Zeny Zabala, actress known for antagonist roles, passes away

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Zeny Zabala in a publicity photo for Sampaguita Pictures and, right, her Facebook profile pic from 2014.

Actress Zeny Zabala passed away Tuesday at the National Kidney Institute, as reported in a Facebook post by Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino member Mario A. Hernando. She was 80.

Born Emerenciana Ortiz Santos in 1937, Zabala was best known as an antagonist in films produced by the now defunct Sampaguita Pictures during the 1950s and 1960s as well as the “balae” of Dolphy in the hit sitcom “John En Marsha.”

She started her movie career way back in 1954 with the film “Binibining Kalog.” Right off the bat, she was typecast in “mataray” villain roles.

Along with another prolific villainess, Bella Flores, Zabala made her mark on the big screen by making life difficult for Sampaguita leading ladies like Lolita Rodriguez, Gloria Romero, Rita Gomez, Barbara Perez, Susan Roces, and Amalia Fuentes, among many others.

In 1964, Zabala earned her first acting nomination as Best Supporting Actress for “Ang Bukas ay Akin!” topbilled by Charito Solis and Nestor de Villa.

She eventually earned lead roles in films like “Mother Dear,” “Our Lady of Penafrancia,” “Kalingga,” “Luzviminda,” and “Ruby” where she earned her second FAMAS nomination, this time as Best Actress in 1967.

Zabala remained active in the film industry until the late ’60s before taking a hiatus for most of the 1970s. In the 1980s, she reactivated her acting career and enjoyed a renaissance of sorts when she was cast by the late Ading Fernando in the long-running sitcom, “John En Marsha.” Zabala and bungling comedian Don Pepot played the parents of Madel de Leon, Rollie Quizon’s girlfriend and later wife in the series.

The comic chemistry between Zabala and Don Pepot was a hit with viewers and they continued to reprise their respective “balae” roles in “John En Marsha ’85 (Sa Probinsya),” one of several films based on the sitcom.

Zabala continued to appear in more Dolphy films like “Kalabog En Bosyo Strike Again” in 1985 and her last known big screen appearance, “Tataynic,” in 1998, both directed by her husband, Ben Feleo who died in 2011.

She also had a noteworthy performance as Vilma Santos’ cruel mother-in-law in Chito Roño’s “Ikaw Lang” in 1993 and had a scene where she shoved dog food down the mouth of Vilma’s character. She co-starred with the Star for all Seasons in Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s “Baby Tsina” in 1984.

In 2013, she had an uncredited cameo in the daytime soap “Be Careful with My Heart,” which might also have been her last public appearance.

Her remains can be viewed starting Wednesday night at Paket Santiago Funeral Homes in San Roque, Marikina. Cremation to be announced later.