I know someone who is secretly pleased over the adulation that Nora Aunor continues to enjoy despite her almost ten years of absence from the country.
He does not know La Aunor, nor does Nora know him, but he played a little role in putting the petite Bicolana on the path to mega-popularity.
He was the first person to interview and write about Nora Aunor the singer. The feature article he wrote, “Riding on a Moonbeam,” was published in a small weekly entertainment magazine which the old Manila Chronicle put out with the Sunday issue of the regular newspaper.
That was eons ago and I doubt even the die-hardest Aunor fan or Nora trivia collector knows the identity of that writer, or that the title of the unintended publicity piece was the title of the obscure song she sang in her first appearance on a television program following her winning the 1967 Tawag ng Tanghalan national singing contest.
The writer was then a neophyte newsman, a cub reporter with the sports section of the Chronicle, earning a monthly salary equivalent to minimum wage at that time – enough to pay board and lodging at an Ermita rooming house.
He started writing for the Chronicle weekly entertainment guide because it earned him extra money of about P50 or P100 per article.
One summer evening in 1967, he had an appointment with actor Fred Montilla at a radio-TV station on Taft Avenue near the old Jai Alai fronton. While they both watched off stage, a slip of a lass was introduced as a guest singer. Even before she had segued into the second verse of her song, actor and newsman friend turned to each other to express similar sentiments: “Wow, this little girl can sing.”
The writer waited to interview her after Montilla learned from his manager she had recently turned 14, was still in high school, and had been granted a guest slot because she had been crowned the Tawag ng Tanghalan champion earlier in the week.
The writer remembers Nora Aunor as shy, even withdrawing, whose first act was to introduce the woman with her as her mother, Belinda. She was properly awed on being presented to Montilla, who had won a “Best Actor” award the year after she was born.
The interview was brief because the night had progressed and, as Nora explained apologetically, she and her mother had to catch the last jeep to Nichols. The writer accompanied the pair downstairs from the studio, helped them cross safely to the other side of Taft Avenue, and made sure they got on the correct passenger jeep.
The reporter wrote “Riding on a Moonbeam” as an afterthought, focusing on writing a story on Fred Montilla, which came out with the title “Montilla, a Man for All Seasons.”
It was much later, in the glare of harsh publicity, that it was revealed Nora’s real family name was Villamayor and that she was from Iriga City, Nichols, Pasay City.
Nora Villamayor was 13 when she won two amateur singing contests in Camarines Sur. Friends and relatives urged her to audition for the national Tawag ng Tanghalan contest and the hat was passed to send her and mother Antonia to Manila. They stayed with aunt Belinda Aunor in Nichols and because mother and daughter had never been to Manila, it was tita Belinda who took Nora around. To avoid complications and long explanations, and since it was Belinda who always accompanied her, Nora registered and entered the TNT auditions as Nora Aunor, not Nora Villamayor.
And La Aunor was born.
Meanwhile, the young writer left the Chronicle, became defense reporter and chief of reporters of the Daily Express, transferred to the People’s Journal and rose to become its managing editor, and eventually retired as executive editor of the Journal publications. Three weeks ago last July, before Nora Aunor flew in to Manila from the US, he came out of retirement and joined OpinYon as its associate editor.
The OpinYon welcomes you home, Nora.
Post Script: The question often asked by people made privy to this story is, “Did you ever meet Nora Aunor?”
Yes, I did, only once, a chance encounter, a brief exchange.
I had come from a difficult coverage of communist rebels in their stronghold in the Cordilleras and I stopped for an overnight rest in Bauang, La Union. At dawn the next day, I was walking down the beach with a fisherman acquaintance, taking notes as he talked on the difficulty of eking out a livelihood from the sea. Ahead of us, there was a mild commotion as early beachcombers converged on a group in the center of which was a woman signing autographs. We stopped a young housewife rushing past us and asked what the brouhaha was about. “Si Nora Aunor, si Nora Aunor!” she shouted in girlish glee.
The distance between us and Nora’s group had diminished and when Nora looked up and saw me with notebook and pen in hand, she asked: “Autograph?” I replied, “Sure!” as if it wasn’t any bother on my part. I signed “Alex Allan” with a flourish, ripped the page off my notebook, and handed it to her. La Aunor was stunned speechless but I and my friend were already yards down the strand before her disbelieving aides could react. They may have wanted to hang me but there was nary a bush nor a branch on that barren, beautiful beach.