Filipina Twins Pacita & Teresa, Age 84 – Part 1

Teresa & Pacita's parents

I recently interviewed these twin sisters, both with amazing life stories. Their interview is divided into 3 parts…

What did beauty mean to you when you were in your 20s?

Pacita: Me,being the eldest by five minutes, do you mind if I start?

Teresa: Sure.

P: Even long before the War, my mother was an artist in the sense that she decorated the home. She was the kind of a person that liked anything that was beautiful. She could decorate your house. My father was so enthused. He even bought her a dressmaker salon. Ladies would come and have their clothes done. She always dressed us up elegantly, even in school days. We were always outstanding. So from childhood, we were already very much exposed. My mother should have been the actress, not me.

T: One time I got caught putting a flower in my hair. So my mother cut my hair and then cut your hair. That was twins, but I was vainer than Pacita was.

P: But we never wore make-up there, because in those days, no make-up. I just wanted to look nice. I was what you call the little tomboy. Every time they looked for me, I was up in the trees. She was the more feminine one.

T: Pacita was always fighting my fights because I couldn’t fight. I was very sick. Funny because when I grew up and got married, they were all surprised that I was able to do things I never did before.

P: I thought I was going to be the strongest and look at me now. I almost died last year. I have cancer of the bone marrow. I guess the Lord wants me to be alive. The very next day after my blood transfusion, the doctor told me that it wasn’t going to be chemotherapy; it’s going to be tablets: the newest medical technology. Your hair doesn’t fall (much). I’m now one year alive. I still take the pills, but sometimes I wonder because so many of our younger friends are dying left and right, and here I am. It’s not that I’m questioning the Lord, but I tell myself there must be something I still have to do.

Whenever I would come here from Hong Kong where welived, I didn’t need to bring any clothes. My sister had already bought two of a kind. Maybe 15 years ago, we’d go shopping on Market Street. She’d go to one store and come out. I’d go to the same store. The lady looked at me and said, “But you already bought that. You just left, Madame.” And I’d say, “Oh that was my twin sister.” She’s (still) very active.

T: I teach step aerobics up until now…21 years at USA Fitness. But this will be my last year because now that Paci is getting better, we want to travel, and it’s about time. We’ll be 85 soon.

P: I was almost 21 when I got into film. That was in 1947. When I came back from the States, we celebrated our 22nd birthday, when I made that film. My uncle came to the house and told me, “Let me see all your pictures.” I asked him, “What do you want it for, Uncle?” “Oh, just give them to me. I’m going to submit these and you’re going to be a candidate for the national beauty contest sponsored by Philippine Airlines. I said, “Are you out of your mind?”

This was soon after the War. Liberation…1945, and this was in ’47. But he said, “No, never mind. You can borrow clothes, shoes, everything.” So I went along with the joke. I thought it was a joke. Before I knew it, it was all over the newspapers, including my photograph. I could not back out. So I decided “Alright, I’ll try.” I never imagined I was going to come out in 2nd place, because everything was borrowed. It was exciting.

Miss Guam, Miss Japan, all Asian girls…we had to walk around the judges in our dresses. At that time, nobody had any other clothes – it was after the War. We were nicely dressed in stockings, shoes, it was all borrowed. We had to walk as models do now, but in a more reserved way. In those days there were no low-cut. Everything was very modest. Only the silhouette. So we paraded. Not even bathing suits, just the dress. Then we had an interview with question that they would rate.

This happened in the Manila Hotel, the biggest hotel, where General MacArthur and all the big dignitaries stayed. United Philippine Artists shareholders were there. They thought that I should have won Miss Philippines. They gave me the contract to become an actress overnight and help make a film in Hollywood with the most famous leading Filipino actor Rogelio de la Rosa. He was like the Robert Taylor of the Philippines.

With my background and because I had won Miss Luzon (and these people thought I should have won) I was offered the contract. It was like a fairytale. I was nothing and then the next day, I was everything. We were between life and starvation. We lost everything (in the War). I wanted to give my mother a nice home. When they told me how much I was going to earn, I thought This is it. I’m not doing it because I want to be an actress. I’m doing it because I want to have a better life for my family. That’s why I agreed.

The name of the film was “Ang Vengador”, in English “The Avengers”. I did the Philippine version and actress Sigrid Gurie did the English version (she had recently done the film “Marco Polo” with Gary Cooper). We had famous actors. It was the story of the son of Monte Cristo, in a Filipino version. It was filmed in Hollywood in the studio where Arch of Triumph and Body and Soul were filmed. It was very good in Hollywood. They treated me like a queen.

When we left the Philippines, Glenn Ford flew over Hawaii to greet both of us. We flew to San Francisco and the ambassador of the Philippines took care of us. We went around and flew to Los Angeles and the father of our ex-President Ramos who was then the ambassador to the Philippines, he took care of us there. I stayed at the Wilshire Blvd. Hotel, next to the Schwab’s Drugstore. I took lessons with Anthony Quinn and Robert Mitchell. They were teaching acting and helped me along, since it was my very first time. I really didn’t know anything about acting. Maybe I had grown up that way in the Philippines…it wasn’t that difficult to learn (laughs).

T: Our mother was in zarzuelas in Spanish and she was an opera singer in the Philippines. My brother played the violin

P: It was in our blood. And we did a lot of dancing. Even after I left the movies because I married my husband, when we came back to Connecticut, I went to the Yale School of Drama for two years. I was in films for 10 years. They offered me films here (in the US) but it was always second or third part, whereas the people in the Philippines would tell me, “You’re going to be top actress. Why should you get a second part? And you’re going to get just as much money.” I didn’t want to leave my family. After the first film, I went back. Glenn Ford wanted me to be his co-star in a costume picture they made in ’47-48, but I did not accept. We became very good friends – Susan Hayward and Glenn Ford – and I told them that I did not want to be away from home. I had already lost my father and my brother (in the War).

When I was in films, I learned how to put on make-up…theatrical make-up and then street make-up. I was told that when you’re away from the cameras, don’t go out with this mask on. They taught us how to wear street make-up and night make-up. I was very interested because when I went back, all the actresses wanted to know the latest make-up technology.

Then the famous brands were Max Factor and Revlon. At that time it was the old style. We still went for foundation. You cleaned your face first and you didn’t wear moisturizer. Actually you used cream at that time. You wiped it off and then you put your foundation. There was no such thing as eye-liner. It was more natural. Of course on the set, then they did really line your eyes. The flood lights drain all your make-up so you need to put a lot on your face. To highlight the nose, you put lines on the side.

To be continued…

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Kinky, Curly Hair

What did beauty mean to you when you were in your 20s?

I was told that I was good looking. My pictures will verify that. But I had serious acne, and I had very,very kinky curly hair. I never felt good about myself. In 1945, we were still very influenced by the movies and what was considered glamour – that was the word – glamour girls. I guess I tried to emulate that.

I resembled a couple of movie stars in that age, and I would get comments about that. One was Lynn Bari. That was the culture of the products being pushed for beauty, like if you use this soap…It’s still going on. I have studied advertising and propaganda. I wanted to be attractive. My parents wanted me to get a husband.

Lynn Bari

I put on make-up. I couldn’t do much with my hair, and I was extremely discontent because the girls that were popular and got to go to all the parties and seemed to have the best advantage were the blonds with straight hair. I wanted straight hair, and I wanted to be a blond…which at one time I did try. We were streaking it then. It was much cruder than today. It looked like hell. I got the pictures somewhere.

Most of my thing was clothing – high heels and clothes. I had gone to work. My parents did not feel that college was necessary for me, and I went to work. I had a small paycheck and I spent it on clothes.

I had to have clothes I could go to work in because there were strict dress codes. Feminine suits. There was one manufacturer called Lilli Ann and I had a studio portrait done with that suit on. My daughter’s got the picture. I had thick brown hair.

I have had plastic surgery on my ears – not until after marrying and having children – because my ears stood out from my head. So I always had to wear my hair to cover those ears or I began to wear stylish turbans.

And then the skin. It was always the skin. I began putting make-up on when I was about 14 years old to try to cover up the zits. It was awful. There wasn’t the help that we have today. And my parents weren’t understanding at all. They were good parents, but the zits were because I ate butter…(laughs) They didn’t know. They didn’t know all the internal turmoil of the sexual awakening, the hormones.

What does beauty mean to you now?

I don’t think of it very much at all because I have a great tragedy in my life. My husband at the age of 83 went to sleep with a tramp. She’s everything I’m not. She’s short and unattractive.

First of all, I have no more illusions about being attractive to any man. I am a completely feminine woman. I’ve had opportunities in my life to be lesbian and been invited, because I was in a business suit and attracted all kinds of women. So I just feel that I’m going to do the best I can. My health is frail and I do the best I can to keep myself personally clean. I bathe everyday. I wash my hair everyday. And I try to get a good haircut and put on my make-up.

I just keep trying. And it’s an effort that in some sense rewards me because a few people are kind enough to make comments. But I can no longer be the ravishing beauty that I was once told I was. It’s all gone.

If different, why have your ideas about beauty changed over the years?

Well, there’s 60 years difference. I’ve changed because I’ve aged. I’ve stayed around a long, long time. I’ve been weathered and I’ve been emotionally distressed to the point where my face was contorted. I’ve got a picture from the year he started this, when we still got together for Thanksgiving, and my face is literally contorted. I still cry. I allow myself to do that as a health benefit. I have to take care of myself. My children are all now far away, and my husband has disrupted our family.

I’ve watched the aging process and learned a great deal. It’s important for me to take care of myself. No one else will. And I don’t believe in using all the drugs that are proposed for me.

Sonnie Willis, 85

San Francisco

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