Dinner gave us all a chance to unwind after all the pressures of a live television show. Susan and I were included this time because she had played the Virgin Mary, and we all managed to sit around one huge table. Alfred allowed Susan to choose the restaurant. I just went along for the ride.
“Alfred,” Sonja said, “you were a genius, but we couldn’t have had a better Virgin Mary. Don’t you all agree? She stole the show. Nevertheless, I want to congratulate and thank all of you, and to my director Alfred, a special thanks. Once again we pulled it off. Many of us are used to waking up in the middle of the night with nightmares about all that can go wrong, which makes us wonder why the hell we’re in this business. Often the hours and days leading up to the performance are no better. Then we learn to rely on each other and talented geniuses such as Alfred, who we know we can always count on. It would intimidate mere mortals. An ordinary person would cave in under the pressure.”
Alfred’s all-consuming passion was for perfection. Sonja went on, and she was careful to include other people, both cast and crewmembers, responsible for the production. She spewed out praise as if it were nothing, which needed to be said, acknowledged, and accepted, and just as some of them were put off by it, others knew they deserved it. “Alfred,” Sonja said, “wanted me to thank you all…we have forty-eight hours to bask in glory before we have to start all over again.” Alfred had already made that transition and had already started thinking about next week’s show, and then the show after that, though he wasn’t schedule to direct either one of them. This obsession meant that he didn’t always live in the present. Alfred wanted to have his hand in every production, by contributing in some way, and had made himself absolutely essential, and in so doing had jockeyed himself into the position of one-day taking over Sonja’s job. He could see her in the future going into politics full time…a probability he had anticipated long ago…and this was perhaps the reason he put so much energy into each television show. Sonja said, “He has been a god-send, and he has had the patience and the tenacity we’ve needed. If he didn’t want to make movies…he had made one by then…he would have a long and successful career with us.”
“Does he want to make movies,” I asked.
“Oh, yes,” Sonja quickly said. “In everything Alfred does, there is no letup. I do remember a time or two when he almost worked himself to death, but he wouldn’t let us discourage him.”
I was getting worried because something didn’t jive about Alfred. How in the world did he manage everything and still have time for Susan and me?
“He is one of the best directors we have here,” Sonja said. “I learn from him all the time.”
I wanted to see Alfred’s face when Sonja said that, but he was turned away from me, talking and seemly oblivious to the praise. By then people were busy eating and engaged in individual conversations with his or her neighbor and by and large weren’t listening to Sonja. I just happened to have been sitting next to her.
“He really has to get a life outside of television,” Sonja said quietly. “I worry that he’ll take on too much. I could lecture him, but I know it wouldn’t do any good. He won our equivalent of an Emmy last year, became well-known, but that was only one example of his many great shows, and we could lose him and, significantly, I let him go to make that one movie. He succeeded, of course…and expended an enormous amount of energy…and still did everything he could for me. When he went to Hawaii as a Mormon missionary, in 1966, I thought he might not come back. Because he didn’t let us know what was going on, I thought maybe some television outfit over there had latched onto him. Because he was such a hot commodity over here, I thought that we might’ve lost him. I knew his worth even then. From his very first show with us, I knew what we had. To take off a whole year to be a missionary seemed asinine to me. It prevented us from winning our equivalent of an Emmy that year, as if I didn’t deserve one anyway; this was a great source of unhappiness for me. He took his missionary work very seriously (I know this from what he has said); but I wouldn’t expect any less from him, knowing how he throws himself into every production. I just hope he doesn’t burn himself out. If I’d been him, I would’ve petered out long ago. Now I keep my fingers crossed. I don’t want to start any rumors now; so I won’t discuss my future plans. But in the meantime, I hope he doesn’t die on me.”
Sonja was in the middle of trying to decided whether to go into politics full time or not, and she told me that was one reason she was so concerned about Alfred’s health. If he worked himself to death he would be of little value to her. It was probably something that she didn’t have to worry about. In stead of running out of energy and ideas, the constant demands of having to mount a show week after week enlivened him. But one wondered whether he could keep that up, and that if not, then when would he have a breakdown. Sonja was clearly worried. If, by some miracle, Alfred never did run out of energy and ideas, then Sonja could see him taking her place. Then and only then could she turn her attention to her political aspirations. Otherwise, posthumously, Alfred would’ve been but a footnote in the history of Philippine television. (A short time later, Sonja did turn the operations of the studio over to Alfred, and used her television experience to launch a new career.) Throughout the evening there were, of course, many congratulatory remarks and toasts that commemorated the success of the show.
Alfred didn’t have time for a family. He never married, and was as an only child raised by a single mother. Had he had the time, he would’ve made a great husband and a great father. His mother, now in her sixties, lived in a grand old house in an area of Manila that had been overrun by squatters. He doted on her and went to see her at least once a week. She lived alone in that grand old house that had been in the family for several generations. Alfred had been pampered and precocious as a child and was about to go into engineering, when he saw his first stage production, THE PORTRIAT OF AN ARTIST AS A FILIPINO. Stage-struck after that, he then talked of little else, when he talked. His mother had great hopes for him, but we don’t know how she felt about him studying drama. Drama of all things seemed to some people a waste of his intelligence. They never suspected he would become a big time television and movie director, the Hitchcock of Tagalog movies.