GLORIA ROMERO: Indestructible Movie Queen for 5 Decades Now
Lito B. Zulueta
With her stately beauty, impeccable grace, and regal bearing, Gloria is the quintessential Philippine movie star. She is as beautiful as they come, but could have been waylaid by the vagaries of fate that usually attend those who aspire for renown: dissipation, dissolution, and loss of audience and fame. But she has avoided all of these, and even if she is not anymore the superstar that she was in the 1950’s, when she became queen of the movies, she is at least the figure against whom every star, aspiring or established, measure herself. She is not only admired for her longevity, she is also respected for her accomplishments. She is not only a survivor; she is an icon.
To be sure, Gloria Romero would not have survived if she had not created characters that would linger in the minds of audiences long after the last credit had rolled down. She was the combative Ilocana in “Dalagang Ilocana,” the saintly nun in “Monghita,” the first lady of the land in “Iginuhit ng Tadhana,” the teacher who becomes a dark creature at night in “Lipad, Darna, Lipad,” the criminal master in “Condemned,” and the matriarch suffering from Alzheimer’s in “Tanging Yaman.”
Of course, even in the most abject and ugly roles, her beauty and bearing still shine through, damning the efforts of the viewer to suspend his disbelief, but never mind, it’s only a movie —and it’s only in the movies that you get to see a goddess like Gloria Romero as a tomboy, as Her Imeldific, as a ghoul or a hag.
All of these characters have been keenly etched in generations of moviegoers; they provide the images that constitute the magic of Philippine cinema. And in that magical world, Gloria Romero is a prime enchanter. The enchantment starts with her beauty and proceeds with her varied talents and qualities. Many believe it will never end. And so for her icon-like qualities as an actor and cinematic enchanter, Gloria Romero, the indestructible queen of Philippine movies for five decades now, is this year’s recipient of the Natatanging Gawad Urian for lifetime achievement during the 27th annual Gawad Urian.
The Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino, the society of respected film critics and scholars behind the Gawad Urian, said it is giving the award to Gloria Romero, Gloria Borrega Galla in real life, for her versatile contributions to Philippine cinema as an actor who has tackled a gamut of roles and genres, and for her many-sided attributes as an icon of beauty, style, womanhood, bearing, character and graceful ageing.
Romero, 70, won the Urian best actress in 2001 for her memorable portrayal of a matriarch sliding into Alzheimer’s disease as her conflicted family slides to breakdown in Laurice Guillen’s religious masterpiece “Tanging Yaman.” Earlier, in December 2000, she had won the same award at the Metro Manila Film Festival in which “Yaman” swept the awards.
This year, Romero is again in the running in the Gawad Urian, having been nominated for best supporting actress for Maryo J. de los Reyes’s celebrated “Magnifico,” in which she plays a dotard who feels her old age and even death have become an unnecessary burden to her family, a feeling she betrays to her grandson, Magnifico, who innocently proceeds thereby to prepare her funeral without costs to the poor family.
Gloria Romero was born in Denver, Colorado on Dec. 16, 1933 to a Filipino immigrant from Pangasinan and to Marry Borrego, an American. The family relocated to the Philippines in 1937, and Gloria grew up in Pangasinan in a town “without a movie house,” so that she had to travel all the way to the next town to see the latest Tagalog movies. The experience only heightened her fascination for the movies and her desire to become a star.
Learning that an uncle, Tenario Rosales, was chief editor of Sampaguita Pictures, she went to the studio one Christmas Day and found the entire studio holding a grand party. Studio bosses immediately spotted and asked her to play an extra in “Kasintahan sa Pangarap,” a musical directed by Eddie Romero. More bit roles followed in “Bernardo Carpio” that starred Cesar Ramirez and Alicia Vergel, “Dugong Bughaw” featuring Norma Vales and Tessie Martinez, and “Rebecca.” Finally, on her fifth movie, “Ramon Selga,” starring Lilian Leonardo and Pancho Magalona, she was given a speaking part. She played a nurse and her dialogue? “Yes, doctor.”
Her first major role was as the daughter of Alicia Vergel and Cesar Ramirez in “Madame X.” For that, she was introduced to the audiences under a new name because her real name, Gloria Galla, was, according to studio bosses, forgettable. It was Dr. Jose Perez, the Louie Meyer of Philippine cinema, who gave her the screen name “Gloria Romero,”after learning that her first director was Eddie Romero.
Those were early years of hard work and perseverance. Her family stayed in Sta. Mesa near the old Famous Laundry, and every morning, she would take the bus, get off at Gilmore St., and take the long walk to the studio. If the leading star was absent, there would be no shooting and she would end up without an earning that day. But she was happy just the same—she had long wanted to become an actor, and her dream had at least become less remote.
Her first real break was the title role in “Monghita,” opposite Oscar Moreno, in 1952. The following year, she played daughter to prewar movie superstar Carmen Rosales in “May Umaga pang Darating.”
She tried comedies, appearing with Pancho Magalona in “Musikong Bumbong,” with Ric Rodrigo in “Pilya,” and “Dalagang Ilocana” with Dolphy, all in 1954. For the latter, she won the Famas best actress.
She then portrayed the komiks characters of Mars Ravelo and Pablo Gomez in such films as “Kurdapya” in 1954, “Mariposa” in 1954, and “Miss Tilapia.” She also did remakes of prewar musicals such as “Pagdating ng Takipsilim” in 1956, “Colegiala” in 1957, and “Paru-parong Bukid” in 1957.
Toward the end of the 1950’s, she had become the biggest star of the studio. When her contract expired, Sampaguita renewed it for eight years, making her the studio’s longest exclusive star.
Gloria excelled in both drama and comedy, and became the rival of the rival studio LVN’s favorite star, Nida Blanca. The two, despite the competition, became a model of friendly rivalry. Gloria obliged to appear in a movie under Nida’s production company, and in the 1980’s agreed to play a relatively less demanding role to Nida Blanca’s searing portrayal of a mother whose son had been taken away from her at childbirth in Lino Brocka’s “Miguelio, ang Batang Rebelde.” There, Nida Blanca won her first Urian best actress.
In the 1960’s, Gloria Romero portrayed Imelda Marcos in “Iginuhit ng Tadhana” and “Pinagbuklod ng Langit.” In the 1970’s she starred in two memorable movies: Behn Cervantes’s vanished movie, “Sakada” (1976), and earlier, 1973’s “Lipad, Darna, Lipad,” the biggest movie of its time in which she played a “manananggal” to Vilma Santos’s super heroine. Up to now, she considers the last as one of her most unforgettable.
In the 1980’s, she won a new generation of audiences when she played the perennially drunk aunt to a bunch of young males always eager to score points with the women to disastrous effects in “Palibhasa Lalake.”
In 2000, Gloria got what she calls the biggest break of her career when she appeared in “Tanging Yaman.” She almost refused the offer because of scheduling problems. “The movie is very memorable because it came to me on my 50th year in show biz,” she was to say later. “This is the movie I can be proud of. I don’t think the same role would come my way again.”
Out of the klieg lights, Gloria Romero is admired for her gentility and kindness. She has in fact been called a “modern-day saint” by her peers. She does not even lie about her age, insisting that she’s older than her rivals like Nida Blanca and Charito Solis. She laughs off the praises, insisting she’s a sinner like everybody, with her own share of vices, particularly her smoking.
But perhaps a testament to her good nature is her devotion to her husband, actor Juancho Gutierrez. After a long estrangement, she has taken him back, particularly after he suffered a stroke and became paralyzed. She is also devoted to her daughter, chef Maritess Gutierrez, and her grandson.
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