(A Tribute to Some Pioneering Comedians of Philippine Showbusiness)
Laughter is the best medicine; and for many decades, Philippine cinema has been healing the masses with its share of remarkable comedians. Since the 1950s, a great number of Filipino actors and actresses have etched their names in the annals of Philippine comedy. The following are among the most notable.
Dolphy: King of Comedy
In real life, Dolphy was Rodolfo Vera Quizon Sr. (1928–2012). He was born in Pampanga and grew up in Tondo, Manila. Started as a struggling stage performer, he was soon discovered by the late actor Fernando Poe Sr. He first appeared in the movie Dugo at Bayan (I Remember Bataan) (1946, Palaris Films), starring Fernando Poe and Patricia Mijares; but the movie in which his comedic talent finally stood out was Sa Isang Sulyap Mo, Tita (1953, Sampaguita Pictures), starring Pancho Magalona and Tita Durán. Soon after, Dolphy was starring in an average of eight films per year, the earliest and most memorable of which included Jack and Jill (1953, Sampaguita Pictures), with Rogelio de la Rosa and Lolita Rodriguez; Captain Barbell (1964, D’Lanor / FPJ Productions), with Bob Soler; The 7 Faces of Dr. Sibago (1966, Paraiso Productions); Pepe en Pilar (1966, RR Productions), with Susan Roces; Facifica Falayfay (1969, RVQ Productions), with Panchito, Pilar Pilapil, and Rod Navarro; Ang Tatay Kong Nanay (1978, Lotus Films), with Niño Muhlach; and Facundo Alitaftaf (1978, Regal Films), with Lotis Key and Trixia Gomez. Dolphy has also been prolific as a television star—he was the lead character, John Puruntong, in John en Marsha (1973–1990, RPN), the longest-running comedy sitcom in the Philippines in the 1980s; and Kevin Cosme in Home along da Riles (1992–2003, ABS-CBN). Dolphy’s having acted in hundreds of movies, one of the last of which was 2010’s Father Jejemon, had shown his impressive longevity and prolificacy as an actor.
In 2009, Dolphy was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, resulting to the slowing down of his acting career and the deterioration of his health and frequent admission to the hospital. He finally succumbed to the complications of the disease on July 10, 2012. He was 83.
My late maternal grandfather, Conrado Lanuza Vera Sr., used to tell me that Dolphy was a distant relative of ours on the Vera side of our clan; I am yet to confirm if this is true. In 2008, I’m glad that I was able to meet Dolphy and many of his children and grandchildren—whom included Eric, Jeffrey, Ronnie, Boy2, and Vandolph—when they staged a show in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, where I live. As the associate editor of Filipino Journal—a Filipino community newspaper—I was a part of the production/sponsorship team. My personal favorite among Dolphy’s movies remains to be 1978’s Ang Tatay Kong Nanay, which paired him with Niño Muhlach, my other favorite Filipino actor.
Panchito: The King’s Sidekick
Alfonso D. Tagle Sr. in real life (1925–1995), Panchito was best known as Dolphy’s sidekick especially during the latter’s early acting days. Panchito was a son of the Filipina actress Etang Discher. His prominent big nose was his trademark. His career in showbusiness started in 1942 when he joined a ‘bodabil’ troupe (Philippine version of vaudeville). Panchito’s first movie appearance was—like Dolphy’s—in Sa Isang Sulyap Mo, Tita. His tandem with Dolphy became a massive hit that the pair went on to team up in over 50 movies—which extended to television sitcoms. Perhaps the most memorable of these Dolphy-Panchito movies were Kalabog en Bosyo (1959, Sampaguita Pictures), Beatnik (1960, Sampaguita Pictures), Si Lucio at si Miguel (1962, Sampaguita Pictures), Pepe en Pilar (1966), Fefita Fofonggay (1973, RVQ Productions), Bugoy (1979, Hemisphere Pictures), Max en Jess (1980, Four-N Films), and Bakit Kinagat ni Adan ang Mansanas ni Eba? (1988, RVQ Productions). In November 1995, Panchito suffered a stroke which left him comatose until his demise in the month that followed.
Chiquito: Prince of Spoofs
Chiquito was Augusto V. Pangan Sr. in real life (1932–1997). He started his career in entertainment at the age of 13, appearing in a major musical production at Manila Grand Opera House—the center of Philippine culture and the venue for plays, movies, and musicals prior to the construction of Cultural Center of the Philippines in 1969. Chiquito also became popular in the bodabil circuit for his dancing skills. His friend Fernando Poe Sr. was the one who helped him start a career in movie, the first of which was Sanggano (1947, Palaris Films). Chiquito eventually starred in over a hundred of films in the decades that followed. He became popularly associated with the characters that he portrayed, like Mr. Wong, Barok, Tacio, Mang Kepweng, Asyong Aksaya, Pete Matipid, and Estong Tutong.
He was known also for having starred in countless spoof movies, which included Sinbad the Tailor (1973, HPS Film Productions), spoof of Ray Harryhausen’s Sinbad movies; Lasíng Master (1980, Emperor Films), spoof of Jacky Chan’s The Drunken Master; Rocky Tu-log (1981, Emperor Films) and Rocky Four-ma (1986, Bo-Mel Films), spoofs of Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky movies; E.T. Is Estong Tutóng (1983, Archer Productions), spoof of Steven Spielberg’s E.T.; and High Blood (1985, GP Films), spoof of Sylvester Stallone’s First Blood. Chiquito’s last movie appearance was in Strict ang Parents Ko (1997, Neo Films), with Amanda Page. He died of liver cancer in the same year.
The Last Leaf
No matter how sad or difficult our lives are unfolding in some stages, we must still try to laugh. In such cases, nothing is perhaps more therapeutic than a dose of laughter. So, if you ever have the chance to get hold of a copy of any of the movies of such talented comedians and comediennes of Philippine cinema, take time to watch it. To those like me who grew up in the Philippines, our very own comedy films will surely be effective in curing us of our sadness and most especially of our homesickness. But, of course, we may also watch them even in happy times.