Lilia Dizon-femme fatale of the 40s

In the taxonomy of flowers, pure-as-white lily symbolizes majesty. On the silver screen the splendor of lilia is captured by its namesake, the  femme fatale of the 50s, Ms. Lilia Dizon.

For two decades, Lilia’s on-screen characters sizzled as the anti-thesis of the  Maria Clara prototypes  that dominated the post-war movies. During her heydays, she was the Venus, the bathaluman, the engkantada, the sultry screen siren ala Rita Hayworth.

But unlike other alluring stars, this Lily was no dummy.  After all, fleur de Lilia  notched the record as the first Philippine actress ever to win an international award, as Asia’s Best Actress for the film “Kandilerong Pilak” in 1954.

The win came as a welcome respite from her six nominations (and losses) in the FAMAS.  Her triumph was particularly significant because that year, Lilia lost to Gloria Romero for her portrayal in “Dalagang Ilocana.”

The FAMAS trouncing however was very well compensated by Dizon’s unprecedented win in Cambodia, where she competed against 27 actresses from the Asian region.  “Prince Norodom Shihanouk even came here to personally hand me the Asia’s Best Actress award.  I’m proud of  the recognition, but it’s bittersweet,  because it took another country to recognize my acting ability,” reminisced Lilia.

She started her luminous showbiz career as Carol Strauss, a  singer in Lotus Theater.  Her first break in the film industry came in 1948 when writer–director Susana de Guzman,  tapped her to do “Probinsiyana.”  It was also  De Guzman,  who christened her Lilia, based on her name in her first movie, while the  surname  Dizon was culled from her mother’s last name. “In ‘Probinsiyana’,  I was one of the nemesis of  movie diva Carmen Rosales. I was nervous but I wasn’t totally lost because of my training on stage,” said Lilia.

At the age of 16, Carol, the singer  turned into Lilia, the film star.  At seventeen,   she married Gil de Leon, a five-star character actor, who was then 33.

One fateful day, film director Nemesio Caravana spotted Lilia furiously running across Avenida street to escape a strong rain.  And based on her natural  running  agility, the director sought her out to be his lead star  in  “Kaaway ng Babae”  under LVN Pictures.

Lilia was thrilled, but there was a problem—she had  a contract with Premiere Productions.  Together with husband Gil, Lilia talked to Premiere producer Dona Adela Santiago  to allow her do “Kaaway ng Babae” for LVN.  The couple’s case was founded on the studio’s inability to fulfill its part of the deal in Lilia’s contract—that she’d be provided  her own house.  The discussion turned sour, ending with Gil tearing Lilia’s contract to shreds, and in the process emancipating her.  The rest, as they say, is history.

“I stayed in LVN for a good eighteen years.  In a year’s time, I was able to build my own house  on  Boston Street,” said Lilia.

In  “Kaaway ng Babae,” Lilia tackled the dual role as the charming Lydia and the macho man Tenorio.  She was to disguise as a man in the company of his unknowing boss, a woman-hater played by Jose Padilla Jr.  There was this crucial scene,  where she had to run on track like other boys. So, ran she did, and transformed her status from a supporting  player into a  lead star.

Among her many films, Lilia considers “Kandilerong Pilak” as her most important.. And for obvious reason—it gave her  an international acting  award.  “I played the avenging daughter who witnessed the murder of her parents.  It  was  directed by Lamberto Avellana.”

Another film that left an indelible mark was “Sanda Wong.”  “In 1955, Premiere got me again to do this film, which was actually a collaboration between  Premiere  and a Hongkong film outfit.  It was directed by the master filmmaker, Gerry de Leon. It was even shown in Hongkong.”  The movie cemented Lilia’s reputation as the first Filipina actress to make it in the mainstream Asian market.

However, she regards “Bathaluman,” as her most memorable because it captured  her on-screen persona as the ultimate goddess of beauty.  “For the movie, Anastacio Caedo crafted a life-size statue of myself”, said Lilia.    “It was an exact replica. When  the film was finished, my producer Dona Sisang de Leon gave me the statue.  For a while, it served as the main attraction in  my  dress shop cum beauty parlor in Araneta, the  Bathaluman House of Beauty.  The statue was so beautiful that passersby actually stopped to admire it.”   Alas, the life-like statue was not meant to last.  It was smashed to pieces by  husband Gil, in one of their many spats.

Among her leading men, Lilia puts Leopoldo Salcedo on top of the list. “He’s a good actor, so versatile and a good coach.  In a way,  he was my mentor because he taught me a lot about  acting “,  said Lilia.

She also likes Jose (Pepe) Padilla Jr., whom she describes as a most natural actor. “No over-acting for him.  Natural lang”.

And of course, there’s Rogelio dela Rosa, her leading man in “Haring Kobra.”  Lilia said, “Rogelio is  Rogelio.  He’s different, very dignified. He really commanded respect. He was a senator and almost became a vice president”.

At the age of 36,  she left the movies.  It was also the time when she had a bitter separation from Gil. Her marriage with De Leon  produced three children: Christopher , Pinky and Lara Melissa.  Lilia went to her father Abe Strauss in the United States. While in the U.S.,  she married Antonio Abad and raised two more children: Toni and Connie Abad.
Lilia came back on  the silver screen in 1974 via the historic “Tinimbang ka Ngunit Kulang” directed by Lino Brocka. The movie marked the acting debut of a living legend, Lilia’s only son  Christopher de Leon.

Aside from having an impressive body of work and being a role-model for strong woman personages, Lilia’s showbiz legacy is fortified by her children, four of five are in showbusiness: Christopher, Pinky de Leon, Lara Melissa de Leon and Toni Abad, who is a singer.

Two years ago, GMA 7 summoned her from the U.S, where she is based, to play an important role in the telenovela, “Narito ang Puso Ko.”  “But that’s all.   I am now retired. I might have problems in memorizing my lines.  Ayokong magkalat,” quipped Lilia.

Why indeed should a queen settle for an exit that’s less grand?   Lilia Dizon did not wither before the public eye because she had chosen to fade, just at the right time, as a beautiful flower should.  After all, Lilia is also a flower. (For comments, send e-mail to gypsybaldovino@yahoo.com)

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