Nora & Tirso’s Maria Leonora Theresa

STARBYTES - Butch Francisco () - May 1, 2004 - 12:00am
This piece is going to be trivia at its lightest. But no matter how inconsequential this topic may be, as you read on, you will discover how important our subject matter was in movie fan history.

I’m actually referring to a walking doll named Maria Leonora Theresa, which was given by Tirso Cruz III to Nora Aunor during the early days of their legendary Guy and Pip love team. (The name Leonora, in fact, was taken from Nora, while Theresa was the female form of Tirso because Tirsa wouldn’t have sounded nice.)

The issue of Maria Leonora Theresa was brought up again because during the exhibit of the Nora Aunor memorabilia last week at the Folk Arts Theater grounds, the estimated 5,000 people who trooped there all had one question: Where was Maria Leonora Theresa?

Sure, there was a section devoted to her – to it – with blow-up pictures and all. But the actual doll wasn’t there. And you can understand their disappointment.

For the benefit of today’s generation who may not understand all the fuss over a missing doll, allow me to tell you the place of importance Maria Leonora Theresa had in the 1970s pop culture. (Who would forget that ditty Maria Leonora Theresa sung and composed by Tirso Cruz III–with lyrics by the late Ike Lozada?)

But let me backtrack a bit by citing what the late National Artist Nick Joaquin had written in his Almanac for Manileños about how girls in the 1920s were named Lourdes after the Grotto Virgin and Teresa or Teresita in the early 1930s after St. Therese of Lisieux.

During the godless era of the 1970s when most churches were empty, names of newborn babies were no longer patterned after saints of the Catholic Church. Movie fan parents around this time turned to their favorite screen idols and one of the more popular names for girls then was, of course, Nora – after Ms. Aunor who was beginning her reign as screen superstar.

Maria Leonora Theresa, however, was another favorite name and I swear I’ve met and have in fact, befriended women now in their early 30s who were named after the then famous doll.

But how famous was Maria Leonora Theresa? Marichu Maceda has a favorite story about her – about it. In the early ‘70s she had just returned to the Philippines after a long stay in the United States when she experienced culture shock right in her own country. She remembers attending a premiere night for Sampaguita Pictures at the Life Theater when she realized how petite (short was more like it, except that Ms. Maceda had always been polite and careful with her words) local movie stars had become. When she left the country in the ‘60s, movie stars like Amalia Fuentes and Susan Roces were tall and statuesque. But to her surprise, when the master of ceremonies were calling in the young stars of that generation during that premiere night at Life, no one seemed to have shot up beyond five feet: Esperanza Fabon, Eva Vibar, etc. "What is this? Have we been invaded by midgets?" she asked in her mind.

But the biggest shock came when she saw being brought on stage somebody (or something) no more than three feet tall. It was a doll and it was getting the wildest shriek of all. She thought for a while that there was going to be a stampede – and over a doll!

There are other interesting anecdotes about Maria Leonora Theresa – about how Guy and Pip fans would fall in line and offer presents to the doll on her birthday. Yes, she had a birthday – October 6, the day Tirso gave her to Nora. (This is also the anniversary of the Guy and Pip love team.)

Presents would be in the form of dresses and even jewelry. "Ma-alajas ang manyikang ‘yon," Nora told me one time. While most jewelry gifts were paste, some were real gems. A movie fan remembers giving the doll a set of gold rings and bracelets with a matching necklace. The doll’s ears were even pierced so that it could wear earrings.

Maria Leonora Theresa was a doll that never wore the same outfit twice – an indication of how extensive her wardrobe collection was. On days when Nora and Tirso were having a lovers‘ quarrel, the doll would show up in functions wearing black.

The doll actually had several public appearances and would be sent to movie premieres often as Nora’s official representative. However, it wasn’t all that easy to invite Maria Leonora Theresa to attend parties. A formal letter had to be drafted and sent to whoever was in possession of the doll.

Whenever there was the usual Guy and Pip lovers’ spat, Tirso would take back the doll and the fans had to write his mother, Mommy Elma, if they needed it to make an appearance in public.

During one serious Guy and Pip quarrel, Tirso took back the doll and never returned it. To this day, the doll is still in the possession of Mommy Elma. It is said to be rotting in the bodega of her New Manila home. (Tirso Cruz III’s Mom is currently in the US.)

The once lionized Maria Leonora Theresa is now in a state of disrepair. "Pisak na daw ang isang mata," cried out movie fan Albert Sunga, who helped put together the Nora Aunor memorabilia. The doll’s right arm had also been dismantled and could not be brought back anymore to its original form.

A few weeks before the opening of the exhibit of the Nora Aunor memorabilia, it was discovered that Maria Leonora Theresa has a twin – actually a replica that is still in good condition.

It was through this replica that I discovered the origins of Maria Leonora Theresa. It turned out that in 1969, during a tour of the US with his parents, Tirso Cruz III bought the doll as a homecoming present to Nora. But one of their traveling companions – supposedly the best friend of Mommy Elma – also bought a similar doll from the same US store. The two dolls traveled to the Philippines together–with Maria Leonora Theresa going to Nora and the other doll ending up as a display mannequin in a children’s clothing store called White Dove in P. Paterno in Quiapo.

The store still exists–with the replica still displayed there until a few weeks ago. The store caretaker (the owner is said to be in the US) apparently didn’t want to cooperate with the exhibit and took away the doll from view when Nora Aunor fans expressed interest to borrow the Maria Leonora Theresa replica. (Noranians were planning to stage picket lines in front of the store because of this until cooler heads intervened.)

The exhibit of Nora Aunor memorabilia (and the musical concert) – to the relief of Nora Aunor die-hard fans – still turned out to be a huge success.

But surely, Maria Leonora Theresa was missed.

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