Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Palito: Philippine Comedian

To many Filipino movie-goers of the 70s and 80s, the name Reynaldo Alfredo Hipolito may not ring a bell. But mention his screen name "Palito" and everyone agrees he was one of Philippine cinema's most recognizable figures, thanks to his remarkable "matchstick-like" figure. Indeed, Palito was one of the great slapstick comedians of the Philippine Silver Screen. He starred or co-starred in literally hundreds of movies together with some of the biggest names in Philippine cinema: Fernando Poe, Jr., Dolphy, Joseph Estrada, Ramon Revilla, Rudy Fernandez, Panchito, Chiquito, Tolindoy, Pugo at Togo, and Tugak and Pugak.

In his heyday, Palito was one of the Top 10 Comedians of the Philippines, and he became a multi-millionaire. But like many of his past fellow artists, Palito was not a shrewd businessman. Art and business do not seem to mix well together. Money he put into investments was soon gone and his savings depleted. One by one he sold his properties, and now he was almost living in poverty, doing little stage shows that earned only enough for his daily meals. Yet despite his current situation, people still see him as Palito the movie star, and every time he walks in downtown Manila for his stage show in Avenida, people waved at him and call him "idol".

I was sipping coffee in one of the coffee shops in downtown Sta. Cruz when I saw Palito sitting right in front of me in the next table. I was a fan of his popular B-movies particularly when he played "corpse" in the Chiquito flick "Mang Kepweng". I still remember the movie quite clearly, when Palito's coffin accidentally flew into the air and landing in a kariton which wheeled all around town, and a hilarious chase followed to give him a "decent" burial. I was a little boy at the time, and up to now, I thought it was the most hilarious scene I have ever seen in a movie.

I must have smiled thinking about that scene, because Palito smiled back at me. And because I'm a big fan, I approached him and introduced myself, and asked for his autograph. As it happened, I didn't have a pen and a piece of paper with me.

"Heto meron akong bolpen at papel" Palito said to me, pulling out his old Parker, and a small piece of paper from his pocket."Susmaryosep, ikaw lang ang nagpapa-autograph na ang artista pa ang may dalang bolpen at papel para sa yo".

And it all began like that. His jovial and easy character was not only in the movies after all, he carried it into real life. Apparently, Palito was waiting for his show to begin at 9 in the evening, in the nearby casino, and it was still only six. He was a professional, and never wanted to be late. So he always arrives four hours early, sitting around in the coffee shop. He never orders anything as even the coffee was so expensive, but the shop owner knew him and it was alright.

And since I myself have no more appointments that day, I asked Palito if he wanted to eat. "Aba mahirap tumanggi sa grasya. Spaghetti lang at malamig na tubig" he smiled.

"Ayaw nyo ba ng softdrinks o kape man lang?Ililibre ko po kayo.", I said.

"Spaghetti lang at malamig na tubig talaga" he replied. Now I understood why he was so thin all his life. He had very little appetite.

And so I ordered spaghetti and cold water, and while nibbling our food, we began to have little conversations about his "past" life. We both have time to kill, and we decided that it would be best time for some reminiscences.

Palito was born as Reynaldo Alfredo Hipolito in 1933 in Calamba Laguna, near the famous house of Dr. Jose Rizal. As a teen-ager in 1950, Rene (as he was then nicknamed), took job as a dishwasher in a restaurant called Alex Soda Fountain, then located beside the Cine Odeon in Calle Azcarraga (now C.M. Recto). The restaurant was a favorite hang-out of many movie stars, and it was there that Lauro Santiago of Santiago Productions noticed him. He was very thin even then, and the producer must have thought that he would look good in the movies.

He eventually landed a job as an "extra" in the 1950 Prinsipe Amante movie, starring the great Rogelio dela Rosa.

"I was so excited", he says with his deep-set eyes now bulging, "Biruin mo napasama ako sa pelikula na nandun si Rogelio dela Rosa, e noong araw yun ang iniidolo sa pelikula. Isinama ko pa ang Nanay at Tatay ko para panoorin namin sa Cine Ideal--dyan sa Avenida--pero ang dami pala naming extra, at hindi ako makita sa screen. Kaya sabi ko na lang sa magulang ko "ayun o ayun ako o!" pero sa totoo lang pati ako di ko makita sarili ko. Tapos nun puro extra na ang nilabasan ko"

"So what was your first movie that you were not an extra?" I asked.

"Ah yun yung "Bingbong at Dodong", parang mga late sixties na yun. Starring si Jun Aristorenas at ako yung sidekick niya. E kumita yung pelikula, kaya ayun sunod-sunod na ang mga naging pelikula ko, nakasama ko sina FPJ, Dolphy, Chiquito, Panchito, si Manong Pugo(Mariano Contreras of then "Pugo at Togo" comedy tandem) at maraming marami pang iba".

But how did Palito earn his matchstick monicker?

"Kasi ang tawag sa akin noon e Hoy Hipolito!, Hipolito!, kaya para mas madali naging Palito, tapos bumagay pa sa akin kasi mukha daw akong palito dahil sa kapayatan ko."

And because of his emaciated figure he was always cast as a "corpse".

"Palaging bangkay ang role ko e, kasi sabi nila mukha daw akong bangkay. Kaya ilang kabaong na rin ang nagamit ko habang buhay pa ako. Alam mo naging suplado pa nga ako e. Pag cheap ang kabaong e ayaw kong higaan, sabi ko 'Palitan nyo yan, mukhang gamit na, parang yung pinaaarkilang kabaong sa punenarya'. Ang gusto kong kabaong yung malambot para masarap higaan kahit mahaba ang taping".

Do you really liked the role being a "corpse" ? I asked.

"Syempre gusto ko, biruin mo pahihigain ka lang e pasuswelduhin ka na ng limpak limpak na salapi. Yumaman ako sa pagiging bangkay", he laughed remembering those glory days as if they happened just yesterday.

Meantime, some people began listening to our conversations and some even asked to take photos with their cellphone cameras. I said to Mang Palito that people still remember him after all those years that he was gone from the movies.

"Idol ka pa rin nila" I said.

"A oo", he replied proudly, "kanina nga may mga nagpa-piktyur din sa akin"

"Isa na po kayong institusyon sa Pinilakang Tabing" I said.

But in the late 1970s, the decline of Philippine movies (and resurgence of Bomba films), hurt Palito's career. Many productions outfit turned into producing the Bomba movies instead of comedies and action. Those were the times when Palito lost many of his investments.

Palito had a brief resurgence in movie career in the 1980s. He starred in many B-movie parodies including among others, No Blood, Rambuto (A spoof of Rambo), James Bone, Kumander Kalansalay, Walang Matigas na Buto sa Gutom na Aso, and Rambo Tango. His last movie had been in 2005 entitled Enterpool:Senior Citizen in Action. The movie did not fare well among the moviegoers, however, and it was considered a loss to producers.

The only nostalgic memento of Palito's glorious career as a movie star was an old and worn photo album of still shots from his old movies. He was always proud to show it to his fans, and so he always carried it: "Ito na nga lang ang natirang kayamanan ko eh. Tingnan mo, dahil sa album na ito ay naalala ko ang aking nakalipas"

So now, Palito engages in small stage shows to make a living. Every Tuesday evening he performs live music show in a small casino in Sta. Cruz. The pay was low, he said, "Pero tinanggap ko na rin, kaysa naman walang kita. Pinaka ayoko pa naman ng nakatambay lang, nanghihina ako. Gusto ko mag-entertain ng tao, masaya ako pag nakapagpapasaya ng tao, kaya heto kahit 75 na ako, eh nag-peperform pa rin. Kung meron kang alam na Piyesta o Birthday Party at kailangan ng stage show, pwede ako".

So is this the final career of Palito, once voted as one of the Top Ten Philippine Comedians in the Philippines? Palito doesn't think so, he still believes he can make a comeback, and when he does, he says "Yayaman pa rin ako. Malay mo may makapansin pa rin sa akin na prodyuser. Ang buhay ng tao parang dalawang mukha ng pelikula yan e, may malungkot, may nakatawa. Mahirap at laos ako ngayon pero malay mo sumikat at yumaman ulit ako"*

Meantime, it was almost eight in the evening, and time for me to go back to Cubao. After a brief photoshoot wherein Palito reprised some of his roles in the movies, I bid my goodbye and handed him some money to help him out for a few days. Palito was visibly touched by the gesture. He said " Naku salamat Dennis ha. Buti ka pa naalala mo pa ako". I said I will not forget him as he is my idol.

And then I boarded my car, and looked at him from my rear mirror, he was still there waving his hand, waiting for his 9 0'clock show, and waiting for his dream movie producer who may or may never come.






Reprising his most famous role as the "bangkay" (corpse)


*I think one of the big problems of old movie stars is that they don't have any pensions after they retired. Many of them failed into business ventures and their life earnings eventually lost. I know many movie and comics artists who have the same plight as Palito. They earned well during the heyday of Philippine movie and comics industry, but when it declined, so was their income, and many now live in poverty.


Hannah said...

Wow! That's really neat :D I bet it was really cool listening to him tell you about his life and how he got into the film industry in person!!

He looks like he's a very funny man!


Dennis Villegas said...

Thank you Hannah, yes he is indeed very funny ;)

Photo Cache said...

I saw these photos when at flickr first and I could not remember his name. I really like him too.

This post touches me a lot. It's sad when movie stars dont have anything to show for their efforts later on in life. I hope he gets another break. He looks good still.

Dennis Villegas said...

Thank you Photo Cache. It's a really sad story.

Video 48 said...

Very inspiring and emotional interview, Dennis. Galing! How about submitting this article to some of our broadsheet newspapers like Inquirer and Philippine Star?

cza said...

Wow.. you really are one lucky dude! =) You get to just suddenly meet people.. ang galing! I like him and his movie roles too. It's a pity that in a way, they don't get much exposure lately. Or kahit well-deserved appreciation lang. Too many new new artists lately..nakakalimutan na yung mga nagpasaya sa atin before.

Reena said...

Palito! Aww, he has a very touching story. Sana magkaroon sya ng Maalaala story.:) Tama si Cza, I hope he gets recognition for the roles he played before. Puro big time pala nakatrabaho niya dati eh. Sad lang din dahil sa state ng movie industry natin. It's nothing compared to the past. You did a good job here by reminding us of entertainers like him. And yeah, ganda ng poses nya ha. I love the third photo. :)

luna miranda said...

wow, what an interesting and funny encounter with Palito! na-star struck ka ba?:D all great shots...love the 3rd photo. entertainer talaga s'ya.

Dennis Villegas said...

Video48: Thank you for the idea, but I don't think the broadsheets will entertain an article that has already been published in a blog.

Cza: Yes, i guess I'm lucky to have met him.

Reena: I think he has been featured once in Magpakailanman, and even later sa Wish Ko Lang.

Luna: He's a real entertainer. During the interview, so many people got amused by his animated stories about his life ;)

Mari said...

It's sad that he lost everything. Hopefully, he'll get one last shot at a blockbuster, and finally retire comfortably.

dodong flores said...

He's a favorite, too! I'm glad na at his age, he is still working and full of life. But at his present age, he is supposed to be enjoying the retirement na. I'm so sad about his plight.
Wish ko na lang sa kanya a good health for always para malakas pa siyang magtrabaho whenever mabigyan siya ng another break. Okay lang ang trabaho kahit 75 na siya, after all, nag-i-enjoy pa rin naman siya...
Thanx for sharing your experience with him, Pareng Dennis. Nice set of photos too, as always...

Dennis Villegas said...

Mari: Yes, I hope so, too!

Pareng Dodong: I agree with all your wishes for him. I just wish that he can really make a comeback.

the spool artist said...

such a sad plight for an icon and a foundation of philippine cinema... but instead of wallowing on his destiny, he still works humbly as a comedian... that in itself is very admirable. we wish the best for him!

... and yes, your encounter with him is one for the books!

Paulding said...

si Mang Palito ay isa ding brilliant drummer & percussionist. as usual panalo ang post mo dennis!

syel said...

lucky you! one of my fave comedians din si Palito. and he's really professional. sayang lang that showbiz industry doesn't really care for most of them. love this blog entry of yours.

Garando said...

Your post is so heartwarming. Palito was one of my idols too... I so remember that flying coffin scene, cracks me up all the time. "Rambuto" was another favorite of mine.
I feel so sorry for the guy for losing all his fortune, but I am glad that he's well and continues to be jolly and full of hope. I can't help but admire him.

vera said...

interesting face!! indeed! and for the retire... hard hard , as for everybody in Philippines!

dyosa said...

This is my favorite blog entry to date!

Palito is a nice man and very funny too. Definitely an entertainer! Ito ang best line for me..."Susmaryosep, ikaw lang ang nagpapa-autograph na ang artista pa ang may dalang bolpen at papel para sa yo". LOL! Kung ako siguro yan, humahagalpak na ako sa tawa!

Para kay Tito Palits, I wish you well.

kc cordero said...

good to-palits is also musically inclined kaya nakakakuha pa rin ng sideline. i saw him once in a tv interview and he's good in playing the drums. positive ang attitude niya, nakakatuwa. he looks good and 'alive' in your shoots.

lasiate said...

quelle expressivité! des mauvaises affaires beaucoup en font en ce moment !

PUSANG-gala said...

so I guess the trick is to learn how to save for the rainy days---and not let other people do it but to do it for yourself~~~nice post

Anonymous said...

Hi Dennis,

Great Story about Palito. I was once in Angeles City attending a comedy evening with Palito in the early nineties. Anyway being the only foreigner in the audience I was the butt of all Palito's very funny jokes! Needless to say I found a way to edge my way to the exit and the safety of the bar. But he is a top quality comedian no doubt about that. Sorry to hear that his fortune has evaporated and good of you to buy him a meal. Will be in Manila at the end of February and would be happy to buy him a meal myself. Well done Dennis you are a scholar and gentleman. Malcolm, London

Dennis Villegas said...

Thank you all for the very nice comments, inspires me to write more.

KC/Paulding: Yes, I learned from Palito he was a master of Konga and drums.

Dyosa: I will extend your well-wishes to To-palits hehehe

Vera/Lasiate: thank you!

Syel: Yes, I think I'm lucky to meet him.

Garando: Thank you for the nice words, I appreciate your inspiring words.

Pusang Gala: Yes, I agree, we must all save for the rainy days.

Malcolm: Thank you for visiting my blog. I am very pleased to know you have met him in person. Please visit him in Pagcor Casino in Sta. Cruz, every Tuesday. He will be very pleased to meet you again.
Salamat po,

Nance said...

It's too bad about his plight, I hope he will be given another chance to stardom. Nevertheless, this is a very entertaining post, Dennis.

Dennis Villegas said...

Thank you Nance!

Joe Narvaez said...

This post made my day. Tumatawa ako magisa dito sa bahay. Sana balang araw makasalubong ko rin sa Mang Palito. Idol ko na rin siya! Kudos Dennis!

Dennis Villegas said...

Thank you, Joe! madali mo siya makta...lagi nakatambay sa Pagcor Casino Sta. Cruz

mimi said...

thanks po sa pagdalaw sa photoblog ko!

ang galing ng pagkasulat ng article, sana pasa nyo po ito sa mga broadsheets or magazines.. very touching! this is a masterpiece.. you really know how to interview people.. i hope i have that thing.

the donG said...

astig feature post dennis! he surely is one of Philippine's most popular icon.

it was a great opportunity for you to have met him. he remains as cool as he is portrayed here in your post.

galing! two thumbs up sa post na ito!

MeL said...

Ambait mo naman Kuya Dennis. This is a great post. Gaya ng sabi ni mimi, pwede mong ipasa ito sa broadsheet para may producer na makapansin kay Mang Palito.

I saw him in Malate before. Umiinom sya katabi naming resto/bar. Mag-isa lang sya nun, nakatingin sya sa labas habang nilalagok nya yung SMB na hawak nya.

Sana mabigyan ulit sya ng break. Sa pictures nya pa lang dito, panalo na eh. :)

turtle said...

Very touching, prose and photos. thanks for sharing.

Really part of my childhood and my sister's too.

Thanks, again.

Mitz said...

he looks the same! ang sad nga ng movie stars who became poor after their years of glory in showbiz. hope the old man will be okay :)

pipafish said...

Hi sir, I like your story on Palito. Very inspiring. Do you have any contact number of him? Where is Casino Filipino in Avenida exactly? What coffee shop po? my number is 0921-4885449. Would really like to help him.

Jugs said...

Palito has a couple of Facebook fan pages. The link to this page has been posted in one of them. Hope this is okay with you, Dennis. If not, I'll be happy to remove the link. Thanks.

gerry said...

This is a very good write-up. I believe this deserves to be played big in national media.

mm said...

Thank you for writing about your encounter with Mr. Palito, I felt good reading it. The pictures you've taken of him is genuinely funny. Your write-up and his personality, matches, humble yet full of depth, I'll be reading more of your blogs.

glentot said...

This is really funny and kind of sad at the same time, since Palito is one of the most recognizable faces in Philippine cinema, and it's sad that kids today probably don't know him and how he made us laugh when we were kids.

hanzsapitan said...

Thank you Dennis for this very inspiring story.. Indeed he (palito) is an institution in philippine cinema.. first time ko dito sa site mo add kita sa blogroll ko ha? thanks! apir!

doi said...

thanks for sharing this. I really enjoyed reading your write up about Palito. He's one of my idols too.

someone who knows said...

do you have his contact information?

i know some people who can help him get a movie again

Robby Villabona said...

Just thought you ought to know:


dodong flores said...

My most favorite movies of him are the spoofs i.e. James Bone, Rambuto, and No Blood.
But now, Palito will now be a legend. Paalam, Palito. You'll always be remembered...

Anonymous said...


Sting Lacson said...

Great post. Posted a link on my blog.

The Preacher said...

A great, real funny comedian.