La Primera Contravida

Pablo A. Tariman - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - “In real life, she was the opposite of her screen villain role. She had a soft spot for everyone, the typical pusong mamon, so to speak.”

Thus spoke veteran actress Boots Anson Roa when she heard of the passing away of Bella Flores early Sunday morning.

“She was a good friend of my mother way back during her Sampaguita days,” added Boots. “She was a real trooper off camera and loved to make jokes.”

Director Joey Reyes confirmed Roa’s testimonial after doing his last project with the character actress.

He earlier opined: â€œYou will be surprised that the kontrabidas onscreen are the real darlings and sweethearts in real life. Tita Bella is an absolute grandma. At 84, she is still that passionate about her work. She is anything but the characters she plays onscreen.”

The character actress had a hip replacement surgery last year when she met an accident at home. But when she undertook rehab treatment, she was never the same again and had to spend more time in the hospital. She spent her 84th birthday in a San Juan Hospital with her only daughter, Ruby Arcilla.

“She never really retired,” said Flores’ only daughter. “She had been acting all her life.”

Boots is one of the members of the Balik Samahan Group attending to Flores while she was undergoing hospitalization. The other equally concerned members were Gloria Romero, Susan Roces and Gloria Sevilla. “Funny how people ‘hated’ her for her screen roles,” Boots told a radio station. “She had the pure and loving heart of a screen heroine.”

Flores got her first nomination as Best Actress (FAMAS) in the movie Kilabot sa Makiling. She won her first Best Supporting Actress Award (Maria Clara Award) in 1952 for the movie Roberta (1951). In 1968, FAMAS awarded her the Best Supporting Actress Award for the movie Kaibigan kong Sto. Niño. In the 80s, she was part of the cast of an American action movie Missing in Action where she co-starred with Chuck Norris in the role of Madame Pearl. She appeared in another American movie, Soldier Boyz (1996).

Born Medina P. Dancel on Feb. 27, 1929, Bella spent 62 years in show business and appeared in more than 80 films.

She started her showbiz career when she passed a Premiere Production screen test arranged by Pepe Verdon, the double of Leopoldo Salcedo. A college sophomore at the Far Eastern University when she invaded showbiz, she first appeared in Balaraw but got famous in the villain role as the oppressive stepmother of the young Tessie Agana in the Sampaguita tearjerker Roberta.

The screen villain’s last project was a short film called Kontrabida 101, directed by Joey Reyes for the 25th anniversary of Bench. “She was so happy with the result of that film,” added Arcilla. The short film was subtitled Kontrabida Pa Rin at 84.

For 62 years, Bella indeed made an enviable career of making things difficult for the country’s leading screen heroes.

In the Joey Reyes short film, Bella gave her audience an idea of how she became a most hated screen villain.

On the whole, the film was a funny but down-to-earth crash course on how to achieve immortality as a screen villain.

The fool-proof ingredient, according to Bella, was to invest and perfect that art of hatred (poot) and jealousy (inggit) and make use of them to the hilt. Then she added another lesson on the fine art of slapping and hair-pulling and how to produce an equally important wicked laughter as she saw the object of her hatred expire from her equally malevolent stare.

Declared Bella in her last film (Kontrabida 101) after dousing wine on the face of the poor waiter: “Bidas (heroines) they come and go. Pero kaming mga kontrabida, we never fade away.”

There is a ring of truth in Reyes’s declaration: “There is one and only Bella Flores. She is indeed one of a kind.”

Stage director Anton Juan can only agree: “Bella Flores, how many who tried to imitate your art in front of their own mirrors could approximate your wicked eyebrows, flaring nostrils, the sharp-lined lips that formed the word at the edge of gritting teeth, a voice that rasped deep through the breath of smoke. You created the Filipino archetype of the ‘kontrabida’ till your name itself was synonymous with villainy. Rest in peace, Ms. Bella Flores and flowers for you.”

(Note: Bella Flores died at 1:30 yesterday morning, May 19. She was 84. She was diagnosed to be suffering from early signs of Alzheimer’s disease last year. She broke her back when she fell at home where she was bedridden until her death. Her remains are at the Loyola Memorial Chapels on Commonwealth Avenue, Quezon City.)

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