There’s much to be said about living life as the Queen of the Golden Age of Philippine Cinema, of having a rags-to-riches story to starring in over 40 films from 1930s to 1940s, but to condense it in a few words, Mila del Sol’s life was a life well-lived.
“With the simple goal of buying her mother a pair of slippers and through the grace of our Lord, Lola Mila rose from the poverty of her younger years to become the queen of the Golden Age of Philippine Cinema,” Gus Tambunting, former Paranaque City representative and Mila del Sol’s grandson, said in a Facebook post announcing her passing on Nov. 10. She was 97.
“She was blessed to live a long life, a life well lived, and a life full of love. She lived a blessed and charmed life,” he added.
Born Clarita Villarba Rivera in Tondo, Manila on May 12, 1923, Mila del Sol starred in her first lead role in the 1939 film Giliw Ko at the age of 16 after she had been discovered by LVN Pictures President Sisang de Leon, who insisted on casting her despite objections from the film’s director, Carlos Vander Tolosa, who felt she was too young to star in the musical romance.
It was Mr. Tolosa who gave Ms. Rivera her screen name Mila del Sol for “causing the sun (sol in Spanish) to appear as if by miracle (milagro) over his otherwise overcast set whenever she was called in to do her scenes,” according to a tribute written by Butch Francisco at the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino’s website.
After Giliw Ko, a film even President Manuel L. Quezon enjoyed, Ms. Rivera went on to star in other films such as Ibong Adarna (1941) by Vicente Salumbides and Sawing Gantimpala (1940) by Manuel Conde, a film based on a song written by President Quezon’s wife Aurora Quezon for Ms. Rivera.
Ms. Rivera acted opposite all the male leads of her period, including Teddy Benavídez, Fred Cortes, Armando Goyena, Fernando Poe, Sr., José Padilla, Jr., Ely Ramos, Jaime de la Rosa, Rogelio de la Rosa, and Leopoldo Salcedo, and was in films directed by National Artists for Film Lamberto V. Avellana, Manuel Conde, and Gerardo de Leon, among many other celebrated directors of the era.
She was given the Cinema’s Living Treasure citation at the Metro Manila Film Festival in 1994, the Natatanging Gawad Urian in 2013 by the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino, and was honored by the 2014 Philippine Congress for her “Contributions to the movie industry that enriched the Philippine culture, and to Philippine society in general.”
“Being the link of the pre-war and the post-war era, Lola’s contributions to laying down the foundations of Philippine cinema has allowed her to be recognized as a true cornerstone of the industry. Before her passing, she was the only living movie star from the Golden Age of Philippine Cinema in the 1930s and 1940s,” Mr. Tambunting wrote.
She retired from show business in 1964, and became a business woman after establishing Superior Maintenance Services, a janitorial service that has employed over 100,000 people and continues to be managed by her grandchildren. She returned to the screen occasionally, with the 1989 film Kahit Wala Ka Na and the 2010 ABS-CBN drama Rosalka listed as her last film and television credits.
Among her advocacies was the Pagasa ng Kabataan Foundation which provides scholarships to indigent youth and affordable housing for the elderly.
“All of us will forever be indebted to Lulay. Our family will surely miss Lulay’s love and affection. Throughout her life, she continued to impart wisdom and spread her zest for life to those closest to her, because she was truly an image of beauty both inside and out, both on and off screen,” Mr. Tambunting said.
“Our family asks for your prayers for the eternal repose of Lola Mila’s soul. As we observe the health protocols, we ask our friends to give us the opportunity to grieve in private. Maraming salamat po (thank you),” he added.
Ms. Rivera is survived by four of her six children, 17 grandchildren, and more than 30 great-grandchildren. — ZBC