Armi Helena Kuusela The First Miss Universe Winner, Adopted Daughter of the Philippines

Then 17-year old high school student from Muhos, Finland, Armi Helena Kuusela was proclaimed the first Miss Universe winner on June 28, 1952 held at The Municipal Auditorium in Long Beach, California.  Armi bested delegates from Hawaii (Elza Kananionapua Edsman, first runner-up), Greece (Daisy Mavraki, second runner-up), Hong Kong (Judy Dan, third runner-up), Germany (Renate Hoy, fourth runner-up); Mexico (Olga Llorens Perez Castillo, semi-finalist), South Africa (Catherine Edwina Higgins, semi-finalist), Sweden (Anne Marie Tistler, semi-finalist), Uruguay (Gladys Rubio Fajardo, semi-finalist), USA (Jackie Loughery, semi-finalist).


Alaska (Shirley Burnett), Australia (Leah MacCartney), Belgium (Myriam Lynn, Miss Amity), Canada (Ruth Carrier), Chile (Esther Saavedra Yoacham, Most Popular Girl), Cuba (Gladys Lopez), Denmark (Hanne Sorensen), France (Claude Goddart), Great Britain (Aileen Chase), India (Indrani Rahman, married and mother of a 5-year old daughter, was accompanied by her husband), Israel (Ora  Vered), Italy (Giovanna Mazzotti), Japan (Himeko Kojima), Norway (Eva Roine), Panama (Elzibir Gisela Malek), Peru (Ada Gabriela Bueno), Philippines (Teresita Torralba Sanchez), Puerto Rico (Marilia Levy), Turkey (Gelengul Tayforoglu) and Venezuela (Sofia Silva Inserri). 

Armi was crowned by Hollywood actress Piper Laurie (who was also on the cover of the souvenir program; she co-starred with Ronald Reagan in her first movie Louisa in 1950, and best remembered as the fanatically religious mother in Carrie and in Children of a Lesser God; the last two merited her Oscar nominations for Best Actress in 1976 and Supporting actress in 1986, respectively).

On March 9, 1953, Armi set foot on Philippine soil upon the invitation of the Philippines International Fair Committee to crown the winner of the 1953 Miss Philippines.  During her stay until April 11, 1953, Armi paid courtesy calls to then President Elpidio Rivera Quirino, Supreme Court justices, Senate and Congress lawmakers, laid wreath of flowers at Bonifacio Monument, visited Maryknoll College, University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila, Balara Filtration Plant and Baguio City (where arrived on board the presidential plane Laong Laan and it was in this Pines City that she met her eventual husband, Virgilio Hilario through a blind date). 

During her 30-minute visit to the Malacañang Palace, the President learned that she’s bothered with the summer heat and he offered her to stay either in the Presidentail suite of the Manila Hotel or in an air conditioned room of the palace.  President Quirino also offered the presidential yacht Apo if she wants to go fishing. On March 12, the lawmakers discarded their usual ‘parliamentary sobriety’ when Armi called on then Senate President Eulogio Rodriguez and Speaker Eugenio Perez.  Smitten by Armi’s beauty, then Rep. Ferdinand E. Marcos (L, Ilocos Norte), introduced himself as the only eligible bachelor in the House and confessed that ‘his knees gave way’ after meeting her up close and personal.  In the House, she was presented a Moro gold bracelet from a Dansalan datu, usually given to royalty.  A tea party was tendered in her honor at the Malacañang Palace on March 14th.

Prior to the coronation night, Armi had a personal appearance in the Show of Shows topbilled by Dolphy, Katy dela Cruz, Bayani Casamiro, Chichay and Tolindoy held in Rizal Memorial Stadium.  On March 20, Armi crowned Cristina de Leon Galang (1953 Miss Philippines and Miss Luzon, with Benigno Aquino, Jr. as her escort, the who would later marry the future President of the Philippines, Mrs. Corazon Conjuangco-Aquino).  Cristina’s court of honor includes Violeta Villamor (1953 Miss Visayas and Pearl of the Orient), Gilda Gruet Walstrom (Miss Mindanao), Norma Jimenez (Miss Manila) and Imelda Trinidad Romualdez (Muse of Manila). 


Two days before her departure, Armi danced the rigodon de honor with the winners of Miss Philippines contest and prominent social figures during the Farewell Ball held at the fair’s open auditorium.  Shedding tears, Armi left the country on April 11 for Hong Kong and Japan with a heavy heart.  She expressed her desire to stay in the Philippines because of the warm hospitality accorded to her.  Indeed, she won the hearts of the Filipinos particularly then 25-year old Virgilio ‘Gil’ Hilario, who studied banking, marketing and foreign trade in Columbia University and at the same time worked with the Philippine National Bank in New York.  Friends in the know believe that one of the reasons why Armi was swept away by Gil was because of his dancing skills.  The life of every party he attended to, Gil is an expert on mambo, samba, rumba and other ballroom steps.

Gil followed Armi on her trip to Tokyo where they arrived on April 26 on a separate plane. Their romance blossomed while in Tokyo until they mutually agreed to get married on her 19th birthday on August 20.  He gave her a 3-carat diamond engagement ring.  But love couldn’t wait.  On the wee hours of May 3, Gil was involved in a scuffle when he defended Armi from a drunken American newspaperman who tried to harass Armi inside the Cosmopolitan Nightclub. Before the incident, Armi chose to give up her Miss Universe crown and title, her plans to take up physical education and language and make more movies but decided to marry that day instead.

Gil was sporting a black right eye when he exchanged marriage vows with Armi (wearing a blue nylon lace gown and carried a small bouquet of roses) officiated by Rev. Fr. Bruno Blitter at the St. Ignatius Church in Yatsuya, Tokyo with her sister Irma Kyromies as matron of honor and Roberto Villanueva (then VP of Chronicle Publications) as best man, Gil’s close friend.  She received a brand new 1952 Cadillac as a wedding gift.    

After their two-month honeymoon in the USA and Europe, the couple settled in the Philippines. Their love story was immortalized into a movie, Now and Forever, which was shown on December 29, 1953 at Center and Palace theaters.  Back home, Armi had a film credit under her name, Maailman Kaunein Tyttö (or The Most Beautiful Girl in the World).  In 1955, Armi (with Gil) visited Finland for the first time since 1953, and the couple did a Finnish documentary film, Pohjolan Tähtitaivaan Alla (or Under The Northern Stars). They had five children and six grandchildren who now live in different parts of the globe, namely, Arne, Anna-Lisa, Jose/Jussi, Eva-Maria and Miguel/Mikko (the only one based in Manila).  Gil and Armi were active in the Barrio Leaders Association for which Gil was the President.  Gil was even named the Honorary Consul of Finland which elated Armi no end. 

From 1954-56, Gil essayed the role of John in the passion play, Martir sa Golgota, staged in the Manila Grand Opera House, with Gloria Romero as the Virgin Mary.  Armi became a Camay Girl and she posed with her family for print and commercial ads. It is interesting to note that her daughter, Anna-Lisa, was on an Australian visit at the time of 1974 Queen of the Pacific contest when she agreed to represent the Philippines but withdrew before the finals due to some misunderstandings with the organizers. 

Gil joined our Creator on September 7, 1975.  Armi remarried to Albert Williams, a U.S. diplomat, on June 8, 1978. They are now living in La Jolla, San Diego, California where she is active in various community undertakings and deeply involved in cancer research. 


VIDEO: Miss Universe Pageant 1952 images and first history's Miss Universe crowning

video edited by CarlosQ (Mexico)

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Long live the queen!



Collaboration of Celso De Guzman Caparas (Philippines)    

video edited by CarlosQ (Mexico)   

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