A Star is Born! Tessie Agana
Tessie Agana, born in 1942, was a prominent child star actress in the 50s. She began acting at six and quickly made a big name by doing numerous movies and coveting the lead role in “Roberta,” which premiered in 1951.
‘Roberta,’ a shining moment for Sampaguita Films
‘Roberta’ is an endearing and top-grossing film of 1951, just six years after the war ravaged the country. It was based on the Tagalog Klasiks character by the “father of Philippine comics,” Mars Ravelo.
Directed by Olive La Torre, the movie tells the story of a young girl, Roberta, who faces the challenges of a rapidly changing society. She was a battered child caring for his brother amidst poverty during the post-war era.
The young Tessie worked alongside veteran actors Rosa Mia, José de Villa, Aruray, Boy Alano, and the iconic “contravida” Bella Flores.
The film won two prestigious Maria Clara Awards, and its revenue helped revitalize Sampaguita Pictures, whose film library was destroyed by fire during the Japanese occupation.
“Shirley Temple of the Philippines”
Tessie was the nation’s “Little Sweetheart.” She was dubbed the “Shirley Temple of the Philippines,” who, like her, began acting at a young age and inspired millions of people, especially during difficult times.
Although her film career in the Philippines was relatively short, she graced 40 movies, 18 of them alongside her mother, Consuelo Vera Rigotti (1922-2012), also known as “Linda Estrella.”
Together, the mother-daughter duo had millions of fans and followers worldwide.
Moving to America
At 14, Tessie and her family moved to Maryland in 1956 and later to Northwest Indiana. She left behind a thriving career.
During that time, only a handful of Filipino celebrities, like Cesar Ramirez (one of Sampaguita’s leading men) and Rusty Alzona (The Ambassadors), left their showbiz careers for the U.S.
Away from the spotlight, Tessie spent the rest of her teen years vibing Elvis and fangirling Hepburn. It was the heyday of great American entertainment.
In 1964, Tessie married Dr. Rudy Jao (co-founder of Chicago’s Philippine Medical Association) and settled in the windy city for a time. They named their first child ‘Marita Roberta.’
In 2022, the Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences (FAMAS) honored Mrs. Agana-Jao with the Lifetime Achievement Award.
“An Intimate Portrait of My Mother”
In 2023, Mylene Richardson, Tessie’s daughter, published a biographical book: ‘The Legend of Tessie Agana Beloved Child Star of the Philippines: An Intimate Portrait of My Mother.’
Mylene offers a glimpse of a bygone era and their shared voyage of self-discovery as Asian-Americans—highlighting the profound connection of a daughter and mother who grapple with dementia.