The long and colorful showbiz life of Bernardo Bernardo

Pablo A. Tariman - The Philippine Star
The long and colorful showbiz life of Bernardo Bernardo

Stage and film actor BB with Meryl Streep (left photo) and John Lloyd Cruz in Berlin. Such a versatile actor and fun person to be with.

MANILA, Philippines — Out of the blue, the Facebook announcement was short and simple: Stage and film actor Bernardo Bernardo (BB) said goodbye to showbiz and theater life Thursday morning of March 8.

He was 73.

It will be recalled that friends and colleagues hosted a fundraising concert last Jan. 14 when his doctors found a tumor in his pancreas.

But that is all behind him now.

The showbiz community will remember him as the performer who won his first Best Actor award for Ishmael Bernal’s City After Dark (also known as Manila by Night).

He also won Best Supporting Actor for Lawrence Fajardo’s Imbisibol.

Last year, moviegoers saw his last films namely, Ang Larawan and The Significant Other.

 He met Meryl Streep while attending the Berlin Film Festival where he played a role in the Lav Diaz movie Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis.

Many years back on TV, BB was Steve Carpio in the hit sitcom, Home Along Da Riles.

Bernardo Bernardo as Manay Sharon in Ishmael Bernal’s Manila by Night.

Film critic Mauro Feria Tumbocon Jr., who is also festival director of the Filipino Arts and Cinema (FACINE), reacted, thus: “I write this short tribute with deep sadness, to a consummate actor, a community leader, a dear friend, as a matter of fact, a loyal rah-rah friend of FACINE who until his last visit here in San Francisco at FACINE on Oct. 24, on the occasion of his film, Lawrence Fajardo’s Imbisibol which was the festival’s opening film. Little did I know it would be the last time I would see him. We both celebrated our joint birthdays twice in Los Angeles years ago — his birthday falls on Jan. 28, mine on the 30th. He was always supportive of the festival. Bernie must belong to a rare breed of artists whose works encompassed performance in all media forms — theater, live entertainment, film and TV, skilled in both English and Filipino, in comedy, drama, musical. His critically-acclaimed performance as Manay Sharon in Ishmael Bernal’s Manila by Night (1981) remains iconic, now memorialized in the West. His much-lauded performance as Benjie, the older undocumented Filipino worker in Japan in Imbisibol (2015) ended a much-respected career.”

Bernardo was born in Sta. Ana, Manila, grew up in Singalong and studied journalism at the University of Santo Tomas (UST) — but never got to practice his chosen course even as he became editor of the UST Varsitarian.

He told me in my last interview with him: “I thought I was going to be the Philippines’ next great journalist. You know how stupid and delusional one can be when you’re young. And then I saw my first professional theater production, a British Council-sponsored run of Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons at the Philamlife Theater. That’s when my life changed. I decided I wanted to be a stage actor.”

Bernardo has logged more than 44 years in theater and film, plus long stints in such popular TV sitcoms as Flor de Luna, Vilma Tonight, Home Along Da Riles and Labs Ko Si Babes, among others.

From TV and films, he learned — “take your pick: Patience. Stillness. Compromise. How to conserve energy. How to laugh off delays. How to sleep while seated and waiting for your next scene.”

His first Best Actor trophy (for Manila by Night) was for him very special. He was up against two of his favorite actors, Dindo Fernando for Langis at Tubig and Phillip Salvador for Bona.

The role was, from the start, a labor of love. He got a measly P15,000 talent fee, but he felt the hard work paid off.

More conversation from last interview: “I initially turned down the role of Manay because of talent fee issues. Not much later, Ishma (Ishmael Bernal) talked to me. And, of course, feeling epic disappointment and nursing my bruised pride, I stood my ground. Bernal replied, ‘Bernie, do it for P15,000…and do it for me.’ I relented and never regretted it.”

Indeed, the Bernal opus echoed Fellini’s Roma as an ode to a city. The actor was even more thrilled when director Peque Gallaga wrote after watching the film: “Bernardo Bernardo was ‘Marcello Mastroianni to Bernal’s Fellini.’”

Friends and colleagues were naturally shocked by his demise.

Said Lea Salonga on FB: “Rest in Peace, Bernardo Bernardo. This has been heavy news to hear. Tito Bernie was my very first leading man in the very first show I ever did, The King and I (he played the King of Siam and I was one of his daughters). Kind, funny, ebullient, brilliant, big hearted.”

Roderick Paulate recalled moments with BB when they found themselves in front of the UP Theater. “We talked about how difficult it was to live as a stage actor. The next thing I knew, he already migrated to the US. He was always a happy man.”

Vangie Labalan said she couldn’t forget the smile in BB’s face when he won Best Actor in 1981. “He was an intelligent and versatile actor and as always, he was fun to be with.”

Direk Joel Lamangan said BB was the epitome of professionalism.

I agree with him when he added: “Philippine entertainment will never be the same again without him.”


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