Did you know that the Miss Universe pageant started as a local “bathing beauty” competition spearheaded by Catalina Swimwear in Long Beach, California, USA in 1952? The pageant was first televised in 1955 and since then it has become an international annual tradition with countless young women around the world vying to become part of its history.
Fast forward to 1996, business mogul Donald Trump—soon to be the 65th President of the United States—bought the operating company Miss Universe Inc. from ITT Corporation, and struck a broadcasting arrangement with CBS. Two years later, the company morphed into the Miss Universe Organization (MUO) and moved its headquarters from Los Angeles, California to New York City.
In 2002, the broadcast rights went to NBC until 2014. The following year, there was an issue with Latin American company Univision, and Trump bought out NBC’s 50-percent stake to become the company’s single proprietor only to sell it to WME/IMG three days later. Broadcasting rights changed to Fox and Azteca.
The MUO presidency remains in the hands of Paula Shugart to this day. With renewed vigor, the motto “confidently beautiful” strongly asserts the Miss Universe mission: “To provide the tools which help women to be their personal best. Self-confidence is the key. Every woman should have the confidence to stand up in any situation and declare, ‘I am secure and that’s what makes me beautiful’!”
First PH connection
The Miss Universe crown may not have been won by a Filipina until 17 years after its inception in 1952, but the heart of the first Miss Universe ever crowned, Armi Kuusela of Finland, had been won by Filipino businessman Virgilio Hilario.
Kuusela and Hilario first met at the International Trade Exposition in Baguio City, and after a whirlwind courtship the Finnish beauty decided to give up her crown in favor of marriage, which happened in Tokyo, Japan.
They settled in Manila, built the Gilarmi [a combination of their names]Apartments, which was a landmark along Ayala Avenue until its demolition to give way to commercial establishments.
They had five children—Arne who now lives in Chile with own family; Anna-Lisa who now lives in Spain with own family; Jussi Hilario, married, and now living in Canada; Eva-Maria, married with two children, living in the US; and Miguel or Mikko, the only one left living in the Philippines.
Hilario died in 1975, and Kuusela married American diplomat Albert Williams in 1978. After living in Spain and Turkey as part of Williams’ assignment as envoy, they now live in La Jolla, San Diego, California.
In an interview with The San Diego Union-Tribune in 2014, the now-82-year-old first truly universal beauty queen remains modest. She rarely goes home to her native Finland without getting much media attention, the price she pays for making history in 1952.
“That happened a lifetime ago, I don’t talk about it much. I want to be remembered for other things, not just for being Miss Universe,” she said.
Kuusela supports cancer research, numerous cultural and arts organizations, and among others is co-chair of the San Diego Youth Symphony’s program for the disadvantaged youth in La Jolla.
Filipinas in ‘50s
The year Armi Kuusela was named first Miss Universe, the Philippines was represented by Teresita Sanchez. In 1953, Cristina Pacheco vied for the crown.
It was in 1954 when the Philippines made it to the Top 16 with Blesilda Ocampo.
Yvonne Delos Reyes competed in 1955; Isabel Rodriguez in 1956; and Mary Ann Carmen Rosales in 1957. In 1958, however, Miss Philippines Carmen Tuazon did not compete in in the pageant, and neither did Christina Matias in 1959.
Meanwhile, another European became the “Most Beautiful Girl in the Universe” when Christiane Martel of France was crowned successor to Kuusela in 1953.
Miriam Stevenson of USA won the title in 1954; Hillevi Rombin of Sweden in 1955; the crown went back to USA thru Carol Morris in 1956.
The first Latina Miss Universe was Gladys Zender of Peru in 1957; and another Latina in 1958—Luz Marina Zuluaga of Colombia.
Before the close of the decade in 1959, Akiko Kojima of Japan became the first Asian to be crowned Miss Universe.
Sources: www.missuniverse.com, wikipedia, sandiegouniontribune.com
(To be continued tomorrow)