Eddie Mesa and The Reachable Star
With RICKY LO
Eddie Mesa never fails to move people everytime he sings that song in his work as an evangelist. Every word and every sentence and every stanza of that song pours out of his heart with passion, as if he’s actually seeing that “unreachable star” in front of him, not at all unreachable.
The Philippine Star
...to try when your arms are too weary to reach the unreachable star. This is my quest, to follow that star; no matter how hopeless, no matter how far... — from The Impossible Dream
Eddie Mesa never fails to move people everytime he sings that song in his work as an evangelist. Every word and every sentence and every stanza of that song pours out of his heart with passion, as if he’s actually seeing that "unreachable star" in front of him, not at all unreachable.
On May 2, Friday, starting at 8 p.m. at Teatrino (Greenhills Promenade, Greenhills, San Juan City), Eddie will be singing that song again as part of his repertoire in his solo concert titled Then & Now. (Producer is German "Kuya Germs" Moreno. Ticket is priced at P1,000. For inquiries, call Pilita’s Restaurant at 722-0361 or the Music Museum and Teatrino.) Among other numbers, Eddie will do some Elvis Presley songs in the show’s "then" portion. After all, even if he has found a new, more profound calling as an evangelist, he will always be The Elvis Presley of the Philippines to his fans.
Eddie then was a matinee idol, one of the best-looking in Philippine Cinema, basking in, so to speak, "wine, women and song." Maybe he couldn’t help it. With his drop-dead looks, Eddie could have any woman he, pardon the word, "lusted" after and vice-versa. (Among his "conquests" were two drama actresses who share the same initials).
Eddie now is a changed man whose main preoccupation is spreading the word of God. To put it briefly, Elvis may still be in his pelvis ("I’m doing it purely for fun now") but it’s Christ who reigns in his heart.
Let’s turn back the hands of time and retrace Eddie’s long night’s journey into day.
How did you become the Elvis Presley of the Philippines? There are several other "pretenders" but you are The One.
"You know, I never heard of Elvis when I was in high school at the Arellano High School in Pasay, pero mahilig na ako kumanta. I would sing songs of Mario Lanza, Jerry Vale, Vic Damone and Sammy Davis Jr., who became my favorite. But never Elvis Presley. In fact, when I auditioned for the dzMB show Oras ng Pananghalian, I sang a Sammy Davis song, Six Bridges to Cross. Then, one of the Donato brothers, told me, ‘Sing Elvis Presley songs. Magtayo tayo ng banda.’ I hadn’t even heard an Elvis song then. After several months...I was already out of school then, I never finished high school...I heard an announcer on the radio, ‘Elvis will be singing I Don’t Care If The Sun Don’t Shine.’ So, I turned the radio full blast and listened. I thought, ‘I couldn’ sing like this guy!’ Elvis was mumbling. I thought kasi, if you are singing dapat malinaw ang delivery. Not long after, the Elvis movie Love Me Tender was showing and I watched it at a third-run theater in Paco. Wow, I said, ‘Iba si Elvis!’ Iba ang beat niya, iba ang showmanship at mapapaindak ka talaga. Everybody inside the moviehouse was dancing! Back home, I stood in front of the mirror and studied how I could comb my hair like his. I shaved my sideburns para kumapal-kapal. Then, somebody taught me how to play the guitar."
And that’s how you became Elvis Presley?
"Not yet. I started joining contests. Dito sa La Tondeña hosted by Rosa Rosal at the Luneta (now Rizal Park), at nakasabay ko pa doon ang Reycard Duet. I sang another Sammy Davis song...(Proceeds to sing)...Love, your magic spell is everywhere...I won second prize. There was also the Boy Watsonal Castoria singing contest. I joined several other singing contests and I was winning first, second and third prizes. But I never won when I sang an Elvis Presley song kasi hindi pang-contest ang songs niya."
Were you already known as Eddie Mesa then?
"I was using my real surname, Eigennman. But when I joined the Boy Watsonal Castoria contest, my cousin said the surname Eigennman was hard to remember so he suggested that I use my mother’s surname, de Mesa. But Eddie de Mesa didn’t sound okay, very redundant, so I decided to drop the ‘de’ even while I was using another name, Eddie Robles. And I won first prize. Later on, the Donato brothers got in touch with me and we formed a band called The Trippers, so called not because we were tripping on drugs but because we always went on trips — to fiestas, funerals, etc. But before The Trippers, I auditioned for Don Jose Zarah, producer of the shows at the Clover Theater, pero hindi ako masyadong pinansin because he thought I was another Bobby Gonzales — you know, sshboom-sshboom, tralalalalala, sshboom- sshboom. But when we auditioned as The Trippers, singing Elvis Presley songs, we were taken in."
Clover Theater was the home of stage shows then. Kuya Germs started his career there as a janitor, later graduating to "supporting" roles.
"One week after we began our two-week stint as The Trippers, nagsara ang Clover Theater because Don Jose and the owner of Clover Theater had a quarrel. When it reopened under new management, it was Kuya Germs, I just learned lately, who found a way for us to have another audition, under the directorship of Abraham Cruz who was also an actor-director at Premiere Productions. During the audition, Abraham asked me to sing Elvis Presley songs, then he told me, ‘Do you have a professional name?’ I said, ‘Yes, Eddie Mesa and Eddie Robles.’ Abraham told me, ‘Robles is very common but Mesa is very fresh. If you don’t mind, ihiwalay natin ang pangalan mo and you will be billed as Eddie Mesa, The Elvis Presley of the Philippines, and The Trippers.’ And that’s how I became The Elvis Presley of the Philippines. Soon, nahiwalay na ako sa Trippers. The group accompanying me was The Saints Trio. There was another group called The Modern Trio and it was performing for Don Jose who had by then moved his shows to the Opera House Theater. The Modern Trio got me to perform at Opera House, promising me ‘star billing’ — Tessie Quintana, Reycard Duet and Eddie Mesa. I was paid P250 a week, three times what I was getting at Clover Theater (P80 a week). That was in 1957."
And how did you get into Premiere Productions?
"While I was at Opera House, a member of Modern Trio introduced me to Doña Adela Santiago, the lady boss of Premiere. I was asked to sing one song, in a Pancho Magalona-Shirley Gorospe movie...I don’t even remember what the title was...but somehow, it didn’t work out. But I was called back and offered a renewable one-year contract. That was in 1958. I was introduced in Shirley My Darling, with Shirley and Zaldy Zshornack. After that, I guested in an omnibus movie...I don’t remember what the title is...composed of several stories and shot in Hong Kong and Singapore. My first starring role was in Singing Idol. More films followed: Hawaiian Boy (with FPJ), Aawitan Kita, Diyes Isang Kanta, etc. When my contract expired, I renewed it, first good for two years and then four years."
You met and fell in love with Rosemarie at Premiere, right?
"No. I met Rosemarie at dzRH where Sta. Rita de Casia, her first-starring movie, was being dramatized sponsored by Hermoso Drugs which was also owned by the Santiagos. I was asked to sing during the intermission. Nagandahan ako kaagad the first time I saw Rosemarie. I was too shy then to approach her. Instead of talking to Rosemarie, I talked to her mother and asked for Rosemarie’s picture. Rosemarie would later recall that when she heard me singing Hound Dog, she became curious who the guy was na humihingi ng picture niya."
How soon after that did you start courting her?
"We met again at Premiere. I was there to sign a contract with Premiere and Rosemarie was also there, waiting for her turn after me, also to sign a contract. Sta. Rita de Casia was produced by Balatbat Pictures. It was a hit and Premiere wanted to sign her up. She would later tell me na ang yabang-yabang ko daw dahil hindi ko siya pinansin. Soon after, we started shooting Aawitan Kita and that’s when the courtship started." (Adding with a laugh) "Naawitan ko talaga siya! We were married in 1961."
How many movies did you do with Rosemarie?
"A few. Aside from Aawitan Kita, there were Hawaiian Boy, Gitarang Ginto and Diyes Isang Kanta. She was supposed to be my leading lady in Pitong Gabi sa Paris but she backed out because she was pregnant with Mark. Ang theme song namin ni Rosemarie was an Elvis Presley song, Is it So Strange."
What’s your favorite Elvis Presley song?
"It’s If I Can Dream."
Your Teatrino show is called Eddie Mesa: Then & Now. How was your life then and your life now?
"Wow, there’s a big difference. Life then was simple and uncomplicated, not as difficult as now. It was more fun then; mababaw lang ang kaligayahan ko. You drove your car down Dewey Boulevard (now Roxas Boulevard) and had a recap at Aristocrat for some goto or coffee. You rode the Motorco up and down Dewey Boulevard at masaya ka na."
Of course, women were all over you, ready to drop "whatever" at the sight of you.
"Tsk, tsk, tsk! That was the reason why nagkagulo-gulo ang buhay ko. Rosemarie became distraught and insecure, at nasira na tuluyan ang marriage namin. We got seperated in 1970. In 1972, I left for Guam. Six months later, I got an offer to sing in Hawaii. In 1973, one year after Martial Law was declared, I left again, this time for San Francisco where I stayed until 1977. I didn’t have any contact with Rosemarie and my children. Late in 1977, I came back and in early 1978, I did a show called This is Eddie Mesa at the Folk Arts Theater with Michael, Cherie and Mark."
Now you have...how many grandchildren?
"Twelve. Three by Michael (de Mesa and ex-wife Gina Alajar), three by Cherie (Gil and Roni Rogoff) and six by Mark (Gil, two with girlfriend Irene Celebre, two with ex-wife Bing Pimentel, one with girlfriend Jaclyn Jose and one with current wife Maricar Jacinto)."
You and Rosemarie were separated for 16 years (from 1970 to 1986). And you’ve been back together again since then. Love is lovelier and more comfortable the second time around, as the song says.
"In God’s grace, we’ve been together for more than 21 years. In September, we’ll be celebrating our 22nd year as a reconciled couple."
How is it the second time around?
"I have had other relationships but I have never been in love with any other woman except Rosemarie. She has forgiven me so many times that I have lost count. When I look back, I realize that I took Rosemarie for granted. I wanted to have my cake and eat it, too. One thing about Rosemarie...she never made the children turn against me. The love and respect have always been there. After I came back from the States, I was a changed man. I was convinced that I had been born-again, that I experienced Christ in a very personal way. As I read the Scripture, nakita ko ‘yung maraming mali na ginawa ko noong araw...What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul?"
After mounting This is Eddie Mesa, you quit showbiz.
"Yes, I did. Despite my success is showbiz, I felt empty. I was putting my career before my family and that was wrong. So when I had that encounter with Christ in 1977 in the States, that’s when I decided to come back instead of going to Las Vegas. I started singing one or two gospel songs in my concerts at hindi ‘yon na-appreciate ng mga producer."
Did you resume your movie career?
"My last movie was Swinging Jet Age, which is about karera ng kotse, with Ricky Belmonte. When I came back, I was offered a movie but I had to turn it down when I learned that I would be playing the father of a bold star. As I said, I was a changed man and I couldn’t be doing bold movies. I was just ‘saved’ by Christ at that time. There was another offer for me to do a religious movie pero medyo hindi tama biblically. It was supposed to be the story of a man who was The Elvis Presley of the Philippines, who took the Cursillo, na gumagawa ng kandila. Too close to home. I also had to turn it down."
What happened after that?
"So I quit showbiz and I became the choir director of the Fairview Baptist Church. Since then, I’ve been going around doing the work of an evangelist, both here and in the US. But I want to make one thing clear: I am not a pastor. I’m just a person who experienced Christ in a personal way."
Did you miss anything about showbiz?
"My colleagues, the fun. But I never stopped performing. Kaya lang on a different level. I’ve been performing in churches, in auditoriums and similar venues, spreading The Word. Every now and then, I do sing an Elvis Presley song for old folks, even if the younger ones might be saying, ‘Wala nang buhok, pa-Elvis-Elvis pa rin’!’
Aside from the Teatrino concert and your evangelical work, what else are you busy with?
"I’m preparing an album. But before that, we are releasing three of the songs that I’m singing in my concert — Love Me Tender, Can’t Help Falling in Love, and The Lord’s Prayer/The Impossible Dream combined."
Do you think you have reached your unreachable star?
"I’ll answer you poetically — The Unreachable Star is The One who has reached down to me. Did you know that one of the names of Jesus Christ is The Bright and Morning Star? As far as my dream on this earth is concerned, I believe that it is coming into place."
Looking back, what are the things that you would have done otherwise?
"I should have been more faithful to Rosemarie, so that my children wouldn’t have been hurt and wouldn’t have suffered the wounds that they have experienced. Emotional pain takes time to heal. I should have put my family as my No. 1 priority over my career. I should have spent more time playing ball with them, wrestling with them, flying kites with them. Had I done that, there wouldn’t have been reason for Rosemarie and me to separate. Sad to say, and to my shame, I still do the same mistakes Sunday. All these years, I’ve been putting my ministry as my No. 1 priority, above my family, and that’s wrong. Because next to God, one’s next priority should be his family. While it’s true that ministry is service to God, God desires us to minister to our family first because a good wife, children and grandchildren are gifts from God. So with God’s grace, I will do everything to let them know that they are the most important persons in the whole world to me."