The day Robert snatched Barbara from Hollywood

It was in 1961 when Robert Arevalo snatched Barbara Perez from Hollywood just after Barbara finished shooting No Man is an Island with Jeffrey Hunter, produced by Universal Pictures which offered Barbara a five-year contract on a silver platter. Robert made a counter offer Barbara couldn’t refuse — a marriage contract.

Robert and Barbara are celebrating their 59th wedding anniversary in August this year. Their heartwarming oft-told love story was last retold in this corner in an exclusive Conversation with Robert on Sept. 3, 2006. It is oh-so-beautiful that another retelling won’t hurt, perfect for Valentine’s Day (like the stable 34-year marriage of Johnny Revilla and Janet Basco featured Sunday last week, Feb. 7).

Enduring Love Stories: Second of two Valentine features

For update, Conversations sought out Barbara for some precious memories. She was a contract star of Sampaguita Pictures which was noted for producing wholesome romantic movies dating back to the nostalgic years of Carmen Rosales and Rogelio dela Rosa when the camera would pan to a pair of lovebirds during romantic scenes. No passionate embracing, please, no kissing!

At that time, Barbara was dubbed as the Philippine counterpart of Hollywood actress Audrey Hepburn (right). In the movie credits for No Man is an Island, Barbara was honored with a solo frame (below).

There were not many do’s and don’ts during the shoot,” recalled Barbara. “The only reminder from Mommy Vera (the grand matriarch of Sampaguita Pictures) was to take good care of me the way Sampaguita took care of its stars.”

The shoot lasted for about a month in Subic, Zambales, the perfect setting for the movie about the exploits of George Ray Tweed (played by Hunter), a US Navy radioman who avoided capture and execution by the Japanese during the years-long World War II occupation of Guam. In the cast were other Filipino actors (Ronald Remy, Vic Silayan, Eddie Infante, Vicente Liwanag and Chichay, among them) but only Barbara was given prominence in the movie’s ad layout and with her name blazoned in a single frame in the movie’s credits.

Barbara and Robert Arevalo got married in August 1962. In 1966, with Barbara pregnant, they both won FAMAS Best Actor/Best Actress for Daigdig ng Mga Api, a movie about land reform directed by Robert’s uncle National Artist Gerardo ‘Gerry’ de Leon.

“Jeffrey was a gentleman, never arrogant and never presumptuous,” remembered Barbara who was then touted as Audrey Hepburn of the Philippines. (At that time, Philippine Cinema was heavily inspired by Hollywood so the local stars were being identified with Hollywood denizens. Others: Eddie Mesa was Elvis Presley of the Philippines, Diomedes Maturan the Perry Como of the Philippines, Merle Tuazon the Ava Gardner of the Philippines and Amalia Fuentes the Elizabeth Taylor of the Philippines.).

“Jeffrey was very quiet and he kept mostly to himself,” added Barbara. “Meals were served separately between the Americans and the Filipinos. Jeffrey would rather eat with us from our pimbreras. He would ask me about the sinigang which he loved so much, but I would remind him to be careful with the tinik ng bangus. He also loved dinuguan and he was kind of nagulat when I told him how it was made.” (Aside: A year before he did No Man is an Island, Hunter starred as Jesus Christ in King of Kings. He died at 43 in May 1969 due to intracranial hemorrhage and skull fracture.)

She said she didn’t have regrets for choosing the marriage contract over the Hollywood contract. “Cary Grant even asked me if I was signing a contract with Universal,” noted Barbara.

Asked about her and Robert’s “formula” for a strong marriage, Barbara said, “Dedication to each other. We have kept our vow not only to each other but to God, you know…for better or for worse…”

No selosan?

Mayroon din,” Barbara laughed. “Even now. Before sleeping kasi, to relax I would look at my Facebook page and Robert would ask, ‘Sino ba ang kausap mo? Who are you looking at?’ I would tell him, ‘Uy, we are now into our 80s. Are you crazy?’ Ganoon lang.”

Here are choice portions of that Sept. 3, 2006 Conversation with Robert, with no details altered so as to put this story in the proper perspective.

It happened 45 years ago. How did you pull such a feat?

“Yes, in 1961. After the shooting of No Man Is An Island, Barbara went with the Karilagan models (Joji Felix-Velarde, Amalia Fuentes, Bambi Lamoglia, etc.) to Seattle for a show at the World’s Fair. The producer of No Man Is An Island asked her to make a side trip to L.A. to promote the film. She was at the Universal Studio for a pictorial and interviews with the press. The movie was produced by somebody else and was bought by Universal Pictures.”

Was that the time Universal asked Barbara to sign the five-year contract?

“Yes. And that was also the time I got insecure. Paano naman, the guys she was meeting at Universal were the likes of Cary Grant. How can I not be insecure?” (Followed by laughter) “So I proposed to her by sending her a telegram, ‘Come home, let’s get married.’ Sayang nga at hindi pa uso noon ang cellphone. I could just have texted her, you know. I didn’t want to call her long-distance because overseas calls were expensive even at that time. I was young…We were both young and selfish and very much in love.”

How romantic! Barbara junked the Hollywood contract in favor of a marriage contract.

“As I said, I was young and impulsive, and I didn’t know the sacrifice that I was demanding of her. The rest of the Karilagan models came home ahead of Barbara so she came back alone. I was the only one who met her at the airport and the first thing I asked was, ‘Will you marry me?’ She said ‘Yes!’ right away. Maybe she thought hard about it during the 18-hour flight from L.A. to Manila.”

Did she bring home a copy of the contract?

“Yes, she did. Universal Pictures gave her enough time to think about the contract but I didn’t give her a chance to think of the marriage contract I was offering her.”

Barbara and Robert in a scene from Ang Daigdig ng Mga Api, one of the great Filipino classics

How long have you been going steady at that time?

“About eight months. She was under contract with Sampaguita and I was with Premiere Productions. She was being built up as the Audrey Hepburn of the Philippines. I had just done two movies then, Huwag Mo Akong Limutin which was banned by the censors because of its theme (immorality), and Grease Gun Gang which was also banned because they said it was too violent. Because of that, they jokingly called me a ‘jinx’.”

You were with Premiere and Barbara was with Sampaguita. How did your paths cross?

“I would escort my cousin, Liberty (Ilagan), to Sampaguita affairs where I would see Barbara. Every now and then, we would meet casually during occasions when stars from Sampaguita, Premiere and LVN (the so-called Big 3 at that time) were invited. It took a while before we were formally introduced to each other by George Sison, her cousin who happened to be a friend of mine. At first, we would go out in groups.”

How did the courtship go?

“It started with phone calls, short calls at first, until they became longer and longer. Then, we started going out, just the two of us. We would eat in restaurants where there were musicians, sina Romy Katindig. She was so demure. One time, I tried to steal a kiss from her and she dodged. Magaling umilag! After that, I didn’t try again. We were what they call now ‘MU’ (Mutual Understanding) for a while and we became committed to each other only before she left for Seattle.”

What set Barbara apart from other actresses you must have been courting then?

“Well, I was courting a few…Barbara was different. I knew that at Sampaguita nobody was courting her. Iba ang beauty niya. Was she shy? No, not at all. Mayroon siyang aura.”

Did she give you a hard time?

“Not really. Hindi naman niya ako masyadong pinahirapan. She didn’t give me a hard time.”

When did she say “yes”?

“I remember it was New Year’s Eve, 1961. I was doing El Filibusterismo at that time; I was playing Basilio. It was directed by my uncle, Gerry de Leon. Charito (Solis) was Juli and Pancho (Magalona) was Simon. Barbara had yet to start shooting No Man Is An Island.”

How long after she came back from L.A. did you get married?

“Less than two weeks. We were married in Baguio on Aug. 11, 1962, at the St. Joseph Church (Where Aga Muhlach and Charlene Gonzalez were also married on May 28, 2001. — RFL). Baguio was one of our favorite places although we didn’t really spend time together there.”

You didn’t worry that marriage would adversely affect your careers, did you?

“It didn’t cross our minds. I wasn’t a big star then. Besides, Barbara and I were known more as actors than as stars.”

Three years later, in 1965, you did Ang Daigdig ng Mga Api (the Gerry de Leon classic about land reform, used as election propaganda by President Diosdado Macapagal in his reelection bid; both Robert and Barbara won FAMAS Best Actor/Best Actress awards the following year). Of course, much later you did two or three movies for Regal. Hasn’t there been any professional jealousy between the two of you?

“None. I don’t even know what professional jealousy means.” (Laughs again)

It’s hard to keep a marriage intact, especially in showbiz. How do you and Barbara do it?

“Honestly, we don’t really work hard at it. It just happens that our marriage has lasted this long. I think what keeps us together is the family, our children Anna and Georgina, and now our grandchildren (by Georgina).”

Have there been any instances when you and Barbara fought and, well, broke up maybe even for a while?

“None that I can think of. We also have our differences but not so big and so serious as to cause a separation. If there have been indiscretions, they were all my fault.”

How do you deal with showbiz intrigues and tsismis?

“There’s hardly any tsismis about us. Fortunately, maybe out of respect for us, hindi naman kami natsitsismis. Barbara is not ma-PR but she was the original darling of the press.”

How do you think your life would have been if you didn’t snatch Barbara from Hollywood?

“Two things could have happened: Had she signed that five-year contract, she could have been successful or she could have failed.”

(E-mail reactions at rickylop[email protected]. For more updates, photos and videos, visit www.philstar.com/funfare or follow me on Instagram @therealrickylo.)



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