Thursday, March 5, 2015

AMALIA FUENTES: UNPREDICTABLE STAR (Philippines Free Press, October 25, 1958)

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Voluptuous Amalia Fuentes Combines Both Beauty and Brains
And Became A Top Dramatic Star At 18.  Her Ever-Changing
Moods, Gargantuan Appetite, And Famed Weeping Spells
Make Her One Of Moviedom’s Most Lively Personalities.


     RECENTLY, a piece of gossip mildly rocked local filmdom.  The report concerned the alleged elopement of two of the brightest young stars hereabouts – Romeo Vasquez, adjudged Asia’s best actor for 1957, and voluptuous Amalia Fuentes, 18-year-old dramatic sensation.  The rumor turned out to be just that – a rumor.  But the irrepressible Amalia overdramatized the whole thing.  The day the canard began circulating at the Sampaguita Pictures lot, her home studio – after two movie columnists published the item – Amalia was all tears.  As far as she was concerned, the end of the world had come.  “Where will it end?  When will it end?” she moaned.  (Her audience, a motley group of directors, fellow troupers and plain studio hands, could not tell whether she was referring to the gossip or to the end of the world.)  You could almost hear taps in the background.  That same day, cameras stopped grinding for her because “I just can’t continue with my work.”  Then, she philosophized on the double standard of morality:  “This kind of rumor does a boy no harm but it’s hell for a girl.”

     We saw Miss Fuentes that day because we wanted to check the veracity of the story.  “This is one thing I can’t take lightly,” she told us between sobs.  We invited her for a chat and refreshments at the studio canteen but it was plain she had lost all zest for her favorite pastime – eating.  (She has been christened “Miss Appetite” by her friends because of her ability to stow away calories.)

     “Come on, Amalia.  If there’s no truth to the rumor you don’t have to sulk all your life.  You are young, and when you grow older and have your own children, this incident will be something to laugh over.”  We tried to sound fatherly.  But she was disconsolate.  She was still weeping when we left her.

     The following day, when we visited the studio, we saw a different Amalia Fuentes.  She was all smiles and she exchanged jokes with friends.  She had entirely forgotten yesterday’s melodrama.

     “What’s with her?” we asked Joe Tabirara, studio timekeeper and one of her best friends.

     “Amalia?  We stopped wondering over her unpredictable moods a long time ago.  She’s like that.  She mopes one moment, the next instance she’s all sweetness and light,” he said.

     We heard a lot about her ever-changing moods from various sources.

     “She’s the most unpredictable star we have,” Dr. Jose Perez, Sampaguita executive, chuckled.  “That girl is a character.  She never stops amusing us with her antics.  I make it a practice to give erring troupers periodic dressing downs.  After a two-month period that she hadn’t had a scrubbing simply because she had not gone out of line, she barged into my office one day and for no apparent reason howled like a baby.  I thought she was sick or something.”  Here, he shook his head and laughed, then:  “Imagine my surprise when she told me breathlessly, “Why have I not been given a tongue-lashing for some time.  Perhaps, the company does not like me any more.”

     Director Jose de Villa, who has handled Amalia in many pictures, said:  “You can never tell what Amalia will do on the set.  There are times, even when we are shooting a comedy scene, that she suddenly weeps.  We leave her alone because she says she’s just recalling sad incidents in her life.  But after the waterworks, she breezes through her scenes and without rehearsals at that.”

     Studio authorities are agreed about one thing though.  “Amalia is a born actress.”  Director Armando Garces expressed their common observation.  “This girl is a natural for any role.  She can cry at the drop of a hanky.  What’s more, she can switch abruptly from a dramatic characterization to a comedy portrayal and vice versa.”

Two Worlds

     What makes Amalia a talented actress one moment and a pain in the neck of directors the next?

     Her tizzies do not come from nowhere.  Being jet-propelled, she literally and figuratively burns fuel fast and when she runs out of gas, she plummets.  Her restlessness stems from her need for a legitimate outlet for excess energy.  “She moves like a cat on a hot tin roof,” quipped a studio philosopher.

     Another reason for her quicksilver moods can be attributed to the fact that she lives in two worlds – one real and the other make-believe.  Her tragedy is that she does not know where one begins and the other ends.  Her behavior in that now famous melodrama when, upon hearing the elopement gossip, she acted as though her personal world had crumbled was just a repeat of her role in “Ako Ang May Sala” where she did a lot of tear-jerking.  In that film, her brother was killed through reckless imprudence by Romeo Vasquez, her co-star.  Later, she experienced mixed emotions of hatred and love for her brother’s killer when Romeo tried to woo her.

     Amalia’s tearjerker roles become a vicarious expression of all the pent-up forces within her.  Her preoccupation with sad roles represents an escape from the real sad moments in her life.  Deprived of her father at the age of five, she became further confused when, despite her objections, her mother married again four years after her father’s death.

     “I was papa’s pet and I felt lost when he died” – he stepped on a land mine during the battle for the liberation of Manila and was one of several persons blown to bits; his body, or what was left of it was identified through his shoes – Amalia recalls.  “I deeply resented it when my mother married again.”

     Her mother, the former Concepcion Amador, a Chinese mestiza, told us:  “Until now, Amalia has not completely forgiven me for my second marriage.  She has deep-seated anxieties and she broods a lot.  I can’t understand why she weeps at times for no apparent reason.  She thinks that my second marriage has estranged me from her and her brothers.”

     Eldest of three children (she has two brothers), Amalia was born in Manila’s St. Luke’s Hospital on August 27, 1940.  Her father, Alvaro Muhlach, was a French-Spanish mestizo who worked for a firm dealing in theater supplies.  She now has five brothers – three on her stepfather’s side.

     One reason why she can portray both sweet and gentle roles and tomboy characterization is because she has always had boys for playmates.  “I did everything – I still do – my brothers did,” she says.  “I played tag with them, ran races, and climbed trees.  I have been embarrassed several times because I’ve been caught climbing our santol tree by studio authorities.  I never went for dolls or for laces and frills.  I always believed they were for sissies.”

     Amalia never had a chance to sink roots in one place for long.  Her stepfather, Isagani Fuentes, an adventurous man, took the family to Mindanao, the land of promise, when she was 11.  The family stayed for a year in Midsayap, Cotabato, two years in Davao City.  She and her folks came back to Manila when she was 14.  Despite the constant “evacuation,” Amalia, who is an intelligent girl, was always an honor student.  In fact, she was accelerated from Grade V to VI in one year.

     Strangely enough, Amalia never wanted to become an actress.  “I never dreamed I would appear in pictures someday,” she now says.  “I used to sneer at girls who mooned over movie idols.  Later, however, I became a movie fan.  But my ambition was to become a flight stewardess because, to me, traveling around the world is the most.”

     She was discovered by accident.  In 1955, the movie studios threw their doors open to the public during the “Trip to Movieland,” day for the purpose of raising funds for charitable organizations.  Amalia, then a vivacious 15-year-old and fourth-year high school student was one of the thousands of movie fans who visited the various studios.  She was chaperoned by her mother.  At the Sampaguita lot, she became frantic when she was separated from her mother.  Her cries attracted three of the Sampaguita personnel – Joe Tabirara, Joseph Straight, chief of the sound department, and Nestor Robles, musical director – who knew a good thing when they saw one.  The trio approached her and asked her if she would like to appear in pictures.  “I thought they were wolves,” Amalia remembers.  “But they were insistent on taking my picture so I posed for laughs.”  Later, her photo was shown to Dr. Perez who commented:  “This girl looks like Elizabeth Taylor.  Get her at once.”

     Studio authorities had a hard time convincing her to screen test for the fairy role in “Prince Charming.”  For one thing, she was offered a scholarship to study in the States after graduating from high school.  For another, she had no desire to become an actress.  From among several contestants she won the role hands down.  All 16 judges including studio personnel and members of the Vera-Perez family voted for her.

     Launched simply as “Miss No. 1,” she was nameless in her first four picture (“Prince Charming,” “Lydia”, “Senorita”, and “Emma”) where her salary steadily rose from P1,000 to P2,500.  She became Amalia Fuentes in her fifth picture, “Rhodora.”  In “Movie Fan,” where she portrayed the title role, she became a full-fledged star, and earned P3,000 for the first time.  She was a natural as the uninhibited fan who constantly bothered movie stars for their autographs.  A barrage of fan mail flooded the studio demanding more pictures for the new star.  The studio top brass, their nostrils ever aquiver to the public’s moods, responded by giving her varied roles in several pictures.

     During the past three years that Amalia has been in the movies, she has appeared in 20 pictures, portraying everything from a hellion in “Ismol Bat Teribol” to broken-hearted sweetheart in “Mga Reyna Ng Vicks.”  As the guitar-strumming, swivel-hipped singer from Bicolandia in “Tawag Ng Tanghalan,” she stole the thunder from Romeo Vasquez, her leading man and sweetheart in real life.  Considered the top dramatic star among the teen-age female attractions, she now receives P5,000 per picture.

     Because of her tendency to “immerse” herself in sad roles, Amalia has been accused of overacting.  Paraluman, 1957 FAMAS awardee as best actress, however, maintains:  “Amalia does not overact.  She is merely overenthusiastic in her portrayals.  She easily gets carried away by her emotions.  Even when she relates certain incidents to me, she runs out of breath.  I have to tell her to take it easy.  But that girl is smart.  She buys things not because they are cheap but because they are useful and durable.  No installment plans for her.  She waits until she has the cash in order to get the necessary discount.”

     Fans complain that Amalia does not answer their letters.  “That is not true,” she says.  “I receive about a thousand fan letters a week and I try answering all of them.  I have even four assistants – movie fans themselves – who help me answer my mail.  But it is really impossible to answer all those letters.  And even when I’ve answered them they write again, and again.”  She orders, 3,000 photos, which she autographs, every two months to be sent to her admirers, many of whom are males.

     In this connection, Amalia has several suitors aside from Vasquez.  Two of them are Chinese – a grocery store owner and the son of a rich businessman – and one is an Indian.  Although she admits she loves Romeo Vasquez, she says that the elopement rumor “has destroyed all my plans.”  In the peculiar logic of love she says:  “It” – referring to her relationship with Vasquez – “could have amounted to something before.  But now I don’t know.”  She does not know either how the elopement gossip started.  “Sure I have dates with Bobby (Romeo’s nickname), but we always have a chaperone,” she disclosed.

     Amalia’s main problem is how to keep her weight – which fluctuates from 118 to 135 pounds depending on whether she’s dieting or gorging-down.  Studio hands are loaded with anecdotes – many of them apocryphal – about her healthy appetite.

     “It’s not so bad now but before her 18th birthday she was Miss Appetite,” Dr. Perez laughs.  “She used to have a regular grocery store by her bedside, including bread, chocolate bars, candies, jam, cheese, butter and other fattening foods.  She ate these whenever she woke up in the middle of the night.  She used to have 12 eggs for breakfast!”

     Amalia herself admits that she has a Gargantuan appetite although she maintains that she eats only six eggs in the morning.

     “All my children have good appetites,” her mother, a very good cook and herself a large woman, told us.  “I am glad though that Amalia is sticking to her diet.  Before, I used to market every day.  Now I only go to market every two days.”

     A director told us the following story which Amalia later confirmed.  She and Luis Gonzales, another star, were guest artists on a radio program one evening.  After the program, Luis invited Amalia and her mother to a snack at Casa Marcos.  Amalia ordered for herself two big steaks, six eggs, soup, salad with all the trimmings, and two other courses.  The bill ran to P65 and Luis had to make an emergency call to Dr. Perez because he had only P18.

     Many of Amalia’s pictures have no continuity because she appears slender in some scenes and big in others.  This is because she sheds weight as easily as she puts on poundage.  During the filming of “Madaling Araw” in Baguio, she became so obese that Director Garces was forced to postpone the shooting of her scenes for one week during which time she was told to diet.  If the canful of adobong baboy, which she had and clandestinely ate inside her room, had not been discovered, the picture would never have been finished.

     Since her 18th birthday last August 27, however, Amalia has been able to maintain her weight as from 118 to 120 pounds.  Standing at five feet, five inches in her bare feet, her present measurements – 35, 23, 35 – evoke wolf whistles wherever she goes.  “It’s tough but I guess I can stick to my present low-calorie diet,” she pouted prettily.

     Whatever is said about Amalia, one thing is sure.  She has artistic integrity.  She was not being coy when apprised that she would be in the cover of the Free Press, she told me:  “If you are featuring me on the cover because of the elopement rumor, then it’s no honor.  I’d rather be on the cover when I’ve won the FAMAS award.”  We assured her it was because she is such a good actress.

     When we were taking pictures of her for this issue’s cover she was all sweetness and light.  She indulged in baby-talk, repeating her lines in “Baby Bubut,” where she portrayed the role of an overgrown baby who refused to  grow up.  We knew that Amalia Fuentes, moviedom’s most unpredictable star, was back to her normal self.

Source:  Philippines Free Press, October 25, 1958

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