A Look Inside the Party World of Manila's Elite in the '70s
The ex-war photographer Slim Aarons snapping the venerable aristocrats and various celebrities being flown in—aboard a private Learjet, but of course—by the affable and incredibly loaded PAL president Beni Toda into his Hermana Mayor, his own private island off Zambales, a tropical hideaway reminiscent of la dolce vita, Capri style. Did we wink or are the Marcos kids no longer kids?
Bong just arrived from Oxford and is considering taking up an MBA or just staying in town and getting into “serious work.” (“Everything’s still up in the air,” he tells Jullie Daza’s magazine, People). Imee’s appearing in a Filipino production of Trojan Women at the Manila Metropolitan Theater (she’s playing Andromache, Tony Mabesa is directing). And the youngest, Irene, is driving around Wack Wack in a golf cart, with her father as
Guests at the private island owned by PAL president Benigno Toda, 1973.
If I snap my fingers and say Martial Law, what would you remember?
People talked in Taglish or swardspeak and everyone was
Mary Lau Toda in her private island off Zambales, Hermana Mayor
For an entirely different demographic, the Philippines was a scintillating playground for international celebrities and various aristocrats during those years of PC raids and warrantless arrests. For the moneyed set, Manila was a small town, albeit a town more cosmopolitan than any of its Asian
Everyone knew everyone. “You enter a club and you know the sister of
Ferdinand Marcos and Muhammad Ali at the post-fight party in Malacanang, 1975.
In those days—during the ‘70s, of course, he was just one of the kids partying at Where Else? Louie Y’s super club deeply ensconced in the newly minted Hotel Intercontinental. When a break from the local scene is in order, Hong Kong is the default destination for shopping; and for nightlife, the kids of the privileged live it up in the clubs of New York, Paris, and London. “The Elizabeth Arden route,” Louie calls it, referencing the ubiquitous tagline of the famous perfume bottle.
They all went to 54 and Le Cirque and Le Jardin and they all knew each other—and knew just the right person to call. Doors swung open for them in the hottest clubs in the world where they ordered Champagne, always Champagne. “We had common interests and standards,” recalls Louie. “It was an international scene but speaking the same language.”
Ernest Santiago, Shola Luna, Dave Tupas and Imee Marcos at Coco Banana.
As Jackie O did when she was First Lady, Imelda Marcos dictated that language. “The standards were so high—in art, in clothes, in music; and entertainment,” recalls Louie. Apart from inviting the likes of Van Cliburn and Paul Williams to Malacañang, she invited the best local talents to perform in the palace. Word has it that if you’re a
Alice Reyes and husband Dick Upton
Mary Prieto, Eula Viana, Marshall Factora, Richard Warwick and Josine Elizalde at the Red and White Party; Ernest or, as he was called then by habitues, Mama Taray.
The barrage of foreign guests arriving in town necessitated top-brass hospitality, hence the rise of the five-star hotels which didn’t only compete for foreign currency but for peso-paying clients, and which outdid each other—or to use a term in those days,
The hotels didn’t only change the city’s skyline but ushered in a completely new lifestyle. Suddenly, it was no longer that fashionable for the ladies to have their three-hour lunches with just food and society chatter at Nora Daza’s Au Bon Vivant. The action was happening at hotel ballrooms where lunch came with a show—the day’s top models sashaying in the latest fashions from the country’s top designers as soon as dessert was over.
Fashion patroness Chito Madrigal with then-boyfriend Manoling Collantes at Coco Banana; Wolfie
Bierlien as The Great Gatsby with his Daisy played by Marilou Prieto.
If hotel lounge singers had what they called,
Larry Leviste as Josephine Baker with Leo Khan as Toulouse Lautrec at Coco’s Legends Party.
The designers, therefore, were the celebrities of the time, their parties and shows and travels well documented in the few publications that existed. The young Inno Sotto—then called Guam Boy—had a show advertised in the papers as “strictly for the 400” but attracted much, much less of his declared target audience. Ben Farrales’s 47th birthday shebang at the Hyatt’s La Concha clocked in 150 guests that included society swan Chona Kasten, actress Pilar Pilapil, and Mother China herself, Lily Monteverde, the movie producer, who came with
“And so disco was our church, disco was our gym! Dancing all night and taking poppers, partying! That was our exercise, our gymnasium, and we would sleep the whole day.”
As the society scene moved out from the dinner soirees in the residences of Forbes and Dasma, so did the society mavens that hosted them. Disco was causing a major explosion in the major capitals of the world, coinciding with the explosion of the gay lifestyle, and Manila was not to be left out. As Leviste puts it, “The ladies wanted to see the gays, the gays wanted to see the boys, and the boys wanted to see the chicks.” Hence, sightings of Mary Prieto and Chito Madrigal rubbing elbows with Eddie Garcia and Elizabeth Oropesa at Coco Banana. Chito Madrigal being proposed marriage to one evening by the diplomat Manoling Collantes in the same club. Among the younger group, there was Cristina Valdez arriving in full Eliza Doolittle regalia in one Coco party.
A signed picture from Village People’s Felipe Rose.
Over the top was de riguer, and bongga always encouraged. And nowhere was this thinking more prevalent than in Coco Banana, the
A typical house party of La Salle Greenhills kids.
Over at Where Else
“Martial Law was happening just as disco was exploding all over the world,” Leviste says. “And so disco was our church, disco was our gym! Dancing all night and taking poppers, partying! That was our exercise, our gymnasium, and we would sleep the whole day.”
Society women, like Imelda Ongsiako Cojuangco, sat for a portrait by Rupert Jacinto (this one appeared on the cover of People).
There were no drug problems in the ‘70s. There were just
“[There were] very pure drugs, pharmaceuticals they were downers which were actually
Rene Knecht announcing the opening of Gaiety in the social chronicler of the time, People Magazine.
Those inclined would bring their baon to the clubs (Santiago raised his taray eyebrow to anyone seen drug-dealing at Coco), and everything’s for sharing. You could always tap into someone’s generous heart and they would gladly put a tablet of Q on your tongue. Louie Cruz would want to see you swallow it, though, he told me years ago when I wrote a story on the club for Metro Society. “Because he might want to take it in his own time, but you’re there to get high sabay.”
Sex was no biggie then. There was the pill, after all. And syphilis and
“People had sex every night,” says Larry. “In Where Else
“Sex was not an emotional thing, it was like you played a round of tennis and then you shook hands. You sweated and you say, ‘See you sometime!’ It was not promiscuous, it was innocent.”
Helena Guerrero as Madame Butterfly (behind her model Gina Leviste as Margot Fonteyn).
Preparing to go out was as much of a fantastical ritual as the going itself. Think Tony Manero spiffing himself up for a night on the town in Saturday Night Fever which came out in 1978. The men all wore the same cologne, wore Fred Perry shirts and Nik-nik tops which were available at Cartimar.
As for the girls, they would have their clothes made by Gaupo or Christian or Rusty, their hair blown and their faces made up at Budjiwara. Friends would call each other to meet up early so they can rehearse their dance steps. Rehearsals are followed by dinner in some nice restaurant and then off they go to Stargazer or the handsome cosmopolite Rene Knecht’s Gaiety, whose pre-opening buzz involved such promises as being the biggest dance club in Southeast Asia. Outfitted in red velvet, the club could accommodate 1,000 disco freaks at a
Actor Eddie Garcia, then fashion show producer Becky Garcia, and Jullie Daza, editor of People Magazine; Menchu Menchaca in Auggie Cordero.
By the time 1978 rolled in, the glass doors of the disco in Malacañang were flung open, and Imelda would invite her Blue Ladies and select guests from her exceedingly formal dinners and waltzes at the Maharlika Hall—then always decked with the freshest flowers, arranged by the famous Ronnie Laing—to come up to the new, mirror-walled, third floor dance hall which had a view of the Pasig River. Sean Connery partied here, along with Madame’s usual cocktail of international VIPs: Doris Duke, Christina Ford, the Agnellis, and Henry Kissinger.
Should a change of pace be in order, she entertained in her seaside hideaway in Olot, her hometown. At one time she flew in a
Precisely when all these wildness and craziness came to a halt, no one knows for sure. Even Ernest Santiago, when he was still alive, couldn’t quite recall the exact day or month or even year when he decided to close the Coco Banana doors forever. Louie Cruz tells me, if you want to know when a certain era ended, you have to know the plague of its time. Which, for the veteran party observer, was the AIDS scare abroad reaching Philippine shores and throwing the proverbial wet blanket to a decade of spirited bacchanalia.
Tetta Agustin, who was then already
modeling for Givenchy and Saint Laurent, with Rusty Lopez who made her dress.
The lifting of Martial Law had nothing to do with its demise. Just like the proclamation of Martial Law altered nothing in the lifestyles of the can-affords. The rich have always been the
Mang Ben is off again to another of his pre-gala show sojourns to Hongkong to find inspiration, while Fe Panlilio just arrived from her Roman holiday with
Anyway, there will always be some gypsy-type invited among the throng, ready to provide a side amusement of card readings and some such astrological
This story was originally published in the September 2015 issue of Esquire Philippines.