The True ‘Tail’ of the Persepolis Bash 45 Years Ago

(Excerpted from the upcoming book, Thirty Years Later . . . Catching Up with the Marcos-Era Crimes by Positively Filipino correspondent, Myles A. Garcia. This excerpt is from Chapter II – Travels with My “Aunt”—the true tale of what really happened in the Marcos tent in Persepolis…)

October, 1971 – First stop (on Imelda Marcos’ 1971 travel calendar) was New Delhi, India for a perfunctory, working meeting with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Coming up was perhaps the grandest event that was just up Imelda’s alley—the convergence of pomp and circumstance, the coming together of royalty and people in power, in luxurious surroundings—was the Persepolis Bash thrown by the House of Pahlavi.  

Persepolis 1971. Bird’s eye-view of the tent city erected in the desert site especially for the 2,500th Anniversary celebrations of the Persian Empire in October 1971. There were 50 guest tents (foreground), a dozen other larger tents for the host Pahlavis, and function tents (background). All the tents were individually air-conditioned and heated. and function tents (background). All the tents were individually air-conditioned and heated. 

Persepolis 1971. Bird’s eye-view of the tent city erected in the desert site especially for the 2,500th Anniversary celebrations of the Persian Empire in October 1971. There were 50 guest tents (foreground), a dozen other larger tents for the host Pahlavis, and function tents (background). All the tents were individually air-conditioned and heated. and function tents (background). All the tents were individually air-conditioned and heated. 

The Persepolis Party was more than a decade in the planning—a planning time even longer than for most Olympic Games. Starting in 1960, the Shah's court had reserved October 1971 as the formal celebrations marking the 2,500th anniversary of the Persian Empire. Invitations were sent out fourteen months before the event, so in Imelda's case, sometime August, 1970. Of course, the true powerbrokers (like President Nixon, Queen Elizabeth, Emperor Hirohito) stayed away. Spiro Agnew came in place of Nixon; Prince Philip and his daughter, Anne, represented the British royal family; and a secondary Japanese prince, Prince Mikasa, was the Yamato imperial dynasty's representative. A handful of dictators (Tito and the Ceaucescus) and communist bureaucrats were thrown in for good measure. So you had this odd mix of nominal royals rubbing elbows and exchanging pleasantries with proletariat communist bureaucrats—and in the midst of all that, thrown in was Mrs. Imelda Marcos.

Imelda was supposedly the first dignitary to arrive. Of course, she didn't want to miss a single minute of the festivities. A lot of the footage shows Imelda and Imee traipsing through the ruins of Persepolis in their flimsy, dainty ternos like two skillfully made-up drag queens, with Imelda carrying a frilly parasol (to shield her fair complexion), which the darker Imee didn't need.

For the most part, the logistics and finer details of the 1971 Persepolis bash were provided by luxury goods retailers of Paris. The fifty-plus tents were designed by Maison Jensen and erected by Lanvin who also happened to design the livery of the Pahlavi chamberlains, footmen, and other courtiers. Each guest tent consisted of a formal sitting room, two bedrooms, two toilets, an attendant’s chamber; and a small kitchenette. Main catering was provided by the venerable restaurant of Maxim's which closed for two weeks because it sent 165 chefs to Iran to prepare the lavish feasts both at Tent City and for the auxiliary retinues billeted in Shiraz. (The only other time that Maxim’s closed for business over two days in its history was for four days in 1957 to allow the special filming of interior scenes of the 1958 film, Gigi.)

All the towels and linens were from D. Porthault, the French Pratesi. Even though Imelda brought along her favorite hairdresser, Nomer Pabilona, the Iranian hosts still supplied hairdressers and make-up artists care of Carita and Alexandre of Paris. The various Parisian firms supposedly made almost $18 million for their Persepolis efforts, which was not even a third of the rumored overall $65 million cost of the event, which was also a reasonable amount considering Iran’s oil revenues in the 1970s.

Imelda’s Retinue. Imelda’s official party consisted of sixteen people: Imelda, her three handmaidens (Blue Lady Lulu Tinio, millionairess Ising Vasquez, and Lourdes Villacorta), daughter Imee, brother-in-law Captain Eldon Yap, who would function as her personal security person, and Dr. Inday Disini, her first cousin and the group’s traveling physician. There were three other security people and three staffers from the Malacañang Press Office to record every glorious moment of Madame's trip. Finally, there were hairdresser Nomer Pabilona, and two maids to serve the needs of the queen bee and her daughter.

While Imelda and Imee stayed at exclusive Tent City, everyone else, including millionairess Vasquez, were billeted in Shiraz, a good 50 minute-drive from the center of the action in Persepolis, and would have to fend for themselves. This was one of Imelda’s secret blows at the old aristocracy, like the Madrigals. But as would be her wont, Imelda Marcos had to break protocol and get concessions for a last-minute guest, Cristina Vettore Ford.

Requesting a special dispensation from the Pahlavi hosts, Cristina was allowed to move into the official tent as Imelda’s guest. Imee had to give up her bedroom and move in with her mother while Cristina got Imee’s bedroom. There was one Filipina maid who had the "Attendant's room." Imee's outfits ranged from a Michael Jackson-type outfit to a Muslim princess ensemble on the Big Night of the event.  

The “Tail” of the Upside-down Tiara. Because this was a royal bash bar none, Imelda thought it appropriate that she, too, should wear a tiara, like Princess Grace, the Begum Aga Khan, or even the hostess, Empress Farah Diba. Although Imelda brought along her own hairdresser, the Iranians supplied hairdressers, due to billeting logistics. Thus, Imelda had to make do with a complimentary hairdresser whom she ordered to implant her small tiara. But no sooner was that done than a protocol officer of the Pahlavi court literally darkened the doorway to her tent. He informed Mrs. Marcos as delicately and firmly as possible that only titled ladies were allowed to wear tiaras or crowns. Imelda got the hint but she was reportedly so miffed that she summarily ordered the hairdresser out and ordered her maid to stick the “tiara” on the back of her head.

Imelda conversing with Prince Bernard of the Netherlands and the tiara which ended up on the back of her head. Title or no title, Imelda was going to wear a tiara to the ball—even if in the most unlikely place.  

Imelda conversing with Prince Bernard of the Netherlands and the tiara which ended up on the back of her head. Title or no title, Imelda was going to wear a tiara to the ball—even if in the most unlikely place.  

After the royal hobnobbing with peacocks and princes in Persepolis, it was on to London to drop Imee off at school, R&R and shopping in New York City, and then Detroit to regroup with Cristina at Grosse Pointe. (It is not known if this was the time Imelda was received at tea by the Queen since QEII did not show up at Persepolis.) Some of the official Philippine party had already been sent home to Manila earlier.  


Come meet Myles A. Garcia at the book launch of "Thirty Years Later... Catching Up with the Marcos-Era Crimes." Friday, March 11, 2016, 6-7:30 PM at the Social Hall, 5th Floor, Philippine Consulate General of San Francisco, 447 Sutter St., San Francisco. Sponsored by PAWA, Inc. and the EDSA People Power @30 Committee, in partnership with the Philippine Consulate General of San Francisco.


Myles A. Garcia is a retired San Francisco Bay Area-based writer. Myles just won a 2015 Plaridel Award (Best Sports Story) for “Before Elorde, Before Pacquiao, There Was Luis Logan,” here on Positively Filipino (November 17, 2014).  He is also a member of the ISOH (International Society of Olympic Historians) and has written for the ISOH Journal.  


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