Movie icons immortalized in Gems of Philippine History
Rudy A. Fernandez (The Philippine Star) - May 5, 2012 - 12:00am

(First of two parts)

MANILA, Philippines - Jose Nepomuceno, Father of the Philippine Movie Industry; Narcisa B. Vda. de Leon, Grand Old Lady of Philippine Movies; Lamberto Avellana, outstanding film director and master of realism; and Lino Brocka, exponent of “socially-oriented” Filipino films.

Mention the Philippine movie industry and their names and those of others instantaneously come to mind. Now, they have been immortalized in a new book titled Gems of Philippine History: Inspiring Lives of 150 Great Filipinos.

The 12-chapter book was written by educator-scientist-historian Dr. Fernando Bernardo, former Education deputy minister, dean of a University of the Philippines (UP) college, director of the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization-Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEAMEO SEARCA) and deputy director general of the International Rice Research Institute.

Sen. Edgardo Angara, chairman of the Senate Committee on Education, Arts and Culture and former UP president, and Dr. Ambeth Ocampo, National Historical Commission of the Philippines chair, wrote the book’s Preface and Foreword, respectively.

Gems of Philippine History… includes Great Filipinos of the distant past (Lapu-Lapu, Rajah Sulayman, etc.); heroes of the Philippine Revolution against Spain (Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, etc.), former Philippine presidents; poets, writers, journalists; educators, scientists, businessmen, doctors and nurses, religious leaders and sportsmen.

Jose Nepomuceno was born in Tondo (Manila) on May 15, 1893. He finished Fine Arts at the University of Sto. Tomas (UST).

He began his movie career in 1917, achieving several “firsts” along the way. In 1991, he produced the first silent dramatic feature, Dalagang Bukid. With the success of this popular Tagalog zarzuela, he went on to make other silent films, among them The Life of Rizal and Ligaw na Bulaklak.

In 1926, he “shocked the country” with Tatlong Hambug, the first local movie showing passionate kissing scenes (between Luis Tuazon and Dimples of Isabel Rosario Copper).

In 1932, he produced the first local sound film, Punyal na Ginto, followed by, among other movies, Diwata ng Karagatan, Sa Paanan ng Krus, Punit na Bandila, Anak Dalita, Leron-Leron Sinta and Biak na Bato.

“With sound, his films in Tagalog conveyed moral lessons, and inculcated upon the people a love for the national language,” Dr. Bernardo wrote.

Nepomuceno also made the first advertising movies and recorded for posterity the proceedings of the Constitutional Convention in 1935.

He organized production companies such as Malayan Pictures Corp. (1931), Nepomuceno Productions (1932), Nepomuceno-Harris-Tait Partnership (1933), Parlatone Hispano-Filipino, Inc. (1935) and Polychrome Motion Pictures Corp. (1946).

He discovered movie stars Rogelio dela Rosa, Leopoldo Salcedo, Carlos and Jose Padilla, Fernando Poe Sr., Lucita Goyena, Corazon Noble, Rosario Moreno and Mila del Sol, themselves “giants and legends” of cinema from the ’30s to ’50s. He also introduced Susan Roces and Mila Ocampo as child stars.

Nepomuceno died on Dec. 1, 1959 at age 66.

Narcisa Vda. de Leon, the pillar of Philippine filmmaking and producer of big stars, was popularly known as Doña Sisang.

The oldest child of Justo Buencamino and Anastacia Lim, she was born on Oct. 29, 1877 in San Miguel, Bulacan. As her father died when she was very young, she learned to cope with the hard demands of daily living while still a teenager.

In 1904, she married Jose de Leon, a former Capitan Municipal of San Miguel. They were blessed with five children and a prosperous realty business in Bulacan, Manila and around the metropolis.

In view of their good fortune, they engaged in philanthropic activities, donating a hospital and school building in San Miguel, contributed to the complete renovation of the San Miguel Church, and funding orphanage and charitable institutions.

Don Pepe died in 1934 but through Doña Sisang’s business acumen, their real-estate business continued to flourish.

In 1938, Doña Sisang headed her friends who asked her to invest in the movie industry. In 1940, she was elected president of L.V.N. Pictures, Inc., which she stewarded to become the primary company to popularize Philippine movies.

As a movie producer, she received prestigious awards such as the Carlos P. Romulo Award (1941) for the artistry of Ibong Adarna, Trend Public Opinion Award (1949), Maria Clara Award (1950), Presidential Merit Award (1960), Katipunang Pambansa ni Plaridel Award (1951), and Best Producer Award (1956).

Dr. Bernardo wrote that Doña Sisang, who died in 1966 at age 88, “is remembered best for her simplicity in dress and manner even at lavish receptions tendered in her honor by affluent friends. As a very modest woman, she did not like speakers to shower her with praises for her accomplishments.”

(To be continued…)

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