“Marilyn Monroe of the East”: The Icon Behind the Name of Pintasan Saloma

When the Saloma Link pedestrian bridge opened for the public earlier in February, it didn’t take long for it to become one of the most Instagram-worthy spots this year.

While visitors may be awed by its extravagant light displays at first, one little known fact about the bridge is that it is named after a “Marilyn Monroe of the East”. We’re talking about none other than the singer/actress/fashion icon, known as Saloma during the late 1950s.

Also known as the third wife of legendary actor, P.Ramlee, Saloma was born Salmah Ismail on January 22nd 1932 in Singapore.

Saloma began singing at a young age and was later on famous for hits such as Bunga Tanjung, Tiru Macam Saya and Bila Larut Malam. 

Her voice began playing on the radio when her stepfather brought her to se his orchestra perform on Radio Malaya. Coming on as an emergency substitute, her performance was a success; offers then began pouring in from Singapore for her to be an orchestra’s main singer. One of the songs that she sang was “Sang Rang Bulan” that was once recorded by Rubian, a local singer.

She fell in love with P.Ramlee after watching one of the films where he starred as a hero; she swore that she would marry the actor one day while her love for P.Ramlee grew stronger each day.

During a film production, P.Ramlee used to walk from his house to the studio which passes by Saloma’s house each time. A Chinese boy selling grass jelly would run to Saloma’s house telling her of his presence each time where Saloma would then tease P. Ramlee by calling out “Banjo” (the character he played in a film) and then hid when he turned around to see who had called out to him.

In the early 1950s, she ventured towards the film industry and starred in her first film called “Pelangi”. She then acted in two other films, “Perkahwinan Rahsia” and “Norma”. In January 1952, she was offered a minor role as a club singer in a film called “Chinta Murni” by Nusantara Film, directed by Aman Ramlie or better known as A.R Tompel. At the time, it was her fourth film.

Before tying the knot with P.Ramlee, Saloma was briefly married to Aman Ramlie, a well-known director and comedian; their marriage lasted five months and they divorced when Saloma was pregnant with their child.

At the end of 1952, she ended her career as a performer and she then gave birth to a son and her only child in 1953, Armali Bin Aman Ramlie.

She got back in the business with a short stint with with Studio Jalan Ampas in 1955. Starring in “Empat Isteri”, this was last film directed by B.S. Rajhans. The film also starred Daeng Haris, Normadiah, Latifah Omar and Salmah’s sister, Mariam (as Mariani). During the year, Salomah also recorded several songs including “Burong Punggok”. In February 1956, she was offered to replace actress Siput Sarawak in the film Adekku (My Younger Sibling)

After success as a singer and actress, Shaw Brothers studio decided to give her a more commercial name. She got her stage name based on the film ‘Salome’ starring Rita Hayworth. In the same year, Saloma joined Panca Sitara, a band led by P. Ramlee.

Saloma was a professional singer during her teenage years and her style was compared to those of Ella Fitzgerald and Doris Day. As a singer, she worked with Orkes Fajar Murni, led by Yusof Osman, during the early year of her career. She was also involved with another orchestra, Panca Sitara, in the 1960s.

Many consider Saloma to have paved the way for female actors, as actress Sharifah Amani, who grew up watching P. Ramlee films and was awed by the actress’ charisma, said It’s because of her Malay women were allowed to be themselves, in how they dressed and carried themselves”.

Saloma was given the title Biduanita Pertama Negara in 1978 for contributing towards the Malaysian music industry and the title Puan Sri in 1990, as wife of Tan Sri P. Ramlee. 

After P.Ramlee’s death Saloma was overwhelmed with grief which itself took a toll on her health. In her final days, she was suffering from a number of illnesses which eventually took her life at Assunta Hospital on April 25th 1983. She died at 48 years old due to liver failure associated with jaundice.

Saloma now lies buried at the Jalan Ampang Muslim Cemetery, next to the iconic Pintasan Saloma today, and between the graves of her ex-husband Aman Ramlie and husband P. Ramlee.

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