By Greg B. Macabenta
I’m praying that, by the time this piece comes out, my friend and motion picture colleague Eddie Garcia will have recovered from his recent neck fracture and is resting well, before going back before the cameras. At age 90, Eddie is one of the oldest film and TV actors in the country and, without fear of contradiction, one of the most awarded silver screen professionals in the world, not just as best actor and best-supporting actor, but as best director, as well.
In fact, Eddie’s achievements in films are so awesome that in April last year, I took the liberty of suggesting that he be named National Artist for Film, alongside directors Gerry de Leon, Lamberto V. Avellana, Lino Brocka, Ishmael Bernal and Eddie Romero, and actor-directors Manuel Conde and Fernando Poe, Jr.
Here’s what I cited, among Eddie’s many achievements: “In the annual Filipino Academy of Movie Arts & Sciences (FAMAS) Awards (the equivalent of Hollywood’s Oscars), Eddie has had a total of 34 nominations (13 for Best Supporting Actor of which he won 6; 10 for Best Actor of which he won 5; and 11 for Best Director of which he also won 5).
“He is the only one in the history of the FAMAS to win the Best Supporting Actor trophy for 3 consecutive years (1957, 1958 and 1959); was the first to be inducted into the Best Supporting Actor Hall of Fame; and is the only one to have also been inducted into the Best Actor and Best Director Halls of Fame, in addition to a Lifetime Achievement Award.
“Additionally, Eddie received from the Film Academy of the Philippines 3 Luna Awards for Best Director (1986, 1987 and 2001), the Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998 and the Best Actor Award in 2000. In the Metro Manila Film Festival, Eddie won the Best Director Award in 1989 and the Best Actor Award in 2002. In 2000, he won the Urian Award for Best Actor, conferred by movie critics. In 2006, he was given the Natatanging Gawad Urian Award for his achievements in Film. In 2012, the Asia-Pacific Film Festival named him Asian Best Actor.
“There have also been two special honors given in the name of fellow actors, a distinct recognition in a highly competitive field: the Fernando Poe, Jr. Memorial Award and the first Dolphy Lifetime Achievement Award conferred in 2013 by the Entertainment Press Society. Even the TV industry acknowledged Eddie’s artistry by giving him the 2002 Star Award for Best Actor in a Drama Series.”
I have known Eddie as a friend and a fellow film worker for an unbelievable 63 years. He is 10 years older than I am and I first met him when he was a 27-year-old top contravida (villain) at Sampaguita Pictures and I was a 17-year-old movie reporter. We met through director Armando Garces who gave me my break as a screenplay writer. I would subsequently write several screenplays directed by Eddie, specifically the Tony Falcon, Agent X-44 series starring Tony Ferrer. Among them were Sabotage and Crisis, both of which were the box-office champions in the 1966 and 1971 Manila Film Festivals, respectively.
I knew Eddie as someone with a wicked sense of humor, delivered in a semi-serious, soft-spoken drawl that invariably caught the victims of his jokes off guard and vulnerable. You were sure to come to grief if you ever tried to sing a song in his presence. “Are you crying or complaining?” Eddie would quip, poker-faced.
In my forthcoming book, Confusions of a Communications Man – Surviving Radio, TV, Movies, Journalism and Advertising, I recount snapshots of Eddie Garcia as a person:
“Whenever Manding (Garces) and Eddie were not busy with their movies, they were sure to make a beeline for nightclub row on Roxas Boulevard. Their favorite watering hole was Kapitbahay Sa Riviera. This was because Carding Cruz and the Tirso Cruz Band played there. Carding was a perennial musical director in Manding’s films.
“Like a mascot, whenever I happened to be at Sampaguita, I always tagged along with Manding and Eddie. And while they had fun on the dance floor, I would help myself to the drinks and the cigarettes, which I couldn’t afford to buy for myself…
“I distinctly remember an incident at Kapitbahay when our group was confronted by a pair of gun-wielding toughies who had a grudge against one of our companions, Ben Johnson, a Sampaguita actor. With us at the table, aside from Manding, Eddie and Ben, were Sampaguita star Rod Navarro, script writer-director Chaning Carlos and choreographer Rally Calvo.
“Despite having already downed a lot of drinks, I suddenly sobered up at the sight of the gun barrels pointed at us. But Eddie calmly told the toughies, ‘How can you be sure that guns aren’t being aimed at you right now?’
“It was a bluff but it worked. The two gun-wielders backed off and hurried out of the club. That was when I learned that Rod Navarro was an active duty officer of the Philippine Constabulary. He quickly left the club and in less than an hour was back, armed and in uniform, accompanied by a squad of soldiers. Luckily, the toughies had long gone.
“That incident would not be my last experience where the line between reel and real-life violence overlapped.”
As a screenplay writer, I was notorious for not submitting a complete shooting script, even in the course of production. I turned in sequences on installment as required by the filming schedule. But I had to make an exception of the movies I wrote for Eddie:
“The only director to whom I eventually had to diligently submit a complete shooting script before start of production was Eddie Garcia. Eddie and Tony Ferrer had already done several Agent X-44 films together, with Eli Corcuera and Henry Cuino as script writers. They were all box office hits. But on the suggestion of Manding Garces, Eddie agreed to try me out for the next sequel, Deadline: Agosto 13, based on a story by Manding himself.
“Apparently, everyone was happy with my output because I was assigned two more Agent X-44 films in succession, Trapped and Blackmail. In each case, Eddie cheerfully accepted my installment system of writing screenplays.
“Then came Sabotage. According to Atty. Laxa, it would be his company’s biggest production yet and would be Tagalog Ilang-Ilang’s entry in the first Manila Film Festival. Some of the scenes would be shot on location. In fact, I was asked to go along with Eddie and the production team to check out Binga Dam, up in the Mountain Province, several kilometers from Baguio.
“With his trademark wicked smile, Eddie told me, ‘Greg, I know that you like to submit your script on installment. That’s perfectly okay with me. I’ll simply bring you along to Binga Dam.’
“Eddie had found my Achilles’ heel! Being shanghaied on location would keep me away from my day job. And there was no way I could slip back to civilization from Binga Dam.
“A week before start of production, I handed over a complete shooting script to Eddie. ‘This means I get to stay in Manila,’ I said cheerfully.
“‘You better hope so,’ was his reply.”
To be inducted into the Order of the National Artists of the Philippines (Pambansang Alagad ng Sining ng Pilipinas) is, doubtless, the apex of one’s achievements in the Arts, specifically, in the fields of Music, Dance, Literature, Theater, Visual Arts, Film and Broadcast Arts, and Architecture, Design and Allied Arts. Eddie’s accomplishments as an actor and as a director — and, just as importantly, as an artist who epitomizes the finest qualities of a professional in Film and Visual Arts — deserve a place alongside that of the country’s National Artists.
I fervently hope that Eddie Garcia will receive this well-deserved recognition while he can still relish the honor in person. Sadly, all the National Artists for Film have been sent for by the Great Producer in the Sky.
Greg B. Macabenta is an advertising and communications man shuttling between San Francisco and Manila and providing unique insights on issues from both perspectives.
*The original version of this column said that Mr. Garcia suffered a heart attack, in line with earlier reports. He did not. He suffered a neck fracture on set, after tripping and falling while shooting a TV series. We regret the error.