A bright idea really, if we go by how people are amazingly interested in everything showbizâ€”even in such matter-of-fact things like Ruffa Gutierrez is all ready to set up home in Barcelona, where husband Ylmaz Bektas has already picked their new house, or such factoids like Richard Gomez, not Lucy Torres, is the real cook in the family.
Still, a daily blog may be tough. I have three dogs that expect me to drive them to the shaded paths of UP, where they walk and sniff, walk and sniff, then rest and drink and think. That takes up time. But a blog thatâ€™s irregular, updated as often as there isÂ time and something to say, looks workable. So â€œJo-Ann Chatsâ€ will now appear here in PEP, if with erratic frequency.
Where do we begin? Well, the hands-down choice has to be the woman whoÂ is possibly and arguably the loveliest face in local entertainment todayâ€”Gretchen Barretto.
Consistently, Gretchenâ€”also called Gretch, Greta, La Greta in an ascending order of aweâ€”is one of three most talked-about stars in the country. This, I gather from TV ratings, magazine print orders, and dinner-table talk among both Pag-Asa Bliss ex-neighbors, NGO workers, and Penn-graduate friends. (The other two, by my reading, are Kris Aquino and Ruffa Gutierrez.)
Last I checked, the media coverage has GretchenÂ on the losing end. Sheâ€™s supposed to be the “diva,” the â€œprima donna,â€ the “big star” who came with bodyguards and yayasÂ lugging her â€œwhole houseâ€ toÂ a shoot.
I know that she did bring her “whole house”â€”or at leastÂ hauled from there roughly 30 pairs of completely unused signature shoes boughtÂ at a recent Singapore tripâ€”toÂ PREVIEW magazine’sÂ cover pictorial for its December 2006Â issue,Â whichÂ Gretchen happened to be doing with Dawn, Ruffa, and Angel Aquino. This was where it really all began.
The buzz now is thatÂ Gretchen was â€œshowing off,â€ that she was deliberatelyÂ making herÂ co-stars, who didn’t have the same multiple-costume choices,Â feel disenfranchised.Â The thinking being thatÂ anyoneÂ lugging, to just one shoot, that many Valentinos and Balenciagas inÂ those huge Louis VuittonsÂ must be showing off.
As a rule, GretchenÂ indeed goes to shoots with her microwave in tow. SheÂ did not, to the PREVIEW pictorial, but she did, to the Pantene commercial shoot that followed, where once again she, Dawn, Ruffa, and AngelÂ formed the celebratedÂ crop of beauties. From there, the buzz just got louder.
Through all this, Dawn has made herself incommunicado. She has not picked up her phone or responded to texts, when and where these calls threatened to be about her and Gretchen.
My last communication with Dawn was last Sunday (Nov. 26), by text, but it was strictly about Jacobo, her one-year-old son, who will be introduced, Dawn says excitedly, to Santa Claus this Christmas! I deliberately did not ask anything about the tiff. I figure, if a person is keeping rigidly silent, she must have her reasons. Leave her be.
GRETCHEN & TONYBOY. For her part, Gretchen has reactedâ€”and how.Â IÂ figure it’sÂ to be expected. She is the person under fire here, obviously. And she does have a name and an image to protect.
Because, say what you will, but Gretchen has definitely worked on being the loving and loyal, if gregarious and irreverent, partner of a low-key billionaire businessman. She still speaks her mind, as in the past, but she also clearly respects the non-negotiables laid down by Tonyboy Cojuangco, which includes, yes, not showing off!
She is also, the way I see it, truly in awe of Tonyâ€™s brainpower. Not surprisingly. After all, the man is a summa cum laude graduate of the Ateneo de Manila University, a post-graduate degree holder from Stanford University, and a smart enough businessman to have made a serious fortune outside the Cojuangco family inheritance.
For Tonyboy, Gretchen has consciously worked on a shift, if not in her name, then certainly in her image.
Gretchen herselfÂ may not agree with this. She always likes to say that she needs to be herself, and that local high society, to which her partner has belonged from birth, is not going to intimidate her.
And that could be rightâ€”but not getting intimidated doesn’t mean not adjusting to the ways of that society.Â Gretchen has. At society weddings the couple have to attend, for instance,Â she certainly can’t talk the way she does when with her gregarious gay friends in showbiz!
So a Gretchen BarrettoÂ reacting badly to the media blast is totally expected. What is aÂ sight to beholdÂ are the seismic shifts that those reactions undergo within dramatically short periods. The girl actually plays like a movie!
But letâ€™s not get ahead of the story, even if Iâ€™m trying to tell it as quickly as possible. This is a blog, right, but even blogs have to be accurate!
THE EMOTIONAL UPSET.Â Things heated up forÂ Gretchen on Nov. 16, a Thursday, when ABS-CBNâ€™s chief entertainment man, Mario Dumaual, was heard asking who it was that acted like a diva in a shoot starring the four pretty women.
Later,Â Mario would tell someone from Gretchenâ€™s camp that when he discovered that the clues all pointed to Gretchen, he himself dismissed it as a non-story. Gretchenâ€™s camp quote Mario as saying, â€œThatâ€™s not news. Gretchenâ€™s always a diva, so whatâ€™s new?â€ Or something hilarious like that.
Sounded hilarious to me, anyway, and even to persons in Gretchenâ€™s campâ€”but not so to Gretchen.
In a flash, Gretchen went from shocked toÂ hurt to angry (Nov. 16, morning till evening), when sheÂ called her manager Boy Abunda, then in HK, on the phone, and had her handler Bettina Aspillaga, then with an old friend visiting from NY, rushing over to her DasmariÃ±as Village mansion.
Within hours, Gretchen had jumped to confrontational (Nov. 16, late morning till 9 p.m.), when she gathered Bettina, Ruffa Gutierrez, and her old friend Anna Abiera in her DasmariÃ±as dining room for a powwow.
It was then that Dawn, who was on the phone with Gretchen,Â decided she would go over and join them so they could all talk this out. Fine! said Gretchen.
THE DAWN-GRETCHEN EXCHANGE. And so began several hours of an exchange that went roughly like this:
Yeah, I said those things…
But why, what did I do?
You were making me feel bad.
Why didnâ€™t you tell me?
Everyone was talking about you!
Everyone, everyone? Which one?
Si ano, si ano at siâ€¦
Ok, letâ€™s call them all right now!
(A series of calls follows. One by one, the persons called denied they said those things. Those that did not deny said they didnâ€™t intend them to sound mean, that they were just jesting. It is not absolutely certain if they were telling it as it was, or were simply scared to get on Gretchenâ€™s wrong side.)
I thought we were friends!
Youâ€™re competing with everyone all the time!
Why, because I wear Prada and Gucci?
Why did you bring those clothes to the shoot?
We were told to bring our own clothes!
Why did you bring those things?
Those are my clothes!
You just want to make us feel bad.
Why should I want to do that?
Youâ€™re competing all the time!
What? Competing? Iâ€™m just having fun!
THE EMBRACE. The heated exchange went on and onâ€”but just as suddenly, it was over. Still in conference in the Dasma house, stillÂ surrounded byÂ the same set of people, Gretchen had exhausted herself, she had let it all out, and now she was open to reconciling withÂ her old friend (Nov. 16, evening).
She made the move to embrace Dawn. Dawn embraced her back.
All was well again between these two extraordinarily beautiful ladiesâ€”who, in their 20s,Â were very dear friends who did everything together, including visiting cosmetology doctors for an enhancement procedure or two.
The following day, however, Gretchen was back to feeling hurt (Nov. 17, daytime), and a few hurtful or hurtingâ€”Iâ€™m not sure which description is exactâ€”text messages flew between the two of them once more.
Nevertheless, everything was contained. They had all decided to keep quiet, and they did. They knew it was inappropriate for them to be acting like wildcats. They werenâ€™t starlets any more, they were established stars!Â Not only that, they were mothers, for heavens sake!
But I nowÂ believe that, although words bad and good were exchanged to clear the air, and the nice embrace did happen, the emotional fallout from the ugly incident was still there, lurking dangerously. Another trigger, and there was bound to be another outburst.
Emotions after all do take longer to fix than the mind, especially ifÂ a once-deep friendshipâ€”such as it was for Gretchen and Dawnâ€”had been in cold storage for more than a decade.
â€œPRIMA DONNA.â€ So it was not totally surprising that a seismic shift would occur again. This time, the trigger was an email published by Dolly Anne Carvajal in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. (Out Nov. 23, the column must’ve been written byÂ Dolly Anne, said to be the most widely read Inquirer columnist online, at least two days earlier. Columnists normally have a deadline two days in advance of issue date.)
Unsourced and unattributed, the email made the public guess who the â€œprima donnaâ€ was at the shoot of Gretchen, Dawn, Ruffa, and Angel.
Ruffa, who had notÂ left for Barcelona at the time, was the first to read it.Â As is her style, RuffaÂ called Gretchen right away. And very Ruffa, she worried, â€œGirl, that can only be you or me! Weâ€™re the only ones with bodyguards and signature clothes! Canâ€™t be Dawn, she doesnâ€™t naman bring bodyguards, and alangan namang thatâ€™s Angel. Baka theyâ€™ll think itâ€™s me, oh my gosh.â€
At that very hour, Gretchen was shooting for the January cover of YES! She was at the Holiday Inn, our pictorial venue, where she had arrived promptly at 8 a.m. and had come complete with her designer clothes and Louis Vuitton suitcases filled with branded shoes and trinkets. Just as YES!Â had requested. See, she didnâ€™t know exactly what we wantedÂ for theÂ shoot, so we said just bring them on. And oh yes, she also brought with her the now-famous microwave.
UGLY WRITEUP, UGLY FACE. Gretchen knew all about the unflattering writeup by then, but she wanted no talk about it in her presence. When I began to read a Xerox-copy of the article out loud for the others, Gretchen hushed, â€œUh-uh, ayokong marinig. Nagsu-shoot ako ng fashion. Kailangan maganda ako. Di ako puwedeng pumangit.â€ I went on to read it anyway, but quietly. And as I did, I thought, Oh-oh, trouble.
To compound the problem, I got a phone call from Karen Pagsolingan, managing editor of PEPâ€”correct, this very Philippine Entertainment Portal you’ve logged in to, where Iâ€™m editor-in-chiefâ€”saying that we had a contributed article on the Gretchen-Dawn tiff. She read it to me on the phone.
This one wasÂ now far moreÂ detailed than the published email.Â This one actually tracked how Gretchen arrived with her bodyguards and yayas, how the luggage were unloaded, how herÂ special dishes andÂ expensive plastic containers were laid out, how a microwave was in attendance, and so on.
But once again, this one had anonymous sourcing. Later in the day, IÂ would mentionÂ the article to Gretchen and to Backroom’s Bettina Aspillaga. It sounded damaging; I wanted their side.
After the six-hour YES! pictorial (counting makeup, change of set, food breaks for the staff), a tired Gretchen sat down for an interview. Incidentally, by then she hadÂ been in her high-heeled designer shoesÂ before our photographer forÂ at least four hours straight!
I did the interview with YES! associate editor Anna Pingol. At some point, after talking fashion and makeup and bling-blings, we brought up this latest blast against her.
THE MICROWAVE. Gretchen was surprisingly coolâ€”at least, she began that way.
â€œWhere did that come from? It canâ€™t be from the people we worked with! I didn’t feel any tension or problem there at all. Everyone was nice and treating us well! We were all having so much fun!”
Anyone who knows Gretchen knows that the woman is highly articulate. She has the words to match her sentiments, she knows just how to express herself, sheâ€™s a great storyteller. But that is also to say: you donâ€™t want to be on the receiving end of her tirade.
True enough, there she was, trying to find out who the culprit wasâ€”and while at it,Â failing to control her temper. â€œWhat is it to anyone if I bring a microwave to a shoot?!! What is the big deal with a microwave? Thatâ€™s only P2000! Gusto nila bigyan ko pa siya?â€ she saidâ€”clearly raring, if for that split second,Â for a fight.Â
ANOTHER BAD STORY. As the meaning of the latest newspaper blast dawned on her, Gretchen became increasingly biting with her comments. After all, she knew everyone in the country was going to say one more time: There goes that Gretchen woman!
There was already the Elevator Incident. (â€œNot true. Never happened,â€ Gretchen said a long time ago. My own research, which led me to one of the younger owners of the RCBC building where the elevator incident was supposed to have happened, came up with the same thing: â€œNot true. Thatâ€™s a myth.â€)
And there were already those scandalous sightings of Gretchen in malls with six or more bodyguards. (â€œI rarely go to malls. I hate shopping. I love buying things I like, but I hate shopping! Iâ€™d rather have coffee and conversation and eat good food. But yeah, I move with bodyguards. Pero kailangan ko pa bang sabihing may mga threats sa amin? Kailangan ko pa bang ipaliwanag na kundi naman kelangan ang bodyguard, di hindi ako magbo-bodyguard? E may magagawa ba ako kung si Tony ay kilala in business and politics, and there are those who wish him harm?â€)
At this point, let me put in a word. For the YES! shoot, we were actuallyÂ thankful that Gretchen had brought her “whole house!” (I know Gretchen would object. If that were her “whole house,” that would make her “poor,” and that, in her book, isÂ ”not nice!”) Anyway, I admire organization. I like efficiency. I bow toÂ the smooth orderÂ of things. Iâ€™m a Virgo, what can I say? I even suspect that Gretchen, who is a Pisces, has a Virgo ascendant!
OBSESSIVE COMPULSIVE. Gretchen isÂ clearly OCâ€”obsessive compulsive, if you willâ€”about order. At home, she is that way; outside, she is that way, too.Â At the YES! pictorial, sheÂ had everything organized just so, allowing usÂ to pick from her clothes without delay or mess.
All those branded shoes and luggage, designer casuals and Inno Sotto gownsâ€”they wereÂ grouped and tagged inÂ such a rational order, our shoot went ever so smoothly, with a lot of laughs in between. I not only had no complaints, I felt beatific.
We hadÂ thisÂ fantastic cover shootâ€”andÂ much of it was thanks to a star who was such a pro!
Even the crazy white microwave was no issue with me. I was thankful she had it there to heat whatever it wasÂ she needed! And the plastic containers? They were a pricier brand, but they were still, to me, just Tupperware. They were simply there to separate the sliced fruits from the soup from the chop suey.
See, if she hadnâ€™t brought in all that paraphernalia, she might have bothered me about getting them for her! As it was, we didnâ€™t feed her a thing. She always liked asking what we were eating, true.Â But give it to herâ€”she was disciplined.
She never once touched the scones or the cakes or the tuna turnovers. And she never even got near the sausages and fish and steaks because the main course was served in the main dining hall, while sheâ€”bless her!â€”never left the pictorial room. Except forÂ trips to the ladies room, she neverÂ stopped for a break until the entire shoot was done.
TWO YAYAS. What she did wasÂ assign one yaya to take charge of her things, pulling out belts and dresses as needed. Meantime, she had the other yaya hand over to herâ€”at different intervals throughout the six-plus hours we workedâ€”the kamote, melon, papaya, atis, brown rice, broccoli soup, squash soup, chopsuey, tissue, and stainless fork. This was the range of her diet.
And always, she ate mainly in between takes. This way, Darren Tieste, our Australian photographer who never seemed to get hungry himself, didnâ€™t have to stop. Half the time, in fact, Gretchen was standing while eating. Partly, she was being careful with the fabulous Inno Sotto gowns we hadÂ borrowed for the shoot. And partly, she didnâ€™t want to upset the photo setup.
Gretchen BarrettoÂ was, to put it categorically one more time, simply a pro.
GRETCHENâ€™S TEARS. In any case, in Gretchenâ€™s interview with us, her general mood was explanatory, bordering on theÂ argumentative. It was her tone and language thatÂ kept shiftingÂ from sharp to musing to forgiving to angry again. In the next two hours, itÂ would beÂ that way.
Then toward the end, tears began to fall down her face. She wiped them away, but they fell again.
The tears came at the point where she began to recall howÂ life was for her when she had little money for clothes and was working like mad to save. She recalled how her friend Nadia Montenegro and Anna Abiera treated her to steak dinners and lent her stuff to use for guest appearances because she really didnâ€™t have much.
Gretchen would say now: â€œI appreciate all that. I remember all that. Our friendship was based on our liking and helping each other na walang kapalit. Hanggang ngayon, now when I can buy anything I want, I remember those times.
“Kaya never ako magmamatapobre, never ako magpapanggap na mayaman ako dati. Di importante yon sa akin. Ang buhay pabago-bago. Iâ€™m just happy I am where I am today, but I know where I came from.â€
She added: â€œKaya nga I donâ€™t understand why someone canâ€™t be happy for me now that I have these things. I am always happy for my friends. When Ruffa has this or that, I get excited for her: â€˜Hey, girl, thatâ€™s cool, whereâ€™d you get that?!â€™
“Why should anyone mind if I have five Louis Vuittons and I bring Gucci, Balenciaga, Valentino, and Prada to a shoot? I was told toÂ bring extra clothes, so I brought. I canâ€™t help it if all my clothes are Balenciaga and Valentino!â€
Then, breaking into a lighter mood, she said: “Of course, I’m exagd. You know, they tell me to bring 10, I bring 100! But I don’t mean anything by that, that’s just me!”
THE BITCH IN BALENCIAGA. Strange as it may sound to those who think that bringing a microwave is over-the-top behavior, I believe Gretchen when she says: â€œI donâ€™t have inggit. I enjoy reading someone like Celine Lopez, who says, â€˜Iâ€™d rather be the bitch in Balenciaga instead of the badly-dressed girl bitching about the bitch in Balenciaga,â€™ or something like that.
“Yeah, why not? If I can wear a Valentino, why not? And besides, I never comment on somebodyâ€™s outfit unless Iâ€™m asked. I donâ€™t make lait. You like that, go ahead, as long as youâ€™re happy, Iâ€™m happy!â€
That was Thursday (Nov. 23), when she was ready to bring the fight to anyone.
The next morning, Friday (Nov. 24), Gretchen and I were on the phone. We talked from 8-10a.m, something weâ€™d been doing every now and then. Her voice was calm, melodic, nice. She was sounding in control, content, and at peace with herself.
At one point, she actually said: â€œYou can write this. I mean itâ€¦ Iâ€™m so loving my life. I cannot complain. If I complain pa, baka sabihin ng Diyos, â€˜Oy, sumusobra ka na. I gave you all these blessings na, umiiyak ka pa riyan.â€™ So really, I am so loving my life.â€™â€
She added, her voice filling with laughter: â€œAt kawawa ba yong maraming LV [Louis Vuitton]? Iâ€™d rather be the bitch in Valentino! Iâ€™ve decided Dawn cannot bring me down.â€
â€œDAWN IS MY FRIEND.â€ All the same,Â Gretchen wanted to end with: â€œBut I donâ€™t want a quarrel with her. Dawn is my friend, kaya di ko alam why she said those things about me. But I donâ€™t want to fight anybody. Ayoko lang na may tatapak sa akin because then Iâ€™ll fight back.
â€œBut really, at the end of the day, I cannot complain. At the end of a shoot, I go home. I have Tony and Dominique, and they love me. They are my life! Like I went home late one time, and I feel guilty about it. Iâ€™m thinking, Iâ€™m back in showbiz, I have all these pictorials and shoots. Baka Iâ€™m not being a good mother or a good wife?
â€œSo that night I went home, Tony was watching something on TV and Dominique was there doing her thing. They were quiet. Tahimik naman yong pamilya ko. When I arrived, ang dami kong kuwento! You know whatâ€¦hala, sige na ako. Tuloy-tuloy na. Sabi ni Tony, â€˜Dumating ka lang, umingay na ang bahay.â€™ Ayun, masaya kami, masaya na ang bahay, maingay na uli.â€
Gretchen and I ended the conversation with neither of us certain about how much to write, or not to write, about the “prima donna” episode. She didn’t want to fight with anyone, she said. But she wanted to clear her name, she also said.Â
I thought I put down the phone on a happy Gretchen.
CRYING ON RADIO. That very same day, Friday (Nov. 24), in the afternoon, Gretchen was on a radio interview with Cristy Fermin. And she was crying!
I didnâ€™t catch it myself, but from the littleÂ that I gathered, the trigger was Cristyâ€”who is close to Gretchen’s estranged sisters Claudine and Marjorieâ€”reminding Gretchen about the past. Reminding her that in one battle of long ago, she had only Marjorie on her side.
As the questions got closer and closer to home and family, Gretchen lost it. She was crying andÂ babbling thatÂ she misses her sisters. I believe that Gretchen has a major emotional vacuum to fill where her sisters Marjorie and Claudine once were.
They were a pretty tight sister act, and when that unity broke, Gretchen has had to weigh her changing emotions all the timeâ€¦ But this is another story, for another day.
CALM AND COOL AGAIN. The next day, Saturday (Nov. 25), around 11 p.m., I was again on the phone with Gretchen, butÂ for a very brief while. Ruffa had handed the phone to me, after speaking with Gretchen briefly herself.
I told Gretchen to come and make it to our small dinner party at Lucy Torres-Gomezâ€™s house. I said we all wanted to see her gown. She laughed. I also said we would all wait for her and Tony, whose birthday was coming around by midnight.
Gretchen giggled, and in hushed tones said, â€œAno ka? Paano kami makakatakas, nasa presidential table kami?â€ At the time, she and Tony were at a wedding reception at the Makati Shangri-la Hotel.
Well, they didnâ€™t make it to the dinner, but I felt good for her. She sounded calm and cool again.
Like I said, that was Saturday (Nov. 25). It is now Tuesday (Nov. 28). I donâ€™t know how Gretchen is feeling today, at this hour, wherever she is. I will not presume that the seismic shifts in emotion have ceased. I don’t really know.
For I have no doubt that Gretchen is a woman with a complex past and a complex present.
Meantime, I donâ€™t mind saying I like Gretchen best when sheâ€™s happy and telling funny stories about herself. But whatever todayâ€™s seismic shift may be for her, I truly wish her well, at every turn.