After child stardom, ‘Shirley Temple of the Philippines’ long lived a quiet family life in Northwest Indiana

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Tessie Agana was a huge child star in the Philippines who starred in 40 films, often with her mother Linda Estrella. 

Hailed as the “Shirley Temple of the Philippines” the “The Nation’s Little Sweetheart,” she starred in “Roberta,” the highest-grossing Philippine film of all time at the time.

She escaped from mobs of adoring fans, media attention and the red carpet glitz and glamour when her family moved to the United States. They eventually settled in Valparaiso, where she long led a quiet family life out of the spotlight. 

The Legend of Tessie Agana Book Cover

Her daughter Mylene Richardson, one of her nine children, set out to chronicle her mother’s life in a biography. Richardson, a Valparaiso native who went to Andrean High School and then Indiana University, wrote the book “The Legend of Tessie Agana: Beloved Child Star of the Philippines: An Intimate Portrait of My Mother.” She recently stopped to sign copies at the Valparaiso Barnes & Noble as part of a book tour.

“Back in the 1950s, she was always in the spotlight,” she said. “From when she was six years old to when she was 18 years old, she was mobbed by millions of people. She had fans, parades a great following. She grew up in the public eye.”

Agana and her mother traveled around the world as singers performing concerts.

“She had a very interesting upbringing,” Richardson said. “My journey getting to know my mother started with the book. As I discovered who she was I unraveled layers of my own life.”

Agana was shy and didn’t like to talk about her career in movies and music. Her husband had been a big fan of hers and would often bring it up when they were in Chicago or meeting with other Philippines. 

Jao Family Birthday photo from 1974

“We never really talked about it,” she said. “But I remember when I was eight years old we went to the Philippines with my mom and grandmom and they were on a Johnny Carson Tonight Show-like national television show where they were interviewed and sang. My mom walked out of the studio and was mobbed and was signing autographs. But I was eight so I didn’t ask a lot of questions.”

Occasionally, reporters from the Philippines would show up seeking interviews. But Richardson said they had a normal life in Valparaiso.

“They had nine kids so there were a lot of activities, a lot of sports, a lot of tennis and academic events,” he said. We were a very busy family. We lived in Valparaiso and went to Andrean High School. We loved it.” (Read the full story at Northwest Indiana Times.)

By Joseph S. Pete
Oct 18, 2023

Mylene Richardson

Mylene Richardson

Mylene Agana Jao Richardson was born in Manila, Philippines, and is the sixth of nine children (six boys and three girls) from Tessie Agana Jao and Dr. Rodolfo Jao. Although she grew up in Indiana, her trips back to the Philippines are her most memorable family vacations. Mylene currently lives in Arizona, with her husband Andy, and their two sons, Chapman and Harris.


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