Ernesto dela Cruz (September 7, 1957 – August 29, 1992), better known as Weng Weng, was a Filipino actor, stunt performer and martial artist. To this day dela Cruz starring role in For Your Height Only (1981) is the most successful film export of the Philippines. Only 83 cm (2 feet, 9 inches) tall, he is listed in the Guinness World Records as the shortest adult actor in a leading role. Dela Cruz was common collaborator of Filipino actor Dolphy, who specialized in local comedies, having played three supporting roles in his films. Born in abject poverty suffering from Primordial dwarfism and underdeveloped intellectual capacities, dela Cruz started exercising with everything he could find, this led to passion for martial arts. Dela Cruz went on study martial arts and stunt work with the SOS Daredevils a local organisation to train stunt performer to prepare them for film work. Dela Cruz was noticed by actor and producer Peter Caballes, with his wife Cora they signed him to their production company Liliw Productions where the both would play the roles of his guardians, agents, producers, and Cora the screenwriter for all of his starring roles. With Liliw Production with first film appearance was an uncredited role, Silakbo (1975). During this time Peter Cabelles nicknamed him Weng Weng and would become his billing name for the rest of his career. Silang Matatapang (1976), Sila...Sa Bawat Bangketa (1976), and Chopsuey Meets Big Time Papa (1978) where he shared the top billing with Ramon Zamora.
Around this time Dela Cruz was introduced by Dolphy, who was a major local star at the time, and it was arranged by the Caballes for dela Cruz to appear in three of his films these includes The Quick Brown Fox (1979), Stariray (1981), and Da Best In Da West (1981). During this time dela Cruz made an appearance in the Hagibis disco musical film Legs... Katawan... Babae! (1981). Dela Cruz started playing of the role of Agent OO in the film Agent OO (1981), but it was the sequel For Your Height Only (1981) that launched him to brief but international stardom but also made him a unique figure in cinema. A film festival was organised by first lady Imelda Marcos in the hope to present Filipino films for the rest of the world. Major entertainment figures were present including Priscilla Presley, Franco Nero, Brooke Shields, Jeremy Irons, among many other. It is written that dela Cruz stole the spotlight from all the regular action stars, and Art House film directors, who are usually front and center in these kind of events. Dela Cruz hyped as a new superstar, was the talk of the town and For Your Height Only outsold every other films presented to international distributors. The film was a success worldwide, establishing dela Cruz under the pseudonym Weng Weng as the first small person in leading roles to reach a peak of success and in so far his record in height hasn't been broken. Finally, dela Cruz is still the only small person who made a name for himself in the action genre.
Following his success dela Cruz appeared in three more film D'Wild Wild Weng (1982), The Impossible Kid (1982), his final performance as Agent OO, and The Cute... The Sexy n' The Tiny alongside Berting Labra and Pia Moran. The first two were distributed internationally, but shortly after the Caballes had a professional change of heart, and dela Cruz never worked again in the media industry. Dela Cruz spend the rest of his living in poverty in with his family in Baclaran. During his last two year dela Cruz was paralyzed and bed stricken because of a stroke and passed away at the age of 34 in 1992.
Dela Cruz became a cult film icon with the passing of time, and with the arrival of the internet dela Cruz became an online sensation, with people from all over the world looking at the mark he left behind. At that time a lot of information published about dela Cruz was mythos, while some of it was true. Research about his life led to the making of two successful widely release documentaries Mark Hartley's Machete Maidens Unleashed! (2010), and Andrew Leavold's The Search for Weng Weng (2013). The ladder was adapted into a book with information that either couldn't fit the film or discovered after its making.
Dela Cruz was born to Felicito Jose dela Cruz an electrician (1914-1968) and Rita DeGuzman dela Cruz a laundry women (1919-1989), the youngest of five brothers, on the seventh of September 1957. As described by dela Cruz's brother Celing, dela Cruz's early life went as followed. When his mother was pregnant she didn't know until the doctor told her so, and when gave birth, his size was “no bigger than a small coke bottle”. This forced dela Cruz’s parents to place him in a shoe box under a light feeding him with drops. With a medical condition known as primordial dwarfism, it caused dela Cruz to grow to a height of 2 feet and 9 inches (0.83 meter) tall. Being devoted Catholics, dela Cruz's mother showed their devotion to their faith by dressing and parading a young dela Cruz as Santo Niño each year for the annual Baclaran parade. Dela Cruz became popular in the neighborhood and his mother Rita felt he should become an actor. By 1968, dela Cruz's father passed away due to falling down a ladder at work
Career and education
Childhood to circa 1974: Martial art and fitness education
According to Celing, as a child dela Cruz was fascinated with action films and started to study them. Neighbours of the dela Cruz started to notice him climbing on clothing lines doing acrobacies and pull ups. Dela Cruz joined Karate classes, where he learnt quickly, and impressed his instructor. So much so that the instructor would have demonstrations with dela Cruz to promote the school. During one of these demonstration dela Cruz was noticed by producer and actor Peter Caballes of Liliw Productions. Dela Cruz's mother who had a hard time raising five boys, accepted that Peter his wife Cora Ridon Caballes would take dela Cruz under their helm for a film career.
1975 to 1981: Early roles and breakthrough
Dela Cruz started to work almost exclusively with Liliw Productions, starting with an uncredited role, Silakbo, released October 17, 1975.
In 1976, dela Cruz billed as Weng Weng, which would be his pseudonym for the rest of his career, acted in Silang Matatapang and Sila...Sa Bawat Bangketa.
In 1978, dela Cruz shared the top billing with actor Ramon Zamora in Chopsuey Meets Big Time Papa.
Dela Cruz, through the Caballes, was introduced to Dolphy. Dolphy, with his film outfit – RVQ Productions, produced the spy-spoof hit film The Quick Brown Fox. starring Dolphy and introducing Weng Weng as his Kato-inspired sidekick. Released in 1980, this was Weng Weng’s first big-budget role and movie.
In 1981, dela Cruz appeared in many films. His first release that year, on February 13, was a supporting role in Dolphy's comedy vehicle Stariray. On May 29, Agent 00 was released with dela Cruz in the lead role, a role that dela Cruz would revisit. To prepare him for the role director Eddie Nicart, an accomplished actor and stuntman who would direct all of dela Cruz's leading roles from that point on, gave him the same training he got with the SOS Daredevils a stuntman training company. As well as taking care of dela Cruz's training for the rest of his career, Nicart also expanded his training in karate and acting. Nicart who had doubt on dela Cruz due to his intellectual and physical limitations, but quickly changed his mind, when he realized how collaborative and his bravery since dela Cruz never refused a stunt. On June 12, Da Best In Da West was released with Dolphy starring and dela Cruz in a minor role. On the 2nd of July, dela Cruz played a small role participating in a musical number in Legs... Katawan... Babae! a Musical film vehicle for the local disco group Hagibis.
It was dela Cruz final release of 1981 For Your Height Only, released on the 2nd of September in the Philippines, that would turn dela Cruz into a legend. Dela Cruz returned as secret agent code-named Agent 00. For Your Height Only was a local hit but it was at first installment of first lady Imelda Marcos' Manilla International Film Festival, whose objective was to promote Filipino films to rest of the world, is where dela Cruz became a global sensation. Dela Cruz took the spotlight from everyone, to the horror of film auteurs, dynasty actors, other local action film stars, and other gliterattis. Dela Cruz would make an appearance a day doing demonstration of stunts, martial arts, and exercises. For Your Height Only outsold every other film for international distribution it was triumph for some and a scandal for others. In the West Indies the film opened on the same day as Steven Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark beating it at the box office remaining number one for over two weeks. Dela Cruz becoming a regular on variety shows was briefly the biggest star in his own country as well as the first international celebrity from the Philippines. According to director Eddie Nicart, locally there was a short lived Weng Weng craze, where crowds would cheer dela Cruz's pseudonym.
1982 to 1984: action film star
On March 25, 1982, D'Wild Wild Weng started its theatrical run with dela Cruz as "Mr. Weng". In the film, he and his co-star Gordon (Max Alvarado) are sent to the countryside to investigate the murder of Santa Monica’s mayor. On July 23, The Impossible Kid premiered, with dela Cruz returning in the role of Agent OO. The character now worked for the Manila branch of Interpol. On December 25, dela Cruz acted as one of the three leads in The Cute... The Sexy n' The Tiny alongside Berting Labra and Pia Moran.
In 1983, Weng Weng was announced as one of the supporting actors in another action film by Liliw Production Tatak: Magnum starring local actor Nelson Anderson who at the time was under a contract with them. It is unknown if Weng Weng filmed any scenes for the film, since he is not in the released film.
In 1984, according Nelson Anderson, the production house received Jean-Claude Van Damme's photos, who at the time was an unknown, and were creating a film where Van Damme would have acted with both Anderson and Weng Weng. Also during his tenure at Liliw Production, Anderson also said that he would and he and Weng Weng developed a friendship and he showed Weng Weng Italian neorealist films. Loving this new genre, Weng Weng made plans with him to make an action comedy film with a dramatic side with strong characters based on Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thieves (1948). The projects never materialized, Anderson had a financial dispute with the company, as well as the company's eventual parting with Weng Weng.
1985 to 1992: return to obscurity and death
It is said, that Peter and Cora Caballes retired from filmmaking circa 1985, Cora successfully ran as a city councillors in Manilla, and Peter who was renowned to be unfaithful was asked to go to Hong Kong while she was running to avoid any scandals. This led dela Cruz to return to his hometown and live in poverty, under the care of his mother and brother Danny. During this time it is said that Weng Weng impostor would appear on TV. Circa 1990, dela Cruz had a stroke which left him invalid, with half of his body paralyzed until his passing in 1992.
1993 to present day: posthumous success
Internationally, Weng Weng films became a rare treat on video cassette among cult film aficionados.
In the mid 2000s, with the arrival of the Internet and YouTube, various clips and films starring Weng Weng in their entirety were uploaded. Gradually Weng Weng once again found an audience with his works being viewed by millions. Around this time director Andrew Leavold decided to make a documentary about the life of Weng Weng. The discoveries on Weng Weng led to two theatrically released documentaries. First it inspired Mark Hartley's Machete Maidens Unleashed! (2010) which focuses on the history of films made in the Philippines during Weng Weng's active years where he had a segment dedicated to him among his contemporaries. The second one about his life, The Search for Weng Weng (2013), was directed by Leavold. Both films were prominent on festival circuits and critically acclaimed.
Leavold also published a book also called The Search for Weng Weng about the making of the films, elements of dela Cruz's life that didn't make the final cut of the film or were discovered later.
On August 29 1992, Ernesto dela Cruz, age 34, died in Pasay City, of a heart attack. On that morning dela Cruz, who was already bedstricken due to a previous heart attack, fell from his bed and was found unconscious. Dela Cruz was rushed to the hospital where he was pronounced dead.
According to most accounts, dela Cruz never had any romantic relationships. However it is said that producer Peter Caballes who had the reputation of being a playboy, brought dela Cruz out at the time of his prime and it is speculated that it led to frivolities. Many would say that dela Cruz would brag about sexual exploit but never saw his actual girlfriends. Director Dante Pangilinan said that dela Cruz had his first kiss on the set of Sila... Sa bawat bangketa (1977) after he asked Pangilinan if he could get an onscreen kiss, who said yes. According to him dela Cruz was delighted and nervous at the same time.
According to dela Cruz's brother Celing, he was never paid for his film work with Peter and Cora Caballes of Liliw Production. According to most account dela Cruz was only provided shelter and a per diem. The couple said in many interviews during dela Cruz's prime that he was their adopted son since he was thirteen. Celing denies it and says that they would borrow him for a shoot and bring him back home after, Celing went on to say that dela Cruz was abandoned by the Caballes when they had a career change, and became completely absent when dela Cruz became paralyzed after his first stroke. According to Celing the only thing that was provided beyond this point was dela Cruz's casket paid by Peter, and Cora paid for the service once visited by another of dela Cruz's brothers.
While with the Caballes dela Cruz was provided shelter, a per diem that was higher than most salaries considering where dela Cruz from and travelled the world. Countries visited by dela Cruz includes France, United States, and Hong Kong. While many felt he was treated very well while with them, fellow contemporary Filipino action film star Rez Cortez, Franco Guerrero, Roland Dantes, and Nelson Anderson were critical, as well as director Eddie Nicart. According to the researchers, when the Caballes were tracked down to be interviewed to present their version of the story and to refute any claims, Peter had passed away in 2007, while Cora said they would have to travel California to conduct one. When they arrived she was nowhere to be found, and since never responded on the matter.
Actor Rez Cortez who acted in two film with dela Cruz said that he had trouble getting in touch with his emotions in order to express them. Cortez recalls once asking dela Cruz if he was lonely for which he replied yes I cried. He furthered on saying that dela Cruz had his own sense of reality. While working on the first film where dela Cruz received the top billing and considering the fact that the dela Cruz's producers took care of his basic needs, Cortez suspected that at the time he wasn't well compensated. Cortez said he saw dela Cruz arrive on set not in his private car but utility vehicle, he went on to say that it is unacceptable to do so with a leading man. Cortez concluded that dela Cruz was probably happy with what he got since, considering where he came from, where he went, and had a great deal of life experiences got out of it he but deserved more.
Dela Cruz had a friendship with contemporary Filipino action film star Franco Guerrero. Guerrero said that dela Cruz had the mind of a ten-year-old. Guerrero also said that dela Cruz believed anything he said, whether it was real or imaginary. Guerrero stated that he misses dela Cruz, thought highly of his acting abilities, and how appalled he was that dela Cruz was left in poverty.
Actor Roland Dantes also said that dela Cruz lived in a world of his own, and with his long time co-star Busty Santos were also disgusted by the financial mistreatment he received.
Another friend and contemporary Filipino action film star of dela Cruz was Nelson Anderson. Anderson's account of the time when both were under contract with Liliw Production describes a great friendship polluted by the possessive attitude of producers Peter and Cora Caballes. Anderson felt that dela Cruz was treated like puppet by everyone. While many felt that dela Cruz was childlike, Anderson said he was a complex adult. Noticing the potential of dela Cruz, they considered making a film. Anderson found dela Cruz brave, while wanting to be prudent with him de la Cruz was upset at the idea of wearing a belt and helmet while riding with him on his motorcycle. According to him, a man once provoked dela Cruz by tapping his hand on his head and dela Cruz was ready to fight and wasn't afraid of his size, and Anderson had to separate them. He also recalls bringing dela Cruz at an Art house cinema named Mabini to introduce him to Italian neorealist films. Dela Cruz was enthralled by them. Together they watched Luis Buñuel's Los Olvidados (1950), Federico Fellini's La Strada (1954), and François Truffaut's The 400 Blows (1959). Dela Cruz was particularly fond of Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thieves (1948), according to Anderson, on his first viewing dela Cruz cried. They agreed to make an action comedy remake with a human touch. As soon as Anderson started voicing his concerns regarding both dangerous working conditions and mispayments to the Caballes, the Caballes separated them. They would tell him that dela Cruz was absent when he wasn't. Anderson parted ways with the company, never to see dela Cruz again.
Director Eddie Nicart who directed all of dela Cruz's well known films said the following about him. According to him if dela Cruz would get free from the set, he would immediately go where there is drinks and women, and would always ask about where they could be. Nicart a former actor and stuntman for a company named SOS Daredevils, had doubt due to dela Cruz's limitations and went on to say that dela Cruz didn't know how to read a script. Prior the shoot of their first film Agent OO (1981) for the rest of his career dela Cruz received his training by Nicart who trained his the same way he was. Nicart also worked to polish dela Cruz's acting, advanced Karate lessons for fight choreography, as well as stunts. Nicart said and praised his footwork, and his fearlessness when it came to stunts. Nicart went on to say that the Caballes treated dela Cruz like a dog, would ask him to leave the room in any business meeting, and that gave him the equivalent of $ 500 per film, while they were wealthy owning several mansions. Nicart, also said that he originally had doubt on dela Cruz leading a film, but found him to be so collaborative and fearless, having never refused any stunt, that soon enough he knew dela Cruz would become famous.
Dela Cruz was acquainted with the Marcos family and former first lady Imelda Marcos described dela Cruz as an extraordinary and accomplished person who overcame his disabilities.
Actress and common collaborator Yehlen Catral, who often played the damsel-in-distress in dela Cruz's films, said she never noticed dela Cruz's childlike personality. She felt he had a good grip of what was going on and she had adult conversations with dela Cruz. She said he had an odd sense of humor, and maybe that was what others felt. Catral said she helped dela Cruz approach women to introduce himself. When she stopped acting to go to law school she made sure to say goodbye to only two actors, dela Cruz and Dolphy.
Dela Cruz is known to be one of the most exceptional stuntmen in film history due to his size and the risks he is taking.
First Lady Imelda Marcos who invested a lot of resource in Filipino Cinema, organized the first Manila International Film Festivals to promote the local production to the rest of the world. Dela Cruz unintentionally took the spotlights from every local action stars and cinema auteurs, making one appearances a day at the festival performing stunts, with exercise and Martial Arts demonstrations. This led for his film For Your Height Only to outsell every other local films by very large margin.
Dela Cruz is Philippine's first major film export making him Philippines’ first international celebrity.
Dela Cruz is the shortest leading man in film history and the first small person to have a streak of films where he received the top billing.
Dela Cruz's international fame led to two highly viewed documentaries who played in the festivals circuits. In 2010, Mark Hartley's Machete Maidens Unleashed! a documentary film that dealt with the Filipino movie exploitation craze of the 1970s and 1980s, paid a special homage to dela Cruz's movie career. The basis of the first film was the 2007 rough cut of Andrew Leavolds's The Search for Weng Weng released in 2013, about discovering dela Cruz's life.
Dela Cruz worked on sixteen films during his career, and most are lost, partly lost, poorly preserved or in storage. Among the unseen Weng Weng movies the film Agent OO who is the first installment of the franchise is either lost or in storage. Three Dolphy films (Da Best In Da West, Stairiray, The Quick Brown Fox) are in the TV archives in Manila, but the Liliw Productions titles are still owned by producer Cora Caballes, and she claims they are on Betacam and stored somewhere in Manila.
Dela Cruz's real voice as rarely been heard outside of Philippines, since the original dubs of his films have never been available outside of his home country.
Dela Cruz is the first Filipino actor to have a documentary and a book written about him published in western countries.
Academic Dr. Tilman Baumgärtel expressed discomfort watching Weng Weng films saying they are pre-modern, reminding him of the Medieval times where royalties would have a handicap, a dwarf act as a jester, and would be already funny based on that.
Dela Cruz's image is very controversial within Philippines' local film industry, with some auteur cineaste an academic feeling that it is an uncomfortable image of the country, especially at a time where they had no international figures. However directors Bobby A. Suarez and Tikoy Aguiluz felt that dela Cruz's success was glorious and couldn't be happier since according them it left the right people upset. Aguiluz went on to say he is our middle finger to Hollywood.
Martial arts, stunt work, and fitness
Dela Cruz started training on his own at a young age, doing push ups, pull ups, and climbing on clothing lines to do acrobacies. Inspired by action films, he started training Karate which he maintained throughout his career.
Prior to the release of Agent OO (1981) Director Eddie Nicart, who was an accomplished stuntmen and martial artist took over for his training, had this account. It was told to him that dela Cruz was a black belt, he didn't believe it. He credited dela Cruz to have some skills but not on the level to be the sole leading men. When dela Cruz trained with him with the stuntmen's organisation SOS Daredevils, like everyone else he had to start back from white belt and gradually go to black, while teaching dela Cruz how to jump and perform stunts from tall heights. Nicart said that dela Cruz was cooperative and while being mentally slow he learnt quick because of this. He concluded that by his standards dela Cruz became a real black belt in Karate and a first rate stuntmen who performed all of his own stunts fearlessly.
Mythos and rumors
While dela Cruz's life was barely documented many rumors surrounded him while some was true others were debunked.
Dela Cruz was falsely rumored to have been a comedian, a dentistry student, to have live bestselling bootleg recording of him singing Frank Sinatra's "My Way" with former first lady Imelda Marcos, etc.
Dela Cruz was official made an official secret agent by President Ferdinand Marcos.
It is said by actor Eddie Garcia and director Eddie Nicart that dela Cruz helped the police several times where they would put him through vents or tight areas to go in a delicate areas so that he would open the front door for them.
- Hartley, Mark. Machete Maidens Unleashed! (DVD). Umbrella Entertainment.
- Leavold, Andrew. The Search for Weng Weng (DVD). Wild Eye Releasing.
- Leavold, Andrew. The Search for Weng Weng (Book). Australia: The LedaTape Organisation, 2017. ISBN 9780994411235