Sunday, September 09, 2012

NORA AUNOR: The Unfinished Films

Superstar Nora Aunor had a long reputation for unfinished films or projects
abandoned due to production costs and other reasons. These are films that
actually started filming but were never finished, while others were left on the
planning stage.

In February 1979, Nora Aunor met Eva Fernandez Merlin at a restaurant in
Pangasinan. There was a disquieting parallelism between their lives. Aunor
sold water at a train station before she became a Superstar while Merlin
washed clothes for a living before she married a multi-millionaire who owned
several commercial buildings in Philadelphia. Her rags-to-riches story
fascinated Aunor. Lino Brocka thought it would be good material for a film.
Merlin's husband was going to produce his wife's life story starring Aunor. After
several attempts, the planned biopic did not push through.

In 1983, Aunor worked on two Regal films back-to-back: the Maryo de los
Reyes family drama Kapalaran, later retitled Minsan, May Isang Ina and
Hustisya, intended for the Cannes Film Festival reuniting the Superstar with
Himala director Ishmael Bernal and writer Ricky Lee. In the film, Aunor plays
Belen, a woman accused of killing a priest with Christopher de Leon playing her
defense lawyer and Jimi Melendez as the arresting police officer. In a bold
move, Bernal wanted to tell the story from the police officer's perspective,
envisaged as an attractive, vulnerable young man. Despite a week's work on
the film, Lee's writer's block prompted Bernal to abandon the project. Hustisya
would have been a groundbreaking film that represented a radical change in
Bernal's style, possibly heralding a new late phase of cinematic creativity. That
same year, Aunor was offered Ano Nga Ba Ang Pag-Ibig?, a melodrama to be
produced by Viva Films with a formidable cast of stars including Christopher de
Leon, Hilda Koronel and Phillip Salvador under Zenaida Amador's direction.
Sadly, the movie did not see the light of the projection bulb.

In 1984, another project for Viva followed. Marilou Diaz-Abaya's Pabrika with
Gina Alajar and Amy Austria where Aunor will play a character similar to Sally
Field's Oscar-winning role in Martin Ritt's Norma Rae (1979). Riding on the box
office success of Ishmael Bernal's Working Girls, Viva big boss, Vic del Rosario
suggested the title be changed to Factory Girls. Aunor's shooting schedule
cannot be reconciled with everyone involved in the production, Viva cancelled
the project. After her affecting portayal of Milagros Cruz in 'Merika, Aunor was
offered the role of Mering in Gil Portes' Bukas, May Pangarap. Tommy Abuel
was cast to play her husband. The project lasted for one day after Aunor
learned about the producer's plan to enter the movie in the Metro Manila Film
Festival where her other film, Mario O' Hara's Bulaklak Sa City Jail was one of
the official entries. Aunor was eventually replaced by Gina Alajar.

After the EDSA revolution, Joseph Estrada asked Marilou Diaz-Abaya to direct
Victory Joe, a co-production with Viva Films advocating the removal of the
American bases. Aunor shot for three days but problems with funding got in the

Regal on the other hand presented another melodrama to Aunor in 1987. Sa
Dulo Ng Panahon, a material based on komiks, to be directed by Danny Zialcita
where she will play the role of Melinda, a time traveling librarian. The shooting
with Jay Ilagan, Hilda Koronel, Richard Gomez, Janice de Belen, Dante Rivero
and Chanda Romero went smoothly. With only eleven days left before the end
of shooting, production was halted due to an on going conflict between Aunor
and Mrs. Lily Monteverde. After Jay Ilagan's accidental death in 1993, footage of
the film resurfaced as one of the episodes in the Regal omnibus Ligaw-
Ligawan, Kasal-Kasalan, Bahay-Bahayan. Some months later, Aunor was
spotted at a press conference for Alila. Frank Vrecheck developed the film for
The Asian Ameican Film Institute, the newly created production company
behind Chito Rono's award-winning Olongapo The Great American Dream.
Ricky Lee who was commissioned to write the screenplay backed out of the
project after a heated argument with Vrecheck over Olongapo's writing credits.
Alila, never reached the production phase.

In 1988, Aunor was struggling to finance, produce and direct the feature film
What I Did For Love from Raquel Villavicencio's screenplay. The shoot was a
nightmare. The problems the production had to go through were incredible.
Aside from technical problems, Aunor had to face the major problem of casting.
Knowing that she did not have enough money to cast a major star, the search
was difficult. She tried several actors, known and unknown until Aunor made the
decision to cast Chuck Perez. The movie was too much pressure for her,
starring, producing and directing it herself. Aunor was not too enthusiastic
anymore and pulled the plug on the production. The same screenplay
reappeared in 1995 with a new title, Sa Ngalan Ng Pag-Ibig, this time starring
Lorna Tolentino, Christopher de Leon and Alma Concepcion directed by Maryo
de los Reyes for Regal Films. Chuck Perez played the minor role of
Concepcion's jealous lover in the movie.

The opportunity to play Gabriela Silang came in 1989, when Duran Films, a
newly formed production company offered Aunor to do Gabriela. To her
surprise, Tata Esteban's film was not about the Philippine heroine but a political
drama about a society mired in poverty and repression. Aunor turned down the
project and the lead role was offered to Carmi Martin. The story about Aunor's
filmmaking career did not end with What I Did For Love. Aunor realized that her
first attempt was not the kind of film she wanted to do. There was something
lurking in her mind, a different film about a singer. Referring to George Cuckor's
A Star Is Born (1954) but unlike Judy Garland's Esther Blodgett, Laura Villa is
full of contradictions and was shown going through a lot of emotional scenes in
the film. The title Greatest Performance has become appropriate. Cast as her
leading men were Tirso Cruz III and Julio Diaz with real life son Kristoffer Ian de
Leon playing a pivotal role. As shooting went on, the film was turning out to be
darker than originally envisioned and problems beset the production. Among all
of Aunor's films, Greatest Performance is the most unpredictable. There is no
telling how it would finally shape up. Greatest Performance was rejected by the
Metro Manila Film Festival screening committee. Aunor reportedly has the only
known videocassette copy of the movie. The location of the film's original
negative is unknown.

Intended for the 2003 Metro Manila Film Festival was Elwood Perez's Bituin,
Buwan At Araw for Angora Films International with Tirso Cruz III, Snooky Serna
and Aiza Seguerra. The film was deemed not commercially viable by the filmfest
committee bringing production to a standstill. After Bituin, Buwan At Araw
stalled, Maryo de los Reyes began preparation for Naglalayag with Nora Aunor,
Aleck Bovick and Yul Servo.

When Aunor left for the US, she was offered film projects that were stuck in
development hell. This is a place where ideas go to die. In 2009, Master
filmmaker Lav Diaz offered Reclusion Perpetua to Aunor. The two met in Los
Angeles to talk about the project unfortunately, financial difficulties plagued the
production before filming began. Reclusion Perpetua represented a
breakthrough in Diaz's artistic development. Gone were the epic social dramas,
in its place came an improvised approach, a freer, more personal kind of

Celso Ad Castillo, whose failed attempt to work with Aunor in the 1999 dramedy
Prosti tried to do the same with Do Filipinos Cry In America? written by his son
Chris Castillo. The film didn't survive the production phase. One wonders, what
if Nora Aunor finished these films? Would they have reaped more acting honors
for the Superstar? Regrettably, we'll never know.

Saturday, September 08, 2012


Superstar Nora Aunor won the Bisato d' Oro award given by the Premio Della Critica Indipendiente, a jury of independent film critics for her moving portryal of a barren Badjao midwife in Brilliante Mendoza's Thy Womb, one of the 17 films vying for the Golden Lion at the 69th Venice International Film Festival. The Superstar is the first Filipina actress to win the award whose previous recipients have been multi-awarded filmmakers such as Manoel de Oliveira and Samira Makhmalbaf.

Thursday, September 06, 2012


Superstar Nora Aunor graces the 69th Venice International Film Festival red carpet in a dazzling pink terno designed by Nono Palmos, here with Direk Brillante Mendoza for the premiere of their film Sinapupunan (Thy Womb). The restored high definition version of the Ishmael Bernal's Himala will also be shown at the festival under Venice Classics. 2011 is truly a super year for the One and Only Superstar.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Feeling invigorated after lunch, Ate Guy started talking Mario O'Hara, one of her favorite filmmakers. She mentioned a reunion project with the director entitled Sakay Tayo Sa Buwan awaiting her return to the Philippines. Ate Guy was also looking for a clear copy of Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos, her first film with O'Hara. She asked me if I had one and told her I do have a clear copy of the movie which I gave the following day. The Superstar said that there was a little competition between O'Hara and Lino Brocka when it comes to winning awards. Ate Guy said Kapag nanalo ako ng award kay Mario, kailangan manalo din ako sa movie ni Lino! Come to think of it, she won her first major acting award in 1976 and in between those years, Ate Guy didn't make a movie with O'Hara until Kastilyong Buhangin in 1980. On the other hand Brocka's first collaboration with the Superstar was in 1979's Ina Ka Ng Anak Mo. She was probably talking about winning the Urian for Bona and being chosen Best Actress by the Catholic Mass Media Awards the following year for Bakit Bughaw Ang Langit? It's interesting to note that Mario O'Hara started his career with Lino Brocka as an actor in 1971's Tubog Sa Ginto but most memorable of their work as actor and screenwriter would be Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang (1974). According to film critic Noel Vera, Ate Guy first offered Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos to Brocka and the director's response was I don't want to have anything to do with that Superstar! His refusal to take on the project was the beginning of Philippine Cinema's greatest collaborations.

Here's a breakdown of the acting awards the Superstar won for these two brilliant filmmakers:

For Mario O'Hara
Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos (1976) - Urian, Famas
Bakit Bughaw Ang Langit? (1981) - Catholic Mass Media Awards
Bulaklak Sa City Jail (1984) - Metro Manila Film Festival, Famas, Catholic Mass Media Awards

For Lino Brocka
Ina Ka Ng Anak Mo (1979) - Metro Manila Film Festival, Famas
Bona (1980) - Urian

In Memory of Mario O'Hara April 20, 1946-June 26, 2012

Monday, May 21, 2012


I'm an avid Noranian. This is how a devoted fan of Superstar Nora Aunor is called. I like her a lot. In my childhood games, mostly played alone in front of a mirror, I lip synch to her songs. When my parents were at work, I would play the stereo at deafening volume and start singing in front of the mirror. That was in the early 1970's when I was of preschool age. When I turned seven, in 1972, I was old enough to be admitted to the cinema so my mother would take me to Sampaguita Theater in Cubao. I first saw Nora Aunor onscreen in Jose de Villa's Winter Holiday, a movie filmed entirely in Japan, produced by Sampaguita Pictures, her home studio. When she sang Sayonara, I thought Nora was singing to me and no one else. Ate Guy, as we, her fans, would fondly call our idol served as muse to a talent that I would later develop as a result of my adulation. I applied and was chosen as one of the 35 scholars for Ricky Lee's Scriptwriting Workshop. The award-winning screenwriter wrote the Superstar's monumental film Himala (1982). Ate Guy is a versatile performer, who proved it by playing disparate roles. I also fostered an emotional identification with my idol. I would be hurt when others would say that Vilma Santos is prettier than Nora. I would challenge any detractor to a fight. I remember believing myself to be the character my idol is portraying, most especially when the character was a movie fan herself, as in Lino Brocka's Bona (1980). I would see myself in one of the three characters she was playing, the misunderstood nun in the Gerardo de Leon episode of Fe, Esperanza, Caridad (1974). I was identifying more with a character far removed from the image in my mind of my idol and myself. But identification does not only take place in the imagination while watching a movie. Identificatory practices take on social meanings beyond the cinema. A pretending fan assumes the identity of the star in a temporary game of make believe. My private mirror games were manifestations of resembling. I did not have have the daring or desire to look like Nora Aunor in public, instead I wrote plot lines for movies and roles that I would like her to portray.

My misrecognition of the image in the mirror and on the screen was not only psychological, it was also ideological. In my last year of college, I would quit classes and ignore calls for participation and demonstrations over campus and national issues because I would rather watch Nora's current movies downtown, although I have already seen them many times over. While fellow students were raising each other's political consciousness, I was lost in a world of fantasy with my idol. The intensity of my fan-atic idolatry would not be much different in 2004 when I learned that she will be performing alongside Kuh Ledesma in a series of concerts around the US. I sought my idol out hoping I would finally get the chance to meet her in person. Face-to-face with my idol, conversing with her and listening to her as she talked about her career in hindsight, I suddenly realized that my Ideal self, my screen idol whom I adored and worshipped from a distance, was after all accessible, just like any other human being, and different! I had even more reason to admire her. She talked sense. She was warm and gracious. But then in addition, something else happened, the mystery was gone. The demystification started when I realized that, I, the fan, had finally developed a separate identity. I might have already constructed my own person derived from a complex mix of genetics, familial contexts, environment, socialization, education and most especially, the various identifications made from infancy to adulthood that helped construct a distinct identity for the rest of my adult life. Thanks to my Idol and Muse, without whose very special participation, the construction of this Self might have been seriously impaired.

Happy Birthday Superstar!

Wednesday, May 09, 2012


Ever since Inside The Cinema hosted by Boy Abunda premiered on Cinema One, I always hoped that the cable show about the Philippine Movie Industry's most respected Icons would someday feature Superstar Nora Aunor. After all, what would a program about actors discussing the craft of acting in film be without Ate Guy? Unlike previous episodes, tonight's telecast deliberately used a slower pace in the interview focusing on the Superstar's most significant films with some of the country's finest filmmakers. This was the first time I saw Ate Guy answer each question thrown at her candidly and with much confidence. Sure, a bit of the old Nora Aunor is still there but during certain parts of the program, she would say something unexpected like "Lasing ako nung sinu-shoot namin yung scene na nabaril si Dan Alvaro sa Condemned (1984)." Later, she would also confess that "Uminom din ako bago kunan yung eksena sa burol sa Naglalayag (2004)."

The best part of the show were the interviews with her directors. Mario O'Hara talked about his experience working with Ate Guy in Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos (1976), Bakit Bughaw Ang Langit? (1981), Condemned and Bulaklak Sa City Jail (1984). Maryo J. de los Reyes reminisced on his special friendship with Ate Guy which resulted in films such as Annie Batungbakal (1979) and Bongga Ka Day! (1980). It's unfortunate that they left out one of my favorite films, Minsan, May Isang Ina (1983). I would have loved to hear her thoughts on making the movie. "Feel beautiful..." was how Ate Guy described working with Elwood Perez. I know all of Direk Elwood's stories about working with the Superstar. He mentioned that it was with Bilangin Ang Bituin Sa Langit (1989) that the critics started taking his work seriously. The most fascinating anecdote of all came from Gil Portes who directed Ate Guy in 'Merika (1984) and Andrea, Paano Ba Ang Maging Isang Ina? (1990). Before they started working, the late Ishmael Bernal advised him to shoot all the difficult scenes first because it enables her to get into the character she's portraying. When Ate Guy started talking about Lino Brocka, she mentioned the competition between Brocka and O'Hara on whose film will she win an award. I must say that this telecast of Inside The Cinema was worth the wait. Catch it again this Saturday, May 12 on Cinema One Global.

Friday, May 04, 2012


I once mentioned to Ate Guy, I would kill for a chance to see her at work on a film shoot. She quickly responded by saying, 'Pag nandoon kayo sa set, hindi ako makakaarte... This statement couldn't be more true. When we accompanied her to a rehearsal, she politely asked us to leave. She wants us to be surprised at the concert, which she did! I was in awe of her after watching the 18-minute documentary on the making of the final stampede scene in Himala. I saw a true artist at work. I've met industry people who had the opportunity of working with the Superstar and they all agree on one thing, Napakagaling niya! On the several occasions I've spent with her, I would ask Ate Guy about her films, the directors and actors she worked with. I remember one conversation and out of nowhere, she blurted out, Kahit kailan hindi ako nasigawan ni Bernie, referring to the great Ishmael Bernal. Then she continued, Si Mare, nasigawan na niya... and in turn I said, Nabasa ko nga po 'yon nu'ng shooting ng Broken Marriage at ikinulong pa sa banyo. Talaga?, she asked and I nodded. Ate Guy may have worked with Bernal in only three movies, Ikaw Ay Akin (1978), Bakit May Pag-Ibig Pa (1979) and Himala (1982) four if you count her cameo appearance in Tisoy! (1977) which she also produced. He was also one of the three alternating directors of her weekly drama anthology Ang Makulay Na Daigdig Ni Nora. Bernal's biggest frustration was when Hustisya (1983), his reunion film with Ate Guy after Himala was shelved.

During her stay here in the US, many projects were planned and offered to the Superstar. Unfortunately, none of them pushed through for different reasons. I always dreamed of having Ate Guy work with three of the best Filipino independent filmmakers. First was Lav Diaz, who wanted her to star in Reclusion Perpetua. Then I went to Manila in 2010 and met Auraues Solito who thought she would be perfect for the role of Punay in Busong. I e-mailed a copy of the screenplay to Ate Guy hoping that she would consider playing the part which eventually went to Alessandra de Rosi. I was ecstatic when she started filming Thy Womb last month with 2009 Cannes Film Festival Best Director Brillante Mendoza. When I first saw her performances in Minsa'y Isang Gamu-Gamo (1976), Atsay (1978), Ina Ka Ng Anak Mo (1979) and Himala, I was mesmerized by her genius. Thirty years later, I'm looking forward to that same experience once again

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


Ate Guy with Direk Elwood Perez on the San Francisco set of the 1975 comedy Lollipops & Roses At Burong Talangka produced by VL Productions. It's sad that there's no copy of this film in existence. It was also in San Francisco when I first met the Superstar in 2004. We went to Lombard Street where this photo was taken. All I have from the movie is the complete shooting script with notes by Direk Elwood and writer Toto Belano.

Monday, April 16, 2012


Superstar Nora Aunor arrives in Tawi-Tawi to shoot her scenes in the new film Thy Womb. Ate Guy will play a Badjao midwife in this independent feature from Cannes Best Director Brilliante Mendoza.

Friday, April 13, 2012


Nora Aunor taking instructions from Direk Elwood Perez on the set of Bilangin Ang Bituin Sa Langit.

Thursday, April 05, 2012


The review page of I Can't Stop Loving You from my booklet Si Elwood, Pelikula, Atbp. both signed by Ate Guy and Direk Elwood...

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

NORA AUNOR: An Appreciation
By: Mario A. Hernando
Published in The Philippine Daily Inquirer
October 1, 2011

The “superstar… has something behind the eyes that you couldn’t see until you photographed it in close up. You could see thought. If she had to look at one person with jealousy, and another with love, she didn’t have to change her expression. You could see it in her eyes as she looked from one to the other. And nobody else has been able to do that on screen.” The quote is from Kevin Brownlow, a respected authority on Hollywood film history, writing about the legendary actress Greta Garbo, who reigned from the silent era to the ’40s. He might as well be talking about Filipino superstar Nora Aunor.

There may be nothing extraordinary about the shape or color of Nora’s eyes, but one can readily see that they are her prized attributes as actress. For those eyes reveal her depth and intelligence in portraying a character.  Without changing facial expression, she can convey joy and misery, triumph and frustration, concern and contempt, amore and anger—just by looking at the camera, her co-actors, or even into blank space. If the face is mirror to the soul, Nora’s eyes could be the magnifying glass, revealing in detail what’s on her mind at the moment. There is no overrating the power of these eyes, but long before critics took note of them, Nora already had people under the spell of her voice.

Here was a rarity: a hugely popular singer who looked plain, and a movie musical star who didn’t dance as well as Cyd Charisse and Nida Blanca, evolving into a great singer and a great actress. Singing actors are common in local showbiz, but Nora is peerless.

As singer, she stood with the best with a voice that was full and expressive, and conveyed in both English and Tagalog songs a range of emotions. In her prime as vocalist, she could hit high notes and low notes, and negotiate a song’s phrases and dynamics with ease and clarity.
Sadly, this is all in the past tense.

Two years ago, complications from a cosmetic surgery treatment in Japan led to an emergency tracheotomy that destroyed her voice box. Because of this, Nora makes it clear that she can no longer sing. Recently, she told media at the press conference that a solution to this problem is a medical procedure that would cost $50,000 at the same American hospital in Boston that restored Julie Andrews’ voice.

Now fans can only recall those halcyon days when Nora could tug at the heartstrings with a sentimental song, while winning over more discriminating listeners with such standards as “Windmills of Your Mind,”  “People,” “The Greatest Performance of My Life” and “Moonlight Becomes You,” the song that made her the “Tawag ng Tanghalan” grand champion and earned her a quick ride to fame.

US-based Jojo Devera, a long-time Nora fan, confidant and chronicler, and an archivist of local movies and entertainment, narrates the odyssey of this petite Bicolana who sold water to train passengers then joined singing contests on radio and television.

Says Devera: “The parents of 12-year-old Nora Cabaltera Villamayor of Iriga, Camarines Sur, needed P20 for an older sister’s tuition. Nora, who loved to sing and listen to pop music, volunteered to join ‘Darigold Jamboree,’ a popular radio program that was bringing its amateur singing contest to the nearby town of Naga. The prize money was P20. Packing a second-hand dress that her mother, Antonia, had altered for her, Nora left with a family friend for the two-hour trip to Naga.

“In Naga, she won the ‘Darigold Jamboree’ contest with her rendition of ‘You and the Night and the Music.’ It was again in Naga where she won another contest sponsored by the rival radio program, ‘The Liberty Big Show.’  Her dual victory gave her the courage to audition for a national amateur singing contest on TV.”

In her gamin days, Nora was like Charice Pempengco, another probinsyana with a powerful voice who caught the fancy of Oprah Winfrey and became big.  Decades ago, Nora wowed everyone with her great voice and reportedly won the heart of a visiting singer Timi Yuro (“Hurt,” “I Apologize”) who was then said to have wanted to adopt the Bicolana waif. But Timi, who died a few years ago, was not as big and influential in America as Oprah is now. Still, the similarities between Nora and Charice are striking.

“Nora and her mother set out for Manila,” Devera continues. “They stayed with Antonia’s sister, Belen Aunor, who volunteered to take Nora to the studios for the auditions. They agreed that Belen would pose as Nora’s mother or guardian. Nora borrowed her aunt’s surname. Thus was born Nora Aunor.

“On ‘Darigold Jamboree’s Bulilit’ contest on Channel 11, Nora Aunor reigned as undefeated champion for 14 weeks. Then she set out to conquer ‘Tawag ng Tanghalan,’ at the time the most prestigious amateur singing contest. She won the night’s competition, but in the ensuing bout with the reigning champion, Jose Yap, Nora’s anxiety surfaced. She stuttered and missed a line and tasted defeat.”

Still, she won the overall “Tawag” championship and eventually joined the evening program “Oras ng Ligaya” on Channel 13.  Devera continues: “DZXL gave her a spot on ‘Operetang Putol-Putol.’ ‘Fiesta Extravaganza’ hosts Ike Lozada and German Moreno frequently invited her to guest on their radio program.”

The broadcast exposure must have helped her recordings shoot up the charts. Her cover of “Pearly Shells” sold   over a million copies in a year. Now a superstar, she became TV’s newest singing sensation and starred  in the “Nora-Eddie Show” with Eddie Peregrina in 1967, then “The Nora Aunor Show” in 1968, and the weekly “Superstar” from 1971 to 1989, with German Moreno aka Kuya Germs.

NORA’s early feat and budding superstardom caught the unerring eye of Sampaguita Pictures big boss Dr. Jose Perez, who had built the careers of movie queens Gloria Romero, Susan Roces, and Amalia Fuentes.

Ironically, Nora says she was an early Vilmanian, a fan of arch showbiz rival Vilma Santos.  Sampaguita was the breeding ground of the future Star for All Seasons, whose movies as child star, “Trudis Liit” and “Ging,” Nora claims to have seen several times.

Devera notes that Nora had previously been turned down by four other movie outfits, but Sampaguita offered her an eight-picture deal on Oct. 2, 1967, with the assurance that she’d be given singing parts.

“True enough,” he happily reports, “in ‘All Over World’ and ‘Way Out of the Country,’ her first two movie appearances in 1967, she sang with her former ‘Tawag’ opponent, Jose Yap. In her 12th movie two years later, ‘Young Girl,’ she was cast opposite the young mestizo actor Tirso Cruz III. But it was Tower productions that trusted Nora Aunor with a title role in ‘D’ Musical Teenage Idols’ (1969) opposite Tirso Cruz III.” The team became known as Guy & Pip, their respective nicknames, and was cast in the 1971 Manila filmfest movie of the same title. Artemio Marquez, director of “D’Musical Teenage Idols,” was warned by industry experts against casting a plain-looking and dark-skinned waif that went against   the box-office grain. But Marquez ignored the advice—and reaped a blockbuster.

The fans were insatiable, lapping up Nora’s records, forming fiercely loyal fans clubs, trooping to see her movies.   Guy and Pip had one or two movies every month, with only Vilma Santos and Edgar Mortiz as their closest rival.

Nora’s appeal swung from common to classy.  The dusky singer was not in the mold of Gloria Romero, Nida Blanca or Amalia Fuentes. She altered fan preferences and showed that brown is also beautiful.

In her movies, Nora had teamed up with leading men prettier than her: Manny de Leon, Sajid Kahn, Walter Navarro, Ricky Davao, Lloyd Samartino, Victor Wood, Cocoy Laurel. Another co-star, in 1971’s “Lollipops & Roses” was then-unknown Hollywood actor Don Johnson, who would later become big on TV’s “Miami Vice.”  In Nora’s later period during which she made serious films, she was paired with the likes of Dindo Fernando, Jay Ilagan, Ronaldo Valdez, Bembol Roco, Yul Servo, Dolphy, Joseph Estrada, and Fernando Poe Jr., among many others.

She has worked with four National Artists, all of them now deceased: Gerardo de Leon, Lamberto Avellana, Lino Brocka, and Ishmael Bernal.  Her  other name directors include Mario O’Hara, Maryo J. delos Reyes, Joel Lamangan, Elwood Perez, Eddie Garcia, Joey Gosiengfiao, Romy Suzara, Gil Portes, Lupita Concio-Kashiwahara, Laurice Guillen.

Nora Aunor reaped innumerable acting honors, having evolved from a mere passive singing star to a dynamic dramatic performer. She won her first award, albeit a minor one, in 1972 for her 53rd movie “And God Smiled at Me.” After her first major award, a Gawad Urian for best actress from the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino, other awards-giving bodies followed suit (Famas, Star, Film Academy of the Philippines,   Metro Manila Filmfest). She has eight Urian trophies, two for Dekada awards (as best actress of the decade), shared with Vilma Santos who has 10 Urian awards. Before she left for the US in 2004, she won the Manila Film Festival best actress award for Maryo J. delos Reyes’ “Naglalayag.”

Two highlights of Nora’s movie career were “Banaue” (1974), her only movie with Gerry de Leon (and his last) and Mario O’Hara’s “Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos” (1976). In both, she was paired with Christopher de Leon whom she married in 1975. They have a son, Kristoffer Ian, and several others whom she adopted: Lotlot, Matet, Kenneth and Kiko.

NORA Aunor’s rags-to-riches story was interrupted only by her seven-year stay in the United States, where she wanted originally to just have a change of pace, do concerts to pay the rent, and take it easy. She says she experienced penury, loneliness, homelessness, and dependence on the kindness of compatriots and fans there, as she moved from one house to another, from one state to another.

She was arrested for shabu possession, reported to have a same-sex marriage with a former manager in Vegas in 2000, and drunken shenanigans and   casino marathons with long-time companion John Rendez (which she has denied).

It’s a life story stranger, more lugubrious and protracted than TV soap opera—and worthy of a novel. For now, she is back in her element as an adulated, wooed and cajoled superstar, back with a new home and studio, TV5, which is producing a mini-series tailor-made for the returning prodigal, “Sa Ngalan ng Ina.” She is also committed to do two movies this year.

Before she left, she was notorious for being the quintessential prima donna—difficult, unreasonable, demanding, insensitive to the needs of  co-stars, the only difference being that she could also be sweet, humble, and self-effacing whenever she wanted to. Now, almost pleading, she tells media friends that the old wayward Nora Aunor is turning over a new leaf.

To rabid Noranians, she remains the only superstar although the actress herself has tried to discourage them from calling her that. Only one persona has the right to be called such, she says, the divine Jesus Christ. But who can stop them? Her followers venerate her like a deity: infallible, pure, both superstar and Superstar.

So again, here comes Noramania, a phenomenon that once swept the country – a success story – of rise and fall and resurrection.

Veteran columnist Ronald K. Constantino, a long-time Noranian, assesses Nora’s contribution to local showbiz with sobriety, clear thinking, and affection: “Her greatest achievement is giving joy to and inspiring the masses with her incomparable singing and acting.”
Yes, that voice. Those eyes.  Such charisma.

Monday, April 02, 2012


From the YES! Magazine feature article on the One & Only Superstar Nora Aunor. With special thanks to Anna Pingol.

Jojo Devera, a film critic and longtime Nora Aunor fan now based in Arizona, remembers 1978, the height of the Nora-Vilma rivalry, when Nora’s Atsay went head-to-head with Vilma’s Rubia Servios.

“Nakapila ako sa Coronet 2 (a theater on Aurora Boulevard in Cubao) para manood ng Atsay when the other fan commented na katulong lang ang bagay na role kay Nora. Then humalakhak siya nang pagkalakas-lakas. Umalis ako sandali sa pila, nilapitan ko ’yong fan. Wala akong sinabi. Basta sinampal ko lang siya. Nagpalakpakan ’yong mga Noranian na kasama ko sa pila.”

 Nora’s fans say they feel a connection to her because they feel that she is one of them. With the fans who have been fortunate enough to have been admitted into her inner circle, this intimacy is magnified a hundredfold.

Even though he had met Nora back in 1983—he was introduced to her by designer Goule Gorospe, who was then designing gowns for Superstar—Jojo Devera says he didn’t really become close to her until 2004. That was the year he helped out in the final performance, at Virginia Beach, of the first leg of Nora’s Power of Two U.S. concert tour with Kuh Ledesma.

Jojo was in charge of the teleprompter. He was standing on the left side of the stage, and the air conditioner, which was at full blast, was pointed at his head. After the show, while everyone went to the staff party, Jojo begged off and returned to his hotel room because he wasn’t feeling well.

A few minutes later, Jojo recalls, he heard a knock at the door. It was Nora, bringing Tylenol, water, noodles, alcohol, and a washcloth. She fed him, gave him an alcohol bath, and stayed with him until she thought he was asleep. When she left, Jojo was reduced to tears. He couldn’t believe that his idol had nursed him through a head cold.

The next morning, Jojo awoke rejuvenated. He says that Albert Sunga, alluding to Nora’s faith healer character in the film Himala, told him: “Ginamot ka ni Elsa.”

The sense of intimacy that Nora showed towards Jojo often grows to the point where Jojo’s friend Albert feels he has a duty to counsel his idol. Albert remembers a fans’ day at Quezon City’s Amoranto Stadium in 2003. Nora was wondering what gift to give to her followers. She settled on buying sacks and sacks of rice as giveaways.

“Kung minsan,” Albert says, “gusto mo nang paluin ang kamay. ‘Ate Guy, ano ba? ’Yon bang huwag mong i-equate lagi sa pera, kasi napakaraming nagmamahal sa ’yo na hindi naghihintay ng anumang kapalit. Kaya sila nandiyan, hindi dahil ’yong kailangan mong magbigay sa kanila. Kasi mahal ka nila kung sino ka.’”

 If Nora’s fans are demonstrative, so is Nora herself. The morning after his bout with a head cold, Jojo says, he and his retinue had to leave Virginia and go back to New Jersey. They said their goodbyes to the Superstar, who was crying as if she didn’t want them to leave. In the van going back to Jersey, Jojo got a call from Nora.

“Nagpapasalamat,” Jojo says. “At nararamdaman kong umiiyak uli siya, nalulungkot.”