GUESS WHO CAME TO DINNER
By Pablo A. Tariman
I expected a quiet dinner punctuated by guffaws.
I am more than at home with this showbiz colleague – Baby K. Jimenez – and it is almost impossible to have dinner dates with her without a volley of laughter punctuating the conversation.
Because we make fun of ourselves, we make fun of the pretentious and we make fun of the past (wicked or otherwise) and the future (time to buy memorial plans) as though we had all the time in the world.
But I was hushed to silence when the guests started arriving. First to come was movie queen Susan Roces whose films were what I remember of Catanduanes Theater now long gone.
Second to arrive was The Nora Aunor, and then another iconic Bicolana, Boots Anson Roa with husband, King Rodrigo, Jr.
You are not through staring at Ate Guy when Tirso Cruz III arrived with wife,Lynn Ynchausti.
Tirso and Nora were one of my first showbiz assignments in the pre-martial Graphic Magazine while Susan (and husband FPJ) was the reason Catanduanes Theater was always full especially on a Sunday when moviegoers from all over the island trooped to the capital town to watch their idols.
Sharing one table, you find yourself listening intently on the conversations only to discover the stars were just as human as the rest of us.
Susan asked Boots’ husband what federalism is all about, Nora said the only musical instrument she knows is the guitar and added, “Widow lang (I just play by route).
Seated in one dinner table literally surrounded by stars, I remember my days as movie fan.
In the mid-60s when I first set foot in Manila, I walked from East Avenue to Gilmore Avenue in Quezon City to do whole afternoon vigil at the gates of the Sampaguita Pictures studio hoping to see Susan Roces in person.
Never had such luck.
Saw everyone from Boy Alano to Rosemarie Sonora but never Susan Roces.
When Ricky Lo assigned me to interview Susan Roces, in the early ’90s, I replied with a triple “Yes!”
Waiting at the living room of her Lincoln Street home in Greenhills, I actually was very nervous.
That was the feeling when the one you were about to interview was the same person you had hiked East Ave. to Gilmore Avenue for — just to see them in person. The niece, Sheryl Cruz, appeared in the living room and told me “Swanee” would be around in a while. “Mukhang nininerbiyos. Baka daw mahihirap ang mga tanong mo,” she said and I thought she was kidding.
Actually, I was the one nervous (or maybe more due to excitement).
When Susan appeared, I thought I saw a saint descend in the living room.
It took a while to break the ice as I instantly recalled how I would frequent Catanduanes Theater in Virac everytime there was a Susan Roces-FPJ starrer.
In that meeting in the early 90s, I actually became more relaxed when she recalled her first audition at the Sampaguita studio and one of the scenes she was made to re-enact during the audition was an “attempted rape” scene. She said she hollered “Saklolo” as though her life depended on that scream. We ended up sharing laughter because she said she was very naïve when she did that scene.
Later during the interview, she also recalled visiting the grave of a close relative and noticed what looked like snow all over the place, “Pablo, I thought finally nagka-snow na sa Pilipinas. But when I touched it, sabi ko bakit hindi malamig?”
It turned out they were just ashes from Mt. Pinatubo whose eruptions sent ashes kilometers away into the the wide Philippine skies.
Again, we shared boisterous laughter and then I realized my movie idol was just as human as the girl next door.
I told Susan her laughter was contagious in “FPJ’s Ang Probinsiyano”especially in that scene where her character noticed Onyok (the celebrated kid in the teleserye) sported a false mustache and had himself prematurely circumsized.
In this select crowd, you had time to gently approach your favorite stars. Approaching Nora, one told her one voted for Sen. Grace Poe to ask for justice for her being dropped in the list of National Artists (she got the highest number of votes among the nominees).
Deep into the night, you had these stars all to yourself as dinner guests and not as presscon personalities.
The sumptuous dinner hosted by filmmaker Carlitos Siguion Reyna and actor-writer Bibeth Orteza was as intimate as it should be and a fitting despedida for showbiz writer Baby K again leaving for Canada after campaigning for Sen. Grace Poe who literally grew up with her and the family of FPJ.
You got snatches of the life of the host as she recounted a life before the marriage when she discarded her activist look for a night at the opera with her loved one. The way she narrated and acted the scene, it was almost as though you are watching a scene from the movies.
Just after the picture-taking which was an event by itself, you hear about backstage stories of stars. Some are funny, the rest are tragic and some peppered by “kilig” moments.
I rue the so-called misfortunes in earthly life bring out the best in some artists.
After coffee and dessert, memories are once again shared.
Two in the group recounted they once re-enacted scenes from “Julia” which is about two activitists soliciting help for persecuted colleagues. One recounted being asked to come with someone in the washroom and have her bag opened and then something was dropped for someone in her next overseas destinations.
The stars and the non-stars have come to terms with their lives.
As for me, that dinner date made me come full cycle in my life as movie fan. Now I commute between the arts and the movies and happily enjoying the best of both worlds.
And how I wish pianist Cecile Licad was there playing for her fans in the showbiz circle.
The hosts have a full grand piano in the living room where Licad used to rehearse before her Manila engagements.
By coincidence, Licad has a showbiz background. Her mother Rosario Buencamino Licad grew up in the compound of LVN studios where filmmaker Mike de Leon is a close relative.
But then again in the island airport, I recalled being told by an islander that she once studied music history under Licad’s pianist-mother who used to teach at University of the East.
Looking at Susan Roces and Boots Anson Roa and Nora Aunor in the same dinner table, I couldn’t help recalling my happy days in the island when I’d emerged fulfilled and amply rewarded with a double movie treat in the only theater in the island in the 60s.