Monday, August 22, 2011


The Philippine Star
Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Absence doesn’t necessarily make the heart grow fonder. At least, this is not always true in show business  what with all those disposable talents waiting to take over. Eight years is also a long time.

But trust Nora Aunor to once more break the unwritten showbiz rules  in the same way she broke barriers more than 40 years ago when she ushered in the era of diminutive and dark-skinned actresses.

Although she was immediately recognized as a phenomenon after her 1967 Tawag ng Tanghalan grand champion win, the entertainment industry wasn’t exactly sure what to do with this tiny brown girl with a golden voice in the beginning.

Even Nora herself didn’t know what step to take next that time. There was even this phase when she almost migrated to the US (yes, America had always lured her to settle there) after she did the front act at the Araneta Coliseum concert of singer Timi Yuro.

Timi wanted to adopt her and bring her to the United States. For a while, Nora did consider the option. But she never regretted having stayed behind because of the succeeding events in her life.

During that period two young female stars were being groomed to take over the movie queen thrones vacated by Susan Roces and Amalia Fuentes – Helen Gamboa and Roces’ own sister Rosemarie (she didn’t use her real surname Sonora until later).

Helen unofficially gave up her right to the crown when she married Tito Sotto  leaving Rosemarie free to claim the movie queen title. Rosemarie by then was the only remaining contract star of Sampaguita Pictures (every one else had gone free lance).

The late great star-builder, Dr. Jose Perez, knew there was something big awaiting Nora and he lost no time offering the singing champion a contract with Sampaguita. Like all the other studio-manufactured stars before her, Nora was made to go through the process of waiting it out till she was ripe enough to carry her film by initially playing support to Rosemarie. The Nora-Tirso (Cruz III) tandem was born, but they were second fiddles to Rosemarie and Ricky Belmonte.

Nora didn’t have to wait long. It was evident that she had developed a huge fan base that could make her a gold mine at the box-office. She was so idolized that whenever she would meet with her fans, some of her followers got down on their knees to kiss the hemline of her 

Her films (and records) became huge moneymakers that she was able to make demands that she be paid in cash (not checks) that had to be delivered to her house in a bayong (native woven basket).

Unfortunately for Sampaguita, which was the first company to gamble on Nora, their prized property was tempted to accept film projects from other movie studios. That triggered a lengthy court battle initiated by Sampaguita that legally had the right to her services as a movie star (the judge in the end ruled in favor of Dr. Perez). Lucky for Nora, while her case was being heard in court, she was still able to make movies for both companies. That turned her into an even bigger star.  
                                                                                                                                                                But away from the protective walls of Sampaguita, Nora also opened herself up to all types of showbiz vultures. Without her knowing it, a movie company would make her do three films for the price of one. 

It was easy to mount a Nora big screen musical that time. All the director had to do was make her render a series of song numbers and all that could be turned into three separate film projects, but she only got paid for one. 

Of course, she eventually realized that she had been had. But she had already been milked dry by then. Showbiz analysts point to this as the reason why she rebelled and became difficult to work and deal with. Perhaps in her young mind, she was always conscious of the sad fact that everyone was out to take advantage of her. And her suspicions weren’t exactly inaccurate. Welcome to the wild jungles of show business where predators abound. 

But despite her reputation for pulling stunts that always included disappearing acts, her star shone even brighter. By the early ‘70s, she had been acknowledged as the superstar  a take-off from the hit foreign musical, Jesus Christ, Superstar. 

It also helped that she knew how to play her cards right. She formed her own movie outfit, NV films, that allowed her to pursue screen parts that were her own choice and not just some role rammed down her throat by a studio out to make a fast buck out of her.  

In 1976, her attempt to be recognized as a serious and respected actress finally bore fruits with this validation from the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino that hailed her as the group’s first Best Actress winner (for Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos). In 1976, her attempt to be recognized as a serious and respected actress finally bore fruits 

Nora couldn’t ask for more at that point. She had both popularity and respect.

And then came longevity.

By the time she left for the US eight years ago, she and rival Vilma Santos had already established themselves as the two longest-reigning queens of Philippine movies.

Now that she had returned, the interest in her had not waned. Even the young generation became curious about her. Showbiz observers of almost 50 years ago were actually right about their assessment of her. Nora Aunor, the superstar, is truly a phenomenon.


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