They remember Luis Gonzales as a fun person

FUNFARE - Ricky Lo -

What echoes in the mind of Batangas Gov. Vilma Santos is the sound of the bakya (clogs) that Luis Gonzales loved to wear to the set.

“He was the first actor na na-encounter ko,” related Vilma. “I was starstruck in front of him. He would come to the set at six o’clock in the morning na naka-bakya. That’s what I remember about him.”

That was the time when the term “bakya crowd” was coined by iconic director Lamberto Avellana who observed that fans that watched local movies were mostly in clogs since there were no rubber slippers yet.

Vilma was talking about Trudis Liit, the ’60s Sampaguita tearjerker in which she played the title role, with Luis playing her father, now US-based Lolita Rodriguez her mother and Bella Flores as the kontrabida.

Luis, whose real surname is Mercado, died of complications of pneumonia at 11:30 Thursday night, March 15, at the Makati Medical Center where he was confined for the last time (he had been in and out of the hospital). As in the case of movie greats, Luis’ age is confidential and maybe not even his wife Vina Concepcion, who belongs to the clan that owns Concepcion Industries, and their three children can be forced to reveal it.

Also as Marcos and Gloria as Imelda in Iginuhit ng Tadhana, the other Marcos bioflick

After Trudis Liit, Vilma would star with Luis years later when she was already a teenager, in Iginuhit ng Tadhana and in Pinagbuklod ng Langit, produced by Sampaguita Pictures, believed to have helped Ferdinand Marcos win when he ran for President and then for reelection. In both movies, Luis plays Marcos, with Gloria Romero as First Lady Imelda Marcos and Vilma as Imee Marcos (now Ilocos Norte Governor). In the second, Gina Alajar plays as Irene Marcos (Mrs. Greggy Araneta), Now-Sen. Bongbong Marcos plays himself in the first movie (it was Jonjie Aranda, ex-husband of Sen. Loren Legarda, who plays Bongbong in the second).

“I shot Palimos ng Pagibig (a Viva drama, with Edu Manzano and Dina Bonnevie) at Luis’ house,” added Vilma. “I remember him as sobrang kalog, palabiro. Ang tawag namin kay Tito Luis palengke kasi nga Mercado ang real surname niya. I was nine years old then and he always reminded me to just enjoy everything. We were always shooting dramatic scenes at parati akong iyak nang iyak, but after every take, tawa na kami nang tawa because Tito Luis would start cracking jokes.”

It’s also Luis’ being fun that Gloria fondly remembers. Gloria had been paired in several movies with Ric Rodrigo and Ramon Revilla but it was her team-up with Luis that really clicked with the public. Luis was also paired with other Sampaguita actresses like Rita Gomez and Lolita Rodriguez. He played not just romantic roles but also “character” ones, such as in Dayukdok and Condenado.

Luis (leftmost) at a Malacañang event with (from left) Susan Roces, First Lady Imelda and Pres. Marcos, Nida Blanca, Romy Jalosjos and Fernando Poe Jr.

“Luis was introduced in a movie that I did with Rogelio de la Rosa,” recalled Gloria who would go on to star in more than 30 movies with Luis, highlighted by the two Marcos bioflicks. “Ay naku, palabiro talaga ‘yan, kalog na kalog. One time after a shooting, I was waiting for a ride home when a Cadillac stopped in front of me. It was Luis driving. Aba, impressed ako siempre! That was the first and last time I saw that Cadillac. Luis would tell me later that he just borrowed it from a friend and he showed it to me para bumilib ako sa kanya.”

Asked if Luis ever courted her, Gloria said no. “We just became good friends.”

The last time Gloria saw Luis was two years ago at the wake of Charlie Davao (Ricky’s father who played kontrabida in Sampaguita movies).

“Sabi ko sa kanya, ‘Luis, halika mag-comeback ka na para may ka-partner na ako uli’,” said Gloria who is active up to this day. “He said even if he wanted to, he could not kasi daw may gout siya.”

It was not the gout but the pneumonia that did Luis in. He suffered from blocked arteries but he couldn’t undergo a bypass due to advanced age and poor health.

When she visited Luis at the Makati Med two days before he died, Luz Valdez tried to cheer him up even when he was attached to a ventilator and was being fed intravenously. He was nearly comatose.

“The nurse told me to talk to him and touch his hand to see if he was listening,” said Luz who, as a newcomer, partnered with Luis in the TV show Sa Kabukiran on the old ABS-CBN for 12 years and later on Basta Ikaw Mahal on GMA 7 for nine years. “When I whispered to him, he would press my hand naman. I told him to pray along with me. I reminded him to follow ‘the light’ and at the end of it he would be welcomed by Mama Mary. I said, ‘Luis, ipagdasal mo rin ako, ha.’ After I let go of his hand, I saw a tear fell from his left eye.”

With Vilma Santos (left) and Connie Angeles in Trudis Liit. Inset: Luz Valdez, Luis’ leading lady in the TV shows Sa Kabukiran and Basta Ikaw, Mahal

Like Vilma and Gloria, Luz loved Luis for his being kalog and palabiro.

“When you’re with him,” said Luis, “there’s no dull moment. Mabait siya, hindi mayabang, a good person at mapagbigay. He was already a star and I was only starting, pero he would let me have my own eksena.”

Up There, I guess Luis will be in a great company with the likes of Nida Blanca and Nestor de Villa (with whom Luis and Gloria did a movie); fellow Sampaguitans Oscar Moreno, Rita Gomez, Carmen Rosales, Ric Rodrigo, Rogelio dela Rosa and many others; and directors with whom he had worked (Tony Cayado, Armando Garces and Rosa Mia among them).

“I’m sure ang saya-saya nila d’un,” said Luz.

(Luis’ remains were cremated yesterday. The wake is at the Santuario de San Antonio in Forbes Park, Makati City. Interment will be on Monday, March 19, at 2 p.m. after the Mass.)

(E-mail reactions at [email protected]. You may also send your questions to [email protected]. For more updates, photos and videos visit www.philstar.com/funfare or follow me on www.twitter/therealrickylo.)

Luis was paired with other Sampaguita actresses including Rita Gomez and Lolita Rodriguez before he teamed up with Gloria Romero. Their loveteam clicked. Together, they starred in more than 30 movies, highlighted by the two Marcos bioflicks. Says Gloria, ‘Luis was the perfect choice to play Pres. Ferdinand Marcos. Di ba pareho silang guwapo? During the shoot, the President and the First Lady were always on the set to guide us.’

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