“Brutal”, “Sister Stella L”, “Soltero”, “Kisap-mata”, “Tatlo, Dalawa, Isa”, “Tubog sa Ginto”, “Minsa’y Isang Gamu-gamo” and “Aguila” are true gems of Philippine cinema. But aside from being great classics, they have another plus factor— they all starred a truly gifted actor named Jay Ilagan.
Jay was from the famed Ilagan clan of showbiz. His parents were the top stars Corazon Noble and Angel Esmeralda of circa 40s. Hermogenes Ilagan, the father of Philippine sarzuela was his grandfather while national artist Gerry de Leon was an uncle.
According to his elder brother Leslie, Jay practically invited himself to showbiz. “When my mom was shooting “Mga Tigreng Tagabukid” in Pandi, Bulacan, she used to take Jay and myself with her every weekend. One day, director Manding Garces needed a child in a scene. To everyone’s surprise, Jay volunteered. ‘Uncle Manding, ako na lang,’ he said. My mom was surprised but Uncle Manding wasn’t. He said to my mom: ’Kataka-taka ba ‘yan. Pareho kayong artista!”
Jay did the scene in one take. And soon, he was accepting other films roles. In his next film, “Walang Duwag na Lalaki” under Tagalog Ilang-Ilang Productions, he already had a billing. His first screen name was Boy Noble.
Fernando Poe Jr. saw Jay’s first film and was very impressed. “Naku, idol na idol ni Jay si Ronnie,” relates Leslie. Saka, tinuturuan siyang mag – swimming niyan eh. So, binata pa si Ron noon, may rapport na sila ni Jay.”
“When FPJ started producing movies, he got Jay as his sidekick. When he did “Batang Maynila”, he billed Jay as Jay Ilagan”, Leslie says.
He was an instant sensation. FPJ was everybody’s favorite and every young boy wanted to be Jay Ilagan because he was FPJ’s perennial sidekick in the movies.
“When Jay was a kid, biglang darating si FPJ sa bahay, nagkukuwentuhan sila. Soon, pati si Erap, si Jay na kinukuha basta may child role. Pati yung “Maruja”(1968) si Jay din yung batang Romeo (Vasquez), while Vilma (Santos) was the young Susan (Roces)”, he says.
Jay’s career never wavered until his teen years, when he reigned as one of the top three matinee idols, along with Tirso Cruz III and Edgar Mortiz.
But while his contemporaries banked on their musical and dancing skills, Jay concentrated on honing his craft, and appeared in worthwhile movies that helped define the golden age of cinema in the 70s and 80s.
Among Jay’s impressive body of works were: “Bad Bananas sa Puting Tabing” (1983), “Kakabakaba Ka Ba?” (1980), “Kasal?” (1980), ”Salawahan” (1979), “Fe, Esperanza, Caridad” (1975), “Ato ti Bondying” (1973), “Dodong Diamond” and “Santiago” (1970).
To Leslie, Jay’s best performance was showcased in Marilou Diaz Abaya’s “Brutal”(1980). “He was so convincing as the villain in that movie, and I know it was plain acting because his film character was his polar opposite in real life. He was also good in “Kisap-Mata”(1982), where he effectively employed under acting. He’s the type of actor, na hindi nakikipagsapawan. He loved to read and he did a lot of research in preparation for his roles.”
Jay was Corazon and Angel’s youngest child but he grew up with his mom and elder brother Leslie. His eldest sister Lourdes died when she was just ten months old while his dad, Angel was based in Guam. Despite the dad’s absence, Leslie claims, “Lumaki kami na parang buo ang pamilya because the Ilagan clan is really closed-knit”.
Despite the demands of showbiz, Jay was able to finish Advertising in Maryknoll College (Now Meriam). “He was among the first batch of male students accepted in Maryknoll when it turned co-ed,” adds Leslie.
Jay was a man of varied interests. “He didn’t know how to cook but he definitely loved to eat. He played basketball, did scuba. Mahilig siya sa outdoors, biking and motorcycling. He was close to Bobot (Edgar Mortiz), the Bad Bananas (Johnny Delgado, Christopher de Leon), barkada talaga ‘yan”, says Leslie.
“Jay was kind. Sa kanya, walang masamang tinapay. He’s exactly the same as my mom,” he continues. “He didn’t know how to say ‘no.’ Kakainin na lang, ibibigay pa sa ‘yo. He was super-generous, to a fault, and he wasn’t attached to material things.”
“When he died, there was a group of handicaps. They brought flowers to Jay at the funeral. ‘Hindi n’yo naitatanong, sumusuporta sa amin yan (Jay)’, they said. And no one knew it. We were raised that way. My mom used to say, ‘Never let your right hand, know what your left hand is doing”, he furthers.
“As a brother, I miss him,” admits Leslie. “When Jay was alive I wasn’t afraid of anything because I knew that Jay would take care of my family should something bad happen. I knew he would always be there for me.”
“He was emotional when it comes to love, but he would never show it”, he continues. “Marami siyang naging girlfriend but he wasn’t the type who would ‘kiss and tell’. He respected women. And he wanted to be the pursuer, not the pursued.”
“Pag sikat ang kapatid mo, lahat ng pinto nakabukas para sa ‘yo,” he philosophies. “When Jay died, I told his children not to take comfort, na dati bukas lahat ang pinto, dahil maraming pinto ang sasara”.
Jay was only 36 when he died in a motorcycle mishap in February 3, 1992. He was survived by brother Leslie and daughter Leona Paula (with erstwhile wife Hilda Koronel).
“People told me that FPJ cried when Jay died,” says Leslie. “He came to the wake at dawn. Nagalit pa nga yan, nung tumaba si Jay. Sabi n’ya kay Jay, ‘Paano ko magreretiro? Ayokong magretiro kung ‘di ko sa ‘yo ibibigay ang korona”.
“He died a rich man,” says Leslie. “He was comfortable as he wasn’t wanting of anything. He was simple. And as long as he had a good sound, good movies, okey na yun. And he knew na maraming nagmamahal sa kanya.”
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