THE MANAHAN SISTERS: Living Legends in Movie Makeup
AMOR OLAGUER AND EILLEEN MENESES
Characters are immortalized in the movies. They come to life, borne by the collective effort of various people working in a film–the director at the helm, the writer who penned the character, the actor portraying the role, and a whole lot more. No less important is the contribution of the makeup artist in creating the film character.
“This is what being a makeup artist is all about -creating different characters,” declared the Manahan sisters Andrea, Victorina, and Juanita. They are tops in the field. With individual careers as makeup artists spanning decades, the sisters jointly received Lifetime Achievement Awards recognizing their excellence in character makeup from the Production Designers7 Guild of the Philippines in 1994 and the Directors7 Guild of the Philippines in 1996.
The distinguished artisans of makeup are still at it. They remain very much active in today’s movie set, whether practicing individually or as a group.
The three sisters along with two other siblings grew up in San Miguel, Bulacan. During the post-war years, their father was employed by LVN matriarch Dona Sisang as caretaker to her estate in the province. This paved the way for the eldest and leader of the pack, Andrea, to be hired at Dona Sisang’s movie studio.
Andrea Manahan, now 78 years old, is affectionately called “Mama Ateng” in the movie circle. Her stint behind the scenes began over 50 years ago. The Second World War had just ended and the film industry was getting back on its feet. The young Andrea tagged along with her father to seek employment in the big city–at the LVN compound in particular. For some reason, she opted to take on a job as studio helper rather than househelp. And this fortuitous choice would soon open doors to an accomplished career as makeup artist.
Andrea’s early task, as aide to the chief makeup artist of LVN, entailed attending to the needs of her superior, Luz Sanco – running errands or simply handing over makeup materials. The apprentice keenly observed her mentor at work. For three years or so, as she learned the ropes, Andrea made it a point to remember cosmetic shadings, the numbers, the types of makeup used for female or male actors, the works. By 1948, she was to tackle her first full-fledged assignment as makeup artist for the film Malaya. Norma Blancaflor topbilled that movie, she recalled.
Earlier in her profession, as an apprentice, she was tasked to do the makeup of the men. Among the male leads Mama Ateng handled were the brothers Rogelio and Jaime de la Rosa, Jose “Pempe” Padilla, Jr., Leopoldo Salcedo, Mario Montenegro, Nestor de Villa, and the comic tandem of Pugo and Togo. Men’s makeup was very distinct from women’s, she said, adding that during those days, an actor should come across the big screen as a “he-man”. Fair skinned actors were usually tanned to make them more “manly.”
Mama Ateng has also undertaken makeup for countless glittering female stars way back when movies were still black-and-white. Among these were Carmen Rosales, Mila del Sol, Rosa Rosal, Delia Razon, Lilia Dizon, Tessie Quintana, Emma Alegre, Luz Valdez, Marita Zobel, Perla Bautista, and her dear departed friend, Charito Soils — who later picked her as personal makeup artist. Another LVN heyday star, Nida Blanco, is a chum to this day and, as Mama Ateng jested, would gladly volunteer to be her driver during movie functions or parties. “The role of makeup artists goes beyond making the movie stars look beautiful on the screen,” Mama Ateng stressed. “What we are tasked to do is to define the character played by the actors. So we have to read and understand the script, we seek guidance from the director.
“For instance, if an actress plays a society girl, then I’ll try to make her look like one. Ill try to enhance the mestizo features and yet the makeup should not be heavy. It is totally different if this same actress plays the role of a farm girl. For that, flat makeup is used. Shades of tan will be appllied on the face and neck, and all over the body, more so for the fair-skinned” She added “and never use the doe-eyed look” meaning never apply heavy eyeliner and eye shadow.
Period movies are tricky, too, according to Mama Ateng. Just as backdrops and costumes are carefully studied, makeup also requires research on “the look” of the particular year or decade depicted in the film. Makeup artists must characterize the look of the period — the hairstyle, the shape of the eyebrows, the stroke of lipstick and blush-on, the shadings and colors of makeup used during that time.
When the LVN studio closed shop, Mama Ateng continued lending her expertise to newer and smaller independent film companies, like Lea, and Tagalog llang-llang Productions (TIIP). She did makeup for then-juvenile stars Vilma Santos, Hilda Koronel, Nora Aunor and their contemporaries as well as the new faces that came in their trail. Mama Ateng could not remember all the titles of the countless motion pictures she worked for. “Before I used to write them down on a list tucked on my closet mirror. But then I lost track,”she rued. To help her memory, we mentioned names of the finest directors in contemporary movie history and she would in turn cite the films in which she had collaborated with each of them. What materialized was a veritable list of Philippine cinema’s greatest gems. This includes Ishmael Bernal’s Nunal sa Tubig; Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s Moral and Karnal; Laurice Guillen’s Salome; Peque Callage’s Oro, Plata, Mata and Scorpio Nights. (She noted, however, that she never had the occasion to do a project with the late great Lino Brocka.).
Deserving of special mention are director Gallaga’s horror flicks, such as the Shake, Rattle & Roll series. The first of these series bagged her the Best Makeup Artist trophy in 1 980 — the first time that Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) ever handed out an award for this category — plus another trophy in 1 992, for the movie’s sequel, also from the MMFF.
Victorina Manahan, who was born two years after her ateng, is now also a septuagenarian. In the industry, she goes by the term of endearment “Nanay Tinay.” She credits her elder sister Andrea for the headstart in her career because it was Andrea who took her in as an assistant during the 1950s. With the hands-on experience and the opportunities that came her way by subtituting for her much sought-after sister, Nanay Tinay was ready to hold her own as freelance makeup artist.
She got her first solo break in 1 956. The film May Bakas ang Lumipas (directed by Eddie Romero, and starring Rogelio de la Rosa, Oscar Moreno, and Gloria Sevilla) was meant for her sister, who however had another film shooting in Davao. “I was just a pinch hitter,” Nanay Tinay candidly said of her first job. Through the years, the two continued to team up in some film assignments but Nanay Tinay became mainly a freelancer.
Nanay Tinay noted that in her early career, producton designers were unheard of; thus her tasks included some of the things that a production designer would do now. At that time, movie stars did not have their own makeup artists; they came to the studio –faces unmade – and the film’s makeup artist would have to create “the look” for each and every character, and their hairstyle as well. If ever an actress came to the set straight from a beauty parlor, the director would instruct the film’s makeup artist to remove her cosmetics and to do her face all over again, to conform with the character she is portraying.
There is a marked distinction between movie makeup, Nanay Tinay emphasized, and makeup done by parlor beauticians. “They [beauticians] only know the society [girl] makeup — which simply prettifies the face. They do not know how to make actors look haggard, or look like an addict, for instance, or create a black eye,” she explained. And doing “black eye” makeup is not as easy as it seems. Even during the take, a makeup artist must closely watch the fight scene, observe the blocking, and note where the punches or slaps landed – in order to determine where exactly to put the bruises on the actor’s face. That is how it is done in the various action movies she completed.
Nanay Tinay once got the chance to work with the late Fernando Poe, Sr. in LVN. Years later, as fate would have it, she would work with Poe’s then rising son — and now movie king — Fernando Poe, Jr. (FPJ) and would even be selected to become his personal makeup artist. This working relationship, which began in 1962, continues to this day. “I’m on call whenever Ronnie (FPJ’s nickname) has a project,” Nanay Tinay adds. “He brings me along even if the movies are not his own productions, like in Lea before and in Star Cinema or Millenium Films today. I have done even his San Miguel Beer commercials.”
As the years passed, and as his leading ladies got younger and younger, Nanay Tinay was behind the scene in all FPJ-starrers, as well as those he produced and/or directed. Their more recent collaborations include the father-daughter team-up with Judy Ann Santos, Isusumbong Kita sa Tatay Ko, and the latest Ayos na ang Kasunod, that paired him off with sexy star Ara Mina. “I have made up Ronnie Poe’s face long enough to know by heart his own particular shade,” she said, “and he’s always insisted on using only Max Factor – then as now.”
Nanay Tinay first met Fernando Poe, Jr. over forty years ago, on the set of Tigreng Tagabukid. In this rough-and-tumble action film, which was the rising trend at that time, Fernando Poe, Jr. was cast together with other stardom hopefuls, such as Romeo Vasquez, Zaldy Zshornack, and Joseph Estrada.
She shared an earful of anecdotes about the struggling actor who would someday become President of the Philippines — and his leading ladies too. Estrada started out as bit player in LVN, but it was under Larry Santiago Productions where he rose to play lead roles. “Erap always told me that he would someday produce movies and then he’d hire me as his makeup artist,” she recalled. But by the time Estrada put up his own J.E. Productions, when he was mayor of San Juan, Nanay Tinay was already taken – by Ronnie Poe, of course.
Until recently, Joseph Estrada would occasionally seek them out – not just Nanay Tinay but all three sisters — for makeup jobs. The last time they saw him was during the Presidential campaign, when they were hired to do his makeup for a campaign documentary. They have not heard from him since his ascendancy to Malacanang, the sisters said in unison.
Juanita Manahan is now 65 years old, and currently the most active in the industry. Nowadays, she does a lot of television work as well. The youngest in the bunch, Juanita sports the grooviest nickname too –“Mommy Nitz.” She trod the same career path as her distinguished sisters, shifting from an Education degree course, at second year college, to a vocational training as a beautician. She entered the trade in the 1960s. Just like the sisters who preceded her and served as her mentors, Mommy Nitz earned her degree on character makeup by experience.
Her entry into show business came via the stage. “I worked under Papang Lou Salvador at the Opera House,” she said. Mommy Nitz got her first movie break in 1965, with the Dolphy-starrer Facifica Falayfay. This was produced by the comedian’s newly-formed RVQ Productins, and shot in the Premiere studio. Soon after, Mommy Nitz had her hands full with projects under LEA or Cirio Santiago’s productions and later under the then fledgling Regal Films. Then as now, she has always worked as freelancer but on many occasions, she also did various projects with sisters Andrea and Victorina. Their collaboration included the celebrated international film Apocalypse Now, shot in the Philippines during the mid-1970s. Similarly, they had an earlier stint in a lesser known foreign co-production entitled No Man is An Island, starring Barbara Perez.
The toughest one among the films she got involved in was the highly-acclaimed Igorota. She recalled the rugged mountain they had to climb, as the movie was shot at the site of the famed Banaue Rice Terraces up north. In the same vein, it was also a big challenge for her to transform the lead star, Charito Solis, who was a mestiza-type beauty, into a native-looking woman from the mountains. “I had to tan her all over and apply flat makeup on her face to create the character of an Igorota,” she explained pointing out that this is a kind of makeup you never get to learn in the schools of beauty culture. This was part of the expertise passed on to her by her sisters Andrea and Victorina.
Today, it is common practice on the movie set for stars to bring in their own makeup artist, whose expertise and training are often inadequate. This may result in a movie where makeup is distracting and disconcerting. “Once I scolded a certain actress who obviously does not understand what the script says about her character,” she related. “My instruction was for her to leave her hair and makeup as they are, for continuity.” In the scene, the actress was being chased by her tormentor and supposedly had been running for some time. Mommy Nitz was aghast when she saw the actress ready for the next take — fully-made up all over again and hair well-coiffed.
Mommy Nitz also observes that some of the low-budget filmmakers nowadays are not very particular and not very meticulous. The going rate for makeup artists today is around PhP 50,000 per movie for 35 working days within one-and-a-half months or so.
Producers scrimping on the budget may pay as low as PhP 10,000 per movie to makeup artists who are not as trained and experienced in the craft. Never wanting to compromise, Mommy Nitz affirms what her elder sisters taught her on the art of movie makeup: “It springs from experience. It requires a lot of imagination to be able to create the character written on the script.”
“When they hear the name Manahan sisters in the industry, they would tease us saying, oh, we’re high-class,” she quipped. That’s because whenever we accept film projects, the first thing we ask for is the script.” As veterans in the profession, their role now is to supervise the makeup of every film project that they decide to take, always making sure that their work lives up to their stringent standards of excellence.
The Manahan sisters – Andrea, Victorina, and Juanita – are living legends behind the scene, whose names deserve to be on the portals of Filipino film history.
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