MARY WALTER AND THE EARLY CINEMA
It was in 1926 that Philippine cinema was revived after a long hiatus since Jose Nepomuceno’s last production Hoy o Nunca Besame in 1920. For five years there were no Filipino-produced films. It took Vicente Salumbides, newly arrived from the United States, to put feature filmmaking back on its feet. With the help of Nepomuceno, he directed Miracles of Love which has been described as employing cinematic techniques like closeups and dynamic editing in contrast to the rather static nature of Nepomuceno’s early productions. Despite its being shown in a second-run movie theater, Miracles of Love was a miracle of a picture. It was a big box-office hit that opened the eyes of the public — and prospective producers — to the magic and power of the Filipino film. It provided the impetus towards the development of the local film industry.
One of the achievements of Salumbides and Nepomuceno in this period was to create a firmament of stars that the public started relating to. This was the beginning of the star system. Although the output from 1926-28 was a meager three films per year, by 1929, the industry was averaging at least eight productions. By 1932, just before the advent of the talkies, Philippine silent cinema hit a high of twenty four films. It was during this time, that Mary Walter made her mark. She became one of its top stars belonging to that generation of stars that included Naty Fernandez, Gregorio Fernandez, Maggie Galloway, Dimples Cooper, Sofia Lota, Eva Lynn, Carlos Padilla, Eduardo de Castro, Nena Linda, and Giorgina Hollis.
Mary Walter was discovered when she was invited by a friend to watch the shooting of a Naty Fernandez film, Sampaguita, which was near her house in General Solano. Jose “Peping” Nepomuceno spotted her from among the milling crowd and asked her if she would like to appear in the “cariñosa” dance sequence. She hesitated as she had no dress for the part. But Peping offered to provide her with the costume. Satisfied with her appearance, Peping went to her parents and asked if she would be given permission to become an actress.
Mary Walter made her debut in Jose Nepomuceno’s Ang Lumang Simbahan in 1928. She appeared as the daughter who is being forced by parents Sofia Lota and Gre-gorio Fernandez into marrying a man she does not love. She elopes with her boyfriend, Aniceto Robledo. They are married in an old church where they discover a treasure. Because of the wealth, she is reunited with her parents.
Mary Walter’s other roles in the si-lents were those of Gregorio Fernandez’s wife in Desperation, the princess who chooses a deformed beggar in Principe Teñoso, a moro princess in Moro Pirates, and an aswang who feasts on dead bodies in Mang Tano (Nuno ng mga Aswang).
In Ang Gayuma, directed by Carlos Vander Tolosa, she plays a Cardona maiden who is given sampaguita leis everyday by sweetheart Eduardo de Castro. A rich man from the city, played by Gregorio Fernandez, chances upon her and covets her. One day, she is fooled into smelling a handkerchief soaked in love potion and is raped. Feeling disgraced, she attempts to commit suicide by drowning in the river but is rescued in time by her lover. Despite everything, he keeps his promises and marries her in church. In Sa Labi ng Lumang Libingan, a trilogy also directed by Carlos Vander Tolosa, she is the hapless beggar who dies on the street. Her cadaver is summarily pushed into agaping hole by her penniless son who cannot afford to buy a casket.
Mary was often called upon to play dual roles. She was both the cruel stepmother and the persecuted daughter in Nanay Ko. In flaw ng Kapitbahay, she was the ill-starred widow who has to give away her children and the elder daughter who tries to reunite the broken family. In Lihim ni Bathala, she was the rape victim and the daughter, the fruit of her disgrace. When the daughter grows up, she is courted unawares by the rapist, a rich man. A church wedding is set, but then, the mother stumbles upon the identity of her daughter’s fiance. She rushes to the church and reveals the ugly truth.
Mary Walter’s recollections of the silent era were mostly of Jose Nepomuceno’s studio in San Juan. There was not much difference between the way they made films before and the present. Since it was a silent medium, the director was very particular with movements and facial expressions; the actors were usually ordered about on what to do. There was no dialogue but a semblance had to be effectuated. Mary said her lines in either Spanish or English just so it would appear that she was talking.
The silent movies were shown with two orchestras alternating. Admission was at fifty centavos, loge, and thirty centavos, orchestra. There was a growing clamor for local films and by the end of the silents, the star system had become pronounced.
Optical sound came in 1933. Mary was only able to make the transition a year later with the help of William Smith. She appeared in several films for Filippine Films: Hinagpis ng Magulang, X-3-X, Kuwintas ng Himutok, Buhok ni Ester, to name a few. Sadly these films are not available for viewing.
Just before the outbreak of the war, she made Niña Bonita for LVN. It was shown during the war along with the second version of Prinsipe Teñoso, directed by Manuel Conde.
After the war, Mary made several comebacks. She appeared as the mother of Efren Reyes in the late forties and the mother of Fernando Poe Jr. and Zaldy Zshornack in the late fifties and early sixties.
In the seventies, she appeared in many of the films of Lino Brocka: Stardoom, Santiago, Lumuha Pati Mga Angel, Cadena de Amor. She gave one of her most memorable performances in Tatlo, Dalawa, Isa as the possessive mother who pretends to be a cripple so that her daughter, Lolita Rodri-quez, would renounce marriage.
She was also impressive in other directors’ films. In Elwood Perez’s Isang Gabi, Tatlong Babae, she injected humor in her role as the lesbian lover of Amalia Fuentes. In Boy Negro, she was the understanding septuagenarian matriarch of Phillip Salvador’s family.
In her late age, Mary Walter is still active in movies and television. Her body of works has spanned several generations. This is indeed proof of her durability as a movie actress.
Natatanging Gawad Urian kay Levi Celerio
LEVI Celerio is a class all by himself. He has written well over 4,000 song lyrics in Tagalog, some of them adapted or translated from foreign songs, folk tunes or other vernacular songs, but most of them original works. For something like five decades now, many of these songs have been used in dozens and dozens of Filipino movies, enhancing the popularity of these movies, making the songs an integral part of the films and also adding life ana poetry to them as a whole. A few of these lyrics he has set to melodies which he himself composed. Sometimes, the tunes and the lyrics have become more memorable than the movies that have used them.
Celerio is an artist who has collaborated with many of the country’s finest musicians—from Constancio de Guzman and Lucio San Pedro, to such outstanding film scorers as Tito Arevalo and Antonio Maiquez – – to create classic tunes that are still sung today by many. He acknowledges the works of these composers, and also those of Santiago Suarez, Ernani Cuenco and Josefino Cenizal, as strong influences, but he doffs his hat to Huseng Batute a.lca. Jose Corazon de Jesus as his greatest influence as a lyricist On April 24, 1993, he receives from the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Filipino (MPP) the film critics group’s highest honor, the Natatanging Gawad Urian, given every year to an individual or artist who has done something to improve the quality of Filipino movies. Levi Celerio is eminently qualified for the honor, having written songs that often redeemed inferior movies and enhanced the virtues of superior ones. He has, in short, made movies better.
This is something no other Filipino artist – – that is, writer of song (whether composer or simply a lyricist) — has done. Celerio has created a prodigious body of works, noteworthy not only for their quantity but more importantly, for their quality, and it is evident in all the films.
The titles of many of his songs have often been used as the titles of the movies, though even more have graced a number of movie soundtracks either as theme songs or incidental music. Among his most popular songs used in the movies: “Pandora” and “Ikaw ang Mahal Ko” both for Premiere Productions’ Pandora, Sapagka’t Kami ay Tao Lamang, Kapantay ay Langit, Diligin Mo ng Hamog ang Uhaw na Lupa, Kahit KontingPagtingin, Pitong Gatang, Hanggang Doon Kay Bathala,Babaeng Uliran, Eva at Adan, (starring Edna Luna), Caprichosa, Malvarosa, Ang Dalagang Taga-bukid, Alabok na Ginto and Ang DaigdigKo’y Ikaw. One of the most often-sung songs now, Lucio San Pedro’s haunting “Sa Ugoy ng Duyan,” last sung by Nora Aunor in the movie Pacita M.
The movies were produced by virtually all movie companies in the Philippines then and now, from Sampaguita, Premiere, LVN, Balatbat, Everlasting and Lebran, to Sotang Bastos, Viva, Regal and Seiko.
Among moviemakers’ favorite songs then had the lyrics which Celerio wrote to replace original foreign texts. Luneta, the Nida Blanca-Nestor de Villa comedy, was taken from “Valencia. “Sayang na Pag-ibig” and “Makapangyarihan,” sung by Ruben Tagalog, was from “Un Momento’ and “La Ultima Copa” respectively. And “Kubang Cochero” was from “Cum-banchero” Before Kahit Konting Pagtingin became a Sharon Cuneta megahit, Celerio admits, it was a hit tune sung by Ric Segreto, but the melody was from a Julio Iglesias song.
The local movies never seem to tire, or run out, of a song co-written by Celerio, the latest being the yet-to-be-released Richard Gomez-Dawn Zulueta starrer for Reyna Films, Gaano Kita Kamahal Celerio has written several original lyrics for actress and TV-movie producer Armida Siguion-Reyna.
He has also composed the scores for several local movies, including Nana Maria (a Tita Duran starrer) for Larry Santiago, Julio Esteban, Anguita, Magdalena, Sino Ka? (starring Bern Bautista) and Mr. Humble Boy. In Noche Azul for Everlasting Pictures, Celerio was musical director, actor and lyricist (the song “Bigay-Hilig”).
He is most proud of “Pandangguhan,” popularized in the early ’60s by the winner in an amateur singing contest, the late Rufina Esperencilla, and sung in a movie of that era. Another favorite work of his, the Christmas tune “Ang Pasko Ay Sumapit,” was published in London and adapted into English by John Morrison.
As regards the theme from the vintage Rosa del Rosario-Leopoldo Salcedo movie Ang Dalagang Taga-bukid, however, Celerio wrote the melody, with a collaborator on the lyric, Alejandro Valderrama of Bustos, Bulacan.
In the ’50s and ’60s, he has also appeared in several movies as a character actor, among these pictures being Batangueña, Babaeng Sputnik, Taongraniki, My Serenade, Medalyong Perlas, Casa Grande, Sa Paanan ng Nazareno, Luha at Musika, Talusaling, Malvarosa and the recent Andrew E movie, Mahirap ang Maging Pogi. His roles have ranged from prying beggar, rapist, liquor thief and pickpocket, to palm-reader (in Malvarosa), janitor and characters with disability. In the color omnibus Casa Grande for LVN, made in 1958, and directed by Manuel Conde, Gregorio Fernandez and Feliciano H. Constantino, his character is the link to every episode.
Levi Celerio was born — a premature baby – – on April 30, 1910 in Tondo, Manila to a woman who taught the harp, Juliana Celerio. He learned he had a father only when he was in high school, and the man, Cornelio Cruz, who was in the house-and-lot and jewelry businesses, had another family. His mother never married. With his father’s other family, Levi learned he had three half-sisters and five half-brothers, one of them the late singer-comedienne Veronica Palileo. Of his father’s children, only Levi and the youngest of the brood, the director and actor Tony Cruz, also called the local “Mambo King,” have survived.
Celerio has 12 children who he describes as inclined toward music and the arts, especially painting, which he reveals was his first love. One of his children, Enrico, a Juilliard graduate and a New York resident, is a musician who plays the piano and guitar with a group called the Impromptu.
Celerio was bestowed the humanities doctorate honoris causa by the University of the Philippines, where decades ago, he studied violin at the UP Conservatory under the Russian violinist Michael Wexler. “When I had no more money to pay for tuition,” he recalls, “I was made a scholar by Alexander Lipay, a German conductor who was at the helm of the conservatory.” He says he couldn’t then afford the exorbitant peacetime tuition fee of P220 a month.
Apart from the violin, Celerio plays the piano (“But not professionally,” he says). Still, he has gained international renown for a musical novelty: He uses a leaf as a musical instrument, which he blows to create various tones and pitches that produce exciting melodies. This talent he discovered only in the early ’70s, in New York, and he was invited to show this talent in the American TV show “It’s Incredible.”
He has performed abroad, and among the foreign places he has visited are London, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Bangkok (where he resided for six months), Taipeh (another six months), Guam and New York (two years, as a violinist for a small orchestra at the United Nations). He has also spread the gospel of his art all over the Philippines, from the North to the Visayas and Mindanao.
For the past several years, Celerio’s contribution to Philippine music and culture has been recognized by different institutions, the latest of which is the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino. The Gawad Urian bestowed by the MPP, however, is essentially for Celerio’s contribution to Pilipino film, which he helped shape into a unique art that is poetic, wholesome (“My songs are never vulgar and suggestive,” he says), memorable and truly Filipino.
Like the old films that played his songs, the lyrics evoke an era that was happy, carefree, innocent and pure. Like a typical artist, he is not concerned with material wealth. He says that though he is not wealthy, he is happy, knowing how his songs have made life happier for many people and that even when he dies, his music and works will continue to entertain future generations.
Back to Natatanging Gawad Urian