In the finicky and unstable world of Philippine show business, Vilma Santos (Rosa Vilma Tuazon Santos-Recto born on November 3, 1953 in Manila) has remained on top as the longest-reigning Philippine movie queen. Known everywhere as the “Star For All Seasons,” her career longevity and phenomenal staying power from the 1960s up to the present is the envy of many because she has been able to maintain her stature as a top actress for the past four decades by combining artistic acclaim and commercial success having been a Best Actress and Box-Office Queen Hall of Fame awardee. Her immense talent and incredible range as an actress, charisma and excellent public relations, hard work, dedication and commitment to her craft have made her one of the most respected, admired and beloved actresses in Philippine movies.
Of major and significant importance in setting Vilma apart from her contemporaries and peers in the movie industry are her inherent traits of internal discipline and selflessness, her physical, emotional and mental endurance (as described by the late National Artist Ishmael Bernal) and her excellent choice of talented and wellknown film collaborators (directors, writers, producers) through the years which enabled her to make noteworthy and highly-successful film projects and thereby achieve one of the most successful careers in local show business. Vilma has worked with the biggest film producers in the country namely Star Cinema, Viva Films and Regal Entertainment and her continuing association with the best people in the business has brought out the best in her as a person, actress and public servant.
The late starbuilder, Dr. Jose Perez, saw Vilma when she was 9 yrs old and realized early on her potential as an actress when she auditioned and eventually won the title role in Mars Ravelo’s “Trudis Liit” (1963) produced by Vera Perez Pictures where Vilma won her first acting award as Best Child Actress from the FAMAS. In her teenage years, Vilma was signed into a contract by Atty. Espiridion Laxa, her friend and mentor, who produced most of her movies as a top teen idol with favorite screen partner, Edgar Mortiz, under Tagalog Ilang-Ilang Productions. The most memorable films were “Inspiration,” Vilma’s first actress-director collaboration with the late National Artist (Film) Ishmael Bernal and “Dama de Noche,” directed by Emmanuel H. Borlaza where Vilma won her first Best Actress award from the FAMAS in 1972 at the age of 19. In an unprecedented career move, Vilma went solo in 1973 and eclipsed all her contemporaries when she agreed to play “Darna,” another Mars Ravelo heroine and the local version of Wonder Woman, in the hugely successful landmark film “Lipad, Darna, Lipad” which broke all existing box-office records. Produced by Sine Pilipino, the movie’s monumental success elevated Vilma to the enviable position of Philippine Movie Queen. Proving further her utmost versatility, Vilma successfully graduated to adult roles when she played a tragic stripteaser in “Burlesk Queen” (1977), a dramatic period movie set in the 1950s. The film, conceived and directed by Celso Ad Castillo, was highly acclaimed and won 10 awards in the Metro Manila Film Festival including the Best Actress Award for Vilma and Best Director for Castillo.
In the years that followed, Vilma carefully chose her film projects and came up with some of the most memorable characters onscreen – an avenging rape victim in “Rubia Servios” (1978) directed by National Artist (Film) Lino Brocka; a sympathetic mistress in “Relasyon” (1982) directed by National Artist Ishmael Bernal where she won her first acting award grandslam; a politicized nun in “Sister Stella L.” (1984) directed by Mike de Leon; and a homicidal nymphomaniac in “Tagos ng Dugo” (1987) directed by Maryo de los Reyes. By demonstrating her range, depth and intensity as an actress in many of her films, Vilma delivered some of the most compelling performances and most unforgettable acting moments ever witnessed on the local screen and firmly established herself as one (of a few) of local cinema’s greatest actresses.
The late National Artist Lino Brocka likened Vilma’s acting abilities to water because according to him “she can register anything.” She has been called “the Meryl Streep of the Philippines” and US Variety Magazine described her as the Ultimate Philippine Cinematic Diva. Her stature as a great actress was further confirmed when > independent-minded career woman in “Bata, Bata Paano Ka Ginawa” (1998) directed by Chito Rono and based on the Palanca award-winning novel by Lualhati Bautista; a suffering overseas worker in “Anak” (2000) directed by Rory Quintos; a mother who evolves during Martial Law in “Dekada ‘70” (2002) also directed by Rono and written by Bautista; and a Filipino-Chinese anti-crime crusader in “Mano Po III: My Love” (2004) directed by Joel Lamangan.
On July 4, 2005, Vilma was given the prestigious Gawad Plaridel (Film) by the University of the Philippines for her outstanding achievements in film and her social responsibility in bringing onscreen, especially during the past few years, the changing role of the Filipina in today’s society who is critical and vigilant, liberative and transformative, free and independent. Named after Marcelo H. del Pilar who believed in a progressive society and a socially-responsible media, Vilma received her award in glittering ceremonies at the Cine Adarna of the University of the Philippines and delivered a well-received and highly-inspiring lecture on her unparalleled career as an actress and how she was able to use her stature and popularity as a movie queen in choosing carefully her roles that showed the modern Filipina in today’s society.
In his article “The Actor as Role Model,” noted writer and film critic Gino Dormiendo said that “what makes her reign more phenomenal is that today, with over 200 movies to her name, Vilma Santos, star and actor, continues to shine luminously, an enduring and truly endearing figure in the movies, recognized for her outstanding record as an actor and a sterling symbol of professionalism to her colleagues in the industry.” Vilma’s excellent film output especially during the last few years is a shining testament to her maturity as a film artist which the late National Artist Ishmael Bernal confirmed after working with Vilma in some of their best films together.
Bernal witnessed first-hand her evolution from actress to artist from the first time they worked together in “Inspiration” (1971) until their final collaboration in “Pahiram ng isang Umaga” (1989).
Vilma’s recent multi-faceted roles showing Filipinas to be independent-minded fighters capable of finding their rightful place in society highlighted the importance of woman empowerment. Dormiendo further wrote that “in her continuing evolution, she has chosen to play her most coveted performance as a role model for Filipino women and, in today’s global village, a shining symbol of courage and integrity for all women everywhere.” Indeed, Vilma is a shining example of the brilliant multi-tasker by being able to successfully do a balancing act and perform with diligence, dignity and grace her various roles in society – as a wife and mother; an actress, film artist and movie queen; and a highly-regarded and much-admired public servant. In this regard, Vilma is truly the definitive modern Filipino woman of our times and for all seasons. – Paolo Salas, Celebrity Chronicle, Nov 2006