The star of Strangers in Paradise remained a stranger in paradise.
Tom Babauta. A name immortalized in swardspeak. “Tom Babauta na ako” means “I’m hungry.” “Tom” is short for gutom, get it?
For decades the Philippine movie industry has been graced by foreign “actors” who want to try their luck in local showbiz. In the 60’s you had John Saxon, who appeared as the token Caucasian in movies like El Pinoy Matador, a Dolphy movie shot entirely in Spain; and the Pinoy spaghetti western Sergio Leone take-offs starring Chiquito. In the 70’s you had Sajid Khan, an Indian looker who appeared in mindless romantic comedies with Nora Aunor and Vilma Santos. His career in the Philippines didn’t last long because Filipinos are inherently racist and not very keen on actors who have dark skin. He was displaced in the public’s affections by Junior the American singer.
In the 80’s you had Tom Babauta, whose talent hung delicately on his cheekbones, triceps and his “big kahuna.” We don’t exactly know his progeny but legend has it that he was model for the original “Malakas” cracking out of a bamboo pole as depicted in the mural by Botong Francisco at the Manila Film Center. “Maganda,” on the other hand was supposedly modeled after the body of Coca Nicolas and
the face of Imelda Marcos. I don’t know if this mural still exists; maybe it’s hanging in the dining room of some fallen PCGG commissioner.
This ball-scratching monosyllabic dude was a dreamboat for casting couch directors. Rumor had it that he would do anything for a sandwich. His notable talents included: hula war dancing, baton twirling with fire on both ends, greased tightrope walking, lying on nails and broken glass, and last but not the least, fire-eating. Tom was so sought-after that Mother Lily made a series of Hawaiian-themed movies with social commentaries on Fil-American cross-cultural issues. At least there was a sense of authenticity when he was cast in these films. Another rumor was that his family was not
from Hawaii, but the Northern Marianas (The elected Governor of
Northern Marianas bears the name of Juan Babauta.). What the heck, no one will know the difference.
Tom Babauta had so much promise, and his career remained a promise. He appeared with Snooky in Strangers in Paradise. Then he starred with Rio Locsin in Waikiki , which propelled him to oblivion. From time to time he appeared in dramas and variety shows, notably in Lovingly Yours, Helen, where he played a balikbayan GI baby searching for his mother in Angeles. And yes, of our country’s 80 million population, I’m the only one who remembers this useless piece of information. If no one remembers what Tom looked like, think of David Kawena of Lilo and Stich, with curly hair.
In one of his final interviews in Manila, Tom Babauta graced the immortal Sunday variety show, Germspesyal. Here is the transcript of that conversation, plumbed from the depths of my memory.
Kuya Germs: Do you love Philippines?
Tom: Yes Kuya Germs.
Kuya Germs: Have you, ah, made love to a Filipina?
And thus Kuya Germs brought Tom Babauta’s career to its final, inexorable doom.