LOOK BACK: Gloria Diaz, forever Miss Universe icon

Alexa Villano

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LOOK BACK: Gloria Diaz, forever Miss Universe icon
Gloria Diaz celebrates 50 years of being a pageant icon

FOREVER MISS UNIVERSE. Gloria Diaz is forever immortalized as Miss Universe 1969. File photo by Alecs Ongcal/Rappler

The year 1969 was historical period for space and the world of pageantry. It was the year when American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin walked on the moon on the Apollo 11 mission. On July 19, history was also made when Gloria Diaz, an 18-year-old from the Philippines, became the first Filipina to win the Miss Universe title in Miami, Florida.

LONG LIVE QUEEN GLORIA. Gloria Diaz in a profile shot for Miss Universe in 1969. Photo from Miss Universe Organization

While Gemma Cruz became the first Filipina to win Miss International in 1964, Gloria cemented the country’s love for Miss Universe with her own victory. During the Q and A of the pageant, she was asked: “In a next day or so, a man will land on the moon. If a man from the moon landed in your hometown, what would you do to entertain him?”

Gloria’s answer was simple, witty, and straight. “Oh, just the same things I do. I think if he has been in the moon for so long, I think when he comes over he wants to change, I guess.”


And the rest is history as Gloria won the title, succeeding Brazil’s Martha Vasconcellos.

MISS UNIVERSE 1969. Gloria Diaz, Miss Universe 1969, is surrounded by well-wishers after she is crowned during the 18th edition of the pageant. Photo from Miss Universe Organization


Soon after Gloria’s coronation, then US president Richard Nixon came to the Philippines for a visit. In his speech in Manila, Nixon mentioned Gloria’s win, saying that while the US conquered the moon, the Philippines conquered the universe. 

“I think it is significant to note that the first world capital that I am visiting, after having greeted the first men to have set foot on the moon, is Manila, the capital of the Philippines.

“And that, it seems to me, is appropriate from a number of circumstances, but particularly so because now we speak not just of our world, but of the universe.

“And I am not unaware of the fact that a very lovely lady from the Philippines, Miss Gloria Diaz, has been named Miss Universe.”


Not expecting to win

When Gloria won, it was a lot for a teenager to take. In the book The World of Miss Universe by Ana Maria Cumba, she wrote that Gloria even asked the question “Why me?”

In the book, Cumba also wrote that Gloria never expected to win the title as well as the Binibining Pilipinas then.

“I joined the pageant for the fun and experience — I never thought I would win — not even my primary pageant in Manila,” Gloria said.

Cumba also quoted Gloria, who said that the press never even looked at her during the pageant.

“The funny thing is, for the entire pageant week, the press never bothered with me. They didn’t even see me, or perhaps they thought that I did not speak English,” Cumba quoted Gloria.

ICON. Gloria poses for photographers the day after she won her title in 1969. Photo from the Miss Universe Organization


Cumba dedicated a chapter of the book to Gloria’s reign. She even said that she was sad when Gloria had to relinquish her crown to the new winner.

Actress and still queen

After her reign, Gloria entered showbiz. It was in 1974 when her acting career would skyrocket thanks to the movie Ang Pinakamagandang Hayop sa Balat ng Lupa (The Most Beautiful Animal in the World). The movie earned her several praises from movie critics and a nomination for Best Actress from the Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences (FAMAS).

She also appeared in critically acclaimed films such as Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon; Dyesebel; Sagrada Familia; Batang Westside; Chedeng and Apple, among others. For television, she did shows such as Beauty Queen, Mirabella, Anna Karenina, Dream Dad, and Pamilya Roces.

Gloria is currenlty part of the afternoon show Los Bastardos as Soledad Cardinal, the matriarch of the family.






Although it’s been more than 50 years, Gloria’s influence in Philippine pageantry is still respected. She is often interviewed about the country’s Miss Universe Philippines’ representatives, aside from judging beauty contests, and even giving tips when asked. Her honest opinions, she said, would even get her into trouble, as mentioned in an interview with pageant site The Philippine Pageantry.

She recently appeared in the coronation night of Binibining Pilipinas 2019 as part of the judging panel.

She is also set to appear in Netflix’s Insatiable, a show about a teenager training to be a beauty queen. 

But beyond being a beauty queen and actress, Gloria is now a happy mother to 3 kids Isabelle, Ava, and Raphael, and a grandmother to Isabelle’s son Baltazar, with husband Adrian Semblat.  (WATCH: Gloria Diaz gets candid with daughters Ava and Isabelle)


And while she’s long passed the life of a beauty queen, Gloria Diaz will always be remembered as the woman who started the passion of Filipinos for the Miss Universe. 

Happy 50th anniversary, Queen Gloria!  — Rappler.com




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Alexa Villano

Alexa is one of Rappler's Lifestyle and Entertainment reporters, covering local entertainment news to a wide range of topics from beauty pageants to reality shows.