Actress Amalia Fuentes, Amalia Muhlach in real life, was among Philippine cinema’s loveliest faces. She died of cardiac arrest induced by pneumonia past midnight yesterday at the age of 79.
Amalia never liked the tag ‘Phl’s Elizabeth Taylor’
Ricky Lo (The Philippine Star) - October 6, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — More than the over 100 movies she starred in, Amalia Fuentes will forever be fondly known as “The Elizabeth Taylor of the Philippines” long after she’s gone.                    

Amalia Muhlach in real life, one of Philippine cinema’s loveliest faces, died of cardiac arrest induced by pneumonia past midnight yesterday at St. Luke’s Medical Center in BGC (Bonifacio Global City), where she was confined at the ICU attached to a life-support system.

She turned 79 last Aug. 27, the same age when Taylor died in 2011.  

“Auntie Nena (Amalia’s nickname) suffered a series of seizures,” said nephew Niño Muhlach, son of Alex who is Amalia’s only surviving sibling. “Her vital organs had broken down.”

In October 2015, Amalia suffered a stroke while vacationing with friends in Seoul. She was bedridden for a while and wheelchair-bound until her passing.

In an interview with The STAR when Taylor died, Amalia confessed that she never liked the title. “The truth is that I never liked it,” Amalia, who was noted for her brutal frankness, said.

She explained, “God in His wisdom never creates two persons exactly the same. Even in the case of identical twins, one is always slightly different from the other. I was starting in showbiz when that ‘title’ was given to me, but I wanted to have my own identity, to be known on my own merits and not because I’m being likened to somebody.”

That “title” was informally “conferred” on Amalia more than half a century ago when she was discovered by Jose R. Perez, the famous Starmaker Doc Perez of Sampaguita Pictures, which named her Miss Number One (with Juancho Gutierrez as Mr. Number One) in a 1956 star search, and introduced her in the Gloria Romero starrer Hindi Basta-Basta and cast her in her first-starring role in Movie Fan.

Amalia recalled that when Sampaguita launched her, Doc Perez saw that she was a cross between Elizabeth Taylor and Linda Darnell and since Elizabeth was the bigger star, it was logical to just market the new discovery as the Elizabeth Taylor of the Philippines.

At that time, Philippine movies were so heavily influenced by Hollywood that Filipino actors and actresses were publicized as Hollywood’s local counterparts. Thus, besides Amalia Fuentes being Elizabeth Taylor of the Philippines, we have Barbara Perez as Audrey Hepburn of the Philippines, Berting Labra as Mickey Rooney of the Philippines, Tessie Agana as the Shirley Temple of the Philippines, Merle Tuazon as Ava Gardner of the Philippines, Chona Sandoval as Pier Angeli of the Philippines, Lou Salvador Jr. as James Dean of the Philippines and Eddie Mesa as Elvis Presley of the Philippines.

Amalia’s “title” was affirmed when Vic Damone performed at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in the late ‘50s. Then barely 18, Amalia watched the show with her then perennial screen sweetheart (and later husband) Romeo “Bobby” Vasquez, father of her only daughter, Liezl (now Mrs. Albert Martinez). In one portion of the show, Damone invited a lady from the audience to join him onstage and sing to her. Amalia was “it.”

“I wasn’t even made up,” recalled Amalia. “I was in a hurry, so after taking a bath, I hurriedly fixed my hair, dressed up and went with Bobby to Rizal Memorial. I deliberately didn’t wear any make-up because I didn’t want to attract undue attention.”

Anyway, on stage, Damone took a good look at Amalia and said, “You look like Elizabeth Taylor!” The audience reacted with a deafening applause.
Two years later, Amalia went with the Karilagan models (Joji Felix Velarde and Chona Kasten among them) of Pitoy Moreno, Ben Farrales and Aureo Alonzo to Las Vegas for a fashion show. During some free time, the group decided to try the casino.

“I chose a slot machine near the door, dropping small coins just for fun,” continued Amalia. “Then, I noticed that a man with several escorts was walking in my direction. I thought they were headed for the door. I was surprised when he walked straight toward me and said, ‘Hi, I am Eddie Fisher!’ Of course, I knew who he was! He was then having marital problems with Elizabeth.”

“Lumabas ang pagka-fan ko,” added Amalia. “I started asking Fisher, ‘Is she beautiful? How does she look in person?’ Excited ako.”

Fisher simply looked at Amalia with a quiet smile. Then he said, “You look like her!” He invited her for cocktails but she politely begged off.

A few years later, Amalia and company (including her mother) went to Hollywood during a US vacation and met Stephen Boyd, who was then shooting a movie (Fantastic Voyage, with Raquel Welch). At that time, there was some kind of an “exchange-visit” arrangement between Sampaguita and Hollywood. When Hollywood stars came (Troy Donahue and Jeff Chandler among them), they would be entertained by Sampaguita stars at the studio, and vice-versa.

As the story goes, Stephen was so fascinated with Amalia that he actually went on a date with her, at another time played golf with her and even invited her to try her luck in Hollywood, prompting Amalia to comment, “I’d rather be a big fish in a small pond than be a small fish in a big pond.” She was already a big star in the Philippines at that time.

It turned out that Stephen had quit Cleopatra after shooting for a few days and was replaced by Richard Burton (who became Taylor’s husband) but got paid in full anyway, saying, “I was laughing all the way to the bank.”

Said Amalia, “That was the first time I ever heard that remark,” which has been quoted through the years.

It was during one of their meetings that Stephen told Amalia, “You remind me of Elizabeth Taylor.”

Clarified Amalia, “He didn’t exactly say that I looked like Elizabeth Taylor. He just said that I reminded him of Elizabeth Taylor.”

When did Amalia finally come face-to-face with Elizabeth Taylor?

It happened in the ‘80s when she and estranged husband Joey Stevens watched Elizabeth in the play The Little Foxes in London’s West End. Amalia wore a white dress which she bought during an earlier trip to Italy and purposely wore a curly hairstyle reminiscent of one Elizabeth wore in one of her movies. She and Joey sat in the first row.

After the intermission, they could hear whispers (you know, could she be Elizabeth Taylor?) as they returned to their seats. More whispers: “She couldn’t be Elizabeth Taylor. She’s in the play, so why would she sit with the audience?”

After the show, Amalia rushed to the backstage door and waited for Elizabeth to come out, ready with her Playbill to be autographed by her. At 5’5” wearing three-inch heels, Amalia towered over Elizabeth who was only 5’1” tall.

 “I was literally looking at the back of her head,” said Amalia, “so I thought of doing something to make her look at me. I said, ‘You know, I’m also an actress and in my country, they said that I look like you!’ That did it. Elizabeth raised her head and, with her violet eyes (that, I would learn later, turned blue-green when she was under the sun), she looked at me and smiled, saying, ‘Hmmm,’ signed my Playbill and sped away in her chauffeur-driven car.”

As of press time yesterday, it is not known if Amalia left a last will and where the wake will be. Aside from Alex, Amalia is survived by the children of her only daughter Liezl, by ex-husband Romeo Vasquez, who died more than a year ago. Liezl succumbed to cancer in March 2015, seven months before Amalia suffered a stroke in Seoul. Her other brother Cheng, father of Aga Muhlach, died last year, barely two years after Amalia’s second husband Joey Stevens died. The couple’s son died in San Francisco more than a year ago.

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