Amalia Fuentes, one of the great movie queens of Philippine movies, whose awesome beauty—often compared to that of Hollywood movie queen, Elizabeth Taylor—charisma, and strength of character enthralled movie fans of several generations, first lit up the silver screen in 1956.
Born Amalia Margarita Amador Muhlach in Manila on August 27, 1940, she was the eldest of three children of Alvaro Muhlach, Sr., a movie booker of French-Spanish-German ancestry and Concepcion Amador, a Bicolana of Chinese ancestry. In 1945, at the age of five, she lost her father to a land mine which blew him to bits. Amalia and her family never saw his remains, which was only identified through the shoes he wore.
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A Daddy’s girl, she deeply resented her mother’s decision to remarry a Protestant preacher named Isagani Fuentes, whose work brought them to live in different parts of the country. Concepcion would have four more children by Fuentes. His lack of means, however, imbued in the young Amalia the responsibility of caring for her two younger brothers, Alexander and Alvaro, and her widowed mother. This must have fueled her ambition to make a name and fortune for herself and her family. While she did not finish her studies, she was well-read and articulate and had a great appetite for knowledge.
Miss Number One
Amalia was only 15 when she was discovered for the movies in 1955 while attending an event entitled “Hollywood in Movieland” organized by the Big Three studios. She joined and won the Miss Number One Contest along with Mister Number One, Juancho Gutierrez, and was immediately signed up for an exclusive contact by Sampaguita Pictures, which became her home studio for several years.
From her introductory role in Lydia (1956) with Juancho Gutierrez, and her first starring role in Movie Fan(1956), her movie career rose steadily alongside her rival, the demure-looking Susan Roces. While they were friends and later kumadresin real life, their home studio played up their rivalry, much like the earlier Gloria Romero-Nida Blanca rivalry played up by Sampaguita Pictures and LVN Studios.
Amalia and Susan did several movies together for Sampaguita, among them light comedies such as Amy, Susie, and Tessie (1960) and Amaliang Mali-Mali vs. Susanang Daldal (1962), which fans watched in droves, making them big box office hits.
Apart from Juancho, Amalia was likewise paired with Sampaguita pretty boys Jose Mari Gonzalez and Eddie Gutierrez—but the most handsome of all of them in Amalia’s eyes was Romeo Vasquez, who was first paired with her in Pretty Boy(1957), and then in the dramatic thriller,Bilanggong Birhen(1960), among many others.
Romeo + Amalia
The Romeo Vasquez-Amalia Fuentes love team was one of the most popular in its heyday, a union which eventually led to a wedding in Hongkong in 1966. Their first and only child, Liezl Sumilang, who later became a popular child star, was born March 27, 1967.
Unfortunately, the marriage was short-lived. Amalia divorced Romeo and married businessman Joey Stevens. The couple adopted a son named Geric. Later on, she would divorce Stevens, too, due to infidelity.
Ever the rebel, Amalia was sued in 1962 by Sampaguita Pictures, after she appeared in a movie for Tagalog Ilang-Ilang Productions without her home studio’s permission. The case was eventually settled and Amalia would be able to finish her pending movie with her original film outfit.
Soon after, the allure of calling the shots and making her own movies led the famously strong-willed star to establish her own film company, AM Productions, with the help of her brothers Alexander and Alvaro. AM produced many memorable movie hits from the 1960s to the 1970s. But even as she was already the woman on top, Amalia would still freelance as an actress, appearing mostly in prestige drama movies produced by Premiere Productions, Virgo, LEA, Juan de la Cruz, and later on, Regal and Viva Films. Among her most memorable movies were Ibulong Mo Sa Hangin (1966), which won for her the FAMAS Best Actress Award in 1967; Ang Uliran (1971); Imelda (1971); Pag-ibig, Magkano Ka? (1972); Isang Gabi, Tatlong Babae (1974), and Aguila (1980), where she famously refused to age onscreen while playing the role of Fernando Poe, Jr.’s mother.
Much later, she would have appeared in a much-awaited reunion project with Susan Roces in the ABS-CBN teleserye, Muling Buksan Ang Puso (2013) but she backed out after only a day’s shooting in Batangas. She was tasked to portray a poor copra farmer opposite Susan Roces’ bejewelled wealthy haciendera. She was later given a guest role in another ABS-CBN series, Huwag Ka Lang Mawawala (2013).
The film critic, Mauro Féria Tumbocon Jr., in a Facebook post, commenting on the Susan and Amalia rivalry, wrote that between the two, “It was Amalia who proved to be her own woman. A kind of actor, a star, that you need to get accustomed to. Very frank to a fault, Amalia would become the more colorful personality, that one simply could not ignore her: her rows with her co-stars, with the men in her life, so prone to controversy without meaning to.”
The shrewd businesswoman
Apart from having been a successful movie producer, Amalia was also a shrewd businesswoman. Her mother first advised her to invest in jewelry—which she did, but she later on shifted her investments to real estate, acquiring prime property in New Manila, Quezon City and exclusive subdivisions in Makati where she oversaw the construction of several houses. She would lease these houses out for added income, and to finance her passion for travel, among others.
Amalia also had a farm in Laguna, a house in Tali Beach, Batangas, and a vacation house at posh Hillsborough near San Francisco which she often visited together with her family. During one of her long stays in San Francisco, she took time to enroll in law school, a dream she had aspired for in her youth but was derailed when the movies beckoned when she was only in senior high school.
One tragedy after another
A series of tragedies befell the movie queen in her latter years. After her divorce from Stevens who passed away in 2012, her only daughter, Liezl, passed away after suffering from breast cancer in 2015. Amalia herself would suffer a stroke the same year while vacationing in Korea. The stroke left her paralyzed, unable to speak, and mostly bed-ridden. Family, close friends, and her ever-loyal fans would visit her at her New Manila home. Last year, her brother Alvaro “Cheng” Muhlach and Amalia’s adopted son, Geric, passed away.
Amalia died October 5, 2019, at St. Luke’s Medical Center Global City where she was confined at the ICU due to multiple organ failure. She is survived by her grandchildren, Alfonso, Alyanna, and Alissa, children of her only daughter, Liezl Martinez, and son-in-law, Albert Martinez. And then there are her nephews, the actors Niño and Aga Muhlach, among others.
Tributes from her fans, family members, and colleagues poured in through social media after the news of her passing broke. “You started it all for us,” said her nephew Aga Muhlach. It would be remembered that the two, at one point, had a rift. “You have taught me so much in life. You were an inspiration. You treated me like a son.”
From her colleague and good friend, Pilar Pilapil: “She was a strong woman...I had no problems working with her. There was respect (between us as co-actors).” Pilar and Amalia last worked together in the 1983 Regal Films drama Mortal Sin.
“To me, she was the most beautiful star in the movie firmament, eclipsing the luster of even my —back then— favorite Hollywood star, Doris Day in Calamity Jane,” said Elwood Perez when asked for his recollections. He directed her in the Variety-praised Isang Gabi, Tatlong Babae (1973) which won Amalia a FAMAS nomination. Elwood’s fascination for Amalia began as early as his high school days, and meeting the movie queen was a dream come true. The two hit it off right away when he got to direct her in Isang Gabi, Tatlong Babae. “Like all authentic queens, much of what had been perceived in public of Amalia Fuentes was imperiouness. I’ve been privy to her vulnerability and grace.”
Elwood’s forthcoming film — the last in a trilogy that began with the black and white Otso—happens to be a tribute to the actress. “Her larger-than-life participation” in the project, says the director, “defines her essence as the ultimate screen goddess of Philippine movies. She would have been very happy over the outcome of our collaboration. I was hoping against hope that she would get well, get to speak again and regale us with her wit.” Alas, the screen goddess would have to catch this homage from the great beyond.