Sweet memories are made of these

- Baby K. Jimenez -
I was in Manila for two weeks in November (to attend the nuptials of my nephew Gary) and there I happened to celebrate the US Thanksgiving (Nov. 22, this turkey day among many Americans is bigger than Christmas). That special event also coincided with a despedida party hosted by Susan Roces, Charo Santos, Boots Anson Roa, Bibeth Orteza, Jo San Diego, (would you like to hold my hand at all nite stand, the deejay superstar of the ’60s) Elizabeth Poe (FPJ’s eldest sister; Beth had told me and you’d like to hear this: "Ronnie was a big fan of the radio soap Kapitan Kidlat during our childhood days."), Ferdie Trinidad (an associate during my Gatt Maggay days), Tessie Batista-Villarama (yes, my kababata, we’re born a day apart at the same hospital) and the "Soc Rodrigo Clan" (Pempe, Bing, Boogie and Geegee), to name a few.

As we raised our colas and uncolas to a toast, I reminded everyone that it marked my 17th year of stay in Los Angeles.

I still remember when my plane had touched down at the LAX airport then. It was the eve of Thanksgiving and people were rushing and there I was almost fighting over a suitcase at the carousel. I almost said, "excuse me!?" But this man beside me was so cool, giving me a smile and I almost died! My God, he was James Gardner (okay, okay, Move Over Darling, Doris – does that tell you how old I am?)

Anyway, on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2001, I flew back in at the NAIA (wow, how could I imagine this is now the new name of Manila International Airport? I was there at the wake of Ninoy practically everyday, with Ken and Lupita Kashiwahara and now, Sen. Tessie Aquino-Oreta). My last meeting with Ninoy was in the dead of winter, February of 1982 (I have never written this at all before).

Was with Nora Aunor on a personal appearance stint at a downtown theater in Golden Gate City. Lupita had told me that Ninoy might be around after 9 and she would let us know if we wanted to come. I told Guy, I would, no matter what. Guy had expressed the same interest, she was going.

True enough, as big as life itself, there was Ninoy, waiting at Lupita and Ken‘s town home. It was a night of endless chatter, he talked about his younger days, how he got involved in the movies, writing the script of Korea for LVN, and being rumored to be in love with the film’s actress, Nida Blanca.

When I asked if it was true that he and Nida were an item, he gave me a boyish grin and went on to continue his story. Yes, he was going back to the Philippines but not that year.

Was he going to run for President? "It all depends," and left it there. Nora was as usual trying to be so shy and "cute" and kept calling him kuya Ninoy and posed for photographs with him. "Idol ko, idol ko," Guy kept repeating. Ninoy was just smiling. Lupita and Ken offered coffee, tea or what else did we want? The quiet get-together at Pacifica lasted till 2 a.m. and before leaving the house (we have stayed at Ninoy‘s other sister, their youngest, Tessie Oreta’s at Cypress), Lupita had to look out the window several times for Guy’s sake, "Somebody might tell and Ninoy doesn’t want you to get into trouble…" Them were the days.

Yes, my arrival now in Manila was the 40th day of prayers for my dear, dear pal Jesse Cruz (Ricky Belmonte) and ninth day for Bong Erana. Both events I had missed due to extreme jetlag. However, I made it to Nida’s funeral and found myself seated with Sahlee Quizon, Mameng Solis (Charito’s sister), Susan Roces, with Dolphy and Zsa Zsa Padilla, FPJ behind – and Nova Villa and Maricel Soriano in front.

To my left were LVNers: Delia Razon (Tita Lucy, as the late Jay Ilagan called her), Nita Javier, Rosa Rosal, Lourdes Medel, Nestor de Villa, Luz Valdez, Marita Zobel, Robert Campos, Mila Ocampo, Snooky, Manding Claro, Bernard Bonnin, San Juan Mayor JV Ejercito and, to my right, Eddie Gutierrez and Anabelle Rama. When I extended by condolences to Nida‘s daughter Kaye, who was sitting between Nida’s husband and her Mom on the front row, I whispered, "Do you still remember me?"

Her face glowed in recognition as she nodded in acquiescence. Years and years ago, Kaye and I would huddle in a corner and chat on the set of Nida’s films. At one point Nida had mentioned, "Kaye is moving to Los Angeles, look her up naman." But we really never got to exchanging phone numbers.

I can‘t believe I had covered so much in this visit, like an impromptu dinner with erstwhile President "Erap" Estrada, Senators Tito Sotto and Tessie Oreta; an unexpected meeting with Christopher de Leon and Sandy Andolong at the Ayala Alabang Town Center, an oysters gathering at Via Mare with Jeric Soriano (Nestor de Villa’s son, now a famous director for commercials) and wife Isang, Diane Jose-Manglapus, Beth Quinn (other half of Al); meeting Kris Aquino for the first time at ABS, and, of course, the grand reunion with media friends like Bibsy Carballo, Ricky Lo, Ronald Constantino, and Nestor Cuartero who have become more like family than colleagues of the trade, not to mention Ate Luds (Inday Badiday).

My friends are my treasures. How could I forget Manila?

Of course, I am now back here at the Century City twin towers (a replica of the World Trade Center twins as both were designed by Minoru Yamasaki) where I have worked in the past 14 years. I am still involved in cinema, "indirectly" that is.

Now you want to ask, where and what is Century City? Let me tell you. Originally, the mini metropolis now known as Century City was the 176-acre Tom Mix ranch, and later the 20th Century Fox Film Studios’ backlot and site of famous movie westerns. Can you imagine that it was here, among the streets and walkways, that classic American cowboys such as Tom Mix and John Wayne rode into the sunset through the open fields? Here, the Plantation House once stood and was used for countless pictures related to the South. Here, also, was the Algerian Street used in numerous films dealing with the Middle and Far East. And here, too, in 1967 New York Street was built at a cost of $2-M for the movie Hello Dolly, starring Barbra Streisand. Now, the plaza includes the Century Plaza Hotel which has hosted presidents, celebrities and dignitaries. Also in the area is Shubert Theatre (to be torn down soon) only a mile off Beverly Hills. Shubert has presented Sunset Boulevard, Annie and recently the smash hit Mamma Mia.

Yes, am not that far away from the Hollywood deities. My floor is right below HBO. Last week, I tried to catch the elevator and yelled, "Hold it for me, please!" as I was running late. There was this guy in white T-shirt saying, "You got it!" and as I eased my way into the car, I realized he‘s Mike Myers! Yesterday at lunch time, I took the escalator with Ellen DeGeneres! Of course, now I miss the almost daily sighting of Dorothy McGuire (remember A Summer Place?), As you have heard, Dorothy expired on Sept. 13 at age 83. I used to see her during my lunch breaks at the Plaza. The first time I saw her was three years ago. I spotted her walking slowly with the aid of a younger person and as she approached me, I was just tongue-tied as I recognized her.

So I stood up and said, "Good afternoon, ma’m… are you Dorothy McGuire?" Oh, the sparkle on her face. "You know me?" she asked… and I said how could I forget… and I mentioned "A Summer Place… " Easily, she said, "Hmmm, you must have been a fan of Sandra Dee."

That started our acquaintance. I would always come near her and talk. She loved to walk around the plaza as part of her regimen. I was to learn later that she went to the Philippines during the "‘old" Channel 5 days and became friends with Lupita. In fact, she was a house guest and Lupita called her "Mama Dorothy."

It was a fun encounter with James Wood – he would be there towards five. He said he was closing a deal with HBO. And there‘s this young attractive female person who always sat in the lobby waiting for her ride. James thought this person was my friend so he approached me and requested to be introduced.

I did because I know her first name: Teresa. They started dating! After a week, I saw Teresa and she told me, "Oh boy, that James. I will not go out with him anymore. I don’t like him!"

The following day at the parking lot, I heared someone calling my name, "Felice!" (Yeah, I am more known here as Felice rather than Baby. No one is called Baby in America.) When I looked back, it was James. "Hey, guess what. Your friend doesn’t want to go out with me anymore. Why is that?" And I said, "How would I know?"

One morning, I was busy supervising a video conference with 50 clients in attendance, and on my way out, I accidentally bumped into a guy with his back towards me. He immediately said, "Sorry, Miss… " and when I looked into his eyes, - wow, it was Cliff Robertson! (Hello, Charly!).

I found out he was with a client. Or that afternoon when I edited a trust deed and I brought it into a private conference room, the door swang open and my eyes grew wide – Elizabeth Hurley herself saying thank you. (You should hear about my wonderful encounter with Barbra Streisand.)

I could go on and on and tell you all about these amusing experiences, reminding me how mostly people here let themselves be baffled by Elvis Presley sightings. Elvis? Ha?! I do remember Susan (Roces’) story of how she met Elvis in Las Vegas. And speaking of Susan, wait a minute, I have tons of episodes to tell. Remember, ‘tis now the season to be jolly.

And that means, it is her 33rd wedding anniversary with Fernando Poe Jr. Yes, Christmas Day. Santuario de San Jose, Greenhills. A band was playing Daigdig Ko’y Ikaw (also the title of the first FPJ, Sr. co-starrer) in front of the Church. But why a wedding on Christmas Day?

Wilson St. (now a mecca of restaurants and stores) in Greenhills in the ’60s – or rather at that time, more identified as little Baguio, San Juan, Rizal, was relatively quiet and privy except when movie fans trekked to the famous #226 digs to catch a glimpse of Susan. The diehards would normally board a G-Liner bus or a jeepney to get them transported to main thoroughfare, then walk a few blocks to get to their idol‘s residence.

On Dec. 15, 1968, right after a basketball game at Araneta Coliseum where the FPJ All Stars did a game with Susan as their muse, a union was about to happen.

It was the eve of Simbang Gabi and the following day, people celebrated a rumor: Ronnie Poe had eloped with Susan! Just when tongues in local cinema had started wagging that the super couple had just broken off. I was surprised myself and was waiting for confirmation and – my publishers were asking, "Where is the scoop? Get the scoop!"

In a matter of hours, I found myself being hounded by calls. The message was loud and clear. Bert Tablan (Mang Bert was how we would call him), FPJ’s official publicist, wanted to see me! If there were pagers then, cell phones, emails and text messages, I would have been found in seconds! When Mang Bert finally saw me at Roper‘s Studio, he said "Yes," before I could ask and handed me a letter. "From Susan, she wants to see you!" he said.

I almost tore the note open. The letter was written on lined paper pad from school. Undoubtedly, I saw Susan’s handwriting (I have kept the letter to date).

"Dearest Babes, I want you to know that I am so happy right now. Yes, we got married (civil rites in Bulacan) and I want to see you as soon as you can…"

In less than 24 hours, I was ringing the doorbell at the famous Wilson St. Susan was wearing a white dress with an accent of a tiny red piping. She looked radiant – I had never seen her so beautiful! She hugged me with tears in her eyes. "How are you, Mrs. Ronnie Poe?" I mumbled. Like Susan, I was crying.

"We cannot get any other date in December, so the church wedding will be on Christmas Day, morning. Come, I will tell you the details, and will also complete the entourage list."

The principal sponsors of course included then President and Mrs. Ferdinand Marcos, Lawyer Espiridion Laxa, Azucena Vera-Perez, Sen. and Mrs. Soc Rodrigo.

"Now the secondary," she said. She called out my name.

"I said, yes! I am ready."

Then she repeated my name.

"Yes, I am ready. Who now?"

She started to chuckle, "You! You are part of the wedding. Ikaw!" I could not believe what I heard and the next thing I knew we were both at the Pitoy Moreno’s shop, having our measurements taken.

After the wedding, on our way to the airport for their Japan honeymoon, I saw the couple off and FPJ gave me a hug and said, "Thank you, thank you very much for being her friend."

So, how does it feel to be married now for 33 years? This brings to mind a cute story told to me by their daughter Mary Grace Poe (now Mrs. Neil Llamanzares). It was 1990, spring time and I was with Susan in Boston to attend Grace‘s university graduation. We stayed at a condo near Massachusetts and in one of our evenings, Grace was saying, "Ay naku, Papa and Mama, they’re so in love. Do you know they were watching this video, Pretty Woman, wow, holding hands!"

How long is forever? I don‘t know. But the same look of unalloyed bliss was what I saw when I travelled with Charo Santos to San Francisco for her wedding to Cesar Concio in November, 1982. Held at the Pebble Lodge of Monterey, the wedding was simple but elegant. Charo donned a Rikki Jimenez outfit. She marched to a beautiful melody of violins as doves soared to sky. It was hauntingly beautiful. A few days after the wedding, Lupita had invited us to hers and Ken’s home for dinner.

Like Susan, Charo has remained a very cherished friend.

And holidaying, of course, makes you remember only the good things.

I wonder who will I see next in my plaza. Last time, I missed seeing Brad Pitt – he was right there in my building and I was late for five minutes!

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