Filipinos will never forget German Moreno, their ‘big brother’ in showbiz

The godfather of Philippine showbiz German Moreno was fondly known as Kuya Germs – kuya meaning “older brother”.

German ‘Kuya Germs’ Moreno cultivated generations of Filipino talent through his ‘That’s Entertainment’ show. He died on Friday at the age of 82. Robe Reyes / Rappler
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It was his relentless disposition that endeared German Moreno to Filipino audiences for more than half a century.

The godfather of Philippine showbiz was fondly known as Kuya Germs – kuya meaning “older brother”.

In 1986, he launched the youth-focused talent programme That's Entertainment, which ran for 10 years, ushering in a new era for the local film and television industries and launching the careers of more than 200 celebrities.

He was also the country's "Master Showman", hosting a late-night variety show called Walang Tulugan with the Master Showman, broadcast every Saturday since 1997. "Walang tulugan" translates as "no sleeping".

“They always ask me: ‘Why don’t you go and retire?’,” Moreno told me in 2011, when he was 77. “My God, I’ll get even weaker.” He paused, then continued with a smile: “I started on the stage, I will die on the stage.”

It did not quite turn out that way. Moreno died on Friday in hospital at the age of 82 after suffering a stroke the previous evening.

His nephew, John Nite, who co-hosted Walang Tulugan with Moreno until his final episode the weekend before his death, said he lived a full life.

“He touched many hearts through the years, and helped make dreams come true.”

Star-maker

Moreno’s storied career began in the 1960s, when he worked at one of Manila’s small theatres as a janitor and curtain-raiser.

Later, he performed as a stage comic and made the move to television as a presenter on the long-running lunchtime variety programme, GMA Supershow.

That's Entertainment is Moreno's great legacy. The daily talent programme, featuring a revolving cast of teenage aspirants performing song-and-dance numbers, discovered most of the country's biggest stars. They include Lea Salonga, Billy Crawford and Francis Magalona.

“When you think about it, I started reality TV,” Moreno told me. “When I’m in a restaurant or in the mall, people still scream at me: ‘Walang Tulugan! Kuya Germs, why don’t you bring back That’s?’”

A caring pioneer

As word spread of Moreno’s death, the Philippines went into collective mourning. Fans expressed their grief, while former proteges wrote tributes and shared memories. #KuyaGerms trended worldwide online. In response to public demand, his wake on Saturday was opened up to fans.

Moreno’s home television network, GMA-7, said it was “deeply mourning with the entire entertainment industry. His dedication will serve as an inspiration to all.”

I witnessed such dedication first-hand when I visited the set of Walang Tulugan in 2011. Within 20 minutes of shadowing Moreno backstage, no fewer than a dozen people had approached him to ask for advice or guidance: a production assistant asking him to approve the set design, a fan asking for money, a mother asking him to make her 7-year-old son a star, and many more.

Later, Moreno shared a revelation that stunned his peers and supporters when the interview was published: he was personally paying the salaries of his co-hosts and the guests on the programme.

“I fund it all, not the company [GMA-7],” he said.

When I asked, somewhat bluntly, how much he earned, Moreno replied: “Very little. But I don’t think about that anymore. I’m OK. At this age, I don’t think about myself anymore.”

Three hours later, Walang Tulugan finished filming. As the worn-out but happy audience ambled out of the television studio, Moreno slowly walked across the stage. His back was hunched. He looked exhausted. I decided it was best not to disturb him further, and just to leave without saying goodbye.

To my surprise, I saw him walking towards where I was standing, in a far corner of the studio.

“Have you eaten?,” he asked me, concealing the fatigue in his face. “Do you want me to ask someone to get you something?”

Kuya Germs will be a hard act to follow – and impossible to forget.

artslife@thenational.ae