Carmen Rosales: The Genuine Superstar

- Marichu Maceda -
(Editor’s Note: This was the speech delivered by the author during the tribute, Carmen...Ang Tangi Kong Pag-ibig, last Monday, Feb. 28, at the Tanghalang Leandro Locsin of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts in Intramuros, Manila, where three other films of Carmen Rosales, including the classic Maalaala Mo Kaya with Rogelio dela Rosa, were screened to SRO audiences. The tribute was led by Danny Dolor’s Tribung Pilipino Cultural Foundation in cooperation with the NCCA. Among the guests were Delia Razon; Nita Javier; Oscar Obligacion and his wife Myrna; Lilia Dizon; directors Carlitos Siguion-Reyna, Boots Plata and Mel Chionglo; Ricky Davao; novelist Pablo Gomez, Carmen’s dear friend; Mabuhay Singers Cely Bautista, Rita Rivera and Raye Lucero; Carmen’s friends Beny Baluyot and Nomer Pabilona; and Rosita dela Vega, top recording artist of the ’50s who sang such novelty classics as Titina My Titina and Mambo Mambo Magsaysay. Among those who attended the screening of Maalaala Mo Kaya were Marylou Prieto, daughter of Mary Prieto whose screen name was Yolanda Marquez, and Carmen’s son Rene Navales with his wife. Rene regaled the audience, mostly Carmen’s fans in their 60s and 70s, with anecdotes about his mom whose hobbies included painting. Januaria Constantino Keller in real life, Carmen was born on March 3, 1917. She was half-Filipino and half-Swede. She died on Dec. 11, 1991.)

There was a time when movies ruled our emotions, our dreams, our fantasies. For three long decades, from the ’30s to the ’50s, no other movie star reigned more supreme than Carmen Rosales, The Genuine Superstar, The Queen of Philippine Cinema.

Carmen started her acting career after she was proclaimed Queen of Radio in 1936. She was already married to Ramon Novales and had a son, Rene. She first appeared in 1938 in Mahiwagang Binibini or Ang Kiri, followed by Arimunding-Munding for Excelsior Films. She had Norberto Quisumbing to thank for her contract. After Arimunding-Munding, there was no follow-up movie so her contract was rescinded.

Sampaguita Pictures signed Carmen up in 1939. She was paired with Rogelio dela Rosa and they made Takip Silim, released during the Christmas season. From there, the immortal loveteam of Carmen and Rogelio was born. Among their pre-war classics were Senorita (1940), Colegiala (1940), Lambingan (1940), Panambitan (1941) and Tampuhan (1941). They made a total of 12 films under Sampaguita Pictures.

It is often said that their love scenes ended under a tree on top of a hill – you know, yayakap na si Carmen sa puno at hahawakan ni Rogelio ang kamay niya. During World War II, the movie emblazoned on theater marquees as the Japanese marched through Manila Open City was a Carmen Rosales starrer, Lolita.

During that period, Carmen’s husband Ramon, a prominent radio personality whom she met while working in the airwaves, died tragically in the hands of the Japanese. After Ramon’s death, Carmen continued his fight in the underground. She joined the guerilla movement. She was a sharpshooter and wore a moustache as a disguise.

Carmen starred in a movie, Tatlong Maria, made by the Japanese. Had she refused to do the film, she would have been killed. In recognition of her war exploits and heroism, a barrio was named after her, Barrio Carmen in the town of Rosales, Pangasinan. In 1946, immediately after the war, Sampaguita made her wartime exploits into a movie called Gerilyera, with Celso Baltazar as Carmen’s co-star. Celso died before the film was shown. Gerilyera was followed by Kaaway ng Bayan with Leopoldo Salcedo. After this film, Carmen became the biggest and most sought-after star of Philippine Movies.

She then married Jose Puyat, Jr. by whom she had a son, Cesar. She was a very good mother. Cesar recalls that during one of their conversations, Carmen told him, "Tandaan mo, anak, pag wala kang problema, magkaibigan tayo. Pag may problema ka, mag-ina tayo."

At this time, Carmen became a freelancer, no longer under exclusive contract to Sampaguita Pictures. She starred in Premiere Productions’ initial offering, Probinsyana, in 1946, directed by Susana de Guzman. The film established the company owned by the Santiagos. Probinsyana became a big box-office hit. It reunited Carmen with Jose Padilla, Jr. In 1947, Carmen returned to Sampaguita and teamed up with Leopoldo Salcedo in Kaaway ng Bayan. In 1948, she and Leopoldo again starred in another movie, the unforgettable Hindi Kita Malimot, directed by Eddie Romero.

In 1949, she became the highest-paid movie star when LVN Pictures offered her the unprecedented sum of P45,000 to team up again with Rogelio dela Rosa in Kampanang Ginto, followed by Camelia, then Sipag at Yaman with Jose Padilla, Jr. and Batalyon Trece with Jaime dela Rosa.

All the three major companies – Sampaguita, LVN and Premiere – were after her. But her home was Sampaguita because of her strong friendship with our family, the Vera-Perezes, especially my father, Dr. Jose R. Perez who was "Doc Perez" to everyone in the studio except to Carmen who, like my Lolo, called him Pinggot. As far as we were concerned, Carmen was family. But more than that, my Papa was one of her biggest fans.

Aside from being a top-rate actress, Carmen was also a singer. Her light-soprano voice blended well with her leading men’s baritone in their recordings of famous love songs and compositions by such well-known composers as Constancio de Guzman, Mike Velarde, Josefino Cenizal and others.

Before I came here, I spent two days doing research on Carmen. I asked my sister Lilibeth for a VHS copy of MN, which also starred Alicia Vergel in her movie debut, and watched it twice.

Ayaw ni
Carmen magpatalbog sa eksena.

In a confrontation scene with Alicia Vergel, her co-star, they were supposed to deliver kilometric lines which Sampaguita was noted for at that time. It was important to remember the cue phrase or cue sentence where you would counter with your own kilometric lines.

This was what happened during the rehearsal:

Yan ba’y sapat na dahilan upang kahit sandali ay hindi siya makapagpakita sa akin? (The "cue phrase" was "makapagpakita sa akin.")

Napakahamak kong alipin upang sumuway sa utos ng isang maharlika at makapangyarihan na tulad ninyo.

This was what happened during the take:

Hind man lang siya makapagpakita sa akin kahit sandali. Yan ba’y sapat na dahilan?

(No dialogue; missed "cue" because Carmen reworded her own dialogue.)


Director: Anong nangyari, Alicia?

In a voice loud enough for the whole barangay to hear, Carmen said, "Director, i-rehearse mo muna ang artista mo. Hindi niya alam ang linya niya."

As I told you, ayaw magpatalbog ni Carmen sa eksena!

Gloria Romero recalled that when, at 16 and fresh from Mabini, Pangasinan, she appeared with Carmen in her (Gloria’s) second movie, she was intimated when Carmen told the camera man, "Huwag mong ilawan ang mestisang ‘yan" and, later, the director, "Pusta tayo, ilang take aabutin ang mestisang yan. Magba-buckle ‘yan!" The nervous Gloria did buckle and ran to my Papa crying.

In one scene from MN, Carmen insisted that she wore her hair long while combing it in her bedroom even if throughout the rest of the movie she was wearing her hair short. She said, "Mas maganda ang eksena kung mahabang buhok ang sinusuklay ko."

She told Papa, "Pinggot, kung sinu-sinong maleta ang ipinabibitbit mo sa akin," referring to newcomers ("maletas," like Alicia Vergel and Gloria Romero), "at bitbit naman ako nang bitbit. Puwes, ngayon ako naman ang masusunod." Papa argued with her but Carmen won in the end.

Pablo Gomez (story/scriptwriter) recalled that Carmen had a way of stealing scenes by simply using her eyes, knowing fully well where the camera would pan, never looking backward even if the co-star she was talking to in the scene was at her back.

Take note of how Carmen used her eyes in her movies.

The camera loved Carmen and Carmen loved the camera. The camera can be very cruel to actors it does not like. But with Carmen, it always seemed so hungry to capture her every expression. Her eyes said it all, with every expression on her face, be it love, lust, hate, anger, envy, jealousy, passion or compassion. With faces the camera dislikes, the subject becomes uninteresting. But with Carmen, the camera came alive because the camera recorded her every gesture so lovingly, so uniquely. It gracefully captured every tilt of her head, her body, her hands. It was a love affair from start to finish.

Carmen exuded joy in delivering a performance. There was always something very exciting about her which stimulated and electrified the viewers afterwards. I don’t know how she did it but it was always different when it came to her. She was very possessive about her art. There was a silent agreement between her and the camera which no one was allowed to intrude into. Yet, in real life, she was a very generous person, very supportive of the young actors and actresses na bitbit niya.

Looking back, until the 1970s, most movie queens came from Sampaguita. But no one was more colorful, more free-spirited and more exciting than Carmen Rosales. My apologies to Gloria Romero and Susan Roces, gracious ladies whom I love so dearly, but compared to Carmen they were too correct, too prim and too proper, too ladylike.

Carmen was bigger than life, a star of the magnitude of Hollywood greats Greta Garbo, Bette Davis and Katherine Hepburn. And the one thing that can be said about Carmen is her keen sense of professionalism. She never came to the set unprepared; she always arrived ahead of the appointed time. There wasn’t a day when she didn’t know her lines. And, not only that, she also memorized the other person’s lines with whom she was going to have her scene, down to the cueing, the timing, the pregnant pause before dropping the ultimate piece d’resistance, pagtaas ng kilay and the toss of the head to underscore a point.

If I were to be asked to advise our younger stars today, I would tell them:

As an artist, you are entitled to your quirks, your tantrums, your idiosyncrasies. But love your art, love your craft and love your camera. Always have a little Carmen Rosales deep within you and you can look forward to a long-lasting, exciting relationship with your viewing public.

Yes, Carmen will live on in our minds and hearts for a long, long time.










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