Saturday, February 7, 2015

THE MANY FACES OF RITA (Philippines Free Press, August 1, 1959)

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The FAMAS Best Actress of 1958 Is Our Most Versatile Actress.  Says A Megman:  “Rita Has a Different Face For Every Role.”

By Jose A. Quirino

     COMMENTING on the death scene of Rita Gomez in “Mga Anak Ng Diyos,” an argumentative critic exclaimed:  “Only the slightest movement of her chest indicated that she was still alive.”  Warned a megman, “For heaven’s sake, don’t let her hear you or next time she’ll stop breathing.”

     The above anecdote is probably apocryphal but it illustrates the flair of Rita Gomez, FAMAS (Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences) best actress of 1958, for realism.

     In one of her recent pictures – “Pitong Pagsisisi” – for  instance, where she portrayed a tramp with stark realism, she danced the hootsy-kootsy so sensuously that she gained this left-handed compliment from her husband, Ric Rodrigo, also an established star:  “You did that dance very well in the picture, honey, but don’t you ever let me catch you performing it outside.”

     “When Rita learned that she was going to depict a dope addict in “Tanikalang Apoy,” Ric Rodrigo told us, “she did nothing but read books on dope addiction.  Even while eating, she would talk on such morbid subjects as marijuana and opium and their effects on an addict.”  She practically dragged me to a downtown theater where a picture about dope addicts – “The Man With A Golden Arm” – was showing.  Her clinching stroke was:  “How can you expect me to give a creditable performance as an opium addict if I don’t observe how an addict acts?”

     “Tanikalang Apoy,” which was shown recently, may win for Rita her second trophy.  Although the cast included five other FAMAS awardees (Paraluman, Van de Leon, Lolita Rodriguez, Etang Discher, and Eddie Garcia), Rita completely dominated the picture from opening scene to the bitter-sweet end.  “In that film,” observes Emmanuel Borlaza, a scriptwriter, “every muscle of Rita acted.  There was one scene where, although Rita was off frame, she still stole the thunder from the others.  This sequence showed Rita’s trembling hands while a doctor and some friends were observing her in pain.  She was out of the frame and yet the audience concentrated on her hands.”

     Director Chat Gallardo of Premiere, a rival studio, who won the FAMAS best megman plum twice, chimes in:  “Rita has a different face for every role.  During her brief stay in Premiere, I noticed that she began emoting the moment her lines were told to her.  During story conferences, she portrayed characters described to her and her facial expression changed several times.”

     Undoubtedly local moviedom’s most versatile actress, Rita Gomez can shift from comedy to heavy drama to off-beat characterizations with the facility and speed of a quick-change artist.  In “Rubi-Rosa,” for instance, where she portrayed a dual role (a spoiled society belle and a wretched girl of the slums), there were scenes showing her two portraitures at the same time.

     “In these scenes,” Mar Torres, the director of “Rubi-Rosa,” pointed out, “Rita’s dual characterization was so convincing that there were times I could not believe that only one actress was portraying the two roles.  Rita’s best asset as a dramatic actress is her good imagination.”


     Just about Rita’s only setback as a thespian is her poor eyesight.  Her love scenes often go awry because as her leading man looks at her soulfully, her eyes wander about giving the impression that she is frigid.  “How can you make love to a girl who cannot even see your expression?” is the plaintive wail of of a veteran star who appeared with Rita in two pictures.

     Rita’s near-sightedness has led many to believe that she is a snob because she cannot recognize friends, when she runs into them in public places.  Lately, however, she has been wearing contact lenses.

     One of the most popular anecdotes about her myopia concerns the fashion parade at the Sampaguita studio during the 1958 Asian Film Festival.  Rita, who was one of the models, nearly fell into the swimming pool (the ramp was constructed at the pool’s edge).  Vanity had prompted her to discard her glasses and only a timely warning from the audience prevented her from taking an unscheduled bath.

     A real trouper, Rita does not allow any double to do her dangerous scenes.  In her latest picture – “Kamandag” – where she portrays a sultry bandit queen, one perilous sequence called for her and several male troupers to go up the steep and slippery brick stairway of the Sta. Maria (Ilocos Sur) church – on horseback.  Fred Montilla, the leading man, and the other male troupers hesitated to do the scene but after Rita galloped up the stairway, the others had to follow.

     Fragile and slender but steel-strong, this curly-topped, long-tressed actress with the expressive lips, oval face, and myopic eyes turned 24 on May 22.  She has dark brown hair and brown eyes, stands five-feet-four in her stockinged feet and weighs a dainty 110 pounds.  She become belligerent when queried on her vital statistics.

     Off-screen, Rita does not look very impressive but the moment she talks her face lights up.  And she writes poetry which, in her own words, “represents a retreat to a limbo of directionless joy.”  Acting to her means “an enchanting holiday from the world of reality.”

     Like a true poet, Rita feels joy and sorrow and despair – all of which she has experienced in real life.  She was born in Manila, one of two daughters of the late Angel Gomez, a Spanish mining engineer from Barcelona, and the former Marciana Arce.

     Her early childhood was an extremely happy one; the Gomez family resided in a comfortable P35,000 brick-and-stone edifice, her father was doing well as a mining engineer, Rita herself was an honor student in the elementary grades.

     Then tragedy struck.  In 1942, the Gomez mansion was gutted.  Before that, her father had invested in speculative securities and visionary oil wells.  But the most cruel blow came in 1943 (Rita was only eight then), when her father died.  “The family finances went pfft and we suddenly found ourselves living in genteel poverty,” she recalls.  She acquired a jaded outlook on life and started writing poetry (she has published some poems in a national magazine), a hobby “which helped keep me immovably centered.”  Like the noted English poet – Edith Sitwell – Rita firmly believes that poetry “restores forgotten paradises.”

     “I have a welter of experience to draw from in my offbeat characterizations,” she disclosed testily.  “For my sad roles, I have only to remember the times we hardly had enough to eat.  Mother used to tell me and Celeste, my younger sister:  “Go ahead children, and eat all you want because I’m not hungry.”  Of course, she was hungry all of the time.  Celeste and I, although we ate regularly, still felt the growing pains of hunger.  I can just imagine the sufferings of my mother.”

     In 1952, shortly after she finished her secondary education at the Araullo high school, she started taking journalism at the University of Sto. Tomas.  “At that time,” she recalls, “I was a movie fan who skipped classes to visit the studios and get autographs from my favorite stars.”

     It was during one of her visits to the Premiere studio that she was asked to appear as part of a background scene in a picture.  So inconsequential was her part – “I could not even recognize myself in the film although I saw it several times” – that she has forgotten the title of her first picture.

     “I earned P3 for my first role,” she now laughs.  “While I was getting my pay, Director Gerry de Leon spotted me and asked me if I’d like to be a regular thespian.  I jumped at the offer and was cast as a sexy bandit queen in “Sawa Sa Lumang Simboryo.”

     Rita then was a full-blown 17-year-old beauty.  “If you had asked me my vital statistics then I would not have hesitated to tell you,” is her naughty aside.  Her acting in “Sawa” elicited the raves of the critics and she won a nomination for the best supporting actress award but was nosed out by Nida Blanca who gave a creditable performance as the Korean lass in “Korea.”

     “My entering the movies bailed us out of our financial straits and I quit my studies to concentrate on my acting,” she said.  After two more pictures with Premiere, she transferred to Sampaguita, where she has remained to date.

     This is how she got her break in Sampaguita.

     Dr. Jose Perez, studio executive told us:  “Rita wrote me a letter saying that she was born to play the tomboyish girl of the slums in “Maldita,” a picture which we were preparing.  I didn’t know her from Eve but I was intrigued; so I sent for her.  I was impressed with her sincerity.  She screen-tested and won over a big field of applicants for the role.”

     “Maldita,” which was one of the top moneymakers of 1953, established her as a box office star.  Significantly, it was in this picture, her first starring vehicle, that she was first cast opposite Pancho Magalona, who won the 1948 FAMAS award for best actor.  I a recent party honoring the two awardees, Rita and Pancho recalled the highlights of their first photoplay together.

     After “Maldita,” Rita got juicy roles such as the sexy bandit chieftain with the rubber conscience in “Reyna Bandida” and the impoverished lass who had a filthy rich society belle for a rival in “Milyonarya at Hampas Lupa.”

     Then in 1954, Rita snagged Sampaguita’s most handsome actor – Ric Rodrigo – for a husband.  Ric then was being romantically linked to Gloria Romero and Sampaguitans – from the top executive to the lowest studio hand – were against Ric’s marriage to Rita for one reason or another.  Only two individuals – Eddie Garcia and Eddie Romero – did not speak against Rita.  Today, Rita considers the two her lifelong friends and she tells her innermost secrets to them.

     Right from the start, some uncharitable individuals said that the Gomez-Rodrigo marriage would not endure.  But the couple have proven their critics wrong.  Despite occasional domestic troubles, they have been able to stay happily married.  To concentrate on her duties as a wife, Rita quit the movies for two years.  They have a two-year-old son, Ronald Albert, who weighs a gargantuan 55 pounds.

     Although she does not say so in so many words, Rita would give up anything – even her dramatic career – to make her husband and son happy.  Her marriage has proven to be a tonic both physically and careerwise.  Before she got hitched, Rita used to have fainting spells that had everybody on the set in a tizzy.  At one time, during the filming of “Reyna Bandida,” she fainted and fell from her horse and hit her head on a stone.  She was hospitalized for several days.  Since she went back to the movies in 1956, however, those dizzy spells have disappeared.

     Her comeback was marked by offbeat characterizations that won her one FAMAS nomination after another.  All told, she has had five nominations for an Oscar, including her best supporting actress bid in 1952 and her tries for best actress award for her moving portrayal of the martyred wife in “Via Dolorosa,” 1956; her dual role in “Rubi-Rosa” and her characterization of a suffering mother in “Mga Anak Ng Diyos,” 1957; and her crackerjack performance as the seductress in “Talipandas,” 1958.  She made it on her fifth try, although almost all of the prophets did not have her in their crystal balls.

     Observers believe that she should have copped a special award for her performance on award night.  While she was receiving the Oscar from Paraluman, the 1957 best actress awardee, Rita went to pieces and cried her heart out.  “That’s a real tearjerker,” quipped a studio philosopher, commenting on the waterworks scene.

     Be that as it may, Rita within the short span of five years has established herself as the country’s most versatile actress.  Today, she makes from five to six pictures a year at P7,000 per photoplay.  This makes her one of the highest paid stars hereabouts.

     At present, she is busy making two pictures – “Kamandag,” where she reverts to her role of silky-voiced and aggressive female bandida, and “Kidnapped,” where she plays a Gentle Bertha role.

     One of the highest compliments ever paid to Rita Gomez, the actress with many faces, was made by a close friend:  “When Rita retreats into the realm of make-believe she is not easily recalled from her excursions.  It is a wonder that she is able to make the return trip at all.”

Source:  The Philippines Free Press
               August 1, 1959

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