Remembering a versatile actor
STAR BYTES - Butch Francisco () - July 22, 2003 - 12:00am
There is a morbid observation in show business about how death comes in threes. Sadly, this proved to be true last week, when three veteran actors went to their eternal rest in close succession.

First to go was Cesar Ramirez, who died last July 17. Two days later, Oscar Moreno and Vic Vargas also went to the world beyond. All three were products of the Sampaguita dream factory.

Oscar Moreno and Cesar Ramirez are still lying in state (at the Funeraria Paz and Mt. Carmel, respectively) as of this writing, while Vic Vargas’ remains have been cremated.

Below, allow me to pay tribute to these three actors who created their respective niches in local show business.
Vic Vargas
Vic Vargas was the he-man and macho of Philippine movies. Born Jose Maria Marfort Asuncion on March 28, 1939, he was a campus heartthrob when he was taking up Commerce at the University of Sto. Tomas. His ticket to fame was his physique. In fact, before he became an actor, he first hosted a judo show on Channel 7 in 1961. Then came the movies the following year. He played the title role in Diegong Tabak with Lolita Rodriguez as his leading lady.

Then, together with Dolphy, he did the hilarious action-comedy Tarzan vs. Tansan. They had two former Miss Philippines winners as leading ladies: Josephine Estrada and Cynthia Ugalde.

Vic Vargas stayed with Sampaguita until the mid-‘60s, where he did mostly action films: Ang Rosario at ang Tabak, Walang Takot sa Patalim, Kumander Judo, Mga Kanyon ng Corregidor and Paratroops Squadron.

From action, he shifted to sex flicks – actually bomba movies that became the fad in the early ‘70s: Apoy ng Kaligayan with Stella Suarez and Rosanna Ortiz; Busog with Merle Fernandez, Bert Leroy Jr. and Philip Gamboa, Mister Incredible with Jessica, Rosanna Ortiz and Ricky Santiago and Ang Bukid ay Basa with Gina Laforteza and Rosanna Ortiz.

But the majority of the films he did were really action or drama laced with sex scenes: Mga Hagibis (no rleation to Sonny parsons and his singing group) with Eddie Rodriguez and Eddie Garcia; Ako’y Tao, May Dugo at Laman, an Armando Garces all-star cast drama with Rita Gomez, Helen Gamboa, Perla Bautista, Leila Morena, Eddie Garcia, Eddie Gutierrez, Leopoldo Salcedo and Ramil Rodriguez, Kapwa Limbas with Roberto Gonzales and Rosanna Ortiz and Dodong Ko with Gloria Sevilla, Perla Bautista, Anita Linda and Frankie Navaja Jr.

In 1971, he did his most important film – Pagdating sa Dulo, which was also the first movie of Ishmael Bernal. Voted one of the best films of the ‘70s by the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino, Pagdating was a commentary on crass commercialism, materialism and the state of the movie industry. Aside from Vargas (who played a taxi driver-turned-movie actor), the movie also starred Rita Gomez, Eddie Garcia and Elvira Manahan.

It was El Vibora, however, that gave him his first Best Actor award (Manila Film Festival, 1972). Serialized in Liwayway, El Vibora cast him as a bandit on the lookout for the man who raped his sister and killed his family (It was Leopoldo Salcedo, a supposedly good citizen of the community, who did it). El Vibora also starred Boots Anson-Roa as his love interest.

The following year, he repeated his victory at the Manila Film Festival for Nueva Vizcaya, where he played a warring Tarican. The film also starred Zaldy Zshornack and was the launching movie of Miss Republic of the Philippines, Evangeline Reyes.

In 1974, he also played leading man in the movie debut of another beauty queen-turned-actress – Gloria Diaz, this time in Ang Pinakamagandang Hayop sa Balat ng Lupa.

The other movies he made with the former Miss Universe were Amor, An Affair in Tahiti and much later, Hayop sa Ganda with another Miss Universe, Amparo Muñoz.

To show their versatility, Vargas and Diaz also tried comedy in the Andres de Saya series.

The other significant movies he did were Pito ang Asawa Ko, Sinong Kapiling, Sinong Kasiping?, Banta ng Kahapon, The King and the Emperor and In Dis Korner which gave him an Urian Best Actor nomination.

On television, he also topbilled Lahi ni Adan on a round-robin basis with Bert Leroy, Jr., Dindo Fernando and Jay Ilagan (All of Vargas’ episodes were directed by Lupita Concio (now Kashiwahara).

And there was a time he also tried hosting Tawag ng Tanghalan after the death of the original male host, Lopito (the hosting job eventually went to Pugo).

Vic Vargas was also among the first batch of actors who joined the Charismatic movement. A few years before he died, he also did his share for the environment when he joined Bantay-Dagat in Palawan.

(Next: Remembering Oscar Moreno and Cesar Ramirez)

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