Strong is Sexy, According to These Iconic Pinay Actresses
Sweethearts and sex symbols abound in Philippine cinema. However, there is a certain kind of female celebrity who doesn't fall neatly in either of these categories. These are the talented women who capture the public's imagination with their real-life exploits and quirks as well. Here are the female celebrities from the 1950s to the first decade of the 21st century who projected seductive sophistication, called their own shots, and lived fierce.
She was already a household name when World War II broke out. While her cinematic career was temporarily interrupted, this showbiz diva took the spotlight in the battlefield. In a Mar 13, 2005 article by Ernie Pecho in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Marichu Vera Perez-Maceda was quoted as saying, "Carmen's (first) husband, Ramon Novales, was killed by the Japanese. So she joined the guerrilla movement and actually participated in encouters with the enemies. There was an incident when the actress, proving she was a sharpshooter, felled a makapili (traitor)."
Later on, the Japanese Imerial Army supposedly told Carmen that all the people in a village in Pangasinan (where she was from) would be killed if she did not accept the offer to star in a movie titled Tatlong Maria. Of course, she had to agree to the offer. According to Pinoy Kollektor, this was during the time when Japanese propaganda offices tapped several local filmmakers "to make pictures that promote Filipino-Japanese friendship."
Perhaps, for Carmen's bravery, the minicipality of Rosales in Pangasinan was named after her. It happens to have two barangays: Carmen East and Carmen West.
Carmen's fame withstood the war. She went right back to starring in movies from 1947 throughout the 1950s. Later on Carmen retired from public life and appeared to have gone off the showbiz grid. This is partly why she was dubbed as "the Greta Garbo of the Philippines."
In 1978, though, Carmen agreed to a rather lengthy interview done by Manny B. Fernandez for Expressweek. She was already 61 by then. Carmen was asked to weigh in on the so-called "bold (sexually daring) movies" of that time. She stated, "In my opinion, our crowd is apparently not yet ready to take these bold movies without malice. I believe it’s high time we educated the public on realistic love scenes. As long as the execution of these scenes are artistic and in good taste, I don’t see any reason why we should take them with malice."
Carmen died in 1991.
This sultry screen siren (real name Claire Strauss) was often compared to Rita Hayworth. However, she wasn't just banking on her looks and spectacular figure (movie scribes compared her to Venus). Lilia has the distinction of being the first Philippine actress to ever to win an international award, as Asia's Best Actress for the film Kandilerong Pilak in 1954.
Lilia later went on a hiatus from showbiz and married director Gil de Leon. They had three kids who also joined showbiz: Pinky, Christopher, and Lara Melissa. According to pop culture enthusiast Alex R. Castro, after Lilia's marriage to Gil ended, she went to the U.S. and remarried. She and her second husband, Antonio Abad, had two more kids named Antoinette and Corrie.
Lilia later appeared in the 1974 film that also starred her son Christopher, Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang.
Her striking features and regal bearing made were her tickets to showbiz, but her incredible range as an actress made Lolita a star. In fact, she is considered "one of the greatest actresses in Philippine cinema."
Lolita, who started her showbiz career at age 18, made her mark in the era's staple film genres—drama, comedy, and action. Her formidable body of work spans more than 80 movies and numerous awards.
Lolita's most iconic role is that of a mentally challenged woman named Kuala in 1974's Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang. She also happens to be the grandmother of singer Radha Cuadrado.
Lolita passed away in 2016.
Dubbed the "original femme fatale of Philippine cinema," she is anything but that in real life. Despite leading a glamorous life, she managed to get a Business Administration degree.
These days, most people know Rosa for being a staunch advocate of the Philippine Red Cross.
She was married briefly to a pilot named Walter Gayda (their daughter is TV host Toni Rose Gayda), who left her shortly after they got married because he reportedly could not handle her fame. When asked about this years later, she quipped, "I closed my doors on love. I had enough money. I did not need a man. There is happiness without a man."
She was known for playing "liberated" characters. "Rita quickly became a favorite actress of top directors who wanted to dramatize modern relationships, as opposed to traditional stories that kept their female characters meek and subservient," noted Nestor U. Torre in Philippine Daily Inquirer.
In any case, Rita's real life was far more colorful than the onscreen scenarios she dramatized. One of stories most often told about Rita was when she was one of the judges of the 1982 Binibining Pilipinas pageant. She had reportedly asked candidate Maria Isabel Lopez this quiestion:"Here’s your question, hija, Are you still a virgin?" To which Maria said, "If I say I still am, can I bring home the crown tonight?" Rita praised Maria's answer. But then, Maria had playfully asked her, "What about you ma'am, are you still a virgin?" Rita simply replied, "Hija, I have five children with five different fathers, and what do you call that, Immaculate Conception?"
In her films, she was almost always portrayed as the pretty girl-next-door with superb comic timining. If there's any Hollywood star who could be compared to her, it would be Lucille Ball. Nida (real name Dorothy Jones), though, had the edge as her work in dramatic films is also outstanding. She was murdered in 2001.
Though she was already in showbusiness in the 1950s, it wasn't until the 1960s that Charito totally owned the spotlight with landmark roles in movies like Igorota. She won the 1968 FAMAS Best Actress Award for the movie, where she also gained the distinction of being the first Filipina actress to bare her breasts on film. It wasn't gratuitous nudity, as her role simply called for it and so she did it. (The movie, by the way, had all its characters speaking in English.) It was a big "scandal" at that time though. Charito had a reputation for being a willful and exacting thespian. She reportedly had "volatile outburts" whenever professionalism wasn't observed on the set. Charito died in 1998.
The movie press respected—and, perhaps, feared her, too—because she was highly intelligent and articulate. She was also tagged as a fashion maverick. She later made her mark playing villains—most notably as Valentina in Darna.
We know that she's hailed as "Asia's Queen of Songs," but we were surprised to find out that she actually started her career in Australia in 1959. In fact, she's the first woman to make the Australian pop charts with a local recording called "Come Closer to Me." In 1963, went along with her family when they decided to go back to the Philippines. There's no reason stated why they decided not to push through with their migration to Australia.
She was crowned as Binibining Pilipinas Universe title in 1967 and represented the country in the Miss Universe pageant that same year. She had an aristocratic and sophisticated vibe that later served her well in showbiz, where she hit her stride as an actress in the 70s.
After becoming the first Filipina to win the Miss Universe title in 1969, Gloria was a shoo-in for showbiz. She didn't have the mestiza looks favored by the industry, but her charisma and wit more than made up for that. It didn't hurt that she could also really act.
The stunning Hilda (real name Susan Reid) absolutely slayed everyone with her disturbingly effective acting skills. She's downright frightening in 1976's Insiang. She was so good at acting that you forgot she was beautiful and got lost in how she portrayed the character.
She is probably the most underrated actress of her generation. Aside from the fact that she didn't resort to histrionics in her movie scenes, she was also undoubtedly cerebral. She's now better known as a director.
Her expressive eyes alone are worth the price of the show. Elizabeth was in the running to be cast as Marlon Brando's wife in Apocalypse Now. However, the movie's casting directors (some say Francis Ford Coppola himself) reportedly changed their minds because Elizabeth was "too beautiful" for the part.
If there's any role that always went to Chanda, it was that of a classy career woman. She epitomized an intelligent woman who was comfortable in her own skin—charming, confident, and no-nonsense.
She has an ethereal appeal that simply draws the audience to her. But while Charo seemed like such a fragile beauty on screen, she definitely saw a bigger picture off it. She went on to become one of the most respected TV network executives in the country. When she took a breather that, she starred in Lav Diaz's Ang Babaeng Humayo (2016) and it seemed as if there was no 17-year gap from her last acting gig.
She was an Architecture student before she had to drop out due to her showbiz stints. She caused quite a stir when she posed nude for Playboy's July 1982 German edition. In a 2012 interview, she told ABS-CBN News: "I didn’t want to be posing in a way that I think would be unacceptable or vulgar. I wanted to have the freedom because my idea was, when I pose for Playboy, I wanted to show the world my curves. And I am quite flexible and I wanted to showcase that. I wanted it to be artsy." When she decided to ease up on showbiz for a while, Tetchie went back to school and eventually earned a PhD in Psychology.
She was the kolehiyala that everyone desired. Her sultry appeal was tempered by her acerbic quips. It certainly didn't hurt that she was easy on the eyes.
It could be said that the coltish Cherie was genetically predispositioned to embark on a showbiz career—what with her parents Eddie Mesa and Rosemarie Gil both being talented thespians. However, Cherie definitely made her own mark as an actress in mostly villainous roles that she could probably do in her sleep.
1990s to early 2000s
She had the nation's attention when she appeared in a Shell ad, then had everyone talking when she hooked up and had a daughter with Robin Padilla (who, at that time, wasn't exactly the model citizen that he is today). Despite the controversy, Leah managed to keep things low-key by not commenting on the issue.
She graduated magna cum laude with a degree in Fashion Buying and Merchandising from Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. However, an opportunity to work in showbiz presented itself. She started out as a backup singer for Megastar Sharon Cuneta, but soon earned a title of her own: "Crush ng Bayan" as she got cast in TV shows and movies.
Although Lara's showbiz career was rather short, she already established herself as a thinking actress who delivered nuanced performances in movies like Luksong Tinik (1999) and Bayaning 3rd World (2000).
A graduate of BA European Languages from the University of the Philippines, she snagged the Mutya ng Pilipinas and Miss Asia Pacific International crowns in 1993.
She gained fame for starring in the "Bridesmaid ka lang!" Coke ad before she became an MTV VJ in 1999. She left MTV in 2003. She then married longtime boyfriend, tennis player Joseph Lizardo, and they migrated to the U.S.