Weekly fan mail, a coaster bigger than the Mystery Van, and cheapo notebooks with me on the cover meant one thing – that I was famous, once. And, once upon a time, I was a celebrity.
Notebook version 1: me wearing polka dots and a printed chaleco, emerging from a giant toy box with a Mickey and Minnie puppet on both hands. I was Chris-in-the-box (I go by Toff these days and a lil’ more dignity). Notebook version 2: Me running away from a bunch of boulders and brachiosaurus. It was the Jurassic era yet I was wearing Garfield (a brand I was endorsing) and the latest Skechers. Anyareh!
There were t-shirts too – with my face on them – underscored with the words ‘Pretty Boy,’ a movie I once did (a ha!). There was a nightmare sequence where IC Mendoza and I were mounted on a harness and blown away by a kapre played by Andrew E. I also pummeled a dancing kalansay to the ground but that’s another story. My parents saw my budding celebrity as an opportunity to plaster my face on memorabilia and raise my self-esteem (I was a middle child, go figure). To them, it was pride. For me, it was shock therapy. Clocks. Calendars. T-shirts. Could you say that I was a screwball in the making?
As a child star, I came out in about five movies, three TV commercials, and three weekly sitcoms – from the ubiquitous Ober da Bakod as Dagul, the kid who sold anything and everything Janno Gibbs and company needed to solve whatever problem they faced for that episode (angel wings for when we were in heaven, a space ship for when we were stuck in space), to the short-lived Haybol Rambol with Nida Blanca. But none so much an impact (or tarnish my ego) as this one obscure Sunday 9pm – 10pm show I fronted, which lasted for about a year prior to its cancellation. I am talking about, Billy Bilyonaryo, GMA’s very own version of Richie Rich. I was Billy Fuentebella, a spoiled lil’ rich kid with a heart of gold.
The theme song went, “Ang gulong ng buhay ay iba’t iba. ‘Pag ‘di ka mayaman ay mahirap ka.” In English, the wheel of life is always different. And if you aren’t rich, you’re poor. Well, f*ck me. Badong Bernal once said that the poverty of the production does not connote the poverty of the mind. I’m not entirely sure if the production was strapped for network funding. It was, after all, shot in my lola’s house. But there’s something about being the local version of something that sets you up for failure or falling short of expectations in the long haul.
For starters, where was my privately owned McDonald’s or my very own rollercoaster in my backyard? Where were the faces of me and my parents on a mountain facade? I was Billy Bilyonaryo but I was nowhere near the cover of Forbes (well at least, Forbes – our village gazette).
The novelty of being a fictional billionaire was lost on me. The glitz and grind gave rise to weekly hair polish at my barber’s for that silky, smooth coif, the most absurd coat and tie pairings that could give Mark Ronson’s uptown funk a run for his money, and a fantasy self that sucks you dry and leaves you hanging.
That’s the thing about fame. Easy come, easy go. One minute you’re getting stopped in the mall for an autograph, and the next, you’re answering the company phone, jotting down orders for a play you directed.
One minute, you have Benjie Paras as a butler, Sheryl Cruz as an assistant, and Kuya Germs as a departed grandfather who left video blogs addressing whatever problem it was you were facing for that episode. And the next, you have a yaya you can’t get along with, a lack of nurture to keep an assistant for more than three months, and no one to count on but yourself.
It’s no wonder child stars are likely to get f*cked up or fade into obscurity after they’ve lived out their prime. There is that element of having to live up to your parents’ expectations. And society’s expectations. And your own expectations. Then you have your younger self’s expectations? Where’s the McDonald’s? Where’s the fan mail? Where’s Donita Rose as your date to the prom? Never happened!
When you’ve lived out your 15 minutes of fame in a haze, through mall tours, movie premieres, TV guestings, or dancing to Greased Lightnin’ at the Star Awards, it seems like everything that comes after is déjà vu. There’s that thought that crosses your mind momentarily when you’re right smack in the middle of fame, “I know this. But this is all too weird.” So you resist. And maybe even brush it off. I mean let’s face it, when am I ever going to be a billionaire again in the next fifty years? Lady Gaga once thought that she was always famous. It’s just that no one knew. Well, I think I might’ve been famous, once. And 18 years after happily ever after unlocked at age 10, I’m not quite sure.