Dovie Beams DeVillagran, former B-movie actress and former lover of deposed Philippines President Ferdinand E. Marcos, is no stranger to public controversy.
At times she has courted the spotlight and at others she has rejected it, as she did last week when state Sen. Paul Carpenter charged that her 30-room Pasadena mansion was bought with Marcos' money.
For now, she is not returning phone calls. But last month, in a videotaped interview with an independent production company, she vehemently denied that Marcos had anything to do with her expansive property holdings or her considerable wealth.
"I've worked very hard," the 53-year-old former starlet said. "If anyone checked the chain of title, they would see exactly how I bought it. Marcos had nothing whatsoever to do with it in any way at any time."
She said she owns several properties in Beverly Hills and was possibly the "largest holder of single-family residences there." According to property records released this week by county Assessor Alexander H. Pope, DeVillagran's land holdings are worth an estimated $7.7 million.
DeVillagran said she amassed her real estate holdings on her own by buying and selling real estate and from a car business she owned called International Auto Brokers.
DeVillagran has long been the subject of irreverent attention.
She sued Philippine journalist Hermie Rotea over a raunchy, often-hilarious book entitled "Marcos' Lovey Dovie," which chronicled her two-year affair with the deposed Philippine president and included, among other revelations, verbatim accounts of love-making sessions between herself and Marcos that DeVillagran had tape-recorded.
A column in the December issue of Vanity Fair about "Marcos' Lovey Dovie" said DeVillagran's parting shot when she boarded a plane for Hong Kong was to play the tapes of her and Marcos' romantic interludes for reporters. Marcos retaliated by having a government-run magazine publish nude photos he had taken of her.
In Pasadena, where she lives in a five-acre estate that she says was once President Woodrow Wilson's western White House, she recently faced off against her neighbors over improvements she and her husband, Sergio, whom she married in 1979, are making to their home.
In the front yard, DeVillagran has installed two gazebos with stained-glass domes, waterfalls, fountains, statues and a swimming pool modeled after the one at Hearst Castle in San Simeon. The pool, which is made of more than three-quarters of an acre of imported marble, is ringed by a two-inch band of solid gold.
Several residents in her affluent neighborhood complained that the added fixtures were gaudy and ruined the aesthetics of the area. None, however, wanted to be quoted as saying so. "I don't want to be a bad neighbor," one said recently.
Soup Kitchen Controversy
Last year she stepped into the middle of a bitter controversy over a Pasadena soup kitchen and temporary shelter for the homeless. The owners wanted to relocate the shelter near her home.
Spending $2,000, she mailed out flyers opposing the move, wrote letters to the U.S. Housing and Urban Development office in Washington alleging that the shelter was misusing federal funds, appeared at City Council hearings and phoned local newspapers in protest.
DeVillagran claimed that patrons of the shelter would "urinate and defecate" on her property and lower its value. The city gave the go-ahead to the shelter despite her opposition.
Born in 1932 in Nashville, Tenn., Dovie Beams, as she was known before her marriage to Sergio, said she met Marcos in 1968 when she traveled to the Philippines to make a movie.
According to her own accounts, she remained there for two years and, after a brief meeting with Marcos in a Quezon City hotel, became the president's lover. His name for her was "Big Eyes."
In 1984, in a lengthy, five-part interview with the Los Angeles-based Asian American News, now called the Philippine American News, she told Managing Editor Gil Roy Gorre that she had received threats from Marcos' agents anxious to obtain documents and tape recordings she took from the Malacanang Palace when she fled the country in 1970, allegedly one step ahead of assassins dispatched by an angry First Lady Imelda Marcos.
Last month she told The Times in a brief conversation that she will "always love Marcos. Although I don't agree with his politics. He was an extraordinarily intelligent man, very witty and very charming."
In the Asian American News interviews, she said she had inadvertently recorded several romantic trysts with Marcos. She claims to still have the tapes, as well as several political documents she took from the presidential palace and intends to use them in an autobiography she plans to write someday.
Little Known About Husband
Little is known about her husband, Sergio. Harold Galloway, an independent producer who videotaped an interview with DeVillagran last month, said that one of her conditions for the taping was that no questions be asked about her husband.
In that interview, she described her relationship with Marcos as "a treasure that I shall keep always. He loved me and I loved him." The two discussed everything from "politics to archeology."
In her lilting, southern drawl, DeVillagran said that in the Philippines, she used to sit Marcos on the floor and feed him fried chicken. "He had the cutest little dimple," she said.
She decided to leave the Philippines in 1970, she told editor Gorre, because she feared her life was in danger and that Marcos had told her that he would soon be declaring martial law in the country (he did so in 1972).
She realized, she said, that Marcos "was killing people." And in the interview, she alluded to having knowledge of political assassinations carried out by the Marcos regime.
Getting out of Manila was not easy, she said. She claims to have been tortured by Marcos henchmen before her departure.