Why Danny Zialcita was one of PH cinema’s true bad boys, and how his actors loved him 2
Zialcita with actors Chanda Romero and Rudy Fernandez on the set of Pretty Boy Segovia.

Why Danny Zialcita was one of PH cinema’s true bad boys, and how his actors loved him

On the occasion of a long overdue tribute happening this Thursday at Archivo 1984 gallery, Isidra Reyes recalls the life, loves and last days of one of Philippine cinema’s few blockbuster directors: Danny Zialcita. He was famous for his glamorous films full of beautiful women, philandering men, and the witty, often funny, dagger-sharp dialogue that come between them.  
Isidra Reyes | Nov 13 2019

His films have been dismissed by critics as mere glossy melodramas, escapist, elitist, irrelevant, and far-removed from the social realism of a Lino Brocka, the social satire of Ishmael Bernal, the scope and breadth of an Eddie Romero epic. But Danny Zialcita never gave much importance to criticisms and never cared about critics. In an interview with movie journalist, Arthur Quinto in 1983, he declared:  “I am not in a social revolution...I am not a rebel with or without a cause. My aim is just to please the public...to entertain...Very few people would like to see depressing things. Depression is felt treseverywhere. Will you pay P 5.50 [the price of a movie ticket then] to be depressed? My kind of fun is to see long queues — people lining up to see my movie...People who see my films are paying their hard-earned money, and that is an achievement by itself. Hindi ba mas masarap ang maraming tao ang makakagusto ng pelikula mo kaysa mga sampu o labindalawa lang?”

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Why Danny Zialcita was one of PH cinema’s true bad boys, and how his actors loved him 3
Homosexuality was a big theme in Zialcita's ouevre. 

At his peak, Zialcita was one of the few bankable directors whose track record of box office hits — Si Malakas, Si Maganda, Si Mahinhin (1980), Dear Heart (1981), Karma (1981), Gaano Kadalas Ang Minsan? (1982), Palabra de Honor (1983), and Nagalit Ang Buwan Sa Haba ng Gabi (1983) — were proof of his uncanny ability to feel the pulse of his audience, be it the Forbes Park matrons or Makati’s corporate executives; the office workers or the middle class housewives. No matter what the critics said, it was the beautiful people in beautiful houses that drew audiences in. Beautiful people riding sports cars and helicopters, making grand entrances dressed in Christian Espiritu, mouthing those crispy, witty, en pointe and dagger-sharp dialogues that were oft repeated by movie fans. “Nandiyan ba ang asawa mo na asawa ko na asawa ng bayan?” asked Laurice Guillen’s character in Nagalit ang Buwan sa Haba ng Gabi. “You were supposed to be the concerned father of a sick boy and not the willing husband of her mother!” shouted Hilda Koronel in Gaano Kadalas Ang Minsan?

No other Filipino director depicted Philippine high society quite like Zialcita, perhaps because he was to the manor born, and moved in the same social circles as the characters in his glossy melodramas.


The priest called him the devil

Danilo “Danny” Lagdameo Zialcita was born in Manila on 24 November 1940 to Benigno Labog Zialcita, a Certified Public Accountant, a government official, businessman, and partner in the stock brokerage firm, Yao & Zialcita, and Pilar Rivera Lagdameo, a housewife. Danny was born to affluence. He took up his early schooling at Ateneo de Manila until second year high school after which his father had him transferred to Jose Rizal College, Mandaluyong. His classmate confessed to a priest in Ateneo that Danny had taken them to a peep show. According to Danny’s daughter, Beth, her grandfather was so offended when the priest called Danny a devil — young Danny was summoned to the principal’s office — that he decided right then to remove Danny from the esteemed university. 

Why Danny Zialcita was one of PH cinema’s true bad boys, and how his actors loved him 4
Chanda Romero and Dindo Fernando. 

When he was barely out of his teens, Danny was said to have fallen so madly and passionately in love with legendary beauty and actress Charito Solis that his parents decided to send him to Japan to cool off. Danny enrolled in a business management course at the prestigious Sophia University in Tokyo but soon took an interest in filmmaking, enrolling in film editing courses on the side without his father’s knowledge. Eventually, Danny focused more on his film classes and failed to finish his business management course.  

While in Japan, Danny was in a serious relationship with a Japanese girl but was careful not to make known his family’s affluence. He made his friends and acquaintances believe he was but a lowly bowling instructor. He would shuttle frequently between Japan and Manila aimlessly. In his own words, he was an “international bum” before he found his groove in filmmaking. In an interview with Vivienne Rafael published as part of the “Series on Top Directors” in Movie Flash, 23 December 1982, he described his life then thus: “Nag-aral ako. Nag-drop-out. Nag-travel. I worked sa stock exchange, sa insurance. I even took up textile engineering [his father, Benigno Zialcita, Jr. was Patricio ‘P.L.’ Lim’s partner in Filipinas Synthetic Fiber Corp, or Filsyn, one of the leading textile manufacturers in the Philippines then]. Then one day, I just decided to produce movies. I just wanted to know what it’s all about.”


Danny versus FPJ 

But before he got deep into moviemaking, Danny met, fell in love, and got married to a beautiful contract star of Premiere Productions and People’s Pictures named Leonor Vergara. According to Danny and Leonor’s only daughter, Beth: “While there (Japan), he happened to see a film clip of my Mom. He boasted to his friends that he could get her to marry him in a month. When he went home for a vacation, he asked Joe Quirino to write on his column that he and my Mom were dating even if he hadn’t met her yet.” Leonor was then in a relationship with the young up-and-coming action star, Fernando Poe, Jr. who, like Leonor, was a contract star of Premiere Productions and People’s Pictures. They made eight movies together from 1957-1959, with titles that included Kamay ni Cain  (1957), Laban Sa Lahat (1958) and Pitong Gatang (1959). Leonor was credited for having been a positive influence on Ronnie: “This girl has advised him to stop drinking and going around with former buddies who had dragged him into trouble before. So strong is this girl’s influence on Ronnie that he even selects his clothes according to her taste...Since they got acquainted, Ronnie has changed gradually for the better...The only thing that Ronnie admits about Leonor is that ‘she is thoughtful, conservative, and would make a good wife for the right man.’”  

Why Danny Zialcita was one of PH cinema’s true bad boys, and how his actors loved him 5
Zialcita on the set. 

Friends speculated Ronnie and Leonor would get married in a year or two but due to a misunderstanding between them regarding Ronnie’s growing closeness with actress Charito Solis—who was also previously linked to Danny—the couple drifted apart. This was before Danny was introduced to Leonor by producer, Demetria Flores. About that writeup commissioned to Joe Quirino linking her mother to Danny, Beth Zialcita says it caused a rift between Leonor and her then boyfriend, FPJ. “And my Mom hated (my Dad) from the very start.”   

After Danny and Leonor met, Danny immediately paid Leonor a visit. “As they sat face to face in Leonor’s apartment,” Rudi Azanza wrote in Kisplap Movies, “Danny didn’t impress Leonor. She thought he was smart-alecky and haughty. He was not impressed either. He confided that he didn’t like her husky voice which was a far cry from her fine feminine looks. He also didn’t like her indifference to his meaningful glances.”  

That first visit didn’t last for more than half an hour, and each of them later concluded it was a waste of both their time. But it seemed Danny couldn’t get Leonor’s beauty out of his mind: he visited Leonor many times after. They would go out nightclubbing with friends, so Danny can show his group he could date a very reserved girl like Leonor.  

Why Danny Zialcita was one of PH cinema’s true bad boys, and how his actors loved him 6
Mrs. Zialcita: She gave up her movie career when her marriage with Danny leaked to the press. 

What Danny didn’t know was that he was actually already falling in love with the movie star. In turn, Leonor was beginning to appreciate Danny in spite of his ego and indifference—which might have been the result of her giving the poor guy a hard time. She would refuse some of his invitations especially when coursed through a third person, and pretended to be out when Danny visited her in her apartment. “And that was more than Danny could take. He vowed then to win her even if he had to give up his work in his father’s office in order to have sufficient time (for her).  

As recounted in the same article:  “Leonor regretted her indifference and started calling Danny up on the phone...Soon they were going out together again...One day Danny told Leonor of his plan to get a job with the Philippine Embassy in Japan. There was an opening for a technical assistant who could speak and write Japanese. Danny had learned to speak and write Japanese under a private tutor during a previous trip to Japan. He...kidded (Leonor) that he had studied Japanese in order to be able to communicate with Japanese girls.”  

Danny taking a job in Japan meant separation for the couple, even if temporary. Leonor reacted to this with alarm. She didn’t want him to be away from her. Not wanting to bare her true feelings, she told him to go ahead with his plans. He was appointed by the Secretary of Foreign Affairs Felixberto Serrano and was set to leave by September of that year.  

Why Danny Zialcita was one of PH cinema’s true bad boys, and how his actors loved him 7
When the film Ugat won big in the 1974 Quezon City Film Festival. 

Danny and Leonor spent as much time together as they could. He promised to return within two years and marry her. In the meantime she could fulfill her obligations to Premiere Productions and People’s Studio. But on the night of August 23, while they were driving out, Danny impulsively proposed marriage. And without thinking twice, Leonor said yes. Before they knew it, they were at the residence of Mandaluyong Mayor Bonifacio Javier, a close friend of the Zialcita family. They decided to keep the marriage a secret, but not for long.  


Like holding a bird 

The new Mr and Mrs Zialcita eventually revealed their secret to their parents. The movie press and, later, Premiere-People’s Pictures, got wind of the event and Leonor’s mother studio tried its best to suppress the news but to no avail. In those days, movie stars’ popularity and box office appeal often took a nosedive after marriage. Leonor decided to stay home and keep house for Danny rather than pursue her acting career. Danny, on the other hand, turned down the job in Japan and decided to stay in the country to be with his wife. In the early days of their marriage, they divided their time between Danny’s family home in Lee Street, Mandaluyong and the home of Leonor’s parents.  

Why Danny Zialcita was one of PH cinema’s true bad boys, and how his actors loved him 8
Danny and Leonor with daughter Beth. 

Leonor gave up her career as a full-time actress willingly but had to finish her commitments with Premiere Productions. According to her daughter, Beth, Leonor was still riding on horseback for her movie shoots until Beth was seven months in her womb. As she revealed in the article cited above:  “I think I will be happy as Danny’s wife. We love each other and I will use my better judgment to make our marriage a success. I believe that holding a husband is like holding a bird in the hand...Do it tightly and it dies; do it lightly and it flies. I intend to hold Danny tenderly and well.”  It was perhaps largely to Leonor’s credit that their marriage lasted a lifetime.  

Danny and Leonor had two children, Beth, or Elizabeth, was born on 29 April 1962, and Michael, born on 8 November 1970.  Leonor occasionally appeared in the movies thereafter, mostly in Danny’s own films. As she promised, she kept house for Danny and her family, allowing Danny to pursue his movie career and other interests.


Lady killer and other stories 

As Danny himself revealed in an interview with Vivienne Rafael published in Movie Flash, 23 December 1982, he started his movie career as a movie producer in 1963, when he established Zeta Productions and produced his first movie, Dinilig ng Dugo, directed by Artemio B. Tecson and starring Leopoldo Salcedo, Zaldy Zshornack, Miriam Jurado, and Leonor Vergara. Danny’s paternal grandmother, Hilaria Labog, a famous writer of short stories and serialized novels, wrote a novel of the same title in 1938. 

Why Danny Zialcita was one of PH cinema’s true bad boys, and how his actors loved him 9
Previously lost, a copy of this Bernard Bonnin starrer will be unveiled at the Zialcita tribute tomorrow.

Danny‘s first film as a director and producer was Lady Killer (1965), jointly produced by Magna East/DLZ Production. Romano Castellvi played the title role of a playboy secret agent in the mold of James Bond who was on a “most daring hunt of the most dangerous syndicate.” Shown at the Roman Super Cinerama and filmed entirely in Eastman Color, the movie co-starred three sexy, beautiful leading ladies: Maggie de la Riva, Stella Suarez, and Lourdes Medel. In 1966, Zialcita, billed as DLZ, directed no less than three spy thrillers in succession:  Cabonegro, Target Domino, and Tiger Lady, all starring Romano Castellvi, with co-stars consisting of a bevy of luscious and daring female leads. In 1967, Zialcita helmed yet more spy thrillers: Bonanza Productions’ Hammerhead, starring Bernard Bonnin as yet another tuxedo-clad secret agent hunting organized crime syndicates, and Zeta Productions’ Incognito, likewise with Bernard in the lead role, with Ronald Remy as co-star and singing sensation Timi Yuro and Perla Bautista as leading ladies.

According to Simon Santos in his blog, Video 48, these “spin-offs of James Bond movies” were all the rage in the 1960s. “Remember Tony Ferrer portraying the role of Tony Falcon as Agent X-44?  Or Eddie Fernandez as Lagalag, Anthony Alonzo as Agent 69, Eddie Rodriguez as Paolo Stacatto or Cobra?”  Or even Dolphy as Dr. Yes, Dolpinger, Genghis Bond, Agent 1-2-3, and James Batman. Or Chiquito as Mr. Thunderball and James Ban-Dong. 

Why Danny Zialcita was one of PH cinema’s true bad boys, and how his actors loved him 10
Zialcita also jumped at the Spaghetti Western trend. 

Danny definitely knew how to swim with the tide. To cash in on the trend for Pinoy Spaghetti Westerns, Danny, still as “DLZ,” whipped up Essex Films’ Tres Pistoleros (1970), with lesser name actors, Johnny Vicar, Conrado Cordova, and Paolo Baron in the title roles opposite bomba stars, Rhodora, Merle Fernandez, and Rossana Marquez as leading ladies. His foray into the suspense thriller genre was a rather self-indulgent oddity entitled, Masquerade (1967). Produced by BZ Productions (most probably Danny’s father, Benigno L. Zialcita, Jr.) and distributed by Joseph Estrada’s EMAR Pictures, it is described by cineaste, Andrew Leavold, as “a mystery ‘inspired’ by (Agatha Christie’s) Ten Little Indians...an odd duck appearing at a time in Pinoy cinema during an avalanche of spy films, westerns, war films, karate actioners, Hollywood parodies, musical comedies and both teen and mature weepie dramas...Zialcita rounds up an impressive cast of top-shelf Pinoy (stars) and character actors (stars Bernard Bonnin, Marlene Dauden, and Liberty Ilagan supported by Ben Perez, Vic Silayan, Alfonso Carvajal, Martin Marfil, Eddie Arenas, and Jack Davis ‘in a very special role’) to play eight strangers lured to a masquerade on secluded Diablo Island by an unseen benefactor.

Why Danny Zialcita was one of PH cinema’s true bad boys, and how his actors loved him 11
Vilma Santos and Chanda Romero in Karma. 

On the evolutionary scale of a filmmaker, Leavold evaluated the film as “the showy, self-conscious attempt by a young auteur-in-waiting at breaking out of the restrictions of local story-telling and attempting a more sophisticated, deliberately European-influenced or (Orson) Welles-ian work...half of the dialogue is in English...which immediately sets the film apart from its Tagalog contemporaries...It’s also in the noir-ish lighting...in the deliberate framing, and perspective tricks. The film is certainly impressive for a young director working within such a rigid star system, audience expectations, and formulaic genre, but Zialcita’s stylistic ploys are often forced and aggressive, and cry out for attention.  It’s far from ‘rubbish,’ however...Instead it’s clever…, zippy,  intriguing, and crammed with shadows of films to come.”

From this arthouse thriller, Danny detoured to bomba films in the 1970s. Bomba, which peaked between 1970-1972, had its origins with the box office success of Ruben S. Abalos’ Uhaw (1970) which launched to stardom its lead actress, Merle Fernandez, daughter of noted actor and director, Gregorio Fernandez, and sister of future action star, Rudy Fernandez. Danny made these bomba movies: Gutom (1970) which starred the Bicolana sexpot Rosanna Marquez, Mad Films Organization’s Hidhid (1971), and Polyanna, starring Rosemarie Gil.

Why Danny Zialcita was one of PH cinema’s true bad boys, and how his actors loved him 12
The film that broke the director's streak of bomba films. 

After making bomba movies followed by the imposition of Martial Law in 1972, Danny made his comeback as director and producer with Ugat (1974), his entry to the 1974 Quezon City Film Festival starring George Estregan, Rosanna Ortiz, and Pinky de Leon, with up and coming star, Elizabeth Oropesa, produced by Alaminos Films. It won Best Actor and Best Actress awards, respectively, for George Estregan and Pinky de Leon. This was followed a few months after by Ito ay Isang Baliw na Baliw na Daigdig (1975), also produced by Alaminos Films, with Manuel and Danny Zialcita as producers. Hyped as “A Giant of a Picture, So Daring, So Explosive, You Have to See It with Care,” this sex drama film starred Gina Pareño, Rossana Ortiz, Elizabeth Oropesa, with Pinky de Leon and George Estregan, fresh from their triumphs at the 1974 Quezon City Film Festival. Another Pinky de Leon-George Estregan starrer was Gumapang Ka Sa Lupa (1975), with co-stars Anna Gonzales, Eddie Garcia, and Drama King Eddie Rodriguez in his first and only Zialcita starrer.

Why Danny Zialcita was one of PH cinema’s true bad boys, and how his actors loved him 13
The sex drama hyped up to be “A Giant of a Picture, So Daring, So Explosive, You Have to See It with Care."

The young, up-and-coming Cebuana actress, Chanda Romero, would debut in a Zialcita film via the supernatural thriller, Ang Biyuda ay Misteryosa (1975), produced by Crown Seven Film Productions. Based on the novel, Babaeng Misteryosa, written by Palanca Award-winning novelist, Benjamin Pascual, and serialized in Liwayway Magazine, the plot revolves around the beautiful and mysterious Magda (Chanda ) who lives in Bahay Kuwago, a haunted house with a sordid history. When Magda was 14, an old seer who visited her family's house foresaw in her palm her fate as a black widow. Her husbands would die on or before the thirtieth day after they were wed to Magda. The prophecy came true with Magda's first three husbands except for Francisco (George Estregan) who persisted in courting Magda, even though he already had a fiancée named Christy (Imelda Ilanan), and despite the objections of his own mother. Francisco and Magda are wed and Francisco is besieged by both his fear of death and the supernatural occurrences in Magda's house. However, Francisco's love for Magda and his determination to defy the prophecy made him survive the thirty- day curse and the story had a happy ending when the black widow curse was broken in the end.  

Six years later, Chanda Romero would make another supernatural-themed movie with Danny Zialcita: Karma (1981), starring Vilma Santos and Ronaldo Valdez as a pair of star-crossed couple, named Eric and Sarah, illicit lovers in their past lives as Enrico and Guada, who met a tragic end in the hands of Limbo, Guada’s husband. Limbo follows Eric and Sarah into the next life but his identity would only be revealed in the end. Was he  Sarah’s cruel husband (Tommy Abuel) driven to insane jealousy by his wife’s lost virginity to another man? Or was she Cristy (Chanda), described by Jessica Zafra as “mentally imbalanced, pathologically jealous...psychotic who never raises her voice, you can tell she has tranquilizers for breakfast, lunch, and dinner”?  

In between these two movies, Chanda Romero would hone her craft as an actress starring in a succession of films helmed by Danny: the true-to-life crime thriller, Escolta: Mayo 13...Biyernes ng Hapon (1976);  the sex drama, Kapag Tumabang Ang Asin (1976); Alaminos Films’ Mga Basag na Kristal (1977), where Chanda shared stellar billing with Hilda Koronel, Suzanne Gonzales, and Gina Alajar opposite Zialcita reliables, Tommy Abuel, Johnny Vicar, and Ruel Vernal in a film depicting “genuine love among the moderns,” Lalaki, Babae Kami (1977).

Ikaw at Ang Gabi garnered several nominations from the Urian for Best Picture, Best Director (Danny Zialcita), Best Screenplay (Danny Zialcita), Best Cinematography (Felizardo Bailen), and Best Editing  (Enrique Jarlego, Sr.). For their fine performances,  Chanda was nominated as Best Supporting Actress while Dindo Fernando won Best Actor at the Gawad Urian Awards for 1979.  As stated in a review published in the Philippines Daily Express, “It’s a lesser work than Hindi Sa Iyo Ang Mundo, Baby Porcuna (1978), but what has been achieved confirms Danny Zialcita’s position as one of the leading Filipino film directors in the country today.” 

In a recent interview with Chanda, she shared memories of her director, mentor, and friend:  “First he was my director. After our first movie together, he became, above all, my friend. So sweet and so easy to love. A lovable spoiled brat in some ways. I remember one out-of-town shoot. We got to the location after a two-hour drive, and he was informed that the rolls of film were left in Manila. He just calmly sent a staff member back to Manila to get them. We all waited by the beach, Danny in his beach chair. After a few hours, the rolls came and shooting began. But when he was told that catering ran out of Coke, in a blink, he would declare: Pack up!” 

The actress says the image of Danny remains vivid in her mind. “I can still see him now. Walking down the stairs in his pyjamas. Coke in hand. He didn't like leaving his house. Many of our scenes were shot there. The master bedroom would be Vilma Santos' character's room for half the day. In the afternoon, he would send someone to a friend's furniture shop. Another bed, headboard, side tables, lamps would be brought in and— Voila!— it would be my character's bedroom. Danny got things done. Some kind of magician, I would think to myself.”

Why Danny Zialcita was one of PH cinema’s true bad boys, and how his actors loved him 14
In between movie queens. 

Working with the director requires patience, says Chanda. “Mornings were slow. They were spent in his study room with the whole cast. We had no script. Danny had a rough storyline in his head. He would sit leisurely, Coke in hand, and ask us: ‘What do you want to do today?’ We would all throw in ideas. But most of the crispy, rhythmic, iconic lines were Danny's.”

When asked why Danny chose to work with only a few actors, casting the same names repeatedly in his films, Chanda replied: “Danny produced most of his films so he had the liberty to choose his cast. He liked working with actors who knew how he worked, those he knew could deliver his goods. He trusted them to know and understand their character(s) and be true to them. The rest will follow. The (delivery of) lines was  given utmost importance. When the lines are dramatic, he wanted them delivered fast, rhythmic, no affectation, no dramatic pauses. If an actor does as much as pause a beat longer than he wants, he will cut. Occasionally, during a take, he would turn his back, not watching the scene. If it sounded right to him, then it means the scene went well.”

All the movies she made with Danny were memorable, says Chanda. “Cliché but true. Everything was memorable. The process, the challenges, the little spats, his quirks, his pranks, his affection, his lambing. Finally, the outcome. They were memorable. A few favorites would be Karma, Lalake, Babae Kami, Escolta, Mayo Trese, Alas Tres ng Hapon, Parolado, Pretty Boy Segovia, and, of course, Bakit Manipis ang Ulap?

Why Danny Zialcita was one of PH cinema’s true bad boys, and how his actors loved him 15
A lobby card for Parolado. 

When asked why Danny quit the movies when he was still in his prime, Chanda just says: “Too personal. Painful to think of. I miss Danny terribly.” 

Another acclaimed actress who has fond memories of Danny is the Elizabeth Oropesa. She made her first movie with Danny: the family saga entitled Ugat filmed the same year she was making waves as a sex symbol in Ang Pinakamagandang Hayop Sa  Balat ng Lupa. “He was a genius and Coke was his gasoline.  He could finish a whole case the whole night. I love Direk. I miss him. Wala nang katulad niya,” the actress says in a private message. “He would have been a hit today here and abroad. Dami sigurong award na mapapanalunan. He was born too soon!”  

One actress who had great rapport with Danny Zialcita is Miss Universe 1969 Gloria Diaz whose first film with Danny was Tatlong Bulaklak (1979). She was co-starring with Pinky de Leon and a young and nubile Alma Moreno opposite perennial Zialcita actor, Ronaldo Valdez.  She got one of her biggest breaks as an actress when she replaced fellow beauty queen-actress, Pilar Pilapil, in the role of Eddie Garcia’s mysterious and sinister bride-to-be, Victoria, in the star-studded drama film, Palabra de Honor (1983).  Making her grand entrance via helicopter and garbed in couture creations by Christian Espiritu, Gloria was at her glamourous best in this high-gloss melodrama said to be inspired by the eighties U.S. TV hit series, Dynasty.  

Gloria would essay yet another markadong role as Stella de Joya, the unfaithful wife to Eddie Garcia’s outwardly respectable gay husband (Eddie Garcia) in yet another outstanding Zialcita drama classic, Nagalit Ang Buwan Sa Haba ng Gabi. Gloria only has fond memories of Danny which she recounted to Jerome Gomez in his article, “The Entertainer,” published in Metro Him in September 2008. “He loved women...He is very carinoso, very touchy, laging nakasampay sa ‘yo.  Even with the men.”  But Danny never made a move on her.  “How can he?  We were always shooting in his house, his wife was upstairs.”  

Why Danny Zialcita was one of PH cinema’s true bad boys, and how his actors loved him 16
With the stars of Kabiyak: Pinky de Leon and Elizabeth Oropesa.

According to Gloria in the same interview, “Danny was an original...He listens to his actors.  I could (suggest to him) and he would change the storyline...Even when he was just borrowing from an old film, he would give it a twist and make the story his own. Most of the time he would be wearing his glasses reading. He read a lot.  Sometimes he would just throw away a script and read a book. But he was manic-obsessive. Pag may iniisip ‘yan, hindi siya makatulog. On the set, he would consume so many glasses of Coke, or when he was into coffee, overkill naman. I don’t know what happened to him. Pero sayang.”  

While his films were usually populated with consenting and warring adults involved in illicit affairs, homosexual relationships, dysfunctional marriages, murder, and incest, Danny was equally adept in depicting first love and teenage turmoil, directing young stars, Sharon Cuneta and Gabby Concepcion in Sharon’s movie debut, Dear Heart (1981); Sharon again but with Miguel Rodriguez this time in To Love Again (1983);  Aga Muhlach and Janice de Belen as half-siblings-in-love in Bakit Madalas Ang Tibok ng Puso? (1986); and real-life couple, Martin Nievera and Pops Fernandez in Always and Forever and the comedy film, Si Mister at si Misis.


“I will quit the movies”

Danny’s last known movie before his retirement was Bakit Iisa Ang Pag-ibig (1987) starring Snooky and Gabby Concepcion, afterwhich came his comeback attempt via Paano Ang Kahapon Kung Wala Na Ang Ngayon starring  Cristina Gonzalez, Timi Cruz, Jaclyn Jose, and Mark Gil, bankrolled by his daughter, Beth Zialcita. Unfortunately, the movie bombed at the tills.

There was much speculation why he quit filmmaking when he was still on top and very much in demand. Some say he withdrew from the scene when his favorite actor, Dindo Fernando passed away in 1987.  Others say he simply lost interest in directing movies.  He once said “I will quit the movies before it quits on me.” As revealed to Jerome Gomez in his last known published interview, he refused the offers to go back to filmmaking because he said his heart was no longer in directing. He expressed interest in developing projects, in conjuring storylines. He became a recluse and was spending more and more time locked up in his den in the company of his best friends, art and book dealer, Albert Alcantara of Heritage Art Gallery, and artist Jeff Dizon. 

According to Albert, all three of them, decades ago, were into drugs at some point — but Danny’s family stood by him even in the most difficult times. To survive, Danny went into art dealing. When he was short of cash, he would sell some of his personal possessions, even his bowling trophies. He was too proud to borrow money.  

In his latter days, Danny suffered from Diabetes, most probably developed from years of consuming cases of Coke every day to fuel his creative genius. But even when he was into drugs, Albert says his creativity never left him. “Even yung later years niya, di ba sabi nila naapektuhan na raw siya nung drugs? E yung anak ko (Erica) nakilala na siya noong bata pa siya. He made a script, isang story...dinictate niya kay Erica, without any notes from start to finish. Tinapos niya (in one sitting complete with casting).” A copy of that script is one of Albert’s cherished mementos of his dear friend.

Danny passed away due to complications of diabetes precipitated by an infected wound on 10 March 2013. He was survived by his wife, Leonor, who recently passed away, his children, Beth and Michael, and granddaughter, Ariana. He left as his legacy a body of work of around 57 movies which continue to be appreciated not only by his loyal fans from way back but by new generations of moviegoers. These films continue to be shown online, on cable TV, film festivals, and special screenings. Even a Facebook Group has been set up in his honor, as a forum for his fans to share their memories and appreciation of his cinematic legacy. For posterity, some of his works—Karma, T-Bird at Ako, Langis at Tubig, and Nagalit Ang Buwan Sa Haba ng Gabi, have been digitally restored (the Kuh Ledesma-Christopher de Leon musical Tinimbang Ang Langit is next) —allowing  present and future generations of moviegoers worldwide to appreciate anew the creative genius that was Danny Zialcita.


“Ang Baliw Na Baliw na Daigdig ni Danny Zialcita”, a tribute to the life and works of Danny Zialcita, featuring photographs from his set, lobby cards, film clips and various mementos, opens this Thursday, November 14, 7PM at the Archivo Gallery, La Fuerza Compound, Chino Roces Avenue, Makati City. The event, supported by Pietro Collection and Unang Panahon, is open to the public.