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Writing for Dolphy - almost |

Arts and Culture

Writing for Dolphy - almost

PENMAN - Butch Dalisay - The Philippine Star

The recent passing of Dolphy, inarguably the most talented and best-loved Filipino comedian of his generation, brought back some warm memories — not just of me as a kid enjoying Dolphy and Panchito do their “song translation” routine every Sunday on Buhay Artista, but also of what could have been a historic opportunity to work with this comic genius in a non-comic way.

The time was the late 1970s, and I had just started out in my screenwriting career with Lino Brocka, for whom I had already written some scripts. Lino and I would go on to do more than a dozen movies together, but the big one that got away was a project that Lino had lined up for Dolphy, Pilar Pilapil, and the very young Niño Muhlach, who had already been introduced as a dramatic sensation in Tahan Na, Empoy in 1977. Shortly after Empoy, which was a big commercial success, Lino was asked by a producer — Jesse Yu of Lotus Films, who had bankrolled Empoy — to think of a project that would involve Dolphy.

Lino then asked me to work up a storyline and a treatment, and we came to the agreement that it would be interesting if we took Dolphy out of the gay comedies he had become famous for (such as 1969’s Facifica Falayfay) and put him in a straight, dramatic role. After a week or so (that was all the time we had back then, when movies were routinely shot within a month), I came up with a storyline I tentatively titled Si Abe, Si Bugoy, at Si Pilar (yes, I liked Pilar Pilapil’s name so much that I decided to keep it for the character) where Abe was a kutsero driving his caritela in the Binondo area, Bugoy was his nephew and sidekick, and Pilar was a lady of the night. It shouldn’t be too difficult for you to guess the rest of the story from there (cut me some slack — I was only 23, and enamored of Fellini, neo-realism, and all that jazz).

In any case, the movie never got made; the reason I heard, which could have been true or not, was that Dolphy thought it too abrupt a departure from the norm, his norm. I was crestfallen, but soon got busy with other Brocka projects like Inay (my personal favorite of all my Brocka scripts, a light domestic comedy starring Alicia Vergel) and Mananayaw (with Chanda Romero, breathlessly described by the movie blurb thus: “She’s Wild... and Dangerous! It Takes More Than Love To Tame Her!”). Meanwhile, Dolphy did go on to work with Lino and another very talented scriptwriter, Dandy Nadres, on the delightful 1978 Lotus melodrama Ang Tatay Kong Nanay, where Dolphy played a gay parent caring for a young son, Niño Muhlach.

I never did get to write a script for Dolphy, which was too bad (certainly more for me than for him). In those days I would’ve given my right arm for the love of art, and what the client wanted still mattered less to me than what my feverish imagination was urging; I had convinced myself, rightly or wrongly, that I could’ve written a script that Dolphy would have loved, once he had actually read and acted it out.

I don’t think that I ever got to meet Dolphy in person, either (not that I met all that many stars; despite scripting two dozen movies, I never became an industry insider, although I remained a lifelong fan of such fine actors as Dolphy, Nora Aunor, Vilma Santos, Gina Alajar, and Jacklyn Jose — and, of course, Sharon Cuneta, for whom I wrote three movies).

Well, I did get to write for Dolphy — in a way, in another capacity. When his autobiography — told to Bibeth Orteza and titled Hindi Ko Ito Narating Mag-isa (Quezon City: Kaizz Ventures, 2008) — was about to be published, I received a request to read the manuscript and to write a blurb for the back cover, and I was happy to oblige, a full three decades after our little Binondo project got aborted. Here’s what I said about that book, and about the man:

“This is an extraordinary memoir of an extraordinary man who has gifted generations of Filipinos with laughter, but whose own life has been a struggle to balance life and work, to meet the demands of family and fatherhood, to tame his prodigious passions. This story is told with searing candor and compassion, not only by Dolphy himself but also by the many people whose lives he touched (and, in many instances, brought forth) — his women, his children, his friends, his colleagues. I haven’t read a biography like this, ever, and the uncensored, unmediated first-person accounts strike home with a power and a poignancy you’d be hard put to find in any screen drama. There are moments of humor and irony as well, and all in all we gain a truly moving picture of a brilliant but complex man whom we feel like knowing, in many senses, for the first time.”

Today, with Dolphy gone, these words sound truer than ever, and I would urge you to go look for a copy if you really want to understand Rodolfo V. Quizon, beyond the well-deserved but familiar praises following his death. I was abroad during the book’s launch, but I soon received my copy, autographed thus: “To Butch Dalisay, Thank you for the extraordinary blurb. You are a gem of Phil. Literature. Mabuhay ka and God bless, Dolphy.”

I don’t know if Dolphy was just being his gracious self, or if he had actually read one of my novels or stories, but what I really wanted to tell him — forget the novels and the stories — was, “Naku, Dolphy, kung alam mo lang, I would’ve written you a script you would’ve been so proud of — sayang!” The sayang, again, was more mine than his, because he certainly didn’t need my skills to prove his acting genius. (One favorite Dolphy scene of mine — I’m not sure from where now — has his impoverished character sniffing a dried fish suspended over the dining table, and then sending the fumes down his gullet with a handful of rice.)

I’ve been asked since, “Does Dolphy deserve the National Artist Award?” I’ve always thought so, but it’s a good thing that the Palace didn’t succumb to the enormous pressure to give it to him in a hurry, just because it seemed like he was about to go. He’ll get it, in good time, for the right reasons. If he’s where most people seem to think he is, looking down at us with an arched eyebrow, he’ll see it happen, and crack a smile, tip his hat, turn on his heel, and saunter off, whistling.

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E-mail me at and check out my blog at

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