The World According to ‘Kuya Germs’

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There is no true-blue Filipino movie fan who does not know German Moreno, 82. Even the most casual showbiz watcher recognizes him as the guy who eternally wears those glittery suits on TV chanting “Walang tulugan!” at past midnight on Saturdays when most of Metro Manila are either fast asleep or out on the town – the entertainment industry icon rather reverently called Master Showman surrounded by a coterie of young aspirants eager to earn a slice of the showbiz pie.

One either loved him or considered him obsolete. The latter includes those who think they know better than a veteran who had seen and done it all. To them, ‘Kuya Germs’ was a relic of an era long past whose ideas about how to entertain an audience were best consigned to steel filing cabinets for moths to devour. An era which actually spelled entertainment with a capital E, sorely lacking in this age of rehashed soap operas and auto tuned singing stars.

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Those who loved him, on the other hand, count many of the “bigatin” stars who command big bucks today and the newbies that he tirelessly took under his wing through the years. The Philippine entertainment industry as a whole look up to him, as well they should being that he seemed to be the only person among the ranks (of actors, producers, directors, etc.) who actually walked the talk – taking to heart and deed his love for the industry that made him the person he came to be. The stuff that truly breeds legends.

From this movie fan’s point of view, there was more to the man than the praises being showered on him now that he is dead. True, he had a propensity for long speeches, he tended to ramble on and on when given the opportunity – mostly repetitive statements about his history as an entertainer and the values he wanted to inculcate in the young – which ate considerably into his airtime and made his audience cringe in awkward anticipation. No one would dare cut him off, lest they be accused of disrespect. But he knew when to stop. That is, when his eyes would start to get cloudy and his voice would crack.

Now that every showbiz denizen is talking about it, he seemed to have touched the lives of almost everyone residing in that rarefied field one way or another, but mostly about opening the door for them to enter show business. “Thank you for everything that you’ve done for me and for the industry”, they declare almost to a man at his wake. But when he was healthy and into one of his occasional monologues, many of them would roll their eyes and snicker. “Ay, maglilitanya na naman si Kuya Germs…”

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He apparently took it upon himself as his life’s mission to help others, not just showbiz aspirants. While he would dole out gasoline money to upstarts, buy them clothes and shoes out of pocket, he would distribute gifts to his neighbors in Barangay Valencia and give away red envelopes (angpao) to his fellow workers at GMA Network without fail every Christmas. One of his contemporaries and good friends, the 50s movie queen Gloria Romero, revealed that he never carried a wallet but would put wads of bills in his breast pocket so it would be easy for him to give money to whoever needed it at the moment.

His generosity extended to artistas being surprised with an air conditioning unit sent to their home as replacement for one that conked out and a couch that disappeared from the set because he gave it away to someone who took a liking for it. The irony being that he drove a simple car and lived in a simple house in the less fashionable part of New Manila adorned by his extensive collection of clowns and toys. The trademark huge rings on his fingers were mostly gifts from appreciative stars, he told a program host, and the sparkly suits were his sort of homage to the Las Vegas-cum-vaudeville type of entertainment which he wanted to introduce to younger audiences.

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He seemed to have had the uncanny ability to spot talent where talent scouts would dismiss as “trying hard”, “assuming” or “walang k”. He endured criticisms for taking in non-showbiz-looking hopefuls believing that everyone who has a dream deserves a chance to work for it. (“Piolo Pascual was patpatin when he started at ‘That’s Entertainment’”, he shrugs in one of the interviews being re-aired following his demise.) And in many instances, he had been proven right – thus continuing with his labor of love even after he suffered a stroke one year ago. A number of his more recent wards are now essaying substantial roles on film and TV.

He made it his life’s mission to pave the way for youngsters to at least get one foot inside showbiz. One of his charges went on air to say that ‘Tatay’ never charged commission from being his manager. When his mother was suffering from cancer, ‘Kuya Germs’ shouldered her medical bills until she passed away. No one else in show business does that without fanfare – not get paid for ‘managing’ talents. Every ‘talent’ and ‘talent manager’ seem to be in it for the big remuneration, or to help their families, so they say – and the money can really get overwhelming depending on the stature one attains. Talent managers share a substantial portion of the pot, but German Moreno never did.

His biggest frustration, it now seems, was trying to bring back his seminal show ‘That’s Entertainment’ – the TV platform that bred many enduring names in the industry. Apparently, the network didn’t see it fit to revive an archaic format. One of his old friends said that Moreno harbored a little ‘sama ng loob’ towards the network when his shows were pulled off the air one by one although they were making money.

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Be that as it may, he preferred to stay put and declined offers from outside even if he was not bound by a contract, saying it’s not all about money. And perhaps as a token of his loyalty, the network bosses gave him a show with an unholy time slot. Still, he was happy that he was afforded a venue from which he could fulfill his mission, as it were. The show lasted for almost 20 years and earned the status as the most watched among the network’s Pinoy TV subscribers, defying the industry truism that TV shows are only as good as the ratings they get. He also had a one-hour daily afternoon radio program and enjoyed “creative consultant” status in its Sunday variety show.

Now his Saturday late night spectacle hangs in limbo and the kids who are still “struggling” are in a much bigger drift. Moreno’s trusted nephew John Nite said his uncle would often wonder out loud to him: “What will happen to them when I’m gone?” Those in the know are saying that he is irreplaceable. Indeed, who in their right mind would shell out their own money these days without expecting anything in return if they are not philanthropists? The ultra-materialistic world of show business hardly rears the kind that pays it forward, and that is why German Moreno was a rarity. Rarer still that not a hint of scandal of any kind was ever attributed to his name during all the 50-odd years that he was in the business. He did figure in some well-publicized spats with a few of his wards but only because the renegades reneged on his teachings of loyalty and word of honor. Right, Billy?

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Another project that also now hangs in uncertainty with his demise is the local version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He had said that he was not doing it for vanity but mainly to pay tribute especially to the stars who have gone ahead – again, for younger audiences to recognize. Once more, he was inundated with criticisms – mostly about the names that he decided to ‘enshrine’ in those star-marked pieces of real estate. He just waved them off, saying “bakit, sila ba ang gumagastos?” When he initially voiced out the plan, the developers of Eastwood City volunteered to provide the land space for free. Then, he said, some people offered to look for other sponsors but nothing materialized and he was yet again ready to dig into his pockets just to make it happen. But a “fairy godmother” ‘rescued’ him and the “Philippine Walk of Fame” took off ten years ago.

Indeed, his life story reads like a book straight out of a fairy tale that ends with a conundrum. From his early days selling cigarettes along Avenida Rizal after the war, to his now oft-retold origins as janitor and curtain raiser at the fabled Clover Theater until he went on to play bit roles at Sampaguita Pictures and became the third wheel in the “Guy & Pip” saga – German Moreno’s rise to legendary status owes in large measure to his giving nature and nurturing spirit. What is more gratifying than being known by people from all walks of life?

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The world in which ‘Kuya Germs’ existed was one characterized by loyalty, selflessness, professionalism, humility, gratitude, respect for those who came before, love for one’s craft – values which have been almost consigned to obsolescence not only in show business but in real life as well. To him, it was not all show and all business – what was inside the heart mattered more. He was steadfast in his principles, faithful to his friends, generous of his time and resources to his family, welcoming to strangers.

GMA Network president Felipe Gozon said it best when he eulogized that “if everyone had Kuya Germs’ palabra de honor, Philippine show business would be different today,” taking a swipe at not a few who are blinded by the lure of more money in lieu of greater worth as human beings. German Moreno was decidedly old school in values and to some extent in ideas but that was what made him unique. He remained relevant, even managed to ingrain himself in pop culture, although the era that he embodied had long vanished – and that in itself is a hard act to follow.

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