Thursday, June 14, 2007

Untold Pinoy Story No. 14

Anak ng Pasay

Do you remember these songs?


Sealed with a Kiss

The Birds and the Bees

When Summer is Gone

Save your Heart for Me

The Night Has a Thousand Eyes

If you do, then you must have been one of those screaming teens who trooped to the Araneta Coliseum in the mid-60s when the 22-year old singer who popularized these songs had a successful concert with his band, The Playboys. This young singer was named after actor Cary Grant but his birth certificate erroneously recorded his name as Gary. Yes, this young singer is Gary Lewis, the son of Hollywood comedian Jerry Lewis.

During Gary Lewis and the Playboys’ concert at the Araneta Coliseum, one of their back-up dancers was a pretty Filipina named Gemma. At the rehearsal, Gary complimented Gemma for her good looks. But Gemma surprised Gary with her response: “You must meet my sister”.

The next day, Gemma dragged her morena-complexioned sister, Jinky, to Gary’s dressing room. When Gary set his eyes on Jinky, Gary momentarily forgot that he came to Manila for a concert. Less than a year later, Jinky Suzara officially became Mrs. Gary Lewis.

Yes, Gary Lewis married an ordinary Filipina teenager at the height of his popularity.

Gary and Jinky’s love story inspired the brilliant comics novelist, Mars Ravelo, to write a comics novel about them. Mars Ravelo was the author of such popular comics novel as Darna, Dyesebel, Captain Barbel, Bondying, Wanted:Perfect Mother, Maruja, among many others.

Entitled Haydee, The Brown Girl and the White Idol, the illustrated comics novel about Gary and Jinky appeared in Teen Agers’ Songs and Shows comics (later shortened to TSS comics). TSS comics is a comics-sized magazine filled with showbiz articles and illustrated novels in Taglish.

The comics novel immediately gained popularity. Aling Miling Blas of Lea Productions (named after her daughter, not the Broadway star), one of the major film companies at the time, immediately bought the rights to Mars Ravelo’s comics novel to turn it into a movie.

Aling Miling Blas hyped up the movie’s production by conducting a search for the actress who would play the role of Haydee which was based on the real-life character of Jinky Suzara. She wanted a fresh face to play the role opposite TV host Ed Finlan who would play the role of Gary Lewis.

The long quest for Haydee finally ended when they found a young woman who had just won as a runner-up in a beauty competition. Her name was Marilou Destreza. Although Marilou Destreza lacks the sophistication of Jinky Suzara, her beauty is undoubtedly stunning.

However, there was a little problem. Marilou’s mother was the epitome of a stage mother. She was overly protective of her daughter. One day, Marilou's mother brought a list of conditions relative to Marilou's appearance in the movie. Some of these conditions were too outrageous to be taken seriously.

Marilou Destreza was suddenly out of the picture, literally and figuratively. They started a new search for a fresh face to essay the role of Haydee.

Their search brought them to the slums of Pasay City. While roaming among the cardboard houses of Leveriza, they were captivated by a 13-year old mestiza who was fetching water from a poso. They wasted no time and immediately approached the charming mestiza. The 13-year old mestiza’s real-life story was worthy of a film itself. The 13-year old mestiza’s mother was abandoned by her American husband when the 13-year old mestiza was still a toddler.

The 13-year old mestiza from the slums of Leveriza was finally launched as a major star, heralding the return of the mestiza glamour of movie stars of the old which came to a halt with the entry of the diminutive morena and plain-looking Leonora Cabaltera Villamayor a.k.a. Nora Aunor to her legion of fans.

The 13-year old maestiza slum girl’s name is Susan.

In the movie, Santiago, the teenage Susan acted with the king of Philippine movies, Fernando Poe, Jr. Susan played the role of a deaf-mute girl. While filmimg this movie, they even inserted real dirt inside Susan’s fingernails for authenticity. But all her sacrifices in this movie paid off. Susan got the attention of the critics. She even won the FAMAS award for best supporting actress for this movie, besting several veteran actresses. This award also gave Susan the distinction of being the youngest recipient of the FAMAS best supporting actress trophy.
Susan was paired with a shy but goodlooking actor who grew up with his adopted parents. But they were regarded as only a minor loveteam. They could not compete with the phenomenal popularity of the loveteams of Guy & Pip (Nora Aunor and Tirso Cruz III) and Vi & Bot (actress-turned-mayor-turned-governor Vilma Santos and actor-turned writer-turned-TV director Edgar Mortiz who ended up marrying another Santos, Millette Santos, who is the younger sister of ABS-CBN executive Charo Santos-Concio).

But in a later movie, Cherry Blossoms, which was Lea Productions’ entry to the Manila Film Festival that year, Susan was paired with a young man named Nicholas Hammond. Anyone who has seen the movie, The Sound of Music, would remember Nicholas Hammond. Yes, Nicholas Hammond was the young boy who played the role of Friedrich von Trapp, the eldest son of Christopher Plummer (who played Captain von Trapp) in The Sound of Music.
Just like other good actors, Susan has her share of acting quirks. To get herself into the movie character that she plays, Susan would stay in her van before a shoot. She would hold a mirror and stare at herself. By the time she emerges from her van, she has morphed into her movie character.

Since then, Susan had established herself as a major dramatic actress in Philippine movies. Susan gained international recognition when one of her most memorable films, which was shot in the slums, was screened at the Cannes Film Festival to rave reviews.

Susan’s star soared to great heights.
Meanwhile, starlet Marilou Destreza plunged to oblivion.

Susan also appeared in a memorable Lux soap TV commercial which was reminiscent of the house of mirrors climactic scene in Orson Welles' movie, The Lady from Shanghai which starred Rita Hayworth and which will have a remake starring Nicole Kidman to be directed by Wong Kar Wai (who also directed the highly acclaimed In The Mood for Love). Susan's TV commercial came out way after Claudia Cardinale's and way before Michelle Pfeiffer's similar endorsements, to mention a few of the other beautiful women around the world who appeared in a Lux TV commercial.

But Susan does not only possess one of the most beautiful faces in Philippine cinema, notwithstanding her exceptional acting ability. She is also a smart girl who knew the value of education. Despite her enormous popularity and hectic film schedule, she managed to finish a degree in International Studies at Maryknoll College (now Miriam College). As if that was not enough, Susan even completed her Masters Degree in the same school.

At a very young age, Susan secretly married an equally brilliant actor. But Aling Miling Blas guarded this secret with the ferocity of a lion in order to protect Susan’s booming career. Susan and the actor had one biological daughter. They also adopted a couple of kids.

But Susan’s marriage with the briliant actor did not last. Later, Susan’s brilliant actor ex-husband decided to live with another brilliant actress who also hailed from the slums, like Susan.

On the other hand, Susan had a series of failed relationships. Her succeeding children were fathered by different men. But they were mostly intelligent and decent men. From actor to businessman to doctor.

Susan’s only biological daughter with her brilliant actor ex-husband lived with Susan’s businessman ex-husband and his new wife (a popular ramp model-turned TV sitcom actress-turned housewife) while she was taking up a nursing course in the United States. Later, Susan’s businessman ex-husband was found lifeless while resting on a couch in his house.

Despite her failed relationships with different men, Susan has kept her integrity as an exceptional movie actress.

If you ask any respectable film critic for a list of all-time ten best film actresses of Philippine cinema, Susan would definitely be on top of that list.

But they would probably not list her by her real name, Susan Reid.

Instead, they would list her by her screen name.

They would list her as Hilda Koronel.

Yes, Hilda Koronel is the screen name of Susan Reid.

And most of you know the rest of her colorful life story.
Images from,,

NEXT: The Best Filipino Film of All Time was Adapted from a Novel Written by a Construction Worker from Tondo