filipino cultural projects and events – a Nick Joaquin play here; a visiting artist’s concert there; she was some sort of roving and welcoming ambassador of goodwill of the Philippine mission. Other personal transition notes -- she has divorced her Filipino husband; she has remarried to a well-known American psychiatrist; she is working in Washington, D.C. She has not severed her Philippine connection after all.

When Erlinda was reported to be in Manila during the holidays, a flurry of interest circulated which really flustered her kinfolks – Erlinda ws still news. Banker Danny Dolor called up columnists to inquire about her; Manuel Conde was hoping to see her again; her old comrade from Korea, Rustie Carpio, now a college dean, wanted to have lunch with her to renew old ties. But her time was quited limited, she was on leave from her job and she could not prolong her stay to socialize and meet with old friends. She was on a sentimental journey to visit relatives in Laguna and Leyte.

As luck would have it, we were friends of Erlinda’s daughter, Sandra, who arranged for a meeting and an informal interview. So it was then we met Erlinda again; the first time was during the shooting of American Guerilla at Subic, Zambales.

THE YEARS have been kind to Erlinda Cortes. The hair is quite silvery, a few lines and wrinkles but the lopsided smile is as winsome as ever. And her figure is not all that much fuller than when she donned those sarongs in some of Fernando Poe Sr. island epics. She has the same confident, straightforward manner, the no-nonsense approach; there is no coyness nor evasiveness. She is friendly with her ex-husband Alex Lacson – as a matter of fact, the meeting was held at Lacson’s custom furniture house in Makati. She seemed excited over the fact that people would still be interested in her and her movies. And yes, she still has her scrapbooks and wishes she had brought them with her. She said she had a fine time visiting relatives and confessed that she really should visit more often and for longer periods. She realizes that this part of the world is still home.

Would she consider returning to Filipino movies? Yes, she would not so much for the money nor the exposure but for the challenge of still being able to deliver the goods – she loves acting still but there is no compulsion now. She recalls her movie times with much joy – the stage shows in the provinces particularly – the on-the-spot, off-the-cuff performances she had to do; the lessons in flexibility and adaptability she had to learn to survive. All that served her in good stead, she says.

And what about New York? She is much a part of the city and the city of her. And why not? She has an important position in an important organization. Erlinda is the office manager for the Interpublic Group of Companies Inc., worldwide advertising and marketing communications firm – the local McCann Erickson Advertising Com. in Makati is part of that conglomerate.

And what is her job all about? It is a service-oriented position, meeting people, mostly. She deals with a great variety and number of people in her daily routine – genuine geniuses, creative artists, desperate jobseekers, smart alecks of all types. She says: “Most young people looking for jobs – specially among the minorities – are quite defensive. They arrive for interviews with chips on their shoulders and preconceived notions in their heads. They give you reasons why jobs are not open to them. They are quick to cite someone’s insularity and prejudice.

“But I tell them, discrimination can be broken down, oftentimes discrimination exists in one’s own negativism. I cite myself – I am female, Filipino, divorced and middle-aged. That’s several strikes against me. But if I can find a place for myself in the scheme of things, anyone can – if your attitude is right!”

Today Erlinda Zeitlin – that’s the name on her official calling card, enjoys a full, happy life in New York City. She has a regular barkada in New York – “mga Pilipina rin, we’re more or less in the same boat.” Her Tagalog is still impeccable, one notes. She has another daughter, a college senior who is more or less also on her own.

And there we have it: Erlinda Cortes is alive, is well, on her own and in control.

* * * * * *

Principeng Hindi Tumatawa (1946)

Hagibis (1947)

Limbas (1947)

Itanong Sa Bulaklak (1948)

Sigfredo (1951)

*Thanks to Simon Santos of for some of the movie ads.

* * * * *

No comments: