Shirley Gorospe, former beauty queen and one of the Philippines’ movie sweethearts from the 1950s to the ’60s, died in a hospital in Los Angeles, California, over the weekend after a brief battle with brain cancer.
She turned 73 on July 8, according to Digna Santiago, a scion of Premiere Productions, one of the country’s big four studios during that period, along with LVN, Sampaguita and Lebran. Gorospe and her late husband Zaldy Zshornack were Premiere’s top screen tandem at the time.
The actress died in Cedars Sinai hospital at about 10:45 a.m. on Sunday, according to information received from her sister-in-law, Lilia Zshornack.
A 1956 beauty titlist (Miss Philippines-California), Gorospe (real name: Shirley Endoso) was born in Hawaii to an Ilocano father and a Portuguese mother.
Santiago said it was her brother, filmmaker Cirio Santiago, who convinced Gorospe, then based in Los Angeles, to join the movies.
Gorospe made her screen debut in “Sweethearts,” directed by National Artist for Film Gerry de Leon in 1957.
“She told me she felt lucky that she was directed by the great Gerry de Leon,” Santiago recalled. “But since she barely spoke Filipino, she was often cast as a balikbayan.”
De Leon also directed Gorospe’s most popular movie, “Shirley, My Darling,” in 1958. Then she was cast opposite Fernando Poe Jr. in films like “Pitong Gatang” and “Tipin.”
Movie queen Susan Roces, Poe’s widow, told the Inquirer yesterday, “Shirley was soft-spoken, caring and loving. I miss her already.”
Marichu Maceda, scion of Premiere’s rival studio Sampaguita, added, “She had a lot of class and was very glamorous.”
Amalia Fuentes, a movie queen herself, agreed to both observations: “She was my good friend. I learned a lot from her about homemaking. And she had great taste in fashion. She designed and made clothes for me. I have kept some of those clothes to this day.”
Only a teener when she met Gorospe, Santiago described the young actress as a “statuesque, beautiful lady who danced well and was always impeccably dressed—like contemporary Celia Rodriguez, who sometimes played her sister in movies.”
Santiago related that Gorospe eloped with Zshornack at the height of both their careers in 1958. The elopement was pulled off with the help of the couple’s friends, Poe and Pancho Magalona, Gorospe’s leading man in the movie “Be My Love.”
“She was very much in love with Zaldy,” Santiago recalled. “Every time he spoke, she would look at him lovingly. They even got married twice.”
Actually, three times. They were married in civil rites in Cainta when they eloped, and then in church shortly after. Following a period of estrangement in the late 1960s, the couple reunited in the early ’70s and, Santiago said, married again in Las Vegas, and remained together until Zaldy’s death from diabetes complications in 2002.
The Zshornacks had two sons, Garizaldy, now 49, and Gino, 36. A transgender entertainer, Garizaldy is now Christine Endoso Burdick or, simply, Coco.
A family friend sent a text message to the Inquirer, saying Coco—whom, Fuentes said, Gorospe was very proud of—was “devastated,” but “glad that her mom didn’t suffer [much].”
The friend, who requested anonymity, said Gorospe’s affliction was discovered only after she went to the hospital “just a month ago.” She had a little accident while visiting the Philippines, fell and injured her head, the friend said. “She was flown immediately back to LA, directly to Cedars Sinai.” There and then, doctors discovered the full-blown cancer.
Gorospe was given the last rites by another friend, Fr. Rodel Balagtas, on July 9. Santiago said the actress kept her illness a secret, “maybe because she didn’t want to bother others about it.”
The family friend to whom Coco spoke also said Gorospe’s body would be cremated “soon” and that a memorial service would be held “toward the end of the month.” With a report from Ruben Nepales, LA correspondent