When humor can be made to alternate with melancholy, one has a success, but when the same things are funny and melancholic at the same time, it's just wonderful. -- Francois Truffaut
[Below, a PDI editorial I had the privilege of writing a few days before Dolphy's passing, celebrating his irreplaceable legacy of laughter, artistry and humanism. Rest in peace, Funny Man.]
FOR DECADES NOW, Dolphy’s name has been the most recognizable in the local entertainment scene. There is no other name like it, and its bearer is a charter member, maybe even the chair, of that exclusive club of movie icons--Nora, Vilma, Sharon, the late FPJ--who need no surnames to command immediate recognition, and undying loyalty, from their millions of fans.
But Dolphy wasn’t the original name by which Rodolfo Vera Quizon made his entry into show biz. He started with a catchier tag: Golay.
He did shows in the Orient Theater in 1947, along with Bayani Casimiro and Panchito, Dolphy recalled in a 2003 interview with Inquirer Lifestyle. The Orient needed a Chinese performer in the show, and the young man, whose role was to testify in a crime case, could speak “Intsik na tina-Tagalog.” But a name was needed for him. At the corner of Raon Street sat a lumber store: Golay Lumber. “That’s where they got my name,” he said, laughing.
Golay became Dolphy when he changed venues for his act from the Orient to the Grand Opera House. “Big time na,” he recalled. His pay rose from P30 a week to P30 a day. Then he joined forces with Paquito Bolero, and they toured the whole country, even reaching Dadiangas. It was 1950. Imagine it, he said: We’d get down from the truck because if we didn’t, we’d get lumps on the head because we were traveling on really bad roads, including deep puddles where carabaos liked to loll. He went on to do radio, getting paid in kind--chicharon (pork cracklings), Superman pomade, “mga ganon (stuff like that).”
Off-camera, even in person, Dolphy is a funny man, but he does not strain to be funny. The humor comes from his stories, from the petty absurdities and little indignities that his full, hectic life has collected and learned from--and retooled as priceless material for his comedy routines. At the time of the interview, Dolphy was 75 years old, practically in his sunset years. But his connection to, and recollection of, his past remained a palpable, powerful influence on his person.
His contract with Sampaguita Pictures started with P1,000 per movie, he recalled, laughing. And then he became the leading man until--“Star na ako!”
His first starring role was in “Jack en Jill,” where he originated the character of the swishy Filipino homosexual who is much put upon but has a heart of gold and a steely moral core. He would reprise the role in various other blockbuster movies that banked on the same template, from “Facifica Falayfay” to “Fefita Fofonggay,” and most famously, in Lino Brocka’s “Ang Tatay Kong Nanay,” where he proved the adage that comedy and tragedy are one and the same, and that funnymen can make the most serious and heartbreaking of tragedians.
Dolphy recalled that when the graphic novelist Mars Ravelo was writing “Jack en Jill,” it was Casimiro’s image and that of the comedian Batotoy that he used. Ravelo was not sold on him, he said. But later, Ravelo wrote to him and apologized for underestimating his talents. From then on, it was his image that Ravelo worked on.
Why are we recalling these stories? Because, perhaps more than the fact that Dolphy is an indispensable pillar of the local movie industry, and that he is an actor whose body of work is deserving of consideration for National Artist honors, it is his being a living link--one of the last, and now in a frail state--to a rich but vanished past that makes him a national treasure.
His storied career offers a virtual tour of the history and growth of Philippine popular entertainment, from the live “bodabil” shows where he earned his comic chops at improvisation and ad-lib, to the long, glorious years of Philippine cinema at its peak when, next only to India, it was the most productive movie industry this side of the world.
But because of a criminal disregard for our past, we have next to no idea about what life was like for Filipinos, entertainers and Everyman alike, during the pre- and postwar eras. And much of our cinematic heritage has been lost—the prints of old movies destroyed by neglect and lack of foresight, stately movie houses demolished to give way to malls, and generations of artists with their invaluable life stories consigned to obscurity.
Dolphy, the “Comedy King,” has been spared the country’s chronic forgetfulness--for now. But when he goes, it would mark nothing less than the end of an era. The challenge is how to keep it in constant memory.
read more: Dolphy, 83--the end of an era