Narcisa de Leon

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Doña Narcisa Buencamino Vda. De Leon (29 October 1877 – 6 February 1966) was a busineswoman, philanthropist, and a pioneer movie producer who founded LVN Pictures. She was fondly called Doña Sisang. The story of Doña Sisang is an inspiring success story. She proved how hard work, dedication, and the blessings of good fortune can bring fame and fortune.

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Early Life

Doña Sisang was born on October 29, 1877 in San Miguel, Bulacan. Her father died when she was barely 5 years old, forcing her to help her mother with the family business.

In 1904 she married Jose de Leon, Don Pepe, a landowner and a local official of San Miguel, Bulacan. They were blessed with five children, Florencia, Encarnacion, Pelagio, Manuel and Amanda. They founded a real estate business which prospered, so that by 1929 they were able to donate Eladia Memorial Hospital to the town.

From her mother, Doña Sisang learned everything that an ideal wife and mother should know: banking, sewing, making umbrellas, handling a business transaction, and even rifding a horse. She became the object of admiration of the townfolk San Miguel. Through her effort she had made her business expand and acquire more properties not only in San Miguel but in other places too. Don Pepe, her husband died in 1934, after thirty years of marriage.

After her husband's death, the government appointed her to the board of NARIC, the rice distribution agency. Her continued success allowed her to invest in many side businesses, among them a small film company called Del Monte Pictures.

The LVN Saga

During the 1930s the Philippine film industry was in its infancy and Doña Sisang was not satisfied with her investment, so in 1938 at the age of 61, she decided to found her own movie production agency: LVN Pictures. The studio was named after the 3 founding capitalists: de Leon, Carmen Villongco, and Eleuterio Navoa, Jr.

Doña Sisang correctly analyzed that the emerging Filipino audience would gravitate instantly to musicals and comedies. Seized with this vision, she ordered her first director Carlos Vander Tolosa to cast an unknown 12-year-old girl whom she christened Mila de Sol opposite the young Fernando Poe, Sr. in its first feature film, Giliw Ko. The movie depicted a Philippines in transition, with the story of a young country girl infatuated with American song and movies. She is discovered and finds fame in the capital city, only to be disillusioned and return to her province in the arms of her childhood sweetheart (Poe, Sr.).

In 1939 she would repeat this recipe of success with her second feature, Mabangong Bulaklak, a musical comedy featuring Fernando Poe, Sr., Rosa del Mar, Elsa Oria and Leopoldo Salcedo, which became a massive box office success. In 1940 she bought out her partners and maintained complete control of the company.

Displaying an astute reading of Filipino audiences, she was able to edge out the pioneer studios Malayan Movies, Excelsior Pictures, and other bigger agencies: Parlatone, Filipinas Films, and Salumbides Brothers.

Deploying even more capital and the latest technology from Hollywood, de Leon spared no expense to produce in 1941 the country's first movie with color sequences Ibong Adarna. It was the first Filipino film to earn more than a million pesos at the box office.

The rapid ascent of LVN was halted by the outbreak of World War II in the Philippines. In anticaption of the Japanese invasion Doña Sisang had her key employees dismantle and hide valuable film equipment in secret tunnels.

Because of her foresight, LVN was the first movie studio to reopen after the war, filming in color which was very expensive at that time, because post-processing had to be done in the US. A string of hits followed, each topping the other: Orasang Ginto, Batalyon 13, costume epic Prinsepe Amante, and th sequel Prinsepe Amante sa Rubibania.

The 1950s saw the ascendance of LVN to the pinnacle of Philippine entertainment, under the "studio system" that Doña Sisang created, that is the deliberate manufacturing and supervision of the personal lives of stars, among them: Rogelio de la Rosa, Delia Razon, Leopoldo Salcedo, Fred Cortez, Rosa Rosal, Mario Montenegro, Leroy Salvador, Armando Goyena, Luz Valdez, Charito Solis and Nida Blanca.

Her artistic successes were solidified in the Asian film circuit where many of her films won awards, including Higit sa Lahat, Biyaya ng Lupa, and Lamberto Avellana's Anak Dalita which was named Best Film at the 1956 Asia-Pacific Film Festival. She became the first Filipino producer to enter joint production ventures with international movie companies. In Hollywood she co-produced No Place to Hide, starring David Brian and Marsha Hunt, with local stars in bit roles. With Djamaludin Malik, an Indonesian producer, she produced two versions of Rodrigo de Villa.

In contrast to the glamorous nature of the film business, Doña Sisang stuck to her traditional Bulakeña ways: she was a devout Catholic and insisted that all her films bear moral values. She monitored her stars' personal lives to keep them untainted from scandal or pubic scrutiny. She refused to dress up for any event, no matter how lavish the occasion. And she exercised extreme frugality, in contrast to her prodigious spending on her film productions.

Legacy

She parlayed her financial success at the movies by diversifying her investments. She became a major stockholder of Republic Cement Company, insurance and banking business, as well as schools. She widened her real estate holdings with the Wilson Building, Capitan Pepe Building at Azcarraga, the Pilar Building at Plaza Sta. Cruz, the Narcisa and Emma Buildings also on Rizal Avenue, as well as dozen of other apartment buildings.

Doña Sisang intensified her philanthropic efforts on the people of San Miguel, Bulacan, lavishing money on schools, hospitals, churches and to civic and charitable institutions.

In 1961 at the age of 84 she decided to redirect the focus on LVN on post-production, having had success in processing Eastman color for other movie studios. She died 4 years later on February 6,1966, three months after celebrating her eighty-eight birthday. She is buried in Cementerio del Norte. Her grandson Mike de Leon continued her tradition by becoming an award-winning director in the 1970s. His 1977 film Kung Mangarap Ka't Magising was dedicated to Doña Sisang for her 100th birth anniversary.


Awards

Because of her many contributions to her fellowmen in San Miguel, Doña Sisang received many awards:

1941-- Carlos P. Romulo Award fornthe technique and artistry of "Ibong Adarna "

1949-- Trend Public Opinion Award for outstanding accomplishment in the movie industry

1950-- Maria Clara Award for best producer

1950-- National Federation of Women's Clubs Award for her outstanding contribution to the movie industry

1951-- Katipunang Pambansa ni Plaridel Award for her propagation of the national language through the movies

1956-- Best Producers Award for "Anak-Dalita"

1960-- Presidential merit award for her outstanding contribution to the movie industry




References

  • de Guzman,Jovita V.,Vicente A. Santiago,Remedios T. de Leon and Teresita E. Erestain. Women Of Distinction; Biographical Essays on Outstanding Filipino Women of the Past and the Present. Philippines: Bukang Liwayway, 1967
  • Manuel, E.A. Dictionary of Philippine Biography, Vol. 4. Quezon City: Filipiniana Publlications, 1995.
  • Filipinos in History Vol. III. Manila, Philippines: National Historical Institute, pp. 68-70.
  • Garcia, Jessie B. (2004). A Movie Album Quizbook. Iloilo City, Philippines: Erehwon Books & Magazine

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