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Imelda Marcos (b. 1929), “one of the ten richest women in the world” (Cosmopolitan magazine, December, 1975)

In December, 1975, Cosmopolitan magazine named Imelda Marcos, the First Lady of the Phillippines, as one of the ten richest women in the world. It even went a step further and speculated that Imelda was perhaps the richest woman in the world, richer than Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain.

Everyone knew Imelda was rich; she made sure of that. She had an insatiable desire for expensive things and flaunted them. No one at the time really knew where she got all the money that she spent so impulsively. She was, after all, unemployed and had no independent wealth. In addition, her husband, the dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, had made less than $5,000 a year for the last ten years in office.

Nonetheless, there was Imelda, spending $40,000 on a Honolulu shopping spree in 1974, without trying anything on. Her excess knew no limits and she spared herself no luxury:

“Another report had Imelda and a gaggle of friends demanding Bloomingdale’s in New York be closed for a private shopping extravaganza, then marching through the store pointing to desired items and saying, ‘Mine. Mine. Mine. Mine.’”(1) She was referred to by one sales clerk as ‘the Mine Girl.’

Imelda Marcos from a Vanity Fair interview, 2007

Imelda Marcos from a Vanity Fair interview, 2007

Responding to criticism of her self-indulgence and the spending of public money for high-profile projects that did nothing to alleviate the poverty of the Filipinos, Imelda remarked that is was her “duty” to be “some kind of light, a star to give [the poor] guidelines.”

By 1981, Imelda’s personal popularity was at an all-time high. She jetsetted around the globe, shopping and hobnobbing with celebrities such as the perennially-tanned American actor George Hamilton.

After having secured the Miss Universe Pageant for the Philippines in 1974 – which necessitated the rapid construction of the 10,000-seat Folks Art Center – Imelda continued to indulge her “edifice complex,” building 14 luxury hotels, a multimillion-dollar Nutrition Center, Convention Center, Heart Center and, in 1981, the infamous Manila Film Center.

Imelda Marcos designed the Manila Film Center after the Greek Parthenon, shown here.

Imelda wanted Manila to rival Cannes as a world film capital. At the cost of $25 million, Imelda approved plans for the Manila Film Center to be built to host an international film festival. Opening night was set for January 18, 1982. The project was grandiose and expensive; the building on Manila Bay was designed to look like the Parthenon.

Delays hampered the progress. As the deadline drew nearer, it required 4,000 workers, working in 3 shifts, around the clock, if the building was going to be ready.

Then, at 3 a.m. on November 17, the upper scaffold collapsed and sent workers falling into wet cement. A witness said that some of the workers were impaled on upright steel bars.

Imelda was contacted about the accident. She was told that the recovery of the bodies would take alot of  time – time, evidently, that Imelda didn’t want to give up. She ordered the construction to continue as planned and that the bodies – maybe as many as 169 – be covered with cement. It is believed that many of those who fell into the cement may have been buried alive.

The full story has never been told, as news crews, rescuers, and ambulance teams were barred from the scene for nine full hours, while the government, under martial law, prepared its official version of events, censoring all news and silencing all witnesses.

Despite all, the festival opened on schedule on January18, 1981, and had among its guests Brooke Shields, Franco Nero, Ben Kingsley, and Robert Duvall. The first film shown in the theater was the tasteful bioepic, “Gandhi.”  Unknowingly, the stars partied atop a mausoleum of dead workers.

Brooke Shields (b. 1965) was only 16 years old when she traveled to Manila for the international film festival as the guest of First Lady Imelda Marcos.

“During opening night, Imelda ‘strode on stage in a Joe Salazar black and emerald green terno with a hemline thick with layer upon layer of peacock feathers.’ “Some said there were diamonds embedded in the skirt.

The next year, as a result of the accident scandal, the government withheld $5 million in festival funding. Imelda was in a fix. She had to pay for the festival somehow, so she ran pornography films in the festival’s second and, understandably, last year.

(1) Klaffke, Pamela. Spree: A Cultural History of Shopping.

Readers: For more on Imelda and Ferdinand Marcos on this blog, click here.   

A close-up of Imelda Marcos looking into a gold-plated compact mirror, her first name encrusted in diamonds. Called the ‘Steel Butterfly,’ Imelda Marcos was the beautiful wife and confidante of Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos. The Marcos regime (1965-86) was marked by notorious corruption, political repression, and financial improprieties of the highest order.

For other resources, click here.

 

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Salvador Dali grew a flamboyant moustache, waxed and up-turned, styled after , influenced by seventeenth-century Spanish master painter Diego Velázquez

Salvador Dalí grew a flamboyant moustache, waxed and up-turned, influenced by seventeenth-century Spanish master painter Diego Velázquez. The moustache became Dalí's trademark look.

In 1953, Spanish-born Surrealist painter Salvador Dalí (1904-1989) wrote:

“Every morning upon awakening, I experience a supreme pleasure: that of being Salvador Dalí, and I ask myself, wonderstruck, what prodigious thing will he do today, this Salvador Dalí….”

Salvador Dalí found deep meaning in Jan Vermeer's painting, "The Lacemaker" (ca. 1669-70)

Salvador Dalí found deep meaning in Jan Vermeer's painting, "The Lacemaker" (ca. 1669-70)

In December 1955, that “prodigious thing” meant that he was to borrow a friend’s white Rolls Royce Phantom II, fill it to the roof with 500 kg of cauliflower, and drive it to the Sorbonne in Paris. Then he would disembark and enter the school to give a lecture he’d impossibly titled, ‘Phenomenological Aspects of the Paranoiac Critical Method:’ 

“Some 2,000 ecstatic listeners were soon sharing Salvador’s Dalirium. Planting his elbows on a lecture table strewn with bread crumbs, Dalí blandly explained: “All emotion comes to me through the elbow.” Then he announced his latest finding in critical paranoia. The gamy meat of it: “Everything departs from the rhinoceros horn! Everything departs from [Dutch Master] Jan Vermeer’s The Lacemaker! Everything ends up in the cauliflower!” The rub, apologized Dalí, is that cauliflowers are too small to prove this theory conclusively.” (1)

As Dalí’s fame grew, his stunts and outrageous pronouncements became more frequent. He was an endless self-promoter, grandiose and pompous. He felt impelled, he admitted, to accumulate millions of dollars. He loved money. To keep the contracts coming, he was determined to keep himself in the public eye. His art and behavior were designed to provoke a response.

Salvador Dalí's most famouse painting, "The Persistence of Memory," 1931. His inspiration for the three melting watches came to him when he had a headache. His wife Gala had gone to the movies with friends and Dalí, ill, had stayed at home. He sat at the kitchen table for a long time, staring at the melting Camembert cheese. Before going to bed, he entered his studio and looked at the landscape he was working on - and decided to add three melting watches.

Salvador Dalí's most famous painting, "The Persistence of Memory," 1931. His inspiration for the drooping timepieces came to him one night when he had a headache. His wife Gala had gone to the movies with friends while Dalí, ill, had stayed behind at home. He sat at the kitchen table for a long time, staring at the melting Camembert cheese. Before going to bed, he entered his studio and looked at the landscape he had been working on - and - Voila! - decided to add three melting watches.

He delighted in playing the buffoon. While Dalí’s pranks were often funny, one was certainly dangerous. Once he donned a deep-sea diving suit before giving a lecture. The helmet was soundproof so no one could hear him. Dalí began to thrash about, flailing his arms soundlessly. The audience roared with laughter, thinking it was part of Dalí’s act. But he was suffocating inside the helmet. It was not until he almost fainted that he was rescued. Accused of going too far,  Dalí would often reply, “It’s the only place I ever wanted to go.”

Sometimes his stunts were offensive, such as when he and wife Gala appeared at a New York costume party dressed as the Lindbergh baby and his kidnapper. Other spectacles bordered on the criminal, like when he discovered that his Bonwit Teller window display in Manhattan had been rearranged. He became so enraged that he hurled a bathtub through the plate glass window and crashed, with the tub, inside the store.

Dalí created The Mae West Lips Sofa (1937) in the same shocking-pink color introduced by fashion designer Elsa Schiaparellli

Dalí created The Mae West Lips Sofa (1937) in the same shocking-pink color introduced by fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli.

Dalí was endlessly creative in many genres other than painting. He created jewelry, designed clothes (see my post: “Elsa Schiaparelli: Shocking-Pink“) and furniture, painted sets for ballets and plays, wrote fiction, created window displays for department stores, and produced the dream sequence for director Alfred Hitchcock’s “Spellbound.He recorded a TV ad for Lanvin chocolates, designed the Chupa Chups candy labels, and was interviewed on TV in 1958 by Mike Wallace – during which Dalí imperiously referred to himself in the third person.

(1) TIME, Dec. 26, 1955

(2) “The Surreal World of Salvador Dali,” Smithsonian magazine, April 2005.

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France's First Lady, Carla Bruni, is also a singer, model, and actress. Her dating resume, prior to her marriage to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, includes rock stars Eric Clapton and Mick Jagger.

France's First Lady, Carla Bruni, is also a singer, recording star, model, and actress. Her dating resume, prior to her marriage to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, includes rock stars Eric Clapton and Mick Jagger.

From the BBC:

Carla Bruni, the wife of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, has taken part in a New York concert to celebrate the 91st birthday of former South African President Nelson Mandela.

Hosted by Whoopi Goldberg, the event at Radio City Music Hall also featured performances by Aretha Franklin, Wyclef Jean, Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys and Will.I.Am.

Click below to hear Carla sing.

For more on Carla Bruni Sarkozy, you might enjoy reading this post: “Carla Bruni: Homewrecker?” and “Carla Bruni, Love Child.”

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