Rod carefully laid out his favorites from his collection.
(The Philippine Star)
Pursuing collectors and their collectibles has been a privilege and pleasure for me! It has been most enjoyable sharing with our readers an inside view of things that, more often, we take for granted. There are amazing stories that even single items, big or small, can tell. I’ve gone into people’s homes, through their drawers, storage boxes, yards and hearts. Every collector truly feels special and their hobby completely justified. For without these obsessions, many items — from the common to things of significant historical value — would have ended up in a garbage dump or some dark attic, possibly forgotten forever. “Out of sight, out of mind,” indeed.
Rod Cornejo’s memorabilia from the ’50s and ’60s, for instance, is no ordinary survey of history. His collectibles are instead “gentle reminders of the past when life was kinder, more peaceful, less hurried and less complicated, and such objects gave life meaning.”
These special tokens of the Fabulous ’50s and Swinging ’60s stoke memories of his past and keep Rod in high spirits, feeling that he has lived life to the fullest. Cornejo, formerly the special assistant to the president of GMA-7, has built a collection that would interest intellectuals and romantically nostalgic creatures alike. Collectors often buy things that remind them of how things were; they splurge and spoil themselves, knowing that the years simply speed by, never slowing down. Their collecting hobby helps them savor those things and preserve them. For Rod and other baby boomers, those decades were when the world was heavily influenced by Hollywood movies, television and radio. I grew up in the same era, so I know exactly what he means. “The ’50s allowed me a simple but happy childhood, growing up in a musical family,” he says. “My late father was a composer-pianist-conductor, and my mom, who is now 93, was an opera singer. I was entertained by black and white television and movie theaters showing Westerns, war movies, comedy, horror and adventures, cartoons and musicals like Showboat, The King and I and Carousel.” he adds. He also watched Filipino movies produced by Sampaguita Pictures, “because my late father, Dr. Rodolfo Cornejo wrote and orchestrated the background music of a number of films.”
After the war years, developments in technology, architecture, music, the sciences, fashion, etc., picked up at a dizzying rate. The decades of peace that followed war allowed us baby boomers to experience a material prosperity that was elusive to our parents and grandparents. People started collecting things — and got so attached to them.
Years of deprivation turned into years of plenty. For Rod, born in 1950, it was time to savor the bounty. America was still the trendsetter, and almost everything “Americana” was valued, appreciated and sought as illustrated by Rod’s spectrum of collectibles. Everything from the USA held a permanent perch in the hearts of baby boomers, particularly here. What we saw in Hollywood movies and television wowed us; we were quick to adopt as our own their language, preferences, cars, jargon and lifestyle. It was to America that we sent our kids for the best educations and material goods. And many who could afford to do so, did. We were captivated by Hollywood movie idols and their leading ladies. Popular singers quickly found local fans going wild over their hits… to this day!
Suburban America was the ideal home for many. They looked so happy and contented, and they looked like they were all nice to each other! It was a picture of innocence, contrasted with the Hollywood gangsters and big city sharks we secretly or openly idolized. Who knows? That could have been the start of our own obsession with guns, goons and gold. “My interest in WW2 was prompted by movies and TV programs of the ’50s and’ 60s which focused on the battles, and also paved the way for my interest in plastic model aircrafts, tanks and ships which required assembly and painting. The models helped me better understand WW2 and the men and machines that characterized it,” says Rod. “I collected 1:32 scale models of the leading fighter planes of four nations — the Zero of Japan, the Messerchmitt 109 of Germany, the Spitfire of Great Britain and the best fighter of the war, the P51 Mustang of the United States. They were awesome!” Rod bubbles over with childlike awe while saying this.
“Then there were the military vehicles represented by the American Sherman Tank, the fearsome German Tiger and the famous Willys Jeep of the US which evolved into our own iconic public utility jeepneys,” he adds. Add to that Rod’s WW2 figurine collection, accurately garbed in their respective uniforms, weapons and accessories. There are American pilots, army and marine soldiers, even a German Luftwaffe pilot. “My extensive collection of models and books on WW2 make me appreciate the history, the horror, and the heroes, how the war changed our lives, even those of us who were not around when it happened,” Rod muses. Television also treated us to a variety of wholesome cartoons and shows; we’d memorize the lines and yet were glued to the screen, no matter how many times they were replayed. “As a child in the ’50s I got to love Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Duffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Tom & Jerry, Popeye, The Three Stooges, The Flintstones, Yogi Bear, Felix the Cat.” It was a happy and memorable childhood, populated by Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Green Archer, Aquaman and the Avengers. “I look back and remember,” says Rod. “They remind and challenge us to keep alive the little kid inside each one of us. They help us seniors to remain young at heart.”
You can’t mention the ’50s and ’60s without the Wild, Wild West. “My Old West collection includes figures of Wyatt Earp, the Lone Ranger and Tonto, Clint Eastwood in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, videos of Roy Rogers, John Wayne, Audie Murphy, Randolph Scott and classic Westerns and coffee table books about cowboys and Indians.” Rod remembers classics like The Alamo, Gunfight at the OK Corral, How the West Was Won and Rio Bravo. Why Westerns? “Because the cowboy and the North American Indian reflect the characters of real men — courteous to women and the elderly, obeying the law, defending the helpless and oppressed, loving nature and respecting the gun. Did you know that The Lone Ranger of the ’50s and ’60s never killed an outlaw? He only shot at their hands to disarm them,” Rod recalls. Hollywood also brought horror movies and TV shows right into our living rooms. “As a child, I was scared of the dark believing it hid monsters and the undead. But I loved getting scared because fear is fun,” he says with a smile. Why horror? “The Frankenstein figurine and horror movie coffee table books I collect help me relive the scary experiences that taught me there is evil in this world but that good, represented by God, will always conquer evil.” Amazing how Rod draws moral parables from his collection!
American-made automobiles from that era were only slightly less comfortable to ride in than your living room sofa. Flashy, gas-guzzling models were the ultimate dream. “The American lifestyle of ‘the land of milk and honey’ introduced to us Fords, Chevys, Pontiacs, Lincolns and Cadillacs. Not to mention my dream car, the Rolls-Royce Phantom VI,” declares Rod. Where better to drive and park these classic cars than popular American drive-ins and diners? And what we call vintage cars today? What sold for a few thousand bucks before are now worth millions of pesos. “The ’60s gave a distinct character to my adolescent years. Call it the age of puberty, or coming-of-age years which made me realize girls are more fun than playing with toys,” Rod playfully states. Color TV replaced black and white, and on the radio it was the Beatles, Matt Monro, Cliff Richard, Trini Lopez, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, Pat Boone, Ricky Nelson, Mantovani, the Everly Brothers, the Lettermen, Perry Como, the Beach Boys, the Monkees, Petula Clark, Chubby Checker, The Supremes and more. “It was difficult back then not to hit the record bars without bringing home armloads of vinyl records to spin on a turntable to enjoy with friends,” Rod recalls.
“Movie theaters showed great musicals like West Side Story, The Sound of Music and Paint Your Wagon, Ben Hur and El Cid, not to mention war films like The Longest Day and the popular James Bond spy movies — Dr. No, From Russia with Love and Goldfinger.” Locally, sitcoms like Tang Tarang Tang, Philippine legends on Mga kwento ni Lola Basyang, singing contests like Tawag ng Tanghalan and lunchtime shows like Student Canteen and Darigold Jamboree kept us glued to our sets. Then there were the comics: the daily newspaper strips and Sunday funnies that introduced us to comic characters and superheroes that are now big budget, movies blockbusters like Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. Indeed, there are only a few men who don’t dream of being Secret Agent 007, with his love of adventure, thrills, wine, women and song. Not to mention toys and gadgets for the big boys.
“My joy in collecting James Bond memorabilia was highlighted by the privilege of lunching with the late Roger Moore and his wife at the Mandarin Hotel in 1995,” remembers Rod. “I was thrilled meeting Mr. Moore in Manila as UNICEF Ambassador of Goodwill, learning of his advocacy for child rights and hearing him apologize for glorifying the gun as James Bond, with his ‘license to kill,’ but admitting that if not for those movies, he would not have earned such popularity, allowing him to be a strong advocate for the rights of children.”
Rod then offers up a generous thanks to his wife: “No collector could successfully be so without a willing partner who puts up with the time, money and sheer volume of dust-gathering collectibles.” A common concern for collectors is a spouse who complains that the collection costs too much and takes up too much space. Hence, it’s refreshing to hear Rod give a shout-out to his understanding and selfless wife. “I am most grateful to my wife Vangie for tolerating my hobby. She should be glad that I like to collect plastic models, and not the kind that pose for centerfolds — and for paying the credit card bill when it comes due!” Rod stresses. Walking with a slight limp from his gout, yet with an ever-present twinkle in his eye and permanent smile, he narrates his memories of those golden decades, as though they happened only yesterday.