Narcisa de Leon

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Narcisa Buencamino-De León (October 29, 1877 – February 6, 1966) was a Filipino film producer.

Clad daily in the frugal rural dress of the camisón, saya and tsinelas,[1] Doña Sisang, as she was widely known, was already a 61-year-old widow when she entered the film industry. Nonetheless, she chartered her family-owned LVN Pictures into a dominant position in post-World War II Philippine cinema. In addition, de Leon was one of the most highly regarded Filipino businesswomen of the first half of the 20th century.[1]

Her grandson, Mike de Leon, emerged as a highly acclaimed film director beginning in the 1970s. His 1977 film Kung Mangarap Ka't Magising was dedicated to his late grandmother on the occasion of her birth centenary.[2]

In the 1930s, the Philippine film industry was growing and this was also birth of her movie production agency. In the nearby Hacienda Hamady, the Sampaguita Pictures Studio set up their shop, while along Justice Pedro Tiangco Tuazon Boulevard in Cubao the LVN Pictures Studio opened in 1936. The studio was named using the initials of the founding families of De Leon, Villonco and Navoa, and continued to operate up to 2005. The commemorative fountain was left in the historic film studio, and this was dedicated to her as LVN studio’s co-founder and chairperson. The said fountain has been transferred to the Quezon Memorial Circle’s Experience Museum in 2017.[3]

Commemorative fountain dedicated to Doña Narcisa Buencamino-De Leon located in Quezon Memorial Circle, Quezon City

Early life

She was born in San Miguel, Bulacan in October 1877. She was the daughter of a poet and the granddaughter of a Chinese merchant.[1] Her father died when she was five,[4] and she was later forced to stop schooling after the fourth grade in order to work for a living.[1] In her teens, she was worked as cook and a seamstress, and she eventually entered the business of making umbrellas.[4]

In 1904, she married José de León, a local government official in San Miguel, with whom she had five children. The family settled in San Miguel, Bulacan.

Life in Business and Film Industry

The de León couple ventured into the rice production business, and eventually became the leading rice producers in Luzon.[1] In the 1920s, the couple owned several high-valued real estate properties in Bulacan, Manila, and other prime locations within Luzon.[4] They also engaged in philanthropic activities and donated a hospital to their hometown in San Miguel.

De León was widowed in 1934. She moved her family to Manila, took charge of the family business, and refocused it towards real estate.[1] It was said that the business soared to new heights when she took full control after her husband's death.[4] She also became the first woman appointed to the board of directors of a government corporation when she was named by President Manuel Quezon to be part of the National Rice and Corn Corporation.[1]

In the 1950s, De León was among the organizing shareholders of Republic Cement Corporation, which soon became one of the leading cement producers in the country.[1]

Filipino film industry [4]

In 1938, her family, along with the Villongco and Navoa families, established a film studio. The company was named LVN Pictures, the name taken from the respective initials of the three founding families.[5] Apart from de Leon, the two other principal founding partners of LVN Pictures were Carmen Villongco and Eleuterio Navoa Sr.[6]

LVN broke into the Philippine film industry with the successful release of its first feature, Carlos Vander Tolosa's musical, Giliw Ko, which was released in 1939. De León was elected president of LVN Pictures in 1940,[4] and she eventually bought out the shares of her other partners, gaining full control over the studio.[5] Giliw Ko was followed by another successful film, Manuel Conde's Ibong Adarna (1941), which featured the first color sequence in a Filipino film, and was the first local movie to earn more than a million pesos.[7] However, LVN Pictures was forced to close upon the Japanese invasion of the Philippines in December 1941.[6] It resumed operations after the Liberation of Manila in 1945, and produced the first post-war Filipino movie, Orasang Ginto (1946). In 1949, LVN produced the first full-colored Filipino feature film, Batalyon XIII. Dissatisfied by the color processing of that film, De León bought her own color laboratory for LVN.[1] LVN Pictures saw the peak of its success in the decade following the war, hosting a stable of the most prominent film stars who had joined its studios such as Rogelio de la Rosa. In addition to producing commercially successful movies, LVN also featured critically acclaimed films such as Lamberto Avellana's Anak Dalita (1956), which was named the Best Film at the 1956 Asia-Pacific Film Festival. In the late 1950s, LVN capitalized on the unexpected stardom of one of its contract players, the singer Diomedes Maturan who emerged as the top box-office draw of 1958–1959.

Thematic influence on LVN films

During her years at the helm of LVN Pictures, de León retained absolute control over the operations of the studio and of the films it produced. She personally read and approved the final scripts prior to production,[1]and later with the assistance of her son, Manuel.[1] Her personal tastes dictated the themes of LVN films. Reflecting her upbringing and age, she was partial to rural romances and stories based on the traditional forms of awit and corrido,[1] and populated her movies with Philippine folk dances.[1] She resisted copying Hollywood trends and insisted on injecting Filipino culture into LVN films.[1]

Devoutly Catholic, she demanded that each LVN's film must contain a moral lesson.[8] She disallowed sex scenes and permitted only love scenes that featured no more than a peck on the cheek.[1]

Her idiosyncrasies aside, de Leon used the phrase "Kung ano ang kikita" ("Whatever makes money") to justify the choices of scripts that LVN adapted into film.[1] As a result, she resisted making "prestige films" that delved into socially conscious issues. She was hesitant to produce Avellana's bleak drama Anak Dalita, and only did so at the insistence of her son, Manuel.[1]

Star maker

De León was known for her acumen in selecting and cultivating stars. This was manifested early on in the casting of the very first LVN film, Giliw Ko. De Leon was instrumental in the casting of the then-unknown Mila del Sol in a romantic leading role, over the objection of director Vander Tolosa who felt that the 12-year-old actress was too young for the role.[8] Del Sol was first of the many Filipino actors whom de Leon discovered and groom for stardom. Among the other discoveries of de Leon and LVN Pictures were Charito Solis,[9] Nida Blanca,[5] Armando Goyena,[10] Luz Valdez,[5] Delia Razon,[11] and Mario Montenegro.[1] Razon and Montenegro signed with LVN after De Leon espied them in bit roles in other films.[1]

De León was a fiery disciplinarian[5] whom, it was joked, would fall ill when she had no one to scold.[1] She maintained a strict supervision over the behavior of her stars,[5] restraining their spending habits by withholding portions of their salaries until their withheld pay was sufficient to buy a new house or car.[1] De León periodically handed out cash advances to LVN actresses so they could purchase new gowns.[1] She involved herself into the personal lives of her stars. For instance, she took part in the reconciliation between Nestor de Villa and his father, with whom the former had become estranged after the latter disapproved of his son's decision to become an actor.[1] She frequently invited many of her actors to her home in Quezon City. De León was also willing to help in manually sewing the costumes of her actresses.[5]

Lifestyle

De León was known for her extreme humility.[4] She favored her simple rural attire even when attending the most lavish receptions, and would immediately deflect any praises directed at her.[4] She insisted on using an old diesel-powered Mercedes-Benz even after it had fallen out of fashion and in disrepair.[1] De León also continued her philanthropic activities like building a school in her hometown in San Miguel, contributing to the renovation of the San Miguel Church,[4] and even donating parcels of land in Bulacan and Cabanatuan to the needy.[5]

Despite her financial success, de Leon never learned to read English and could only speak the language at a most rudimentary level. She was however, well-versed in Spanish and Tagalog.[1]

Later years

Despite the box-office success of the films of LVN Pictures in the 1940s and 1950s, it was unable to sustain financial liquidity, and by 1961, it stopped producing movies and redirected its operations for post-production services. Despite being in her eighties, De León continued on as a film producer with Dalisay Pictures, an independent production outfit. She also attended to her other businesses, and was still active until the week before her death at the age of 88 in 1966.[1] De Leon was buried at the Manila North Cemetery.

Notes

  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17 1.18 1.19 1.20 1.21 1.22 1.23 1.24 1.25 Mercado, Monina (1977). Doña Sisang and Filipino Movies. Philippines: Vera-Reyes, Inc.. 
  2. Mike de Leon. Kabayan Central (May 14, 2006).
  3. Growing Up in Cubao, Quezon City: History and Art (en) (2019-01-07).
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 4.8 (1996) Filipinos in History Vol. III. Philippines: National Historical Institute, 68–70. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 Belen, Crispina (July 7, 2005). LVN Studios closes shop!. Celebrity World. Manila Bulletin.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Ambrocio, Royce (April 15, 2006). Film History Comes to Life at LVN Museum. Articles Gratuits.com.
  7. Garcia, J. "A Movie Quizbook", page 136
  8. 8.0 8.1 Paras, Wilhelmina (December 4, 1998). RETURN OF A GOLDEN OLDIE: A regional film-restoration effort bears fruit. Asiaweek Magazine.
  9. Charito Solis IMDB Biography. The Internet Movie Database.
  10. Lo, Ricky (December 23, 2001). ARMANDO GOYENA: THEN AND NOW. Philippine Star.
  11. Baldovino, Gypsy (May 14, 2006). BLAST from the past: Delia Razon – Grand Dame of Sword-and-Sandal Epics. Manila Bulletin. Template:Dead link

References

  • Mercado, Monina (1977). Doña Sisang and Filipino Movies. Philippines: Vera-Reyes, Inc.. 
  • (1996) Filipinos in History Vol. III. Manila, Philippines: National Historical Institute, 68–70. 
  • Garcia, Jessie B. (2004). A Movie Album Quizbook. Iloilo City, Philippines: Erehwon Books & Magazine, 136. ISBN 971-93297-0-X. 

Original Source

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