Mom, the Wind Beneath my Bb. Pilipinas Crown!
Every time I run into friends who know me from my beauty queen days, they never fail to ask me, “How’s your Mom?”
Mom was my shadow then, but unlike regular shadows, she was feisty and talked a lot; anyone who met her would never forget her. Delia F. Burton is her name and she has been based in Honolulu for the past decade, far, faaar away from me. How I miss her so much!!!
Happy Mother’s Day Mom, I love you forever!!!
I never really wanted to become a beauty queen. That was the last thing on my mind when I was a teenager. I was boyish and walked like the famous movie pirate, Captain Jack Sparrow. Climbing trees and racing with boys was my idea of fun! Even when I got my first period (which depressed me, by the way), I still kept my rough and tough ways. My dream was to work in the world of men and become a top surgeon or an officer in the US Army just like my Dad, Col. Charles V. Burton. I even harbored dreams of becoming an Astronaut.
But Mom, she had other ideas. Somehow she saw showbiz potential in me and made sure to cultivate it by sending me to ballet, hula and modern jazz classes. Although I never got far with dance classes in terms of becoming professional, the classes taught me how to move gracefully so I could automatically switch between my gangly swagger and my graceful walk depending on what the situation called for.
MEETING MY FIRST MOVIE MOGUL: MANAY ICHU OF SAMPAGUITA FILMS
But my foray into showbiz didn’t really start until the early 80s when Sampaguita Films launched a huge campaign in search of actors for the movie Batch ’81. I was barely 13 years old when Mom sent in my photos – one whole body shot and a close-up (styling by Reggie Regalado). Amazingly, we received a callback from Sampaguita Films for an audition!
So we drove to the place which was located near Ortigas Avenue on one of the side streets; it turned out to be this huge piece of property that looked more like a garden or a forest. That’s where I met “Manay Ichu” or Marichu Vera-Perez Maceda, the daughter of Jose “Doc” Perez, owner of Sampaguita Films.
Her first reaction to me: “Oh, you’re really… YOUNG!”
I certainly was very young at the time. On the cusp of womanhood. Not ready to surrender my Jackstones and Chinese Garter and yet excited at the prospect of doing things that only the gown-ups did.
The audition turned out to be a disaster, although I don’t think I realized it then. The scene required me to rush down a grand flight of steps (inside the big mansion of Sampaguita Films) and then have a semi-dramatic discussion with my co-auditionee Charlie Ysmael (who eventually became a TV newscaster for RPN9). But I was only 13 or 14, with NO experience in acting whatsoever and no idea about college frats and violent hazing, which the movie Batch ’81 was all about. In the end, Manay Ichu felt that I was… well… too young for the film but she wanted to ‘save’ me for perhaps a future project.
To this day, I maintain that my audition was terrible but Mom… she tells a different story. In her eyes, I was fabulous and beautiful and should have won a Famas Award for it! It was that kind of faith – the one that could see my potential even if others and I couldn’t see it – that eventually propelled me to win Bb. Pilipinas Universe 1985.
But I am rushing ahead of myself. Let me backtrack a bit…
MEETING MOTHER LILY OF REGAL FILMS
After Sampaguita Films, I tried auditioning for Eat Bulaga (I don’t remember what for, but the audition was held at Horseshoe Drive in Quezon City). Nothing came out of that. Mom, who was getting bolder and bolder as the days went by, decided one day to just show up at the house of Mother Lily Monteverde, the famous owner of Regal Films. And guess what! We got an audience with her! Mom’s persistence paid off and it seemed like Mother Lily liked me enough to introduce me to some of the directors and actors in her fold.
After a couple meetings, Mother Lily offered us a 10-film contract starting with, “Bata pa si ‘Sabel,” a coming-of-age movie about a young girl with two boys in her life . But Mom had a major, major problem with it – I had to do kissing scenes and bed scenes; something she did not agree with. Mom stepped on the brakes and the movie went to Snookie Serna who starred across Albert Martinez and the late Joel Alano who tragically died at age 21 because of a heart attack (of all things!)
But Mother Lily was serious about me. Serious enough to include me in a few press releases and in one of Regal Films’ promotional tours. I was introduced as an up-and-coming Regal Baby. So even if there was a stalemate between Mom and Mother Lily, it looked like my movie career was underway.
Or so I thought.
My ‘career’ took an unexpected twist at the presscon of movie “Blue Jeans” which starred Dina Bonnevie. Mom and I were there on invitation of Mother Lily and after the presentation, one of the press people in attendance told her this, “Your daughter looks more like a beauty queen than an actress, you should bring her to Renee Salud.”
That encounter opened a whole new level of excitement in my Mom who suddenly realized that maybe this was what she was looking for! So she got the phone number of Renee and the following day called to set an appointment…
MEETING MAMA RENEE
The Renee Salud Design shop on E. Rodriguez Blvd was small but busy. Mom and I were quietly asked to sit in the receiving room to wait and meet this “Mama Renee” character. There were two mannequins in the store window wearing Filipiniana-inspired outfits and I could hear sewing machines starting and stopping in the backroom.
After a 15 minute wait, in swept Mama Renee Salud – who turned out to be, indeed, a character. Flamboyant does not even begin to describe him! His hands never stopped moving and neither did his mouth. Renee flipped back and forth between gushing over me and telling me that I needed to lose weight and get a tan. It seemed like he had already taken me into his fold, even before Mom had a chance to say yes.
Funny as it seemed, that meeting proved to be pivotal in my life. Little did I know that stepping into his shop would alter my entire future.
MISS YOUNG PHILIPPINES 1981
Mama Renee did not wait long. In a few months, he sent me on my first pageant experience. I was just 14 years old when I was accepted as one of 10 contestants in the Miss Young Philippines 1981 beauty pageant that was held at the Peninsula Hotel in Makati. And because I was very boyish to the point of brutishness, I did not really know how to mingle with the other contestants and ended up treating them all like boys. I would push them, pull their hair or tease them mercilessly. My behavior (which was innocent playfulness on my part) was misunderstood and resulted in a bull-session the night before coronation.
Basically, they ganged up on me. At least that’s how it felt the time. I felt so hurt by the things they said about me but I hid my feelings and pretended that I was okay. We ended the bull-session with my promise to change. Now that I’m little older, I’ve come to realize that the 9 girls just wanted me to change for the better. They wanted me to become more ‘lady-like’.
The following night I ended up winning the crown. Honestly, I didn’t know I would win but I did want to win so badly mostly because I am, by nature, very competitive and take all kinds of games, even Patintero, very seriously. So there I was on stage, overjoyed, and at that moment of my victory, I forgot all my promises to change.
In the meantime, my Mom was over the moon! She had been secretly visiting Baclaran Church, praying and walking on her knees til they bled; it was her way of gaining favor with God to make me win. Thankfully, we now both know that the whole ‘penance’ thing was unnecessary; God favors those whom He shall. But I still will never forget the sight of the open wounds on her knees and what they meant to her at the time.
CONFESSION OF A BEAUTY QUEEN #1: I WAS UNDER-AGED
I might as well confess it now and come clean. I WAS under-aged when I won.
The manager of my 1st-Runner up sued and the issue was all over the newspapers. Some reports even said I was stripped of my title but I continued on with my duties as Miss Young Philippines 1981 and went on to represent the Philippines in the Miss Young International 1981 beauty pageant where I placed as a semi-finalist.
Well, I guess now is the best time to say sorry to pageant fans and to all my co-contestants specially my 1st Runner-up Lily Andrews. If I could turn the clock back and do it all over again, I would have not joined and would have waited until I reached the right age. I realize that now. But its water under the bridge. All I can do is offer this confession and say that I’m sorry.
NEXT STOP: BB PILIPINAS 1985
Mama Renee wasn’t done with me yet. He said that the Miss Young Philippines was just the first step. The main event was the Bb. Pilipinas beauty pageant and the goal was either the Universe or the International title. Training for the Bb. Pilipinas involved doing lots of fashion shows and going to lots of parties. I continued dancing
(Filipiniana Dance) for the Manila Metropolitan Theater, better known as “The Met” and often worked as a background villager/dancer for Zarzuelas and other musicals presentations at the historical venue. Dancing helped me be graceful and control my severe stage fright.
At one point, I was invited by Pitoy Moreno to become a fashion model for Malacanang Palace. My batch of models included Bessie Badilla, Ana Francisco, Crispy Santamaria (daughter of Pianist Ingrid Santamaria), Roi Vinzon (the actor), Lito Gruet, the late Chat Silayan and Melanie Marquez who was THE favorite of Madame Imelda Marcos.
We basically had one fashion show presentation – it was the guests who changed. Every top foreign dignitary who would visit the Marcoses in the Philippines would be feted with our show. At the end of the program, Imelda Marcos would take the microphone and sing “Feelings” and/or “Dahil Sa ‘Yo” to her guest. The most memorable shows we did were for Indira Gandhi at the PICC and for the foreign actors and directors who came to Philippines for the 1st Manila International Film Fest in 1982. The main show, which was held in Intramuros, was grand and fabulous! The most famous guests to the MIFF that I remember were actors Franco Nero, Ben Kingsley and George Hamilton.
Take note that all throughout my career, Mom was with me. At every rehearsal, show, TV guesting and party, she was by my side, acting like the quintessential stage mom, keeping one eye on her daughter and ten eyes on the wolves. We had an inside joke that Mom was like my bulldog; nobody could get near me when she was around. While I chafed at her constant presence (having her around made it hard to make friends), I knew it was for the best. I was so young and gullible but with my spitfire Mom, no one could mess around with me.
RUNNING AWAY FROM HOME AND THE CROWN
When I turned 18, Mom and I had a big fight – she wanted me to put college on hold so I could join Bb. Pilipinas. I tried to bargain – could I finish two years of college and THEN join the pageant? The answer was no. I tried running away from home but Mom found me within days (such was her network) and I was forced to join the pageant. I had no choice but to join it. But even if I was unhappy to be there, I went for the win, giving it my all. As I said, I am competitive by nature and hate to lose. I went home on coronation night with the Bb. Pilipinas 1985 crown on my head and my face splashed on all the newspapers the next day.
My career was made. As far as Mom and Mama Renee were concerned, I had arrived.
CONFESSIONS OF A BEAUTY QUEEN #2: I WAS NOT A FILIPINO CITIZEN
Alas, my second victory proved to be another problematic one! But since there were no complainants, it did not make it into the news. The problem was, I was a US Citizen and the requirement for Miss Universe was that contestants had to be citizens of the country they were representing. I ended up competing in Miami, Florida anyway. Miss Puerto Rico, Deborah Carthy Deu won while my best friend, Miss USA Laura Martinez Herring (who is now a Hollywood actress) entered the Top 10. I do not know if my citizenship affected my chances at the crown but I left the stage broken-hearted, wishing I had done better.
I do have a consolation. A highly respected pageant website included me in their list (made in 2002) of 50 Most Beautiful Non-Finalists in Miss Universe. When I discovered that list, I couldn’t help but smile til my lips met the back of my head. There were people who still cared about me. (Does anyone have the link to that list? Please leave it in the comments section, I can’t seem to find the site…)
CONFESSION OF A BEAUTY QUEEN #3: BITTERNESS AT MOM
A few months after the Miss Universe pageant I rebelled against my parents and left home again. I wanted to lead my life the way I wanted to. And so I did. I escaped from Mom’s authority and enjoyed my freedom but it came at quite a price. My career, which started so well, never really took off and then started to wane.
Here are the reasons why I messed up:
First, I didn’t know how to manage myself as a talent. Example – In the 80s, when I got a permanent slot on Chika Chika Chicks (the sitcom that used to be called Chicks to Chicks which also starred beauty queens Lorraine Schuck and Bong Dimayacyac) I would come to work late; like two hours late. My reason? Since the main stars were always late, I could be late too.
The nerve of me, huh?
Second, I made lots of choices based on emotions and not wisdom. I only did what I felt like doing. So instead of investing in my career, I just enjoyed my money, spent time with friends, went to parties and just had a good time, all the time.
Third, I still had trouble getting along with people. And I couldn’t handle criticism from directors and choreographers. I took things too personally and felt defeated by their correction of me even if outside I looked confident. I expected praise because anything less meant I wasn’t good enough. I held myself to an impossible standard at every fashion show or TV job instead of turning them into learning experiences.
All three made a recipe for disaster. While no real disaster happened, NOTHING was happening to my career, which is I guess, some kind of a disaster anyway. My career was going nowhere. I was floating like a jellyfish in a cold ocean with not a single muscle to move me in the right direction. I began to unjustly blame Mom for bringing me into the world of showbiz and grew very bitter.
It took more than 15 years and the preaching of one pastor before I understood how bitterness, and the resulting unforgiveness I had for her, were dragging me down. I forget who the Pastor was, but he was from Victory Christian Fellowship in Pasig. The teaching was centered on the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant in Matthew 18:21-35. He outlined its symptoms and then prescribed the pill of forgiveness. I cried because I suddenly realized that I was a pitiable victim of bitterness.
It was then that I regretted leaving Mom. If I had not left home, my career would have blossomed, for sure! Mom was a such great manager. But God is wonderful because he used the bad that I did and turned it into a lesson for me to learn. I cannot complain with the blessings I have today, in spite of the bad behavior I had in the past.
So I took action. I sat down with my journal and wrote down two names – my Mom’s and another person whom I just could not forgive. I sat there and prayed saying: “I cannot forgive you on my own strength but I can forgive you through Jesus Christ.”
And then I enumerated the reasons why I was hurt by them and forgave them for each one. I also wrote down a goal: Not to say anything bad about them. In my Mom’s case, I also decided that each time someone asked me about her, I would say at least one good thing about her. I prayed the prayer everyday and stayed faithful to my goal. In a few weeks, I could feel the seed of forgiveness planted in my heart, growing tendrils of peace, giving me life and releasing me from the burden of bitterness.
RECONCILIATION WITH MOM
Although things are not perfect between Mom and I (we still argue and fight sometimes), it is now easy to say, “I love you!” Those words were SO INCREDIBLY hard to say to her during my years of bitterness. In fact, I never said them for a loooong time and neither did Mom. But I clearly remember the first time I said those words again, as an adult – it was in the back of an airport bus that had just picked us up from our plane and was taking us to the Ninoy Aquino International Terminal. A strong feeling of love suddenly gripped me and I just had to lean over and hug her and say, “I love you, Mom!” She hugged me back so tightly saying that she loved me too. My tears would not stop flowing. At the time, I didn’t know where that feeling came from but now I believe God’s Spirit had something to do with it. That day is definitely up there in my list of “Best Days in My Life.”
Years after this, I was asked to share my testimony at church and I talked about my old bitterness against Mom. In the middle of that testimony, I blurted this out without thinking: “Mom was right. I was not meant to be a doctor. I was meant to be a beauty queen. Besides, there are so many doctors out there, pero iilan lang ang Bb. Pilipinas winners!”
(To all you wonderful Doctors reading this, please don’t ban me from your clinics, I can’t live without you, aahaha!)
So to my Mom, on Mother’s Day, I am thankful that YOU are my Mom!
Without your pushing and prodding, I would not be enjoying the beauty queen life I have today! So, for all the heartaches I caused you, I ask for your forgiveness…
I was recently asked why I never joined any of the pageants for married women and moms since I still ‘have what it takes’ daw and I suddenly realized that it was because you aren’t here to be the wind beneath my wings. How could I join any pageant without you behind me? It just wouldn’t be the same. I know I am a grown woman but I still look to you for strength. Up to now, you are my Top Model because you are an outrageously crazy, terribly brave, amazingly tough and wonderfully beautiful woman!
Always remember that the crown that I wear truly belongs to you. I love you!