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|Born||Manuela Álvarez Rocha
November 9, 1919
Carigara, Leyte, Philippine Islands
|Died||March 6, 2009
San Francisco, California
Nela — whose official name is Manuela Álvarez Rocha — was born November 9, 1919, in Carigara, Leyte, Philippines. She was the youngest child of Julio and Juana Álvarez, who had one son, Salvador, and two other daughters, Benigna and Solita. Julio and Juana raised their children in Manila, where they owned a general and bicycle store.
After graduating from high school, she and a friend started auditioning for acting roles in movies. Nela—whose stage name was Nela Álvarez—immediately got a part as an extra. In the late 1930s, before the onset of World War II, American-occupied Philippines had an insatiable appetite for movies, which led to the formation of LVN Pictures and other studios.
In 1936, Nela was featured in her first film, “Mga Kaluluwang Napaligaw,” which means lost souls. She continued to act in six more movies before the Philippines was plunged into World War II. Film production in the Philippines was halted after the Japanese invasion in 1941. Nela did not act again until 1948, when she was featured in “Sierra Madre: Bundok ng Hiwaga” with Leopoldo Salcedo. In 1971, she was featured in “Jezebel” with her daughter, Rebecca.
Besides acting, Nela was the star catcher for one of the first women’s softball teams in the Philippines. In fact, when a team of touring American Major League Baseball players visited Manila, Nela was chosen by her team to catch the ceremonial first pitch from Babe Ruth.
She met her husband, Jose P. Rocha, at a softball game in 1935, and three years later, she eloped with him and got married at the Manila Cathedral. They had five children, the eldest dying at a young age of meningitis. Nela's husband, Jose, died in 1982. He taught American government and physical education at Far Eastern University in the Philippines. She was the maternal grandmother of Filipino child actor Niño Muhlach, whose lineage on his father's side is also heavily involved in the Philippine acting industry. His aunt is box-office star Amalia Fuentes, and his first cousin is current box-office star Aga Muhlach.
- 1936: Mga Kaluluwang Napaligaw
- 1937: Umaraw sa Hatinggabi
- 1937: Sanga-Sangang Dila
- 1937: Via Crucis
- 1938: Bulaklak ng Luha (Philippine National Pictures)
- 1938: Dahil sa Pag-ibig (Luzon Motion Pictures)
- 1948: Sierra Madre: Bundok ng Hiwaga (LVN Pictures)
- 1949: Capas (LVN Pictures)
- 1949: Haiskul
- 1950: Candaba (LVN Pictures)
- 1953: Tatlong Labuyo (LVN Pictures)
- 1953: Babaing Kalbo (Lebran Pictures)
- 1954: Krus na Bakal (LVN Pictures)
- 1957: Hukom Roldan (LVN Pictures)
- 1967: Ang Langit ay Para sa Lahat
- 1968: Magpakailan Man
- 1968: Johnny Do or Die
- 1970: Renee Rose
- 1971: Living Doll
- 1971: Jezebel
- 1973: Hanggang sa Kabila ng Daigdig