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FASTEST RISING STAR
by Jose A. Quirino
Philippines Free Press, September 20, 1958
Sweet And Lovely Susan Roces Has Encountered Easy Sailing So Far Despite Charges That She Lacks Dramatic Intensity. Fans Adore Her And Give Her All Sorts Of Presents. Her Pictures are Box Office Hits. Her Admirers Predict A Long Career For Her As A Star.
A LITTLE over two years ago, 14-year-old Jesusa Sonora, newly graduated from Bacolod City's La Consolacion high school, ran about the Sampaguita Pictures studio in hoydennish abandon with autograph album in hand, looking for her favorite movie stars. The autograph hound was so thrilled and excited that her chaperone, a spinster aunt, had to remind her about her upbringing as a lady, Jesusa continued giggling and hopping about but this time in a most ladylike manner. Attired in her school uniform complete with socks and flat shoes and devoid of makeup, with her long hair braided in pigtails, she looked like a chubby Japanese doll what with her eyes disappearing into thin slits in her moonface every time she laughed, her peaches-and-cream complexion, and her double chin. When she moved around, she gave the impression of waddling instead of walking. A studio hand casually remarked that she looked like a "queso de bola."
All this while, however, Dr. Jose Perez, Sampaguita executive, was observing the "ball of cheese." He immediately toddied to her.
"She had a brusque look that impressed me and somehow her face, which gave her an aura of innocence, stood out in the crowd," Perez now says. "It was not difficult for me to convince her to enter the movies because, it turned out, her one obsession was to become an actress."
Launched in the movies as "the face that refreshes," Jesusa underwent a compete metamorphosis. The plain and gawky kid with the duck walk who, before her "discovery," lived a sheltered life, became a glamorous celebrity almost overnight. Even her name was changed -- to Susan Roces -- after somebody observed that she reminds people of "moonlight and roses."
Today, 17-year-old Susan Roces is the fastest rising star among the teenage sensations produced by local moviedom's frenzied search for new talents and fresh personalities despite the fact that she possesses only fair-to-middling dramatic prowess. The truth of the matter is that Susan is a genuine phenomenon. She started breathing the rarefied air of stardom in her first year in the movies when she was barely 15. After less than three years and only 10 pictures, she is now earning P5,000 per film. What's more, her financial chart is still going up at the rate of P500 per movie. A fashion plate, she is very much sought after to model the latest designs in exclusive fashion shows. She also earns a pretty penny for her two regular radio programs and for guesting in several others. Not bad for a youngster who admittedly is no great shakes in heavy drama.
Only recently, Dame Fortune again smiled on Susan when she was chosen by Pan-American Airways to represent the Philippines in the Pacific Festival at San Francisco, USA, which opened last September 12 and which will close on the 21st. Outstanding beauties from 36 countries are participating in the festival. On the bases of beauty, intelligence, charm, personality and speech, Susan was the unanimous choice from among six local lovelies, including three movie stars, by a three-man board of judges headed by Tourism Commissioner Modesto Farolan.
"Everything wonderful is happening so fast. I can't distinguish the real from the make-believe," she gushed during an interview with this writer shortly before she left for the States last September 9 to take part in the festival. Dreaminess lowered itself like a gossamer curtain over her pretty face. "So far, my life has been a bed of roses and I'm afraid the spell will be broken."
"Indeed, this modern Cinderella has been having quite a ball, a sort of a kind-hearts-and-coronets affair lately. Everything so far has come easy to her, served on the proverbial silver platter. "Fate," theorized a studio philosopher, "has not yet placed life's banana peels on her path."
Even in her films, she portrays breezy rags-to-riches roles lwhere she has her pie and eats it too. All her pictures have extemely happy endings. In her sixth vehicle -- "Prinsesa Gusgusin" -- she depicted a Cinderella who traded her rags and ashes for queenly robes and a kingdom.
One reason why she lacks dramatic intensity in her screen portrayals is that she has no sad and really memorable experiences to draw from.
"Susan can't act herself out of a paper bag but she's got it made because she is everybody's concept of an ideal sweetheart," one of her more vocal critics, a director from a rival company, attempted to explain the phenomenon. "She has what is known as universal appeal. Fans regard her as the girl next door. Her fellow teenagers see in her the early realization of their dreams, while old fogeys recapture their lost youthful moments through her. She is the type that captivates both the country bumpkin and the city slicker."
The megman was of course over-simplifying the case for and against Jesusa Sonora alias Susan Roces. In the first place, she's not such a bum actress she needs dialogue to depict every emotion. She has been, for instance, successful in light comedy and Gentle Bertha characterizations. Furthermore, it is more than coincidence that all her films lhave made good at the box office. In fact, three of her pictures this year -- "Mga Reyna Ng Vicks," "Tawag Ng Tanghalan," and "Madaling Araw" -- are a cinch to land among the top 10 moneymakers for 1958.
What then are the reasons that Susan clicks with movie aficionados, why fans mob her wherever she goes, and why admirers -- both male and female -- give her all sorts of presents from bagoong and fruits to rings and bracelets?
Her success can be attributed to several factors -- her good breeding, a thorough overhauling job and well-planned buildup, her deep understanding and kind regard for her many fans, and her fierce competitiveness. Then, too, she is liberally endowed with natural charm and delicate beauty while her 115 pounds are tastefully arranged on a five-foot-five-inch frame (she's still growing) with a configuration best described statistically: 34-23-34.
Although susan is part and parcel of the new crop of celluloid luminaries, she does not go for periods of highly-publicized nonsense which allegedly produces off-beat and colorful copy for the avant garde crowd. Producers, directors, fellow troupers and plain studio hands, are all praise for Susan as far as behavior on and off the set is concerned. To hear them talk you'd think she was just an angel in disguise. No rebellious or mixed-up kid, she is dependable, responsible and completely devoid of temperamental outbursts or the prima donna complex. She reports promptly for work or social engagements. "What's more important, she checks in already made up and ready with her lines," Dr. Perez, who admits he has yet to congratulate Susan on a screen performance, declared. "If virtue were only photogenic," a scriptwriter chimed in, "Susan would make the most enchanting thespian."
No wonder a writer for a movie magazine assigned to do a story on her wailed plaintively: "There is no angle in the cut-and-dried Susan Roces story."
If Susan is a perfect lady on and off the screen it is because she has been brought up that way. Her father, Dr. Jose Sonora, now a resident physician in a hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio, belongs to the deeply religious and conservative Tongoy-Sonora clan of Bacolod City.
"Daddy is so old-fashioned we had a hard time convincing him about Baby Darling's" -- that's how Susan is called at home -- "career as an actress," Bennett Sonora, Susan's elder sister, most rabid critic and secretary, disclosed. "It's good he was already in America when Baby was sought by studio authorities; otherwise he would never have consented. He wanted Baby to take up law because of her penchant for turning trivial matters into international affairs."
Susan's mother, Purificacion Levy, a French mestiza and niece of the owners of Estrella del Norte, told us: "Baby has old maid aunts on both sides of the fence who, I'm sure, are against her becoming an actress. She has a 75-year-old spinster grandaunt who never tires of telling us about the old Victorian concept of bringing up children." She smiled as though savoring an untold joke, then: "We have reared our five children the best we know how. That's why I permitted Baby to go unchaperoned to the States, because I trust her."
Bennett took over the thread of conversation: "I believe Susan was miscast in 'Boksingera' where she portrayed the title role because she is not cut out for tomboy roles. She is the fragile and clinging-vine type. That's why I liked her acting in 'Sino Ang May Sala' where she portrayed the sweetheart of a juvenile delinquent (Romeo Vasquez) and helped him turn over a new leaf.
"But make no mistake about it," Bennett continued, "Baby has domineering qualities which she inherited from Daddy. There are times when she tries to dominate me, especially regarding the disciplining of our two younger sisters and brother. That's her defect -- she tries so hard to act like a mother to the family."
We interviewed members of the Sonora family at their apartment a stone's throw away from Sampaguita studio. Even nine-year-old Rosemarie, who makes her screen debut in "Ulilang Anghel" and who, the rushes indicate, is a better dramatic actress than Susan, had something to say about her famous sister. "Ate is forever lecturing us on good manners and right conduct," she said in the vernacular.
We observed that over 50 young fans had gathered outside the Sonora residence. They called out Susan's name. She stepped out to sign autographs. The fans, all girls, practically mobbed her. We noticed one or two fans pinching Susan on the arms while another gave her a bear hug. It seemed she enjoyed the whole affair as much as the fans.
"Does this happen all the time?" we asked.
"Every day," Mrs. Sonora sighed. "Baby even goes to the extent of entertaining fans inside the house. We often have unexpected guests for dinner. Baby gets peeved if we don't treat her fans right."
Bennett showed us a big cabinet full of dolls, figurines, bottles of perfume, embroidered handkerchiefs, costume jewelry, and knick-knacks. "Gifts from her fans," she said. "Most of her dresses are made from materials given by admirers. Incidentally, she designs many of her dresses herself. Baby religiously follows the fashion trends. this is where we have spats. She always insists that I wear more chic attire but I guess I'm just the old-fashioned type like Daddy."
Susan gets all sorts of presents from fans. An Ilocano admirer regularly supplies the Sonora family with bagoong while fans from Batangas and Laguna send fruits, suman and other delicacies. A Chinese female fan gave her a ring while a rich friend gave her an expensive bracelet from Hong Kong.
Her fans will be interested to know that Susan keeps an orderly file of their letters and even pastes their pictures in a scrapbook. "My daughter is a sentimentalist," Mrs. Sonora revealed. "She makes it a point to get a souvenir -- a napkin, a card, or even toothpicks -- from the parties she attends." Sure enough, we saw these items in one of her bulky albums. Susan is also a collector of coins and stamps.
"How about boy friends?" we pressed.
"Although she has several suitors, she always tells me she is afraid to fall in love because she would like to make good in the movies," Mrs. Sonora confided. "She says once she gets hitched she will stop appearing in pictures."
Among her many suitors are three movie actors, the son of a Visayan hacendero, a popular La Salle basketeer, the owner of a big laundry firm in Manila, and the son of a former senator who is now in the States.
"All this talk about boy friends is premature because I shall not get married until I'm 25," Susan, who had finished dealing with her fans, joined the conversation. She claims she has never been kissed on the lips "although I've been pecked on the cheeks." Her concept of an ideal husband includes the following traits: industry, intelligence, dependability, and good personality -- "although he may not be necessarily handsome."
Latest intelligence gathered by us indicates that Susan, who is not yet engaged, is sympathetic to Romeo Vasquez, Asia's best actor for 1957 and one of her ardent admirers. "Even the fans are constantly matching Romeo with her," Bennett intimated.
"I'm sure Baby will make a loving wife because she is muy carinosa," Mrs. Sonora beamed with justifiable pride. "What I admire most is her thoughtfulness. She gives me her pay envelope without a single cent deducted. Despite the fact that she is earning a lot of money she does not complain when I give her an allowance of P30 a week which she uses for taxi fare, chocolate and candies -- she has a sweet tooth."
Before she appeared in her first picture, "Miss Tilapia", wher she earned P1.000 aside from a monthly salary of P250, Susan underwent thorough overhauling by studio beauty experts. First, she was made to wear high heels to trim her obese legs. She had daily face massages to take out the baby fat. Next she was told to wear a corset to give her poise. Proper dieting removed the excess avoirdupois and exercise helped place the pounds in the right places. In no time at all, Susan bloomed. The iridescent butterfly emerged from her drab cocoon.
Oddly enough, Susan was an accomplished dramatic actress in her school days. She was awarded a gold medl on graduation for starring in such plays as "Julius Caesar," "Finger of God," "The Rising Tide," and "Antigone."
"I've always wanted to become a movie star, even in my elementary school days when my classmates christened me "Lola Basiyang" because I was so old-fashioned then," she dreamily recalls.
"I still believe that given time and the proper experience, she will make a good dramatic actress," Dr. Perez told us. "Rightly now, she cannot control the muscles of her face because of the remaining baby fat."
Studio authorities believe that Susan's best dramatic performance to date was her screen test for "Boksingera," her second picture. In 1956, the year she was "discovered," studio top brass were looking for a leading lady for "Boksingera." For two weeks, scenes were shot without a heroine. "We needed a leading lady with childlike qualities, in pigtails, and who could box," Perez disclosed. "Seven tested for the title role including Susan. She won the part by a vote of 19 to 1."
Susan became a full-fledged star with a salary of P2,000 in her third film -- "Kulang Sa Pito" -- where she sang and danced. In this connection, she is an accomplished terpsichorean artist who goes for modern dances like the rock 'n' roll and chicken. To date, she has appeared in 10 pictures all of which were box office hits. Just before she enplaned for abroad she finished two more pictures -- "Ulilang Anghel," a strongly dramatic vehicle where she helps bring love and harmony to a family in discord, and "Lover Boy," where she portrays a rambunctious co-ed who gets into romantic complications when she becomes the sweetheart of a Casanova.
Many believe that Susan will endure long as a star. Her studio has big plans for her. There is only one catch to the whole thing. One of these days clouds will darken her hitherto bright sky and, having encountered easy sailing all her life, she may not be able to weather the tempest. That will be the day this modern Cinderella will need her fairy godmother. That will also be the day she will "discover" herself.
The future of moviedom's fastest rising star depends on how she can hold her liquor -- the intoxicating wine of success. All she has to do, she says, in order not to break the magic spell is to remember the shopworn advice of Mommy Vera, Sampaguita Pictures president: "It pays to be good!"
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