Still Alice

CONVERSATIONS - Ricky Lo - The Philippine Star
Still Alice
Anita Linda then: in an Amorsolo painting hung at the sala of her home in BF Homes, Las Piñas City, and in a Premiere Productions publicity photo taken by Mang Ador of Tropicana…and now: still glamorous in a photo displayed at the Cinematheque where she was given a tribute two Sundays ago (June 16) as part of the Philippine Cinema Centennial

Only five years younger than the Philippine Cinema which is celebrating its centennial this year, Anita Linda (Alice Lake in real life) at 94 leads a life more dramatic and more colorful than all of her 300-plus starrers

Life is beautiful. I don’t want to…well, alam mo na…

Almost in a whisper and eyes starting to well up with tears, wheelchair-bound Anita Linda broke into a faint smile as she revealed her advance birthday wish when she turns 95 on Nov. 23, five years younger than the Philippine Cinema which is celebrating its centennial this year.

We talked briefly with Anita two Sundays ago at the Cinematheque Centre on T. M. Kalaw St., Manila, where the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) chaired by Liza Diño was honoring Anita’s contributions to the industry in the event touted as Sandaan: Dunong ng Isang Ina, followed by the opening of an exhibit titled The Life of Anita Linda.

Said Liza, “Anita Linda is truly a legend in the industry and she has helped mold Philippine Cinema through her contributions over the decades. She has been gifting us with her brilliant acting performances and serving as a pillar for generations.”

Born Alice Buenaflor Lake in Pasay City, Anita was named after her father’s sister who was a Hollywood star during the era of silent movies. In a scrapbook, Anita keeps a souvenir photo of Alice Lake in fur coat bearing this caption: Alice Lake starring with Ben Lions in Unchartered Seas. Alice Lake spent the rest of her life in a home for the aged in USA.

The oldest actress in Philippine Cinema and still active at 94 (former Sen. Ramon Revilla is the oldest actor at 92), Anita was the fifth of 13 children raised in a place called Pugad Baboy in Bulacan, living in a big house on a 10-hectare lot, part of which was planted to fruit trees. They had three cars at their disposal. Her father, John James Lake, was an American and her mother, an Ilongga.

“My mom was fun-loving,” Anita recalled in an interview with this writer many years ago. “She would often host parties at our house which had a long driveway. I was very shy and when the guests started coming, I would hide and come out only after the last guest had left.”

Friends fondly call her Alice instead of Anita. I prefer to call her Alice, too. During our interview last Sunday, I realized that despite her advanced age, Alice still has a sharp memory. She has appeared in more than 300 films (a conservative estimate), handled by the great directors, from National Artist Gerry de Leon (Ang Sawa sa Lumang Simboryo and Sisa) at Premiere Productions in the ‘50s where she reigned as queen (paired with the likes of Jose Padilla Jr.), National Artist Lino Brocka (Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang; Tatlo, Dalawa, Isa, etc.) in the ‘70s and Brillante Mendoza (Lola, with Rustica Carpio, another gem of Philippine Cinema) in the present time.

To test her memory, I asked Alice what her favorite is among her films. “Sisa,” she replied smiling, her eyes wandering to a distant time when movies were movies were movies. “I did only two films with Gerry. Sayang.”

Would she know how many films she had done?

“Darling,” she said, “I don’t know. Hindi ko mabilang; hindi ko binilang. You know what, one of these days maybe I should start counting them.” Then she broke into a faint laughter.

What could be the “secret” of her staying power, outliving all her contemporaries and continuing to work?

“Sasabihin ko bang sekreto?” she asked, turning misty-eyed. “Should I say my God-given talent? I don’t know why God gave me that gift.”

In her latest movie, Adolf Alix Jr.’s Circa (Since), with co-stars (from left) Elizabeth Oropeza, Laurice Guillen, Jaclyn Jose, Gina Alajar and Ricky Davao (standing).

It was for Sisa that Alice won Best Actress at the Maria Clara Awards in 1951, a year before FAMAS was born. Yes, she is “still Alice,” to borrow the title of a Hollywood film (Still Alice) that won Julianne Moore an Oscar Best Actress for her poignant performance as Dr. Alice Howland, a renowned linguistics professor at Columbia University who must come face-to-face with a devastating diagnosis — early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

“She is a sweetheart to work with,” said Adolf Alix Jr., director of Circa, Alice’s latest starrer shot last May. “I have worked with her in about 10 films, starting with Tambolista (2007) and Adela (2008). She’s very professional, punctual on the set and prepared with her lines. Laging preparado. At her age, kaya pa niyang sabayan sina Gina (Alajar) at Jaclyn (Jose).”

As a nod to the Philippine Cinema Centennial, Circa (Since) traces the life of Doña Atang (Anita), a once celebrated film producer from the earlier years of Philippine cinema, as she celebrates her 100th birthday. For her wish, she wants a reunion with all the actors and staff that she has worked with. She is also looking for an unfinished film from one of her directors. Her great grandson Michael (Enchong Dee) decides to take the task of finding Doña Atang’s colleagues. As he does, we remember the glorious years of cinema from its workers — fragments of a colorful past filled with faded memories.

Added Adolf (who was at the tribute), “Circa won the White Light Post-Production Award at the17th Hong Kong-Asia Film Financing Forum (HAF) last March. The award is valued at approximately US$15,000 (HK$117,000). The award is designed to promote cinematic innovation and promising Asian directors.”

Shown in one scene in Circa is the Amorsolo painting that captured Alice at her prime, a gift to her by her late second husband who secretly gave Fernando Amorsolo a picture of Alice to guide him.

This was how I described Alice in a decades-old interview I did with her when she starred in the 1974 Brocka classic Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang: 

Like the script for a lachrymal flick, her life is punctuated with dramatic episodes: there’s the shy little rich girl who hid in the woods at the back of their house at the sight of strangers…the pretty sixteener accidentally discovered for showbiz because of the red bandana that she was wearing…the superstar who spiced up her image with headline-making outbursts of temper…the stormy marriage to a movie idol (Fred Cortez Sr.) that ended on the rocks…the temporary fadeout from the movie scene and the triumphant comeback…and the woman, tempered now by experience who would like to live forever, to be immortal.

Anita Linda is a woman and an actress for all seasons. That she has beautifully survived the crises in her professional and personal life is a glowing tribute to her own inner strength. A woman of lesser stuff would have easily crumbled to pieces under the weight of her trying experiences. It’s not therefore superfluous to say that she is her own trophy.

The title of that piece published in the Martial Law magazine Expressweek was Anita Linda: An Actress For All Seasons. Not long after that was born “A Star For All Seasons,” none other than your and my Ate Vi (reelected Batangas Rep. Vilma Santos).

The ads for Anita’s only two movies with National Artist Gerry de Leon, Sisa and...

In that interview, Alice recalled how she bagged the Sisa role.

“There was a funny incident before Premiere assigned me that role. I used to live in the same lot with Gerry and I’d been dying to be directed by him pero parang hindi niya ako pinapansin. One time nga, pinaringgan ko siya. Sabi ko, ‘Bakit kaya ayaw ako i-direk?’ Aba, naghihinanakit na ako. I was vacationing in Japan when Premiere sent me a telegram…Cut your vacation short. Stop. To star in Sisa. Stop. Gerry directing. So I took the first available flight home.”

Alice was discovered during the Japanese Occupation while watching a stage show at the Avenue Theater. Leopoldo Salcedo, who was onstage with Lopito, couldn’t concentrate on his lines and Lopito gasped when he saw why. At the front row sat Alice, her hair tied by a red bandana. Leopoldo had the spotlight turned on her.

After the show, director Lamberto Avellana asked Alice if she wanted to be in the movies.

“Ayoko, nahihya ako,” Alice said he told Avellana. “But Avellana was persistent. He even went to our house after a few weeks. At that time, our properties were being confiscated by the Japanese and my father said, ‘Pumayag ka na dahil wala na tayong pera.’ So I said yes, and after a while, I discovered that l loved acting pala.”

After her brief stint at Avenue Theater, Alice had her screen debut in Tiya Juana, produced by LVN Pictures, starring Leopoldo, Mila del Sol and Fred Cortez Sr. whom she would marry. They would stay in the US for two years.

Her life was “full of drama, not dramatics.” A photo in that scrapbook shows her coming down the ramp of a plane from the USA, carrying her five-month-old baby (Fred Cortez Jr. who became an actor and now into his early 70’s living in the USA) when she came home after her divorce from Fred. It was said that at her prime, Alice still lived in a district prone to fire, so she always went to bed wearing makeup since she didn’t want to run out of the house un-made-up in case a fire broke out. “Baka sabihin ng mga tao, aba, ganyan pala si Anita Linda, walang kilay,” she laughed at the memory.

In that same old interview, Alice admitted that she was hypochondriac (avoiding food that she feared could cause cancer) and terribly afraid of death. “I don’t want to die,” she had declared with conviction. “I want to live forever.”

She claimed that she could cry easily in scenes because she had experienced so much pain and suffering…and death.

The first gruesome death that she had witnessed was when her older sister, who was close to her, was killed by robbers. “I screamed and screamed in shock and locked myself up in my room,” adding, “I also saw my first-born, only 11 months old, gasping for life but I was helpless so I just cried and cried, my tears wetting his little cheeks.”

And there was the death of her father, an American military officer, who got ill in the concentration camp in Pangasinan. He was rushed to the San Lazaro Hospital, along the way calling for Alice who couldn’t go out of the house because there was curfew.

“I had a premonition of Papa’s death. Two hours before that fateful phone call, I woke up at midnight to feed my baby (the one that died). But I was surprised when I saw that the full feeding bottle I had left beside his crib was already empty. And my baby looked as if he had just been fed. Then the room was engulfed by my Papa’s smell. When the phone rang again, I knew Papa was gone.”

...Ang Sawa sa Lumang Simboryo.

That’s why Alice doesn’t attend wakes or look at dead people.

“I would get depressed for days.” (Maybe because it reminds her of her own mortality.)

In that Sunday’s interview, I asked Alice what she would have been if she didn’t join showbiz.

“Just a plain housewife,” she whispered.

But fate would not let her be.

“I have no regrets,” added Alice.

Been there, done that.

Her voice breaking a bit, she looked straight at me and sighed, “Ay naku, those were the days!,” adding as if in an afterthought, “Hindi ko alam kung kailan…you know what I mean. Mahal ko ang buhay kaya ayokong…Life is beautiful!”

After all these 94 years, she’s in control, she’s as beautiful as the girl with hair tied in a red bandana, as sharp as the proverbial razor that has failed to cut her heart.

Yes, she is Still Alice.

(E-mail reactions at [email protected] For more updates, photos and videos, visit www.philstar.com/funfare or follow me on Instagram @therealrickylo.)





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