Filipino film star dies at age 89
BY MAUREEN O’DONNELL Sun-Times Media February 29, 2012 11:10PM
Consuelo Agana, who was a Filipino movie star under her showbiz name, Linda Estrella.
Updated: April 2, 2012 9:53AM
If you saw Consuelo Agana out around town, you might have thought she was a sweet little grandmother — though a stunningly pretty one.
But in her day, she was a hazel-eyed screen siren of the Philippines.
Agana acted under the name Linda Estrella in an estimated 25 movies in the booming Filipino film industry, from approximately 1940 up until she and her husband, Adriano Agana, immigrated to the United States in the late 1950s. Fittingly, her showbiz name, translated from the Spanish, meant “Pretty Star.”
She gave birth to a daughter, Tessie, whose singing, dancing and acting chops — and sheer adorability — ensorcelled the Filipino public and reputedly saved the Sampaguita motion picture studio. “One Take” Tessie became known as the “Shirley Temple of the Philippines.”
A longtime resident of the Miller section of Gary and Hobart, Agana was the kind of grandmother who kept up with all the latest movie stars and entertainers — and she knew exactly which ones were Filipino. She proudly pointed out Filipino celebrities, including singer Bruno Mars, actress Vanessa Hudgens and dancer Cheryl Burke.
She died Feb. 18 at age 89 at St. Mary Medical Center in Hobart.
Agana’s light eyes — the legacy of her Italian-born father — photographed beautifully on film, but they almost cost her life when the Japanese invaded the Philippines, her family said.
“Because of her hazel eyes, they thought she was American,” said her granddaughter, Marita Jao. “They were about to kill her and she started speaking in the (Tagalog) dialect, and they spared her life. She was walking and they grabbed her and they said ‘American! American!’ She just kept on talking and talking.”
The soldiers let her go.
Agana, a devout Catholic who directed her entreaties to specific patron saints to maximize the power of her prayers, treasured a silver cross that her own mother carried as the family fled the Japanese around Manila for the more remote Bicol region.
Agana was blessed with a warm singing voice. “She got discovered because she sang so well and the owner of Sampaguita Pictures (was) a relative and they put her in one of their movies,” Marita Jao said.
Her husband, an obstetrician-gynecologist, immigrated to the U.S. in the 1950s for a fellowship at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
Agana was ready to leave the Philippines because she wanted to create a normal childhood for her daughter Tessie, who had become such a huge child star that her every outing seemed to stir a frenzy.
“I would be afraid of people when I was little,’’ said Tessie, who grew up to be Tessie Agana Jao, Marita’s mother. “They would just clamor to me, pinch me” — even steal her trademark hairbow.
Tessie “will always be remembered for playing a battered child in ‘Roberta,’ ’’ a powerful 1952 film, wrote Romy Protacio, author of “Balika-Tanaw [In Retrospect]: the Filipino Movie Stars of Yesteryears.” “The movie literally rebuilt Sampaguita Pictures from the ashes after the studio was razed by fire in 1951.”
Eventually the Agana family moved to the Midwest and Dr. Agana practiced in Gary.
For a time, Agana worked for the Philippine consulates in Chicago and New York, often singing at diplomatic functions.
“My memory is always of having a full house of visitors, diplomatic visitors, or movie stars,” Marita Jao said. “They would always stop in Chicago and then drive the hour to Gary, Indiana and hang out with my grandparents, and someone would always end up on the piano.”
Often, when Agana was out, Filipino senior citizens would approach her. “They would be in awe and they would get her autograph,” said Tessie Agana Jao.
Agana attributed her beautiful skin to her faithful use of Pond’s cold cream. She never went out without lipstick and make-up.
She was a terrific cook of Filipino specialties, including pancit noodle treats and adobo dishes, with their marinades of soy, garlic and vinegar.
She never tired of the movie “The Bodyguard,” but not just for Whitney Houston’s singing. She loved Houston’s co-star, Kevin Costner, relatives said.
Because of the Filipino diaspora, she had friends and family all over the world. Marita, who once worked for Mobil Oil, found her connections created a homelike atmosphere, no matter where she lived. “Every time I got transferred to a different location,” she said, Agana “would open up her address book and say ‘OK, your relative So-and-So is in that city — call them.’ And that was home base. These relatives would open up their home to me and I could have a home-cooked meal instead of eating at a restaurant everyday. She was Operator Central, and she taught us the value of extended family.”
She is also survived by her daughter Marilou Agana Green, 13 grandchildren, and 16 great-grandchildren. Her husband and her daughter Cynthia died before her.
Services were held. Her favorite flowers, pink carnations, rested on her casket.