Luminous, lovely Lolita Rodriguez
Hard to believe, but Lolita Rodriguez and Hilda Koronel have never shared the screen together even though both actresses were favorites of filmmaker Lino Brocka and were in the cast of at least four of his landmark movies, “Tubog sa Ginto” (1970), “Stardoom” (1972), “Tatlo, Dalawa, Isa” (1974) and “Tinimbang Ka Nguni’t Kulang” (1974).
“I’ve never really acted with Lolita,” Hilda told the Inquirer via Facebook Messenger. “But I loved her body of work. I looked up to her when I was starting in the industry. She was my model…of what I wanted to be as an actress.”
She remembered her “idol” as “a very nice lady…[with] a good head on her shoulders.”
Like Lolita, Hilda is now based in the United States.
“Last time I saw her was on her 80th birthday party last year,” Hilda recalled. “Her daughter Birdie, who is my friend and was my classmate in Maryknoll, invited me. She (Lolita) still looked great! And she was very funny. She told me that I looked like a certain actress named Hilda Koronel.”
Hilda admitted that her “dream” was to finally do a film with Lolita. “While we still have the energy,” she quipped.
Gina Alajar, who acted with Lolita in her last film before retirement, Mel Chionglo’s “Lucia” (1992), said the veteran actress seemed to relish the quiet anonymity of life away from the klieg lights.
“She’s very independent. She would drive a tractor in her farm,” Gina volunteered.
Singer Radha Cuadrado, Lolita’s granddaughter, told the Inquirer, “She has a pretty active lifestyle in the United States.”
Radha describes her grandmother as “nurturing and thoughtful. She would send me these super long, handwritten letters every so often. I relished her stories about the days she spent swimming and playing golf.”
Superstar Nora Aunor, who went mano a mano with Lolita in Lino’s “Ina Ka ng Anak Mo” (1979), recalled that the acknowledged “drama queen of Philippine cinema” was a generous and giving colleague.
“She would stay and act with me even (in) my closeup. She didn’t have to, but she supported her costars in their own dramatic ‘moments,’” Nora said. “She brought out the best in everyone she worked with.”
The two tied for best actress in that year’s Metro Manila Film Festival for the melodrama where they played mother and daughter torn apart by one man.
Vivian Velez, who portrayed Lolita’s daughter in Celso Ad. Castillo’s “Paradise Inn” (1985), agreed with Nora.
Vivian was so determined to act with an “icon” that she sought out Lolita. “I traveled to the United States and looked for her. I had already done three movies with another acting great, Charito Solis. I felt my career wouldn’t be complete without working with Lolita.”
Vivian, who also helped produce the film, said Lolita was a breeze to negotiate with. “She was so easy to talk to…She said that she was looking forward to working with Direk Celso for the first time.”
Lolita owned up that she had a very personal reason for the comeback. “She wanted to make another film so that her American husband could see her on the big screen,” Vivian recalled.
Expecting a diva, Vivian found Lolita to be “down-to-earth and thoroughly professional.”
“If her call time was 7 a.m., she would report on the set at 5:30 or 6 a.m.,” Vivian said. “I told her she didn’t have to be so early, but she insisted, explaining that she wanted to be ready before the rest of the team arrived.”
Vivian later adopted Lolita’s work ethic, which she surmised the veteran actress learned at Sampaguita Pictures.
Born Lolita Maiquez Clark to an American father and Filipino mother, she joined the movies at 18. From a humble bit player, she later became a headliner, topbilling such Sampaguita hits as “Jack and Jill” (1954), “Rosana” (1955), “Emma” (1956) and “Gilda” (1957), for which she won her first Famas best actress award.
She repeated the feat in 1975, winning for her iconic portrayal as mad woman Kuala in “Tinimbang Ka Nguni’t Kulang.”
She was the original Brocka baby—and muse.
Lino also directed Lolita onstage, twice in Nick Joaquin’s “Larawan”—first with Rita Gomez (as Candida to Lolita’s Paula) in 1969 and, a decade later, with Charito (as Paula to Lolita’s Candida).
Vivian discovered that, away from the camera, Lolita loved to cook. “I made sure her hotel suite had a full kitchen. So, whenever we finished early, she whipped up pasta dishes for us. Ang sarap-sarap (so delicious)!”
It was a pinch-me-am-I-dreaming moment for Vivian.
“Lolita is an institution. That’s why I consider myself fortunate that I was able to see the real woman behind the legend,” Vivian said. “She’s very gentle and kind. A real lady.”
Radha’s favorites among her lola’s films are “Jack and Jill,” “Tinimbang Ka Nguni’t Kulang” and “Ina Ka ng Anak Mo.”
“I loved watching her movies when I was growing up and hearing from people how amazing she is,” Radha said.
Lolita is supportive of Radha’s music career. “I heard that Lola watched me when I was on ‘The Voice Philippines.’ She often says she’s proud of me and that she loves watching me perform.”
Needless to say, Radha’s electric stage persona is inherited.
“Lola’s presence is felt when she walks into a room. It’s as if she magnetizes everyone toward her,” said the proud apo of her grandmom. “In person, she is gracious and relaxed, subdued even. She frequently makes witty remarks. I love her very much and look forward to spending time with her whenever I visit.”
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