More than week after Mario O’Hara’s passing on June 26 due to leukemia, friends and former colleagues poured out their memories of the acclaimed director’s colorful career in media and the performing arts industry.
One of them is Felix “Nonon” Padilla, founding artistic director of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Tanghalang Pilipino, who wrote a eulogy about his “level-headed,” “down-to- earth,” “gym rat” friend.
He recounts his first meeting with Mario during the early days of the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA), and how he transitioned from working in theater to radio, television, and finally to cinema, where he found his true passion in directing films.
Here is Nonon Padilla’s heartfelt eulogy for Mario O’Hara entitled Visse d’Arte (He Lived For Art):
"I met Mario in the early days of PETA when his good friend Lino Brocka cast him in a production, at Fort Santiago, of Agapito Joaquin’s Bubungan Lata.
"He was paired off with a young actress called Cecilia Bulaong. It was a one-act play, short but intense drama about domestic violence.
"CB, with those sparkling round eyes, gave an ‘over-the-top’ performance as the battered wife.
"I say ‘over-the-top’ because she was so young then, and still a virgin. As an actress, I mean!
"Mario, playing the spoiled-rotten husband, reciprocated with equal intensity.
"Their eyes would meet and fireworks happened. The more they searched for each other’s face for reaction, the heat increased to combustion.
"Here were two neophyte actors who were always giving their all, spilling their guts and bursting veins to the enormous enjoyment of the audience, which mainly consisted of instant hakot of park strollers, begged and cajoled, or physically pulled to watch performances at the Rajah Sulayman Theater.
"When Martial Law was declared, Cecile Guidote made a lifetime decision to put her artistic vocation on the back burner, and opted for a life in politics and exile.
"Lino, Lily Mendoza (now Mrs. O'Boyle), CB, and the other members of PETA, including myself, re-organized ourselves to start PETA anew.
"I was elected Artistic Director of the Kalinangan Ensemble. Our first season of 1973-74 was Carlo Goldoni’s Alitan Sa Venetia, with Lily and Mario as the romantic leads; and with a cast that included Mitch (Maya) Valdes, Melvi Pacubas, Mon Puno, Spanky Manikan, Rolly Papasin, Dante Balois, Lorli Villanueva, Ivy Cosio, Joe Gruta and Ernie Zarate.
"The next play I directed was Paul Dumol’s Cabesang Tales, which had previously won the CCP Literary contest.