TRIBUTE: Anita Linda continued acting and earning awards well into her 90s

Leah C. Salterio

Posted at Jun 10 2020 11:17 AM | Updated as of Jun 10 2020 01:33 PM

TRIBUTE: Anita Linda continued acting and earning awards well into her 90s 1
Anita Linda. Film Development Council of the Philippines

MANILA -- If an actor had been in the movies for more than 70 years and had done close to 400 films, that’s undoubtedly an unparalleled feat.

Nonagenarian actress Anita Linda could boast about that enviable record. She started acting way back in 1943 and charted a total of 384 films in her lifetime.

The veteran actress passed on Wednesday, June 10, at 6:15 a.m. at age 95 at her home in Paranaque. 

Linda’s daughter, Francesca Lake-Legaspi, told ABS-CBN News her mother succumbed to heart failure after several days of labored breathing. She also had late stage dementia at the time of her passing.

“She lived a good life, love niya ang showbiz. Sobrang pasasalamat namin because everyone is good to her. Love siya ng lahat!” her daughter said.

A true-blue Manilena, Linda was born Alice Buenaflor Lake on November 23, 1924. She was the daughter of James Lake, an American mining engineer, and Gorgonia Buenaflor of Iloilo.

Linda married actor Fred Cortes with whom she had a son, Fred Cortes, Jr. She also has a daughter Francesca Lake-Legaspi.

The actress completed grade school at the Polo Elementary School and graduated from the Good Shepherd Convent High School.

Before World War II, while watching a stage show at the Avenue Theater with Leopoldo Salcedo and comedian Lopito, the young pretty Linda was spotted by director Lamberto Avellana, who asked her if she wanted to become an actress.

Young as she was then, Linda already had the makings of becoming a star. However, being Visayan and hardly fluent in speaking Tagalog, prevented her from easily giving her nod. 

Nevertheless, she was asked to report for rehearsals for the next show. When she failed to show up, she was asked to be picked up from where she was staying at that time.

It was Avellana who gave her the screen name Anita Linda. Initially, she was cast in non-speaking characters in her early big0screen appearances – “High School,” “Biyernes sa Quiapo” with Jaime de la Rosa and “Aksesorya” opposite Leopoldo Salcedo.

Linda’s big-screen debut for LVN Pictures was “Tia Juana,” released in 1943.

The war saw film studios closing down, so Linda shifted her focus, instead, to bodabil at the Avenue Theater. After the war, she moved to Premiere Productions and Avellana got her anew to share stellar billing with comedians Pugo and Togo in “Sekretang Hong Kong” (1947).

She got her first lead role in “Alyas Sakim” (1947), with Leopoldo Salcedo.

The '50s saw Linda as active as ever in doing movies. She was churning out as many as six films a year. In 1951, she played a memorable title role as “Sisa” in director Gerardo de Leon’s take on the female character in Jose Rizal’s “Noli Me Tangere.”

She significantly played the Sisa whom people took pity on and not the Sisa whom people simply laughed at and made fun of.

The film earned for Linda the prestigious Best Actress Maria Clara award, even before FAMAS started. The following year, the awards were scrapped and the first set of FAMAS trophies were handed out.

In 1952, De Leon cast Linda in “Sawa sa Lumang Simboryo,” for which she earned her first Best Actress nomination from the FAMAS.

In the '70s and '80s, Linda remained as active and visible as ever. She worked with many directors in award-winning films and gained critical acclaim.

She was in Lino Brocka’s “Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang” (1974), “Isa Dalawa Tatlo” (1974) where she won the FAMAS Best Supporting Actress Award, and “Jaguar” (1979) for which she was nominated as Best Supporting Actress at the Gawad Urian Awards. 

In the '80s and '90s, she appeared in Joey Gosiengfiao’s “Temptation Island,” Mike de Leon’s “Sister Stella L” (1984), Chito Rono’s “Itanong Mo sa Buwan” and Brocka’s “Gumapangh Ka sa Lusak” (both shown in 1990).

In 1982, she was given the Natatanging Gawad Urian from the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino. She was accorded with another Gawad Urian Best Supporting Actress award for “Takaw Tukso” (1987).

Linda gained more sterling accomplishments. For playing an aging film actress in Mario O’Hara’s “Ang Babae sa Bubungang Lata” (1998), she became the oldest actress to win a FAMAS award, after she was given the Best Supporting Actress trophy, her second. For the same movie, Linda bagged the same honors from the Star Awards.

Even in her 80s, Linda continued to face the cameras in still a number of memorable roles. 

Fake news that she died had circulated repeatedly. In November 2012, while the actress was vacationing in the US, there was an online report that she died.

However, Linda was alive and well in the US, where she celebrated her 88th birthday in Los Angeles with her son. In fact, in August that year, she finished the Cinema One drama, Adolf Alix’s “Mater Dolorosa.”

In 2008, at age 83, Linda was named Best Actress in the 10th Cinemanila International Film Festival (Southeast Asia Competition) for her portrayal of the title character in “Adela.”

She felt truly blessed that even in her 90s, she was given the chance to act and display her know-how in doing one different role after another.

Up until 2019, Linda was still acting in front of the cameras. She starred in Alix’s “Circa,” where she played the film company’s matriarch, Dona Atang, who was about to celebrate her 100th birthday with a get-together with the screen luminaries she had worked with.

Linda was only six years younger than Philippine cinema, which celebrated its centennial last year.

“Circa” was one of the films screened in the Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino, shown last September and organized by the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP). The film gathered respected names in Philippine cinema led by the late Eddie Garcia, with Gina Alajar, Laurice Guillen, Jaclyn Jose, Perla Bautista, Elizabeth Oropesa, Dante Rivero, Liza Lorena, Ricky Davao and Rosanna Roces.

Alix was present in June last year when FDCP honored Linda in “Sandaan: Dunong ng Isang Ina,” for her contributions to Philippine cinema. At that time, she was recognized as the oldest living actress in the local film industry.

She said then, “Somebody up there must love me because I am still here. I am grateful.”

Throughout her career, Linda never had a respite from acting. She delivered brilliant portrayals and tour de force performances that only proved her longevity, professionalism and excellence in cinema.

(Editor's note: An earlier version of this story said Linda starred in the film 'Lola Igna.' It was Angie Ferro who starred in 'Lola Igna.' We regret the error.)