Sunday, January 22, 2012

*278.NEILE ADAMS: The Kapampangan Side of Ex-Mrs. Steve McQueen

NEILE, MCQUEEN'S QUEEN. Neile Adams (aka Ruby Neilam Arrastia y Salvador), actress-singer and dancer, with the action star of the 60s, the late Steve McQueen. Neile's father, Jose, hails from the prominent Arrastia-Salgado family of Lubao. Ca. mid 60s.

Minda Feliciano and Isabel Preysler are two of the more high-profile beauties with Kapampangan blood to have relationships with international celebrities. Angeles-born Minda (b. 1 June 1931) had a celebrated romance with English actor Michael Caine in the late ‘60s, while Isabel Preysler, whose family comes from Lubao, is well-known as the former wife of Spanish crooner, Julio Iglesias, and the mother of Enrique Iglesias.

But before them was Ruby Neilam Salvador Arrastia, who came to be known in Hollywood as the actress-singer-dancer Neile Adams—and the first wife of actor, Steve McQueen, the hottest new male star of Hollywood back in the early ‘60s.

Ruby was born on 10 July 1932, the child of Jose (Pepe) Arrastia of Lubao and Carmen Salvador. Carmen came from a family of stage and movie performers of mixed German-Spanish-Filipino blood; she was a professional dancer herself, while a more famous brother became the noted character actor Lou Salvador Sr., who was active in show business from the 1930s-60s.

Her father, Jose or Pepe, was the eldest son of Valentin Roncal Arrastia, a Basque Spaniard, with Lubao native Francisca Serrano Salgado. Jose’s parents were the most prominent hacienderos of the town, and he grew up living the privileged life, together with siblings Carmen, Justo, Benito, Crispula, Juanita, Esteban, Francisco, Enrique and Sebastian. When he came of age, Pepe married Teodorica (Kika) Reinares of Orion, Bataan, with whom he had two children, Mercedes and Beatriz. A relationship with Carmen resulted in a third daughter—Ruby.

She spent her growing-up years in Manila, until the second World War. She and her family were incarcerated by the Japanese for 18 months, and after the War, she was whisked away to the U.S. The young Ruby took dancing lessons in school, and her terpsichorean skills, obviously inherited from her mother was soon being noticed in auditions. The pert and pretty Neile, as she now called herself, found herself being cast in shows and musicals, and one of her early appearances was in “Pajama Game”, staged at the Carnegie Hall. From the stage, she moved on to bit appearances on screen and on TV, with credits in the 1952 movie, “Grubstake” and as Patsy St. Claire in “This Could Be The Night” (1957).

Shortly after a dance rehearsal, Neile Adams met an up-and-coming young actor and a former member of the Marine Corps, Steve McQueen. McQueen had been bumming around in New York hoping to get an education, but he found his calling at the Actors Studio and decided to be a movie star. He found himself doing bit roles, playing second fiddle to Paul Newman’s “Somebody Up There Likes Me” and Ben Gazzara’s “A Hatful of Rain”, both produced in 1956. Upon Neile’s insistence, Steve accepted a role as a minister in the low budget movie “The Blob” . It proved to be one of the most successful films in 1957. That same year, Neile Adams and Steve McQueen were married and settled in Laurel Canyon, and then to Nichols Canyon, where they raised two children, Terry and Chad.

It was said that Adams’ influence with agents jumpstarted McQueen’s stellar career in Hollywood. Husband and wife appeared in a memorable episode in “Alfred Hitchcock Presents”. Separately, Neile accepted a recurring role in the TV series “Five Fingers” as Rita Juan in 1960, and went on to guest star in top TV shows like “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”, “Love American Style” and “Bob Hope Show”. But Steve’s career was on a major upswing: he was cast for 3 season in the hit TV series “Wanted: Dead or Alive”, and in 1960, the action film “Magnificent Seven” confirmed his big-screen star status.

In 1963, the McQueens built a grand retreat house in Brentwood with all the trappings of Hollywood glitz and glamour. They owned a fleet of cars like a Mustang, Porsche, Ferrari and Jaguar. Their Mediterranean stone house, set near the ocean side, could pass for a French castle, what with its huge stone courtyard, an expansive terrace and high oak gates.

The McQueens spent many years together in their fabulous enclave set in the hills of Brentwood. Steve’s insistence that Neile stop working started a friction that would culminate in 1972, when he made “The Getaway” in 1972 and fell in love with co-star Ali McGraw. Neile and Steve were divorced that same year. Steve married Ali in 1973, but that too, ended in divorce. He next married model Barbara Minty.

As for Neile, she continued to pursue her love for acting, frequently making guest appearances (sometimes billed as Neile McQueen) throughout the 70s and 80s in such popular shows as “The Bionic Woman”, “ The Rockford Files”, “Fantasy Island”, “Vega$” and “Hotel”. In 1986, she wrote “My Husband, My Friend”, a biography of her husband Steve, who, six years before, had died of cancer.

Neile Adams, now married to financial consultant Alvin Toffel, has expanded her interests to include horse-race breeding. She has also recently done a series of one-woman cabaret shows. Her son Chad as well as grandson Steven McQueen, are both actors. Neile’s half-sisters are also personalities in their own right. Mercedes (Mercy) Arrastia-Tuason is our Philippine ambassador to the Vatican, while Beatriz (Betty) married Carlos Preysler, the parents of the international socialite, Isabel Preysler.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


WASH UP, BABE?. An amusing portrait of Kapampangan baby, Zenaida Gonzales "edad de 8 meses y 24 dias" (8 age 8 months and 24 days), in her wash basin. Babies were posed in the most unusual manner to accentuate their cuteness--some posed inside large shells and dressed in outlandish costumes. Dated 24 May 1924.

Babies have often been thought of as delicate creatures, dependent on adults for their welfare and protection. Which is why, many Kapampangan parents love coddling their newborn, and will not think twice in giving him his undivided attention—providing him with the best milk, the most advanced medicines and the most experienced pediatricians to make him go, grow and glow!

This was not so during the Spanish times. When the Americans arrived in our islands, they were appalled at the state of our public health. Apparently, the Spaniards did not pay much attention to children’s health in the early years that they were here. It was only in 1805 that a scientific expedition headed by Dr. Francisco Javier de Balmis, arrived in Manila for the purpose of implanting the newly-discovered method of vaccination against smallpox. One other step was the creation of the positions of “medico titulares”or district health officers.

What the Americans found however, was a weak and feeble race, prone to suffer from tropical diseases like cholera, typhoid, colic and other plagues. A sweeping sanitary reform was implemented, ranging from an educational campaign to change the personal habits of Filipinos, as well as national rehabilitation programs that included wholesale disinfection, fumigation, construction of waste disposal and sewage systems and the erection of hospitals and provincial health centers. Cholera epidemic deaths dramatically decreased by 1903, and clearly sanitary progress was on its way.

Two decades after, babies and toddlers were being brought up healthy with doses of nutritious milk and supplements. Enlightened parents supplied their kids with commercial powdered milk brands like Bear Brand. The Swiss-made milk was made available to Filipinos as early as the first decade of the 20th century, distributed by Sprungli & Company. Kapampangans called this nutritious milk “gatas oso”, in reference to the brand mascot showing a bear nursing its cub with a bottle. Although more expensive than the readily available ‘gatas damulag’ that was prone to spoilage, Bear Brand was the milk of choice for convalescing kids—“the best by test” as one of its ads says, touting it as the purest, safest and richest milk there is. So much for marketing overclaims!

Menzi & Co. imported Lion Sterilized Milk, described as a pure, clean, wholesome natural milk made in Germany. It did not catch on, however, with parents settling for Milkmaid Evaporated Milk instead. Sweetened and sterilized, Milkmaid was cheap and versatile, that not only was great as a drink but also perfect for cooking, good enough to enrich puddings, pastries, soups and sauces.

Children’s vitamins and supplements were being sold over-the-counter as the number of farmacias and boticas grew all over Pampanga. One medicine I dreaded taking was the noxious-smelling Scott’s Emulsion that was imported and distributed by Muller and Phipps as early as the first decade of American rule. By the late 1920s, this “food tonic of special value to Mother and Child” was a staple in many Kapampangan households, a bone-building food for baby that was digested as easily as milk. I remember taking this supplement after having a serious bout with pneumonia, which was indicated for weak lungs, debility and lack of nutrition, coughs and chills. I had to take a spoonful of it every day, often retching at its fishy, greasy ‘malansa’ taste. Botica Boie had its own Boie’s Emulsion of Cod Liver Oil fortified by Hypophospites that claimed to have double the amount of vital vitamin element than the more poular brand that had only 25% cod liver vitamin content.

Other children’s conditions like common worm infestation were treated with Watsonal Vermicol, proven effective in eradicating worms from the intestinal tracts of children. For regulating the stomachs and bowels of infants and children, there are various Castoria products prepared by farmaceuticas from ‘opium-free’ vegetable compounds. For catarrhs, colds, and skin ailments, a jar of soothing Mentholatum was used, an indispensable sanative cream. Bayer and Cafiasfirina had children’s aspirin tablets to reduce fevers and pains. Asthma, bronchitis and respiratory problems were treated with Asmakol that was available from Botica Boie, supplemented with Asmol—an incense powder which, when burned, emitted fumes that gave asthma relief.

For babies’ personal care needs, there was Mulsified Cocoanut Oil Shampoo specially made for children’s fine young hair and tender scalps that cannot stand the harsh effect of ordinary soap. Postwar, there was of course Johnson & Johnson and its array of talcum powder in tins that expanded to include oil and shampoo. Mennen, ‘baby specialists since 1880', was the chief competitor of J&J, which soon branched into bandages and wound dressing to guard against cuts, scrapes and bruises sustained by hyperactive kids.

In the 1930s, Kapampangan doctors recognized the need for specialized medical skills as opposed to just being a general practitioner. By the 1930s, there were several pediatricians around like Dr. Victorino P. Calilung of Sta. Rita and Dr. Luciano C. Dizon who had a clinic and a pharmacy along Azcarraga (now Recto) in Manila. The latter doctor described himself as “manulu ya qñg mialiwang sakit lalu na qñg sakit ding anac”. One popular doctor I had the privilege of knowing in the 1960s was my very pediatrician, Dr. Rolando Songco, who went on to found the Hospital of Infant Jesus along Dimasalang St., now operated by his doctor-children.

One can’t really say that caring for babies and children today is easier. Sure there are advanced infant formulas, potent vaccines and various supplements to increase his height, improve his visual acuity, strengthen his resistance and sharpen his mind. But with more mothers having careers, the picture has changed. Many kids are left with their yayas and lolas, reared on TV and computer games. Even doctors seem too busy to personally care for their baby patients.

In the good old days, the aforementioned Dr. Dizon gave free consultations and did home visits—“babie yang consulta qñg cayang tucnanangan qñg nanu mang oras. Magvisita qñg pibale-bale ra ding masakit”. Now one has to run after a doctor to get an appointment, then wait for hours to be seen by him. One thing has not changed, however—where health, safety and welfare are concerned, Kapampangan parents will do anything for their babies and kids, always the apple of their eyes, the cynosure of their attention, the joy of their lives, around whom their world revolves.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

*276. MARIA AGUSTINA HENSON: Grand Matriarch of the Nepomucenos of Culiat

GRAND DAME OF ANGELES. 10th year memorial picture of Maria Agustina Henson, wife of Pio Rafaeel Nepomuceno, forebears of the Nepomucenos of Angeles. Dated 25 May 1915, Personal Collection.

One cannot talk about the city of Angeles without talking about the Nepomucenos, the large, super-extended family that is acknowledged today as having helped transformed a sleepy pueblo called Culiat to a teeming, progressive city of over 315,000 Angeleños who are certainly proud of what their home had become. Thanks to the enterprising Nepomucenos, their early businesses shaped the community’s landscape--providing education while generating employment, bringing new technology while infusing money into the local economy, developing commercial lands while expanding the town’s boundaries and spurring the growth of new business.

The Nepomucenos of Angeles are descended from the union of a Tagalog, Pio Rafael Nepomuceno (b. 11 July 1817), and a Kapampangan, Maria Agustina Henson. Maria Agustina was born on 26 August 1828, the feast day of San Agustin, in Culiat (then part of San Fernando), one of the 9 children of Mariano Henson and Juana Ildefonso de Miranda y de Jesus. Maria Agustina’s father, Mariano, earned a doctorate from the Univerity of Sto. Tomas, the first Filipino doctor of laws. His parents, Severino Henson and Placida Paras were among the original settlers of Culiat. Mariano’s wife, Juana Ildefonsa, was the only surviving daughter of the recognized founders of Angeles, Angel Pantaleon de Miranda and Rosalia de Jesus.

Maria Agustina was baptized by P. Macario Paras, who would be known as the 1st parish priest of Angeles town. When she came of school age, she was educated in missionary-ran parish schools, and then became a colegiala at Santa Catalina where she learned practical and domestic arts.

Meanwhile, Sta. Cruz, Manila-born Pio Rafael Nepomuceno was enrolled at the University of Santo Tomas in 1839. Here, he met Agustina’s eldest brother Jose Simplicio where they easily became steadfast friends. Jose extended an invitation to Pio to visit Angeles, and it is in one of these visits that he met the very young Maria Agustina, whom he courted right after she finished school. The two were married at the Angeles Church on 26 November 1847 by P. Macario Paras; Pio was 31 and Agustina was just 19.

The newlyweds lived in the bale matua built by Agustina’s parents, and they would start a family that would include six children: Ysabelo, Juliana, Juan Gualberto, Ramona, Nemesia and Maria Graciana. Pio became quite settled in his new adopted town that he even served as a gobernadorcillo in 1952. He and Agustina grew their agricultural business and expanded their landholdings by acquiring more lands, some of which they generously gave back to the town (as in the case of their land donation in Talimundoc to serve as the new marketplace of Angeles which had burned down in 1855).

Pio would leave Agustina a widow at the age of 30. He passed away on 30 April 1856; he was not even 41. Agustina, pregnant at that time, delivered her last child, Maria Graciana. In widowhood, Agustina was well-provided for, moreso when she inherited more property from Dña. Carlota de Leon, her godmother who had named her as foster daughter. In her golden years, Agustina was noted for her philanthropic acts, and was known to have donated substantial amounts in the 1877 construction of the Santisimo Rosario Church. She died on 27 July 1905 and was interred at the Roman Catholic Cemetery, although it is believed her bones were transferred to the parish church much later.

The Nepomuceno children and their descendants would go on to leave their own marks in different fields of business. Ysabelo’s descendants would expand to include the Panlilios, Manankils and Dayrits who were well known land developers and medical professionals. Juliana gave us the prominent Tayags of Angeles while Juan Gualberto’s children, led by Juan de Dios, gave us Holy Angel the defunct Reyna Softdrinks, Angeles Electric, Nepo Mall, Nepo Mart and a host of other real estate ventures including Villa Teresa and Holy Angel Village. Ramona’s children include Ramon Nemesio, who became one of Angeles’s early photographers. Nemesia married a Henson and their children begat more Hensons, Valenzuelas and Singians while Maria Graciana became a Pineda. Maria Agustina, the grand dame who started it all with husband Pio Rafael would be proud to know that their legacy lives on in the prosperous Nepomuceno businesses and commercial ventures that continue to help propel the city to newer heights.

SOURCE: The Nepomucenos of Angeles City and Their Relatives, by Marco D. Nepomuceno. ©1987, privately printed.