The first (1952) Miss U pageant
FUNFARE - Ricky Lo (The Philippine Star) - September 30, 2016 - 12:00am

As beauty-pageant fans wait (with bated breath!) for the official announcement (that is, from Malacañang) of the staging of the Miss Universe pageant in the Philippines for the third time (after 1974 won by the late Amparo Muñoz of Spain and 1994 by Sushmita Sen of India), said to be on Jan. 30, 2017, all they can do is dream.

It helps if we take a misty-eyed flashback on the very first Miss Universe pageant in 1952 held in Long Beach, California, won by Finland’s Armi Helena Kuusela who married a Filipino, the late Virgilio Hilario, with their beautiful love story made into a movie. Like Armi, the first (1962) Miss International Stella Marquez of Colombia, also got hitched to a Filipino, Jorge Araneta, making Filipino men the world’s greatest lovers. While Madame Stella has stayed in the country for good, Armi, after Virgilio’s death, found a new love in the person of a brilliant politician from whom she eventually separated and, when last heard from, settled happily ever after in San Diego, California. 

According to Funfare’s “other beauty expert” Celso de Guzman Caparas, “The Miss Universe pageant, along with the Miss USA pageant, was established in 1952 when Catalina withdrew its swimsuit sponsorship from Miss America pageant after 1951 winner Yolande Margaret Betbeze, a convent-bred contestant, refused to pose in swimsuit for publicity pictures. The coronation night was held on June 28, 1952 at the Long Beach Municipal Auditorium with 30 in competition.”

Runners-up to Armi Helena Kuusela were: Elza Kananionapua Edsman of Hawaii; Daisi Mavraki, Greece; Judy Dan, Hong Kong; and Renate Hoy, Germany. The semi-finalists were: Olga Llorens Pérez Castillo, Mexico; Catherine Edwina Higgins, South Africa; Anne Marie Tistler, Sweden; Gladys Rubio Fajardo, Uruguay; and Jacqueleen Loughery, USA.  

Named Miss Friendship was Valerie Johnson of Montana and Miss Welcome to Long Beach was Jeri Miller.  







“Blue-eyed, 18-year-old Armi from Muhos (above the Arctic circle) was crowned by actress Piper Laurie who also graced the cover of the souvenir program and print ads (Piper co-starred with Ronald Reagan in her first movie Louisa in 1950),” according to Celso’s research. “Worn by the last of the three Czarinas of Imperial Russia, the priceless Romanoff crown contained 1,529 flawless diamonds with a combined weight of 300 karats and was insured at that time for half a million dollars. Armi’s prize package included a seven-year motion picture contract that would pay her $250 per week (which she never accepted), $3,000 worth of a brand-new British automobile, a $2,500 diamond wristwatch and a 100-pound, three-and-a-half-foot trophy.”  

A few weeks after she was crowned, Armi flew to Helsinki for the 1952 Summer Olympics (Games of the XV Olympiad) where she was one of the official greeters.  

Armi failed to finish her reign when she opted to marry Filipino businessman Virgilio Hilario. Instead, actress Julie Adams crowned Armi’s successor, Christiane Martel of France, on July 17, 1953.

“The Philippine delegate was Teresita Torralba Sanchez from Malolos, Bulacan,” Celso wrote. “Her Miss Universe stint opened some job opportunities but Teresita declined all offers including modeling in an art academy in New York and from business firms in San Francisco. One of Teresita’s co-candidates in the 1952 Miss Philippines was the late Nida Blanca.”

The other candidates in that memorable first Miss U pageant were Shirley Burnett, Alaska; Leah MacCartney, Australia; Myriam Lynn, Belgium; Ruth Carrier, Canada; Esther Saavedra Yoacham, Chile; Gladys López, Cuba; Hanne Sorensen, Denmark; Claude Goddart, France; Aileen Chase, Great Britain; Indrani Rahman, India; Ora Vered, Israel; Giovanna Mazzotti, Italy; Himeko Kojimal, Japan; Eva Roine, Norway; Elzibir Gisela Malek, Panama; Ada Gabriela Bueno, Peru; Marilia Levy, Puerto Rico; Gelengul Tayfuroglu, Turkey and Sofia Silva Inserri, Venezuela.

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Photos from the collection of Celso de Guzman Caparas

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