A misty-eyed look at how, 50 years ago, the Philippines conqueredthe universe as Americaconquered the moon
Photos courtesy of Glora Diaz and Celso de Guzman Caparas
Glory Be
CONVERSATIONS - Ricky Lo (The Philippine Star) - July 21, 2019 - 12:00am

The decisive question for the five finalists was the same.

Host Bob Barker: In the next day or so, a man will land on the moon. If a man from the moon landed in your hometown, what would you do to entertain him? (You know, The Eagle has landed!)

The four other girls (from Finland, Austria, Israel and Japan) groped for answer but not the Philippines’ Gloria Diaz who showed grace under pressure and, with remarkable composure, answered, “Oh, just the same things I do. I think if he has been on the moon for so long I think when he comes over he wants a change, I guess.”

Earlier in the semi-finals, the 18-year-old Philippine bet was asked by Barker to name her siblings, two brothers and nine sisters. Undaunted, she first asked, “Alphabetically or according to rank?” That made Barker laugh as the audience applauded. She answered, “Joselito, Pempy, Ramon, Patsy, Ruby, Coroy, Aurora, Georgie, Benjie and Rio.”

That clinched it.

And the winner: Gloria Diaz, Miss Philippines! At 5’5”, she’s the shortest Miss Universe.

That was on July 19, 1969 (July 20 in the Philippines), about the same time Astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin and Michael Collins on Apollo 11 landed on the moon. Both big events landed on the front page of the (old) Manila Times which heralded in its story: America conquered the moon while the Philippines conquered the universe.

Fifty years later, Gloria relived those glory days in an exclusive Conversation with The STAR.

Gloria Diaz being crowned the first Filipina Miss Universe by her predecessor, Brazil’s Martha Vasconcellos, in Miami, Florida, on July 19, 1969 (July 20 in the Philippines)...

What do you consider most memorable about your reign as Miss Universe?

“You know, winning the title was like a flash, mabilis. The most memorable I think, basically, was at the very end during the ‘aha’ moment when it really opened to me what life was all about. At 18, everything was for you. It was the time when I crowned the next girl (Marisol Malaret of Puerto Rico) and then I almost fell down because somebody pushed me. I was looking for my car and I didn’t have a car anymore. I was given 24 hours to vacate my room. I realized that you have to enjoy the moment and not think it’s gonna last forever, that there’s going to be bigger and maybe better things.”

An eye-opening experience hah. 

“At 18, you cannot think na, ’Uy, naku, I’m so lucky, luckier than anybody else,’ until you realized that everything had an ending, not in a negative way, but something more would come. Of course, I met presidents of this and that country, I met Muhammad Ali and the astronauts, and I visited many places, but that moment after I crowned my successor is what sticks to my mind. I realized that family is forever talaga, that in times when you are down, there’s your family to hang on to. My parents were there and I was so happy kasi for one year, I was hardly in touch with them. Wala pang cellphone noon.”

Now, the Miss U winners stay at the Trump Tower in New York during their one-year reign. How was it during your time?

“I was based in Miami, back and forth between Miami and New York. But I was never in one place for more than two days. I came to Manila twice for three days each time.”

...and crowning her successor, Puerto Rico’s Marisol Malaret, on July 11, 1970, also in Miami.

Do you still recall how you felt when the crown was put on your head by Martha Vasconcellos (of Brazil), your predecessor?

“Hmmm, I tell you, it was a blur. I remember traveling with the four runners-up for one month. Now, they don’t do it anymore. You don’t get to be friends with your runners-up but before, you did. The pageant now is totally different.”

Really? How different?

“Everything! They don’t even measure the girls the way they used to. I don’t even think they say how old they are. Or whatever. Now, you can even be a man to join Miss Universe. Parang ganoon, eh. Also, what you see is what you get, whether ‘enhanced’ or not. At that time, the Women’s Lib was against kasi daw parang it was like cattles being paraded.”

How were the girls “measured?”

“Oh yes, we were measured, dressed only in panty. Ten girls together at a time. No breast enhancement. If you asked me, if breast enhancement was the norm of that day, I would have had it…maybe, maybe. Who knows?”

The final question sounded simple (but actually a test of the girls’ presence of mind). You didn’t buckle, especially when you were asked to name your siblings.?‘According to rank or alphabetically,’ you even asked the host. You gave memorable answers.

“I tell you, my answers were ‘memorable’ because I won. Had I lost, people would have been saying, ‘How stupid that Gloria Diaz, walang magandang maisagot.’ I was just really lucky. But you know, on a scale of 1 to 10, being Miss Universe is only two percent of my life, six percent is having been in movies until now, and the rest is family na. The major part of my life is the work I’ve been doing na talagang pinaghirapan. Being Miss Universe is a small part of my life, just a bonus.”

What happened to your crown?

“I have a replica that looks exactly the original. The crown is different now, mas maliit. Well, if you’re gonna wear it several times, it’s OK. But during my time, the crown was bigger so sasakit talaga ang ulo mo sa bigat. I still have the crown, the one with the figure of the girl inside, and my daughter Belle even used it one time during a costume party.”

Speaking of Belle (Isabelle Daza, now Mrs. Adrian Semblat by whom she has a child), why didn’t she join a beauty contest; did you discourage her?

“I don’t think kaya niya ‘yung hectic schedule. Belle is very OC (Obsessive Compulsive). She wants everything perfect.”

Gloria in the traditional breakfast in bed the morning after she won Miss Universe...

What did you do with your prizes?

“I would buy clothes in spite of the fact that all my clothes were free, provided for by the Miss Universe Organization (MUO) and I would send them to Manila. Unfortunately, I was so young and I didn’t have any idea about investment, which I should have. But my parents were not like that. They were not the type who would get hold of my money. So I told my children?Belle and Ava,?’Don’t spend the money. Instead of buying clothes, you save. You invest’.” 

Where is your winning swimsuit?

“I still have it…souvenir.”

Does it still fit? (Gloria is a health buff who works out regularly and sticks to a healthy diet.)

“Medyo na-e-stretch naman, hahaha!!!”

The traditional breakfast in bed the morning after the coronation has been shelved, sayang.

“Yes. You are very tired from last night’s pageant and you are in bed pretending to eat with all those photographers around you. And there was the beach walk also the morning after. Wala na!”

...and at the Escolta during the grand welcome parade when she came home several days after she won in Miami, Florida.

How did you cope with the back-breaking schedule?

“You know, when you are young, you have so much energy. I think I gained a little weight. Imagine having steak and milk shake for breakfast! Hindi pa masyado noon ang exercise-exercise, lakad-lakad lang while shopping.”

What about the suitors; were there many?

“Zero! I didn’t even go on dates anymore. Even if you had somebody special, the Miss Universe people wouldn’t allow him to see you or you to see him. I always had a chaperon. During my time, you cannot even go to the bathroom without your chaperon standing by. The chaperon slept in the same room with you. But now, iba na. At that time kasi, ang mga Miss Universe were very young. But now, they are older so they don’t need a chaperon maybe because they are old enough to take care of themselves.”

No time even for a stolen glance at the boys?

“None at all! We visited South America a few times. Di ba ang daming boys doon, mga cute? So, easy ka lang. Imagine what would happen if a Miss Universe got pregnant?”

That was the question asked in one Miss Universe pageant (during the time of Miriam Quiambao in Trinidad & Tobago where she finished first runner-up to Miss Botswana).

“We were made to sign a contract that if we got pregnant, we wouldn’t get the rest of the prizes and your salary. That’s why the chaperon made sure that you got to your appearances on time and you didn’t get pregnant. I don’t know which is more important.”

With Debby Ryan and Dallas Roberts, her co-stars in an episode of the second season of the Netflix series Insatiable, airing in October

By the way, did you ever dream of being Bb. Pilipinas and Miss Universe?

“No. I was so cloistered. I was an interna at St. Theresa’s in Baguio and then I went to college in St. Scholastica. I was 18 and going to the US for the first time, just by myself (with journalist Gloria Garchitorena Goloy as chaperon, selected in a raffle). It was so scary. I didn’t even know how to cross the street. At that time, all I thought of was to enjoy the experience, not about winning or losing. But it did cross my mind that if I lost, nakakahiya. Sa akin, okey lang. Daming pagkain, daming fruits. But now, iba na. For the girls, it’s a life-changing career, the be-all and end-all.”

You are in front of the mirror. What would you tell your 18-year-old self?

“Go with the flow. When I joined showbiz, I didn’t know that I had to bring costume, a bra, sun block and make-up, but I just went with the flow. I reported to the set of my first movie (Ang Pinakamagandang Hayop sa Balat ng Lupa, directed by Celso Ad. Castillo) with nothing, just myself, my lipstick and my sabila for hair.”

What would you consider most colorful…being Miss Universe, being an actress or your love life?

“Siguro, my love life, hahaha!!!”

(Postscript: Gloria is the widow of Bong Daza, the good friend who became her husband, and father of her two daughters. As an actress, she has won several awards. She continues to be active both in television and movies. She’s a beauty beyond age, a Miss Universe forever. In October, she will have her Netflix debut in an episode of the second season of the Insatiable series as a beauty-queen consultant.)

(E-mail reactions at rickylophilstar@gmail.com. For more updates, photos and videos, visit www.philstar.com/funfare or follow me on Instagram @therealrickylo.)

GLORIA DIAZ MISS UNIVERSE 1969
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