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That’s … Kuya Germs!

/ 06:25 PM January 08, 2016
German Moreno FILE PHOTO

German Moreno

Editor’s Note: Published on page A3-2 of the May 21, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Whenever he’s in the Old Manila area, German Moreno makes certain to pass by where Clover Theater once stood, “on the corner of Echague (now Carlos Palanca Street), near MacArthur Bridge and Plaza Goiti in Quiapo.”

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A rush of memories floods his mind each time: “Long lines of fans waiting to buy tickets, big names on the marquee … I can’t help getting teary-eyed; I’m very sentimental.”

Along with Dolphy and Pilita Corrales, Moreno is one of the most popular and most resilient graduates of bodabil (vaudeville) who eventually crossed over to the movies, radio and television.

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Like most Filipinos of the wartime generation, his young life was fraught with drama.

“My father Jose Moreno was run over by an American vehicle during the Liberation,” he remembers. He was only five years old. “My family didn’t know that he had been confined at the American Hospital. On the ninth day, my mother Aurora Molina-Moreno found him. He died the same day, as if he was just waiting for my mother.”

His Clover stint is a favorite subject that often crops up on Moreno’s GMA 7 late-night show “Master Showman: Walang Tulugan” and on his noontime radio show of the same title on dzBB.

In 1957, he was hired as janitor in the theater. “I was recommended by an aunt who was married to the captain of the fire brigade.”

He recalled that William Brown, the theater owner, couldn’t say no to the fire captain’s wife. “I was hired even if I was only 17. But I wasn’t listed in the payroll because I was underage.”

Brown, Moreno relates, was a close friend of bodabil legend Katy de la Cruz.

For five years, he labored anonymously, until he was promoted as “curtain raiser” or telonero.

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Between mopping floors and raising curtains, he was “discovered” by stage director Victor Sevilla.

Moreno recalls, “He was looking for someone thin and mestizo to play Jesus Christ. He asked me to take my shirt off and when he saw my ribs, he asked the makeup artist to put a beard on me.”

For his stage debut, he was nailed to the cross!

“Usually, we changed the drama show every week, but our Passion play was extended and ran for three weeks,” he proudly notes. “After that, though, I went back to being a janitor.”

His salary as janitor was P25 a week. “That’s P100 a month. I also got one day off in a month.”

As actor in Clover, he earned P10.

He also performed in town fiesta shows in the provinces. “In our act, [comedienne] Aruray spat water on my face and for that I got P5.”

It was a tough way to earn a living.

“Times were harder in the 1950s, but if you ask me, I prefer my old life. We were happier then,” he waxes nostalgic.

His perseverance was rewarded with the trust given to him by Spanish-Portuguese dancer-impresario Don Jose Zarah, Clover producer.

At his peak in Clover, Moreno worked as Zarah’s all-around assistant. “I also manned the ticket booths. Orchestra tickets were 80 centavos; balcony, one peso; and loge, one peso and twenty centavos.”

When Clover closed shop, Cecilia Dayrit, the daughter of Don Toribio Teodoro, asked Moreno “to help the Manila Grand Opera House by producing shows.”

“The Teodoros owned Ang Tibay shoes,” Moreno volunteers. “They asked me to pitch ideas. I learned a lot from Don Jose Zarah and it helped me as show producer at the Opera House.”

By the time bodabil made its final bow in the early 1960s, Moreno had moved to Sampaguita Pictures—where he had a dizzying run as resident comic, sidekick and choreographer.

“I would direct musical numbers with Tita de Villa,” he reports. De Villa later enjoyed a second wind as the villainess on the TV soap “Gulong ng Palad” in the 1970s.

P75 per movie

As a Sampaguita contract player, his first talent fee was P75 per movie.

“Then it was raised to P100, then to P150. On my fourth year, my salary reached P1,500,” he relates.

He also had the chance to play lead roles in Sampaguita: in “Papaw, Mamaw” with Lilian Laing and “O Kay Laking Iskandalo” with Chichay.

With his partner Boy Alano, Moreno also appeared in a string of hits with Gloria Romero, Susan Roces and the Stars of ’66.

“We were always the comic relief,” he quips. Their job was to make people laugh, on and off the set.

“There was a time we made two movies back to back,” he remembers.

From the set of the musical “Jukebox Jamboree” in the Sampaguita Studios in Quezon City, they shuttled at dawn to Bataan, for the war movie “Mga Kanyon ng Koregidor.” “They called it lagare.”

They literally roughed it, riding a six by six American truck that had no seats.

“We were standing all throughout the ride to Corregidor,” he gasps.

In the middle of a fight scene, they received word that Dr. Jose Perez, Sampaguita big boss, wanted them back in Manila—pronto!

“So the director decided to kill us in the war movie,” he guffaws. “We had had no sleep then. We left Manila early morning and were back by the end of the day.” (Thus, his catchphrase: “Walang Tulugan.”)

By the early 1970s, he was also directing movies for Sampaguita. “My biggest hit was ‘Guy and Pip.’ It broke box-office records when it was shown in Avenue Theater for the first Manila Film Festival. It was the comeback movie of the Nora Aunor-Tirso Cruz III loveteam.”

He also made fine use of his Clover and Sampaguita training, when he hosted the Sunday noontime shows “Germside,” “Germspesyal” and “GMA Supershow” which ran for 19 years from the late 1970s until the 1990s.

In the 1980s, he also masterminded the youth show “That’s Entertainment,” which served as the template for current talent searches “Starstruck” and “Star Circle Quest.”

“In those days it was a novelty for a local TV show to have a new motif and set every week—from Filipiniana one week to Broadway the next. I patterned the concepts after our Clover productions,” he notes.

He’s still at it. “Walang Tulugan” (late Saturday nights) still exudes a distinct bodabil vibe.

These days, Moreno also hosts QTV’s “Ginintuang Telon,” a showcase of Sampaguita movies that also features recollections of the stars of those vintage films.

“I interviewed my friends Gloria Romero, Nikki Ross and Barbara Perez on that show. We had fun reminiscing,” he points out.

Now, who christened him Kuya Germs?

The honor belongs to two movie queens he had worked with in Sampaguita.

“It was Susan Roces who first called me Germy, but it was Nora Aunor who shortened it to Germs,” he says. With a smile.

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