The life and times of Celia Diaz Laurel

Published May 12, 2021, 10:00 PM

by Krizette Laureta-Chu

In a new book out to celebrate her 93rd birthday, former Vice President Doy Laurel’s better half looks back on her colorful life

WOMAN OF THE HOUR Celia Diaz Laurel

They don’t make women like Celia anymore.

She’s from that golden era when women did everything—even failing—with grace and composure. She embodies the Latin phrase sui generis—a woman in full possession of herself, but never full of herself.

She is, as many who know her will tell you from her overlapping circles in politics, theater, arts, philanthropy, and entertainment, a nonpareil among women—one who understands her quiet feminine strength is just as powerful as a man’s, so she is never aggressive, never hostile, never ruffled.

Page 29, Celia Diaz Laurel (right) with her husband Doy Laurel

Or, in Gen Z parlance, “unbothered.”

At 93, Celia Diaz Laurel continues to live a long, colorful, beautiful, graceful life—and now, old and new fans would get to read her intimate, articulate thoughts as she unspools her stories.

Her book, My Lives Behind the Proscenium, will launch on May 29 via Facebook Live.

CELIA LATER The cover of the new book dedicated to Celia Diaz Laurel

It’s a book dedicated to the characters that Celia attributes her growth to—from Mother Immaculada of the Assumption Convent, to Wilfrido Ma. Guerrerro of the UP Dramatic Club to Sonia Rifkin and Doña Trining Legarda of the Manila Community Players, James Reuter of Ave Maria Players, her drama teacher from Yale University, Constance Welch, Behn Cervantes, and her husband, former Vice President Salvador ‘Doy’ Laurel, who—at a time when women were often relegated to keeping the home fires burning—encouraged her to pursue her passions.

‘Your passion for the theater may, like dewdrops, drop into the sea of frustration—unfulfilled. I felt I most likely would become that dewdrop since I was painfully shy. Who could have caused opportunities to come my way?’

And pursue them she did.

Page 162, Celia Diaz Laurel with Erwin Lovero

Even with eight children, and a busy politician husband, Celia has written several books (one dedicated to Doy, and the other to her grandfather Domingo Franco, one of 13 martyrs executed at Bagumbayan), become an accomplished painter with a book chronicling her many works, a stage actress, and later in life, a production and costume set designer. She would go on to have 50 portrayals on stage, with nearly 80 plays she costume- and production- designed.

In the book—which she divides into five chapters (“Stagestruck at Five,” “Wartime Years,” “Dramatic UP Days,” “Yale Years,” “Back to the Stage at Repertory Philippines”)—Celia regales us with stories about apartment hunting as a young wife and the only furniture she and her husband ever owned, her adventures as a mother (starting when she found out she was pregnant with first child ‘Cocoy’ and had to leave for the Philippines), working with the greats of Philippine theater, and the contributions she’s made to the country’s flourishing arts and culture scene, where she would be one of the pioneers.

Page 38, CDL with Bernardo Bernardo

As a testament to old world manners and attitude, the foreword to her book is written by Joy Virata, a dear friend and colleague at Repertory Philippines whose husband Cesar was a rival of her husband Doy in politics.   

“Celia has written an entertaining story about her theatrical life in a straightforward, simple, style that not only will give the curious reader an insight into her life and the social milieu of her time but is a historical narrative of the early years of Manila theater and the personalities who were part of it. She writes about her early personal life as the background for the successful career she carved out for herself—not only as an actress but as a set and costume designer,” Joy wrote.

Page 75, King and I

Celia shared, “To become a painter, one needs a medium such as charcoal, pastels, water color, oils, or acrylic. Armed with an instrument such as a brush, a palette knife, or even your fingers to apply the medium on any surface you choose, you are free to paint anywhere you please—indoors or outdoors. But to become an actor one needs a good script, a director, actors to work with, a producer, a stage, lights, and, most of all, an audience. Not too many realize that the positive energy from an audience is an essential ingredient that makes, or un-makes, a show. To win an audience everything behind the proscenium must transport the audience to another world—the imaginary world—that becomes alive and real on that stage when the lights go on. The scenery is the audience’s first contact with the imaginary world. A perfect set establishes the mood, the time, and the place of the scene that unfolds. Unless one has all the above elements, the desire to become an actor will remain an unfulfilled dream and your promising talent may just dissipate before an opportunity comes for you to be recognized. Your passion for the theater may, like dewdrops, drop into the sea of frustration—unfulfilled. I felt I most likely would become that dewdrop since I was painfully shy. Who could have caused opportunities to come my way? Not once did I audition for a role during my forty years behind the proscenium. My more than a hundred roles were blessings from above! Living more than a hundred lives behind the proscenium made me understand the human heart. From my first role to my last—I offered each performance as a sign of my gratitude to my Heavenly Producer.”

Page 163, Celia Diaz Laurel with Cocoy Laurel

For book reservations and inquiries, kindly please contact Ms. Miriam

Castillo c/o 0918-4110804. Online orders can be placed on May 29 Facebook Live