ALIWAN AVENUE pays tribute to one of Philippine Cinema’s Greatest Actresses: Ms. CHARITO SOLIS. 2013 marks her 14th death anniversary (January 9). Maraming salamat kina Gypsy Baldovino at Yolly Tiangco para sa napaka-ekstensibong teksto sa buhay-artista ng aktres; taos puso ring pasasalamat kay Joey Cruz para sa kanyang mga YouTube uploads. Kung mamarapatin ninyong namnamin ang galing ni Ms. Solis, mangyari lamang na pumasyal sa YouTube nang mapanood ang upload ni Jojo Devera na HD version ng ‘MANILA BY NIGHT’ ni Ishmael Bernal .
CHARITO SOLIS is a rarity in Philippine show business. At a time when her early acting contemporaries were making big studio romantic musicals and melodramatic ensembles that were surefire hits, she was undertaking complex actress roles, baring her breasts on screen and churning out irrepressible uncommon society women whose lives are in itself a movie, the antithesis to the Filipina Maria Clara image. The interesting part is this: Filipino moviegoers accepted her for this, and they elevated her to the pedestal of the greatest Filipina actresses ever.
No one could have pinpointed to Rosario Solis that this was her life’s fate. Born in Tondo, Manila in 1935, her life was the typical Filipino one: impoverished and full of drama. Her parents, Maximo Solis, a newspaper reporter, and Milagros Solis, a pharmacist, were not able to fulfill their parental obligations due to death and medical reasons, respectively, leading Rosario and her two sisters and brother to be taken care of by relatives at an early age. Rosario and her siblings were separated early in life and were not reunited for nine years, when Carmen, the eldest sibling, had a job and can support her siblings. To help support her family, Rosario had to sell sampaguita garlands in the streets. According to her sister Yolly Tiangco, this could have been the reason why, early on, Charito Solis became a strong-willed woman whose eyes are set only on her career.
When she was 19 in 1954 and was studying at the University of the East, her uncle Felicing Constantino, future FAMAS nominee and director at the LVN Pictures studios, introduced her to the LVN mogul Narcisa de Leon, who was then looking for a female lead opposite Jaime de la Rosa in an adaptation of Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night: Niña Bonita (1955). Though Rosario refused at first to star in the movie, there was something that Doña Sisang saw in her that made her resolute to cast the young inexperienced actress. Over the years, the matriarch of LVN will stand up for her no matter what Charito Solis had gotten herself into.
The first shooting day of Niña Bonita was hellish. The first scene for Rosario was to jump in a swimming pool, a direction she absolutely refused for fear of hitting her head on the bottom of the pool. The shooting packed up without capturing the scene. The director and crew ran to Doña Sisang. The matriarch only said, “You can’t make the kid jump in there if she doesn’t want to.”
Before the premiere of Niña Bonita, Doña Sisang warned Rosario, “I cannot always guarantee you a lead role.” Instead of a demure Maria Clara answer of “That’s okay,” all that Doña Sisang heard was, “Okay then, I will stop making movies from now on if that’s the case.” True enough, a new cinematic diva was born, and Doña Sisang was moved by Rosario’s answer. Her instincts told her to go with Rosario in this, and because of this obstinate but successful career management move, Charito Solis would get above-the-title top-billing for all of her films until the day she died.
Now launched as Charito Solis, LVN Pictures placed Charito in the company of its greatest actors: Jaime de la Rosa, Tony Santos, Rosa Rosal, Leroy Salvador, Eddie Rodirguez and others in box-office hits Ulilang Birhen (1956), Malvarosa (1958)Sampung-Libong-Pisong Pag-Ibig and Sanga-Sangang Puso (both 1957). In a very short span of time, Charito Solis emerged on the LVN lot as its dramatic lead actress. Before, LVN Pictures was known to produce lavish musical pictures and easy-money melodramas that did not really stretch the acting muscles of its actors, or, in Charito Soils’ terms, “Pakanta-kanta lang sa ilalim ng puno ng mangga (“Great acting” by singing songs under the mango tree).” After Charito Solis, LVN became much more identified with classy dramas that answered its rival Sampaguita Pictures‘ society drama pictures. In the late 1950s, Sampaguita’s reigning dramatic queens Lolita Rodriguez, Rita Gomez and Marlene Dauden were held in check by the Charito Solis acting technique: restrained at times but volcanic in impact. Even FAMAS took notice: Ulilang Birhen was her first FAMAS Best Actress nomination.
In 1959, Charito Solis starred inKundiman ng Lahi (1959), a movie about a barrio lass who was sexually abused by her adoptive uncle and was sexually awakened, prompting her to take revenge in the end. A risqué role considering that at that time, the Queen of Philippine movies, Gloria Romero, was doing society pictures and light dramatic films, and the Queen of the LVN lot, Nida Blanca, was churning out one musical picture after another. It was a move that put LVN’s box-office magnets to the test, but it all paid off. The movie was a success, with a bonus: it was Charito’s first FAMAS Award-winning performance. In a record-setting second win, Charito Solis became the first Filipina thespian to ever win back-to-back FAMAS Best Actress with her performance in Emily (1960), which, compared to her other FAMAS wins, is a light dramatic performance.
Her double FAMAS wins should have assured her of a place in LVN’s super productions, however, the beginning of the 1960s was also the end of the big studios. One by one, the Big Four studios started closing shop. Surprisingly enough, LVN was the first one to close, even though it was the most successful. Its box-office successes’ profits were all used to pay off the existing debts of the studio, and by 1961, it was insolvent. It switched to post-production in the 1960s up until the new millennium, when it had to close for good. Sampaguita Pictures lessened its film output, however, its inability to compete with the then-independent producers forced it to bankruptcy in the 1970s. In the 1960s, it let go of its contract stars, which made it a non-option for a released star. Premiere Productions and Lebran International had closed earlier. There was nowhere for Charito Solis to go except for LVN’s sister company, Dalisay Pictures. That was the easiest and surest route: even Nida Blanca was contracted at one time in Dalisay. However, Charito’s foresight told her that the independently produced films was the way to go if she wanted to better herself in acting and place herself in a position to be hired by as many prestigious directors as possible. She then did the unthinkable: she went freelance.
At a time when most of the contract stars of the big studios have gone under or have retired from acting due to the loss of support from powerful movie establishments, Charito Solis had defied her first career test by associating herself with prestige productions produced and/or directed by Philippine cinema’s best directors. For one, she essayed the role of an opium addict with Fernando Poe, Jr. in Sandata at Pangako (1961), and in another unprecedented move for a Filipina actress, she co-starred, headed and got top-billing in an international production, Shaka (1961), a Japanese production. She was also the heroine in Gerardo de Leon’s adaptation of Jose Rizal’s El Filibusterismo, the 1962 FAMAS Best Picture. For her performance as the tortured and violated Juli, she garnered another FAMAS Best Actress nomination. In 1962, what could be considered as the biggest unfounded rumor of her career struck: she was having an affair with Manila mayor Arsenio Lacson. On April 15, 1962, Lacson died of a stroke and a heart attack at his hotel suite. Rumor mills churned out that he was with Charito Solis and actually had the heart attack while in the heat of lovemaking. Though the rumors were unfounded, it slightly affected Charito Solis’ popularity. However, she was rewarded with yet a third FAMAS the next year for Angustia (1963) in a role that was perhaps the closest to where she was at that time: a movie star. Indeed, in the 1960s, though Charito Solis never became number 1 in terms of box-office draw, she was consistently at the top ten, albeit behind the populists Amalia Fuentes and Susan Roces, who were then churning out romantic musicals and melodramas. It was a fate that Charito had accepted and snubbed: the box-office was for the lightweights and it did not matter to her, but her acting did. For the next few years, she took on complex leading actress roles that Fuentes and Roces did not dare do during those times, strong-willed independent women who were willing to go as far as play with their men to get what they want: Maria Dolores and Tatlong Mukha ni Pandora (1963), Magda Sales and Lagablab sa Maribojoc (1964), Claudiaand Ang Tao’y Makasalanan (1966).
In 1967, just twelve years after her foray into the movie business, Charito approached what many Filipino film historians would call her golden age. In collaboration with Luis Nepomuceno Productions, she starred in Dahil sa Isang Bulaklak, then billed as the biggest Filipino motion picture of all time. As Margarita, the cosmopolitan lady who fell in love with Ernesto (Ric Rodrigo) and was taken apart by life and by the people around them, only to be reunited years later, her performance raised Dahil… into a Filipino classic that is still considered to be one of Philippine cinema’s best. The production values of the film were advanced for its time: it was the first Filipino film in full DeLuxe color and the first Filipino film to ever feature a naked woman, Solis herself, albeit in silhouette. The film was successful in the box-office that it was held as the highest-grossing Filipino film of that time and was toasted by critics. However, come FAMAS time, Dahil sa Isang Bulaklak only won three FAMAS Awards, none of them for Best Picture and for Solis’ performance. However, as history would have it, Charito Solis’ performance in Dahil was awarded Best Actress by the Asian Film Festival. The film was also submitted as the Philippine entry to the Foreign Film category of the Academy Awards in 1969. Though the movie didn’t make it to the final nominees’ list, two tickets were given out to Charito Solis and Luis Nepomuceno, and together, they set foot on the 41st Academy Awards, the first Filipinos to do so.
In 1968, Charito Solis, again with Luis Nepomuceno Productions, appeared in the prestige picture Igorota. Known as a Filipina mestiza with classic features, Solis allowed herself to be deglamorized and darkened to suit the role of Maila, the Igorot princess who married a lowlander (Ric Rodrigo) despite the protests of her suitor Agpo (Fred Galang) and lived in his world, only to be disillusioned and kill herself in the end. The movie, which was shot in both Filipino and English for foreign distribution, was just the revenge that Charito Solis needed. After being snubbed in her performance in Dahil, she was awarded Best Actress for her explosive but controlled performance in Igorota, and the film itself won seven other FAMAS Awards, including FAMAS Best Picture. During the Gabi ng Parangal, Charito Solis showed up in beggar garb to promote her newest Nepomuceno filmAng Pulubi (1969), another departure from the usually glamorous Solis. Another landmark achievement that advanced Charito Solis in the echelons of acting greatness and dedication were two scenes in the movie, cut for the Filipino distribution but left intact for its foreign distribution (as The Legend of the Tree of Life), where she exposed her breasts on the big screen as needed by the story. No other Filipina actress had ever done so before, and the closest who ever came to such was Mila del Sol in Sarung Banggi (1947), where she was shot with a cloth wrapped around her naked body, already considered bold and daring in conservative Philippines. In 1969, the Queen of Visayan Movies Gloria Sevilla repeated the feat in Badlis sa Kinabuhi, albeit with prosthetic breasts, another role that won the Asian Film Festival for Best Actress. For Nepomuceno Productions, she made Ang Langit sa Lupa(1967), Luha sa Karimlan (1968), Ang Pulubi (1969), Pipo and The Hunted (1970).
Charito Solis took a four-year hiatus from filmmaking from 1971-1974 as her television work abounded. Starting in 1966, she was given “The Charito Solis Show” in ABS-CBN, a drama anthology that was immediately contested by Marlene Dauden’s “Salamisim” for RPN 9. In 1973, Charito Solis did “Obra Maestra” for RPN 9. She was also kept busy by theater work. With Lolita Rodriguez, she appeared (again with top-billing) in the Philippine Educational Theater Association’s Larawan, a Filipino adaptation of Nick Joaquin’s A Portrait of an Artist as Filipino.
Her big screen comeback came with Araw-Araw, Gabi-Gabi in 1975. Despite the hiatus, she came back on top form, and with top-billing. Come Metro Manila Film Festival time, she became its first Best Actress for the film. Her comeback also garnered for her another FAMAS Best Actress nomination. Araw-Araw, Gabi-Gabi also signaled an image change for Charito Solis. At that time, bomba films or sexually suggestive films were coming out in droves, and the biggest box-office and bankable stars were Alma Moreno and Beth Bautista, the sex goddesses. Even the 1970s Queen of Philippine Movies Vilma Santos had to adapt to the times by donning a bikini and going daring in Burlesk Queen (1977). At forty years old, an age considered to be the end of an actress’s aspiration for leading roles, Charito Solis went with the mores of the times and appeared in “adult films” in leading roles such asMrs. Teresa Abad, Ako Po si Bing (1976), Walang Katapusang Tag-Araw and Babae, Huwag Kang Tukso (1977), Mga Tinik ng Babae (1978) Init and Mga Huwad na Mananayaw (1979).
However, the film that defined her 1970s career was not an adult film, but a dramatic film, her specialty. Pitted with the “other dramatic empress” Lolita Rodriguez, she contrasted her usual acting style with Rodriguez’ restrained, quiet style in Ina, Kapatid, Anak (1979). At that time already acknowledged as Philippine Cinema’s Hall of Famer for Best Actress, Charito Solis showed her acting prowess in a way that did not swallow Rodriguez nor did not allow to be shadowed by Rodriguez’ subtle style. Come FAMAS time, she had another Best Actress nod but lost to Nora Aunor for Ina Ka ng Anak Mo, but the “other” awards, the Gawad Urian, granted her its Gawad para sa Pinakamahusay na Pangunahing Aktres (Best Actress). Interesting enough, her penchant for top-billing persisted: the usual tool for billing two actresses demanding top billing was employed (see left). She also appeared with Vilma Santos in Modelong Tanso, a pale competitor to Rodriguez’ and Nora Aunor’s Ina Ka ng Anak Mo. Because Vilma Santos was another actress known for her penchant with billing, the same tool was used.
The 1980s proved to be the pasture of Charito Solis’ career. Armed with an armful of FAMAS and Gawad Urian statuettes, she appeared in major supporting and leading roles (still with top-billing) as she agreed to challenge her acting talents with roles both great and small. Notable films include Playgirl (1981),Kisapmata (1983) and Karnal (1984) where she won the Gawad Para sa Pinakamahusay na Pangalawang Aktres (Best Supporting Actress) in Gawad Urian and a FAMAS Best Supporting nod for the former, her first; Pieta (1983);Teenage Marriage and Kaya Kong Abutin ang Langit (1984), Hinugot sa Langit (1985) andIpaglalaban Ko (1989). In 1985, after thirty years in the business, she was finally given an award worthy of her talents: the FAMAS Hall of Fame Award. Elevated to the prestigious circle because of her fifth FAMAS for Don’t Cry for Me, Papa (1984), her elevation created the Best Actress Hall of Fame category. As the 1980s and 1990s rolled on, she eventually agreed to accept major supporting roles to the younger stars like her contemporaries Gloria Romero and Nida Blanca, who were also winning awards for their efforts at that time. She was also gaining weight at that time, which hampered her quest for female roles.
However, she was rediscovered by the younger generation through her role as Vic Sotto’s mother-in-law in the now-defunct “Okay Ka, Fairy Ko” of M-ZET Productions and TAPE Productions and aired at ABS-CBN. As Ina Magenta, the spiteful but compassionate mother-in-law, she added the dose of magic and laughter that made the show one of the most consistent top-raters of the late 80s and early 90s. In essence, the venture also expounded Solis’ innate talent for comedy, something that has never been tapped because of her overpowering dramatic greatness.
The 1990s saw Charito Solis graduate to mother and grandmother roles, which she had done with frequency in the 1980s. In another nod to her age, she finally allowed herself to be billed above Vilma Santos, then acknowledged as the Longest-Reigning Box Office Queen of Philippine Movies, albeit above-the-title in films such as Ipagpatawad Mo (1992) and Dahil Mahal Kita: The Dolzura Cortez Story (1993). She also appeared in Ikaw Pa Lang ang Minahal (1992), Saan Ka Man Naroroon (1994), Isang Kahig, Isang Tuka (1996) andIkaw Pa Rin Ang Iibigin (1998). Her television credits were also expanding; on the day of her death in 1998 from a heart attack in Calamba, Laguna while on vacation with her family, she was in the cast of ABS-CBN’s Mula sa Puso drama series.
Charito Solis’ “antics” were the toast of the tabloids when she was younger, from the admirable to the ridiculous. Her volatile outbursts on sets when professionalism was not observed was a common story written in the movie magazines. Ever a stickler for promptness and professionalism, she was said not to allow any one to make a noise during her performances because it detracts from her concentration. She would even go to the lengths of bringing her acting trophies on movie sets so that she can show the younger stars that they were dealing with a competent and award-winning actress that they have to respect in terms of promptness and performance. Both Vilma Santos and Nora Aunor, future FAMAS Hall of Famers, were said to have experienced this. She was also said to “meddle” with directors in terms of movie directing, an accusation that she had denied and explained: she was not meddling with the direction of the film but with the direction of her acting. She was an active artist; she would suggest ways on how to better her performance, but the director’s approval was needed to seal it, which she obeyed. She was just disappointed that because she was Charito Solis that her directors usually do not bring out the best in her, believing and excusing themselves that what she was giving was already the best. Other tabloid rumors were that she slept in a temperature-controlled room to preserve her beauty and that she brought her own arinola (potty) on film sets as she refused to use public toilets. She is also known to drum up interest with her name through her personal makings, such as the beggar garb in the 1968 FAMAS Awards. Her career was top one in her life, a probable reason why she never married. After her death, it was revealed that the only boyfriends she ever had were the King of Philippine Movies Fernando Poe, Jr. when they were both starting out and film director Danny Zialcita.
However, most family members remember her as a compassionate and sensitive person with a genetic hot temper. She was known to be very giving to those in need, even to the point of loss. She was also a good cook and never almost allowed her film’s crew to eat anything but what she cooked. In the business, her professionalism and dedication to her craft is most remembered. Her awards were a testament to the amount of respect that she had garnered from the industry, and her achievements were trailblazers that allowed later Filipino actors to go to unprecedented height by standing in her shoulders. Before Charito Solis’, the greatest acting that Filipinos have seen was Carmen Rosales’, a combination of gestures, vocal inflections and riveting eyes. Charito Solis reinvented Filipino acting by varying her style as demanded by her roles. She can be restrained but simmering like in Igorota (1968), tragic and repressed like in El Filibusterismo (1962), all-out hysterical like in Ina, Kapatid, Anak(1979), sarcastic but controlled in Mga Huwad na Mananayaw (1979) and melodramatic like in Kaya Kong Abutin ang Langit (1984). She had no identifiable singular role in her career because she gave all her best in everything, making it hard for film critics to select a role that is definitely Charito Solis. After Charito Solis, respect had come to the Filipino acting profession, and acting as a whole was elevated to an art and science that she herself had mastered and used to her fullest capacity.
Acknowledgement :Gypsy Baldovino and Yolly Tiangco, Philippine Daily Inquirer; IMDb