Thursday, June 18, 2015

*383. THE JETSET LIFE OF MINDA FELICIANO

LA DOLCE MINDA. Minda Feliciano had a reputation for living the life fantastic--traipsing the world and hobnobbing with the rich, the famous and the powerful--befitting her celebrity status. Photo from 1968.

Certainly, for many society girls in the heady 60s, Minda Feliciano’s life was an enviable one. At a young age, she travelled the world in search of adventure, and in so doing, found many of her dreams fulfilled---to get an acting break on a hit U.S. TV series, to rub elbows with the rich, the royalty and the famous, and best of all, to find the greatest loves of her life in two continents!

But in a special way, Minda was destined for this kind of life, early on. She was the daughter of Manuel Valdez Feliciano, a district engineer, and Amparo Santana of Batanes. Born as Arminda Feliciano on June 1, 1931, her town of origin is sometimes listed as either Angeles or Guagua. That may be due to the peripatetic career of her father, who was assigned in different provinces like Bataan, Nueva Ecija and Surigao.

But what was sure was that Minda went to high school at the Holy Angel Academy (now University) in Angeles. In her 20s, the charming Minda went on to try her luck at modeling and acting. This paved the way for her to travel the world to search for better career opportunities.

In the U.S., she started auditioning for acting roles and, in 1959, won a regular slot (she played the hula-dancing receptionist, Evelyn) in the popular TV series,”Hawaiian Eye”, produced by Warner Brothers. In 1962, her partnership with Russ Hemenway resulted in the birth of her only child, Brent, but they would split shortly.

Minda never ran out of admirers though, and one who squired her ardently was the prominent publisher and author, Leo Guild, 20 years her senior. It was with Guild that she eventually chose to settle down in 1967. The glamorous Minda held court at her posh Beverly Hills residence, which was even outfitted with a heated swimming pool. However, the marriage ended in a divorce in 1970.

Minda went back to her socializing and hobnobbing with fellow celebrities that led to her meeting with British actor Michael Caine. Caine would become her one great love. He had already starred in a few well-received movies ("Alfie", "Gambit") when Minda swept him off his feet. She became her travelling companion when he filmed on locations worldwide. The two were soon engaged, but somehow, things didn’t fall into place and the couple parted ways. Michael would marry the exotic beauty, Shakira Baksh in 1973 , win 2 Oscars and be knighted in 2002.

 Briefly in the early 1990s, Minda was linked to debonair crooner, Tony Bennett, who made a hit out of the song, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”. She would fly and join him in his intermational concerts that took him from Las Vegas to Tokyo and London. But at that time, Bennett was more focused on resurrecting his career so Minda quietly slipped out of his life.

A few years later, Minda would form a more lasting relationship with Norman John McClintock Lonsdale, a true English blue blood descended from the Duke of Wellington, the nemesis of Bonaparte at the famous Battle of Waterloo. He had been a favorite escort of Princess Margaret. Lonsdale eschewed the life of a royal and pursued a successful TV career. He was already a widower with 3 children when Minda came into his life. Romance bloomed and they were wed in 1997.

In the Lonsdales’ sprawling Oxfordshire estate,the couple entertained film star friends like Joan Collins, Peter Sellers, Britt Ekland and Roger Moore. Minda and Norman would be together for 12 happy years; he would die in 2009, of cancer. All throughout his illness, Minda stood by to nurse and care for his man, until the end.

Today, Minda has made United Kingdom her home, spending her time tending to the lush rose gardens of her ivy-covered house along the scenic Thames River. Her high-flying days have given way to a quieter, more sedate life, but Minda Feliciano’s joie de vivre has not waned a bit. And that’s so…Kapampangan!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

*382. KAPAMPANGAN OLYMPIANS

THE RACE IS ON! An inter-scholastic meet hosted by the Pampanga High School features running sprints participated in  by would-be Olympic tracksters from different Central Luzon schools. ca. mid 1920s. Personal Collection.

 The 28th Southeast Asian Games currently going on in Singapore recalls to mind the great feats of many Kapampangans who helped carry the Philippine colors on the world sports arena. Ever since a Negrito named Basilio won the pole-climbing event at the 1904 Anthropology Days Competition—an athletic competition affiliated with the 1904 Summer Olympic Games held in St. Louis, there has been no stopping the Kapampangans’ quest for  victory in the world’s premiere sports competition.

 The country’s official participation in the modern day Olympics began in 1924, when the Philippines sent a token representative, track athlete David Nepomuceno. It was only in 1928 that the country made its presence felt  when Ilocano Teofilo Yldefonso, medalled in breast stroke swimming. 

The first known Kapampangan to participate in the Olympics was Fortunato Yambao (b.16 Oct. 1912/d.23 Jun. 1970), of Sta. Lucia, Masantol, a member of the Philippine basketball team at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Adolph Hitler had used this event to prove the superiority of the Aryan race, only to be silenced by stunning victories of black American track star, Jesse Owens. Asia too, had reason to celebrate, for that year, Yambao and his squad lifted the Philippines to 5th place, the highest placement ever achieved by our national basketball team, with a record of 4 wins, 1 loss—against the Americans.

 At the 1960 Rome Olympics, two Kapampangan basketeers were part of the national team: Carlos Velasco Badion of Lubao and Edgardo Luciano Ocampo of Magalang. Carlos or “Charlie” Badion (b. 16 Aug. 1935 /d. 20 Jun. 2002) had actually represented the country at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, with the team finishing strong in 7th place. His teammates included the basketball legend Caloy Loyzaga and Kurt Bachman.

Badion also grabbed Gold at the 1958 Asian Games and took part in the 1959 FIBA World Cup, where the Philippines finished 8th. In his heyday, he originated the so-called “bicycle drive”and “jack-knife lay-up” , basketball moves that young athletes emulated. Badion was named “Mr. Basketball”, appeared in a movie and was crowned as the Most Valuable Player by the Asian Basketball Conference (ABC).

 Equally illustrious was the basketball career of Edgardo “Ed” Ocampo (b. 5 Oct. 1938)/d. 1999), who represented the Philippines in a record 3 Olympics—1960 (Rome), 1968 (Mexico) and 1972 (Munich). The versatile Ocampo was originally a member of the Philippine football team when basketball beckoned. Ocampo was hailed as Asia’s Best Guard, and, like Badion, was voted as “Mr. Basketball” by the Philippine Sports Association.

In 1968, the Philippines sent a token delegation to the gymnastic events of the Mexico Olympics, and one of the 2 gymnasts was Kapampangan Norman Henson, who was our bet in the floor exercise; he had won an international medal for that discipline. While Henson was doing his somersaults, a kabalen, Adolfo Feliciano, was pitting his skills at the shooting range for the last time. The ace sports shooter had previously competed at the 1960 and 1964 Olympics and had medalled at the Asian Games.

Four years later, at the 1972 Munich Olympics, 2 Kapampangans gunned for glory in the same sports: presidential son Arturo Macapagal and Holy Angel student Melchor Yap who joined the skeet-shooting match. Yap and Macapagal did not advance to the finals, but it was enough that they joined the ranks of the world's best deadshots.

On the distaff side, the first Winter Olympics was held in 1924, in Chamonix, France. At two editions---Nagano (1994) and Lillehammer (1998), a skater with Kapampangan blood represented the United States in Ice Dancing. Elizabeth Punsalan (b. 9 Jan. 1971) was the daughter of Dr. Ernesto Punsalan of Lubao and who had come to America as a medical student. Together with partner, Jerrod Swallow, Punsalan qualified for the 1994 Winter Olympics after placing first at the U.S. Nationals. Two weeks before she was set to go to Nagano, her mentally-troubled brother, Ricardo, stabbed their father dead. This affected her performance, and the couple placed 15th overall. Punsalan bounced back in the next Olympics, finishing in a creditable 7th place.

 Another Kapampangan athlete who made it to the Olympics as part of Team America was the badminton ace, Erika Von Heiland (b. 24 Dec. 1965). Born in Angeles City, Erika’s father was Theodore Pamintuan Von Heiland, the son of Paz Sandico Pamintuan with second husband Frank Von Heiland. Her great grandfather was Don Florentino Torres Pamintuan, an affluent citizen of the town and builder of the still-extant Pamintuan mansion. At age 27, Erika qualified in two Olympics in Barcelona (1992) and Atlanta (1996), playing in both singles and the doubles events.

 In the next Olympics in Sydney (2000), another Angeleño marched proud as our country’s bet in the sports of taekwondo. Welterweight Donald Geisler (b. 6 Oct. 1978), of German-American-Filipino descent, had previously won a silver medal at the 1996 Asian Games; he was just 18. After the Olympiad, Geisler continued his winning streak, garnering medals at the regional Southeast Asian Games—a Silver in 2001, and a Gold in 2003. This paved the way for his return to the 2004 Athens Olympics where he reached the quarterfinals. The next year, he struck gold again at the 2005 SEA Games.

 As sportsmen, these select Kapampangan Olympians have lived their ultimate dream of competing for medals against the best athletes of the world. But in their quest for medals, they have come to learn that it not just the winning that matters, but in finding out the best within themselves, a rewarding experience that feels every bit golden.

(7 June 2015)