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ARIEL Ureta was in college when he became a radio DJ.

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HE HAS now come full-circle as a radio show co-host on DZMM.

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Doing what he loves best: perennial pageant host in the 1970s

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Wife Lydia Roa-Ureta with daughters Erika and Zoe who dont believe their dad was once a superstar. Photos by Romy Homillada Additional photos courtesy of Ariel Ureta



Ariel & company, forever

By Bayani San Diego Jr.
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 20:21:00 01/07/2010

Filed Under: Cinema, Television, Celebrities, Entertainment (general)

TALK about urban legends.

MANILA, Philippines ? At the height of martial law in 1972, an outrageous rumor made the rounds. TV host Ariel Ureta allegedly mocked the New Republic?s slogan, ?Sa ikauunlad ng bayan, disiplina ang kailangan.?

The curly-haired comic purportedly quipped on his show, ?Noontime High,? ?Sa ikauunlad ng bayan, bisikleta ang kailangan!?

The rumor mill went overdrive. Ureta was supposedly punished by the powers that be, ordered to huff and puff away on a bike across the Camp Crame grounds.

Now, the truth. ?It didn?t happen,? Ureta insisted, ?though that story went around the world and back.? Remarkable, having occurred before the age of SMS and the Internet.

It?s a testament to the power of rumors, he explained. ?A lot of people said they heard about it, but no one actually saw it on TV. People just assumed it was for real.?

That is understandable: Before Vic Sotto and Willie Revillame, Ureta was the noontime hosting giant.

To set the record straight, he insisted that he merely repeated the bisikleta joke, which he earlier heard from a help, to colleague Bong Lapira at the Channel 7 canteen. Just to prove that it was all idle chatter, Ureta pointed out: ?Three months later, I started hosting ?Metro Magazine,? a show with Imee Marcos (martial law strongman Ferdinand Marcos? daughter); and her siblings Bongbong and Irene said they were fans of my old show, ?Twelve O?Clock High.??

Presidential children as groupies? He was that popular. ?But my kids don?t believe that I used to be famous,? Ureta volunteered, without a hint of irony or disappointment. Once in a while, however, the kids would come home, momentarily converted: ?Our teacher and principal said they used to watch your shows.?

Like Seinfeld

Even ABS-CBN president Charo Santos-Concio has admitted that, as a coed fresh from Mindoro, she would line up at the studio to watch ?Ariel con Tina? (with Tina Revilla).

?He was a superstar,? said filmmaker Elwood Perez who, with Joey Gosiengfiao and Ishmael Bernal, co-directed Ureta?s two movies ?Zoom, Zoom, Superman!? (1973) and ?Si Popeye, atbp? (1974).

?He was like Jerry Seinfeld,? said Perez. ?I gave him freedom to improvise on the set. In ?Popeye,? he suggested wearing bakya (wooden clogs) with his cowboy costume. That was clever, considering the contextual definition of ?bakya? in those days.?

Multi-media roots

But before Ureta became a pop sensation, he was a whiz kid who apprenticed in various media: radio, theater, advertising and television. An Architecture student at the University of Santos Tomas, the 17-year-old auditioned for and landed a slot as radio announcer on dzQL.

?The station manager?s wife was my mom?s amiga [friend],? he recalled. His first job was to introduce records, mainly jazz and Broadway fare. ?I read the liner notes on the record and gave the time check.?

After a while, Ureta went back to school and joined the Aquinas Dramatic Guild. ?I often played the father of Bernardo Bernardo who was a matinee idol at the time,? he recounted.

In 1967, when ?Flower Drum Song,? with Maureen Tiongco as lead star, was toured across the country, members of the Aquinas troupe were recruited as stage hands. Ureta?s extensive knowledge of Broadway hits impressed Tiongco. ?I knew all the titles because I used to play them on dzQL.?

Ad job

When the production?s head, Pete Galvez, needed a recording of the national anthem, Ureta managed to borrow a copy from a Cebuano radio station because, ?I sounded like big-shot announcer Joe Cantada.? The recruit?s gregarious, gung-ho personality soon caught the attention of Galvez, who also managed the Philippine Advertising Counselors. He offered Ureta a job.

?I was like a kid in a candy shop,? Ureta said of his days with the agency. ?Imagine, an undergrad working in an air-conditioned office on Ayala! In my boarding house on Avenida Rizal, I had only an electric fan.? It was way better than school. ?I read all the books in the office library.?

He befriended an artist, Vic Penetrante, who shared with him techniques in animation and production.

For a PAC production of the Miss Caltex beauty tilt, Ureta put to good use all his newfound skills. Amazed, ABS-CBN production manager Lyn Madrigal offered him another job.

In 1968, Ureta became executive producer for the TV network, working with stars Pancho Magalona and Cachupoy on shows like ?Magandang Tanghali? and ?Kwentong Kutsero.?

Later, he went back to advertising as associate creative director, with stints in J. Romero and McCann-Erickson, among others.

Jingles, too

Once, when a girlfriend flew to South America, he found himself saddled with phone bills bigger than his salary. The cash-flow problem led Ureta to another career, as jingle composer. ?I wrote the jingle for Himlayang Pilipino and got my friend Caloy?s wife, Emily Abrera (future McCann chair), to sing it.?

Another girlfriend, a student activist, encouraged him to explore a career as TV star. ?I used to do stand-up comedy with other ad people like Gary Lising, Jun Urbano, Noel Trinidad, Subas Herrero and Tessie Tomas. We called ourselves the Walanghiya Talaga Gang,? he related. ?Even Comedy King Dolphy watched our shows at The Plaza in Makati.?

Exec producer

Ureta scored a guest spot on the gag show, ?Super Laff In,? on ABS-CBN. The stint led to a new job offer as executive producer. That was in 1972, just months before the declaration of martial law.

?The only thing that convinced me to try TV again,? Ureta admitted, ?was the chance to work with Maritess and Tina Revilla.? Beautiful girls were his weakness, and the two were the ?It Girls? on ?Stop, Look and Listen? and ?Twelve O?Clock High.?

Ureta was supposed to work behind the scenes but ended up on cam soon enough as the star. He became so popular, that rival channel KBS tried to pirate him for a team-up with Nora Aunor on a new show. He declined, ?out of loyalty to ABS-CBN.?

When martial law was declared, ABS-CBN was padlocked. Ureta moved to Channel 7 with ?Noontime Matinee,? and later to Channel 13, with ?Ariel con Tina.? When this folded, he mounted the weekly show, ?Ariel & Co. After Six,? on BBC 2.

Nio sighting

He recalled one production number with kids, where a 2-year-old mestizo stood out: ?He wasn?t dancing along with the rest. He had his own steps. He had confidence.? The tyke was Nio Muhlach who would become the Child Wonder of Philippine Cinema.

(He reunited with Nio in the 1977 movie, ?Jack and Poy.?)

Around the same time, Ureta top-billed the two hit movies, ?Superman? and ?Popeye.?

??Superman? held the record for biggest box-office hit from 1973 to 1981, besting the movies of Fernando Poe Jr. and Dolphy,? he said. ?Only ?Dear Heart,? starring Sharon Cuneta and Gabby Concepcion, beat that record.?

Being a star was a blast, said Ureta. ?Even if I?m No. 700 now, I experienced what it was like to be No. 1 once. It?s nice to have seen life from both sides, so to speak.?

From the late 1970s and through the ?80s, Ureta hosted several beauty pageants and TV shows, including the innocuous ?Patok na Patok? (on Channel 4) and the controversial ?For the Boys? (on Channel 13), which was canceled after airing the country?s first wardrobe malfunction during a sexy dance number by Ellen Esguerra.

Ureta diversified, directing GMA 7 sitcoms like ?UFO: Urbana, Felisa & Others,? which gave birth to Lou Veloso?s Truman character, and later ?Ober da Bakod,? which became the station?s flagship comedy program in the 1990s.

Full circle

Coming full circle, he has now returned to his twin roots: radio and ABS-CBN. He co-anchors the award-winning daily morning show, ?Todo-Todo, Walang Preno,? with Winnie Cordero on dzMM, the Kapamilya AM station.

He also plays Ryan Agoncillo?s dad on the Kapamilya comedy show ?George and Cecil,? reuniting with Tessie Tomas, who plays his wife. On the big screen, he was dad to Regine Velasquez in Viva?s ?Of All the Things? (formerly, ?Amboy and Berns?).

He has cornered, and mastered, the ?father role? market, he chuckled. ?The movies where I played dad to the lead stars, like ?Kasal, Kasali, Kasalo,? ?Sakal, Sakali, Saklolo? and ?Kimmy Dora,? were all big hits.?

He said the success of ?Kimmy Dora? caught him by surprise: ?I was afraid people would not watch it, but it clicked. It seems viewers now look for quality; not just star billing. It?s inspiring. I hope there will be more father roles for me.?

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