Ernesto dela Cruz
Ernesto de la Cruz
September 7, 1957
|Died||August 29, 1992 (aged 34)|
|Occupation||Actor, martial artist|
Ernesto dela Cruz (September 7, 1957 – August 29, 1992), better known as Weng Weng, was an actor, stunt performer, martial artist, and Philippines' first international celebrity, who happens to be a short person at 83 cm (2 feet, 9 inches) tall. Born in Baclaran, Parañaque with a primordial dwarfism condition, dela Cruz started exercising and studied karate. In the mid 1970s, dela Cruz was noticed by film producers Peter and Cora Caballes of Liliw Productions, and got the pseudonym Weng Weng. Following this, dela Cruz played supporting roles in films, and shared his first top billing with Ramon Zamora in Chopsuey Meets Big Time Papa (1978). Dela Cruz's first lead in the action film spoof Agent OO (1981) was followed by two sequels. It became dela Cruz's most well known role, where he demonstrated skills in stunts and martial arts.
Agent OO's sequel For Your Height Only (1981) turned dela Cruz in an international star and gave him the notoriety to become a unique figure in cinema. After its local release, first lady Imelda Marcos organised a lavish film festival in the hope to present Filipino films to foreign distributor. At the event, For Your Height Only outsold every other film on foreign sales, while dela Cruz was the mediatic center of attention and the breakthrough celebrity. In the Philippines it is still their highest exported film, and within their acting community dela Cruz's international reach hasn't been topped.
Following his success, dela Cruz appeared in three more films D'Wild Wild Weng (1982), The Impossible Kid (1982), his final performance as Agent OO, and The Cute... The Sexy n' The Tiny alongside Berting Labra and Pia Moran. Eventually, Peter and Cora Caballes changed professional paths and dela Cruz never worked again in the media industry. Dela Cruz spent the rest of his life with his family in Baclaran and died at the age of 34 in 1992.
With the passing of time, dela Cruz became a cult film icon. Online, some of his movies went viral. By the 2000s, a lot of information published about him was unclear or hyperbolic mythos, some with accounts that support them. Research about his life led to the making of two successful documentaries Machete Maidens Unleashed! (2010), and The Search for Weng Weng (2013).
Dela Cruz was born to Felicito Jose dela Cruz, an electrician (1914–1968), and Rita DeGuzman dela Cruz, a laundry woman (1919–1989), the youngest of five brothers, on September 7, 1957. As described by dela Cruz's brother Celing, dela Cruz's early life went as follows. When his mother was pregnant, she didn't know until the doctor informed her, and when she gave birth, his size was "no bigger than a small Coke bottle". His premature state forced dela Cruz's parents to place him in a shoe box under a light as a rudimentary incubator, feeding him with a dropper. With a medical condition known as primordial dwarfism, it caused dela Cruz to reach the height of only 2 feet 9 inches (0.83 meters) tall. Being devout Catholics, dela Cruz's mother showed their devotion to their faith by dressing and parading a young dela Cruz as Santo Niño each year for the annual Baclaran parade. Dela Cruz became popular in the neighborhood and his mother Rita felt he should become an actor. In 1968, dela Cruz's father died after falling down a ladder at work.
According to Celing, as a child dela Cruz was fascinated with action films and started to study them. Neighbours of dela Cruz began to notice him climbing on clothing lines doing acrobatics and pull-ups. Dela Cruz joined karate classes, where he learned quickly, and impressed his instructor, so much so that the instructor would perform demonstrations with dela Cruz to promote the school. During one of these demonstrations, dela Cruz was noticed by producer and actor Peter Caballes of Liliw Productions. Dela Cruz's mother, who had a hard time raising five boys, allowed Peter and his wife Cora Ridon Caballes to take dela Cruz under their helm for a film career.
1975 to 1981: Early roles and breakthrough
In 1976, dela Cruz received his first billing as Weng Weng, which would be his pseudonym for the rest of his career, when he co-starred in Silang Matatapang and Sila...Sa Bawat Bangketa.
Comic actor Rodolfo Vera Quizon Sr., better known as Dolphy, was friends with Peter Caballes, who introduced him to dela Cruz. Quizon felt he could use dela Cruz in a comedy film and hired him to act for his company RVQ Productions. Their first collaboration was the spy-spoof film The Quick Brown Fox. Dela Cruz played Quizon's sidekick. The movie was released on November 6, 1980.
On February 13, 1981, Stariray premiered. It's Dolphy's comedy vehicle and dela Cruz plays a supporting role, in it Dolphy plays Serafica a Cinderella type character who is forced to crossdress and serve his dominating mother and brothers who run a crime syndicate. Serafica eventually joins the police, to defeat his brothers, and is trained by the police chief and the strategic planner (dela Cruz). On May 29, Agent 00 was released. In it dela Cruz plays the lead as the character Agent OO. To prepare him for the role, director Eddie Nicart, an accomplished actor and stuntman who would direct all of dela Cruz's leading roles from that point on, gave him the same training he received with the SOS Daredevils, a stuntman training company. As well as taking care of dela Cruz's training for the rest of his career, Nicart also expanded his training in karate and acting. Nicart doubted dela Cruz's suitability for the role due to his intellectual and physical limitations, but changed his mind when he realized how collaborative and brave dela Cruz could be. On June 12, Da Best In Da West was released. It's a western spoof starring Dolphy as a sheriff with dela Cruz in a minor role as one of his deputies. On the 2nd of July, Legs... Katawan... Babae! premiered. It's a musical film vehicle for the disco group Hagibis, dela Cruz appears in a musical number. For Your Height Only was released on September 2. The film would turn dela Cruz into a legend. In it he returned as secret Agent OO. The film was a hit and at Imelda Marcos' first Manila International Film Festival, where he became a global sensation. Filipino filmmakers saw it as a real opportunity to showcase their talents; however, dela Cruz became the center of attention by making daily appearances demonstrating stunts, martial arts, and exercises. For Your Height Only outsold every other film at the festival for international distribution. Film distributor Tony Maharaj, who bought the film for the West Indies, said the film opened at number one on the same day as Steven Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark and remained there for two weeks. Filipino film historians Teddy Co and Ed Lejano, as well as Marcos' daughter Imee said dela Cruz's success shattered every other participant's artistic aspirations. According to director Eddie Nicart, a short-lived Weng Weng craze followed in the Philippines.
1982 to 1986: action film star
On March 25, 1982, D'Wild Wild Weng was released. In the film is dela Cruz is paired with Max Alvarado, they play a duo who are sent to the countryside to investigate the murder a mayor and his family. On July 23, The Impossible Kid premiered, with dela Cruz returning in the role of Agent OO. The character now works for the Manila branch of Interpol. On December 25, dela Cruz shared the top billing with Berting Labra and Pia Moran in The Cute... The Sexy n' The Tiny.
Between the time of his breakthrough and 1985, dela Cruz was announced as one of the supporting actors in another action film by Liliw Production Tatak: Magnum (1983) starring local actor Nelson Anderson who at the time was under a contract with them. It is unknown if dela Cruz filmed any scenes for the film, since he is not in the finished product. At the time, Anderson said he and dela Cruz were in talks for two projects. First the production house received the photos of a then-unknown Jean-Claude Van Damme, and were creating a film where Van Damme would have acted with both of them. The second came after Anderson introduced dela Cruz Italian neorealist films, they planned to make a dramatic characters based action comedy remake of Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thieves (1948). Both director Bobby A. Suarez and actress Marrie Lee said they were working with dela Cruz on a project that never materialized. According to Suarez, dela Cruz would have played his own version of Superman. There was a rumor that he did a film with fellow actor Palito who also had lead roles in spy films parodies. Palito said they would regularly perform live in sketches where both would wrestle and that they were simply guest in a film that he doesn't remember. According to both Eddie Nicart and Celing, dela Cruz worked at as an agent at Ninoy Aquino International Airport, where he would mostly be there to welcome foreigners, due to Cora Caballes' friendship with the head of the airport. Dela was authorised to carry a gun Fidel V. Ramos dela Cruz, who at the time was chief-of-staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
In January or February 1986, dela Cruz appeared at a Ferdinand Marcos' reelection rally showing support. Around that time, dela Cruz received a trophy from the Starlight Cultural Foundation - Pasig Cultural Affair for International Action Star of Showbiz World. The trophy is dated on February 22; afterward no public appearance by dela Cruz is known.
1987 to 1992: return to obscurity and death
Peter and Cora Caballes retired from filmmaking circa 1987, and dela Cruz returned to his hometown and lived in poverty, under the care of his mother and brother Danny. Celing dela Cruz, said that Weng Weng impostor appeared on TV even after his death. Circa 1990, dela Cruz had a stroke which left him invalid, with half of his body paralyzed until his passing in 1992.
1993 to present day: posthumous success and aftermath
In the mid 2000s, with the arrival of the Internet and YouTube, various clips and films in their entirety starring dela Cruz were uploaded. Gradually, he found a new audience as a cult film star. At the time dela Cruz's life was vague, while some elements of it had a base in reality, most of what was written about him was myth. Around this time director Andrew Leavold started to make a documentary to discover his life behind the Weng Weng label. The discoveries about him led to two theatrically released documentaries. First it inspired Mark Hartley's Machete Maidens Unleashed! (2010) which focuses on the history of films made in the Philippines during dela Cruz's active years, and had a segment dedicated to him. The second one about his life, The Search for Weng Weng (2013), was directed by Leavold, who also followed it up with a book by the same name, some of which details that didn't make the final cut or discovered later. Both films were prominent on festival circuits and critically acclaimed.
Research made showed that dela Cruz's films are likely lost, partly lost, poorly preserved or in storage. Lost Weng Weng movies are Agent OO and The Cute... The Sexy n' The Tiny. Both sequels of Agent OO as well as D'Wild Wild Weng are partially lost, since the original Tagalog language audio tracks were never found. The U-matic master tape of ABS-CBN Dolphy's The Quick Brown Fox disintegrated upon its last screening at their facilities.
On August 29, 1992, Ernesto dela Cruz, age 34, died in Pasay City, of a heart attack. As described by his brother on that morning dela Cruz, who was already bed stricken due to a previous heart attack, fell from his bed and was found unconscious. Dela Cruz was rushed to the hospital where he was pronounced dead. The official cause is heart attack due to hypertension.
Celing and Filipino actor Franco Guerrero said that dela Cruz never had any romantic relationships. Guerrero said that dela Cruz said he would brag about sexual exploits but never saw his actual girlfriends. Director Dante Pangilinan said that dela Cruz had his first kiss on the set of Sila... Sa bawat bangketa (1977) after he asked him if he could get an onscreen kiss. When he said yes, dela Cruz was both delighted and nervous. Yehlen Catral, who played the damsel-in-distress in a dela Cruz film, said she helped him introduce himself to women. According to director Eddie Nicart if dela Cruz would get free from the set, he would immediately go where there is drinks and women, and would consistently ask their whereabouts.
Celing and Nicart said that dela Cruz had a good grasp of what was going around him, but was mentally slow. Guerrero described that dela Cruz had the mind of a ten-year-old and said that dela Cruz believed anything he said, whether it was real or imaginary. Actors Rez Cortez and Roland Dantes also asserted that dela Cruz had his own sense of reality. Cortez who acted in two film with dela Cruz said that he had trouble getting in touch with his emotions in order to express them. Cortez recalls once asking dela Cruz if he was lonely for which he replied yes I cried. Catral said she never noticed dela Cruz's childlike personality. She felt he had a good grip of what was going on and had adult conversations with him, but had an odd sense of humor, and thinks it is probably what led others to believe he was slow. Actor Nelson Anderson described him as complex adult, with an unexplored side to his talent.
Producer Peter and Cora Caballes were married when they discovered dela Cruz. During dela Cruz's prime, their account was that they adopted him ten years prior to the release of For Your Height Only (1981) to help him. In 1982 they released their last film with dela Cruz. According to both Nicart and film distributor John Kater, the couple separated. Peter left Manilla and Cora ran successfully as a city councilor.
Celing denies Peter and Cora Caballes' adoption account and said they just borrowed dela Cruz when needed, as if he would go on a holiday with them. Celing describes the couple as civil when visiting, but only dealt with their mother on business issues and promised her a house. Celing added that they never provided it or fully pay his brother, they abandoned him when they had a career change, and completely absent when dela Cruz became paralyzed. At dela Cruz's funeral Celing said that Peter paid for the casket paid and sent a minor amount of cash, while Cora paid for the service once visited by another of their brother.
On dela Cruz's work conditions, his contemporaries Rez Cortez, Nelson Anderson, Roland Dantes, Franco Guerrero, Rusty Santos, and his director Eddie Nicard found his financial treatment appalling. For dela Cruz, Nicart said the Caballes provided shelter, care, travelled the world, while underpaid at $500 per films with a per diem. Nicart said the Caballes were wealthy and treated dela Cruz like a dog. They would be friendly to him, but would ask him to leave the room in any business meeting or when inconvenient. On that matter, Anderson felt that dela Cruz was treated like a puppet by everyone and the Caballes were too possessive not allowing him to grow and think for himself. Cortez said, while working on the first film where dela Cruz received the top billing, he suspected that dela Cruz wasn't well compensated. Cortez knew dela Cruz's producers took care of his basic needs, but found it strange when he saw dela Cruz arrive on set in a utility vehicle and not his private car. While feeling dela Cruz deserved a better compensation, Cortez concluded that he was probably happy, considering where he came from and to get a great deal of life experiences. Film editor Edgardo "Boy" Vinarao, said that from his point of view dela Cruz was treated like a little prince. According to the filmmakers of the documentary The Search for Weng Weng, when they tracked down the couple to get their account, Peter had died in 2007 while Cora never responded on the matter.
On dela Cruz's work ethic, director Nicart, a former actor and stuntman, had doubt on dela Cruz leading a film due to his limitations and also his inability to read a script. Prior to the shoot of their first film Agent OO (1981) and for the rest of dela Cruz's career Nicart trained him with the stunt company SOS Daredevils. To further dela Cruz's abilities, they gave him acting, karate, fight choreography, and stunts lessons. Nicart found him to be so collaborative and fearless, having never refused any stunt, that soon enough he sensed that dela Cruz would become famous. On dela Cruz's talent, Dolphy praised his sense of humor and physical skills, while Guerrero thinks highly of his acting abilities.
Dela Cruz had several friendships throughout his career. Guerrero describes that the first time he met dela Cruz children were around who did not know what to make him, and when dela Cruz spoke the little girls got scared. He found dela Cruz hilarious. A fond memory he holds, is that dela Cruz often taunted him to go sparring, where he would pretend to be way too scared to go along. Anderson's account of his friendship with dela Cruz was at the time when both were under contract with Liliw Production. He said it was polluted by the possessive attitude of producers Peter and Cora Caballes. When he started socializing with dela Cruz, he noticed his potential and felt he was put down by others. He recalls bringing dela Cruz at an Art house cinema to introduce him to Italian neorealist films. Dela Cruz was enthralled by them. Together they watched Luis Buñuel's Los Olvidados (1950), Federico Fellini's La Strada (1954), and François Truffaut's The 400 Blows (1959). Dela Cruz was particularly fond of Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thieves (1948), on his first viewing he cried. They agreed to make an action-comedy remake with a human touch. Anderson also talked about dela Cruz's fearlessness. When he gave dela Cruz a ride on his motorcycle, dela Cruz was upset when he asked him to wear a belt and a helmet. He also recalls that a man once tapped his hand on dela Cruz's head, who stood up for himself. It led to a situation where Anderson had to separate them. Shortly after Anderson voiced concerns regarding both dangerous working conditions and mispayments to the Caballes, they separated them. They would tell him that dela Cruz was absent when he wasn't. Anderson parted ways with the company, never to see dela Cruz again. Catral stated that when she stopped acting that he and Dolphy were among the few she said goodbye to. Celing said that fellow actress Lotis Key attended dela Cruz's funeral.
Dela Cruz became a Marcos family's friends. President Ferdinand Marcos gave dela Cruz the title of agent. Dela Cruz endorsed Marcos for his 1986 reelection, and dela Cruz last known appearance was at one of his rally. According to director Dante Pangilinan, dela Cruz got to know them because Cora Caballes is the niece of General Prospero Olivas. According to Marcos' daughter Imee the whole family fell in love with him because dela Cruz's personal sense of humor was infectious. She went on to say that it was with her brother Bongbong with whom dela Cruz was the closest. Former first lady Imelda Marcos said the following about dela Cruz: The appearance of Weng Weng showed the great Filipino spirit. They can make a hero of a disabled, distorted guy. So everybody had a chance. They have such a democratic attitude. The Filipino have no prejudice. He entertained us. He was distorted but he could make us laugh and make us happy. What a talent, to have almost nothing and then to make people happy, I salute.
Martial arts, stunt work, and fitness
Family and neighbors of dela Cruz said he started training on his own at a young age, doing push ups, pull ups, and climbing on clothing lines to do acrobacies. Inspired by action films, he started training Karate which he maintained throughout his career. Some account say that for his size he was an impressive weight lighter and enjoyed parachuting.
Prior to the release of Agent OO (1981) director Eddie Nicart's account, who was an accomplished stuntmen and martial artist took over for his training with the stuntmen organisation ''SOS Daredevils''. It was told to him that dela Cruz was a black belt in Karate, he didn't believe it. He credited dela Cruz to have some skills but not on the level to be a leading men. With Nicart, dela Cruz had to restart back from white to black belt by their standards, while teaching him stunts. Nicart observed that even being mentally slow dela Cruz learnt quick because of his was cooperativeness. He concluded that dela Cruz became a real black belt in Karate with them and a first-rate stuntman who performed all of his own stunts fearlessly.
Dela Cruz is Philippines’ first international celebrity. First Lady Imelda Marcos who invested a lot of resources in Filipino Cinema, organized the first Manila International Film Festivals to promote the local productions to the rest of the world. Dela Cruz became the mediatic center of attention, making one appearance a day at the festival performing stunts, with exercise and Martial Arts demonstrations. This led for his film For Your Height Only to outsell every other local film by a very large margin and made and to this day is Philippines cinema's most exported film.
At the time, dela Cruz success was awkward in Philippines' film industry, that the Weng Weng image was uncomfortable since they had no other international figures. However directors Bobby A. Suarez and Tikoy Aguiluz felt that dela Cruz's success was glorious. Suarez said it made him very happy since it left the right people upset. Aguiluz went on to say he is our middle finger to Hollywood.
Dela Cruz became a cult film icon. While dela Cruz returned to obscurity in his home country, but worldwide cult films affectionadoes collected VHS copies of his films, and eventually uploaded them on the internet to become viral. This new audience appreciated the comical nature of dela Cruz's films, and were impressed with his talent in stunts and martial arts. With little information published on dela Cruz, rumors about his origins became folklore.
Renewed interest on dela Cruz's led to two critically acclaimed documentaries. In 2010, Mark Hartley's Machete Maidens Unleashed! a documentary film that dealt with the Filipino movie exploitation craze of the 1970s and 1980s, paid a special homage to dela Cruz's movie career. The basis of the first film was the 2007 rough cut of Andrew Leavolds's The Search for Weng Weng released in 2013, about discovering dela Cruz's life.
Dela Cruz is rumored to have been a comedian, a dentistry student, customs officer, to have live bestselling bootleg recording of him singing Frank Sinatra's "My Way" with former first lady Imelda Marcos, and real life secret agent.
According to Eddie Nicart, his friendship with the presidential family led President Marcos to give dela Cruz an official title of secret agent. Marcos offered him a senorita pocket pistol, which he carried on. Both Eddie Nicart and Celing said former chief-of-staff of the Armed Forces and future president Fidel V. Ramos gave work to dela Cruz at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, where he would mostly be there to welcome foreigners with the job title of agent. They said Ramos also authorised dela Cruz to carry a gun.
Actor Eddie Garcia and director Eddie Nicart said that dela Cruz helped the police several times, where they would put him through vents or tight areas so that he would open the front door for them. Garcia precised that it was for the Philippine Constabulary.
According to Ceiling the family accepted dela Cruz's size due to their mother's fascination with the image of Santo Niño de Cebú. Furthermore, Ceiling said that dela Cruz was dressed as the Saint for their yearly festivals, church plays, and that a lot of people believed he was a living version of him. Film director Peque Gallaga said he saw dela Cruz in full costume at the parade, and was involved in a laying of hands with supposedly healing powers.
Both his common collaborators, actor Dolphy and director Dante Pangilinan, said dela Cruz had an energy connected with luck. Pangilinan, whose early films have dela Cruz in the cast, said that he believes that it was dela Cruz's touch of good fortune gave him a bigger break as a director, luck, and personal growth.
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