Malaysian film stars of the 1950s set the standard for timeless style.
As portrayed on screen, the people of the 1950s were altogether synonymous with classic good looks. While the women were demure and ladylike, the men presented a sleek front of effortless charisma.
In the absence of social media back then, it was the film stars who injected a little fabulousness into the average person’s life. Within Malaysia itself, several big names rose to fame.
Here’s a look at some of the well-known favourites – remembered not only for their talents, but the style they embodied as well.
Tan Sri P. Ramlee
The late actor (1929-1973) is very much a recognisable figure. Many regard him (otherwise known by his real name, Ramlee Puteh) as an unrivalled legend of both the Malaysian film and music industry.
P. Ramlee directed his first film, Penarek Becha in 1955. Two years later, he appeared in the first of the wildly popular Bujang Lapok series. During his career, he directed and acted in a total of 66 films and had more than 360 songs to his credit.
Like the varied characters he portrayed on screen, P. Ramlee’s style changed along the way, too. However, he is probably best remembered for his slicked back hair, macho moustache and boyish grin. He was our very own Malaysian James Dean, if you will.
Tan Sri Jins Shamsuddin
Under the guidance of P. Ramlee, the veteran actor (now 78) began his career in the 50s. One of his earlier roles was playing the lead in the film Pancha Delima (1957), directed by P. Ramlee.
Jins (real name Mohamed Zain) then went on to star in numerous films.
He continued working and remained active in the film industry well into his 70s. One of the most recent shows was the 2008 film Akhirat.
Jins was considered the epitome of the mod style of his day. His clean-shaven look and the sharp outfits he donned is still a style which many youths are emulating today.
He was dubbed as the “uncle” whom young celebrities leaned on and turned to when in doubt about their roles. The highly respected actor (real name Kuswadi Bujang), passed away last year at the age of 76. Kuswadinata was discovered by filmmaker Tan Sri L. Krishnan and started acting in 1957. His first film was reportedly a flick shot in Singapore, Orang Licin. He also appeared in P. Ramlee’s 1961 film Seniman Bujang Lapok.
Accordingly, his suave, “badboy” looks was what won him many film placements. He is fondly remembered for frequently taking on the role of the villain – which eventually led to him being labelled Malaysia’s Burt Lancaster.
Puan Sri Datin Amar Salmah Ismail, who is better known as Saloma (1932–83), was a Singaporean-Malaysian singer who became famous in late 50s until the early 80s. Saloma was the third wife of the film actor, director, singer and songwriter, Tan Sri P. Ramlee.
She became a professional singer in her teens and her singing style was compared to that of Ella Fitzgerald.
She honed her skills with Orkes Fajar Murni, led by Yusof Osman. Later, the song Pandang Kasih, made by Rahmat Ali, brought Saloma luck as a singer. In 1978, she was awarded by the Malaysian Government at Kecapi Awards as Biduanita Negara (National Songbird).
Saloma’s big hairdo and curvy figure earned her the adoration of many back then. She is also known to have rocked the peplum trend in those days, together with traditional wear like the kebarong and kebaya.
Datuk Maria Menado (real name Liesbet Dotulong), was born in 1932 and was probably the most successful film actress between 1957 and 1963. She moved to Singapore and embraced Islam at 19 when she married celebrated boxer and script writer A. Razak Sheikh Ahman. Her role as a vampire in Pontianak was the first local horror movie at that time, which successfully launched her career in 1957.
That same year, she was bestowed the title “Malaya’s Most Beautiful” by Times Magazine as well as “Best Dressed Woman in South East Asia” by publisher United Press International.
At the peak of her career, Maria played a protagonist next to Shammi Kapoor in the Hindi movie Singapore. Maria acted in more than 20 movies including a movie produced by her own production company – Maria Menado Production (M. M Production) – making her the first female producer in our country.
Born as Fatimah Omar in Kampung Baru, Kuala Lumpur, in 1939, Latifah changed her name after moving to Singapore with her mother. At 16, Latifah entered a Singaporean beauty pageant and won the title.
Later, she was called to star in the movie Panggilan Pulau by director S. Ramanatahan in 1954. Despite her young age, she was invited to act alongside other movie veterans such as P. Ramlee, Normadiah, Nordin Ahmad, S. Shamsudin and Siti Tanjung Perak.
Latifah’s trademark mole below the lips and her photogenic face had made her the darling of movie-goers. She also stood out in real life for being the embodiment of languid grace and quiet beauty that many would probably find difficult to forget.
Datin Hajjah Patimah Bte Bahudin, better known as Umi Kalthum, was offered a role by veteran film producer Ho Ah Loke and the rest, as they say, is history. Umi went on to make appearances in the movies Dahlia, Buluh Perindu and Kampung Nelayan.
Apart from her art, Umi Kalthum was described by photographer of Life magazine Philippe Halsman as the “Most Beautiful Woman in Singapore and Malaya” in 1956. It has been reported that Vogue magazine honoured her with a similar title that same year.
Umi is the mother of actress Noor Kumalasari and singer Anita Sarawak’s stepmother – both also iconic beauties in their own right.
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