Mythic creatures: Elvira Ledesma-Manahan [ Mrs. Constantino Manahan ]

“Elvira was not at all the hilarious airhead you watched on “Two for the Road” on TV.  That was a caricature.”  reminisced Elvira’s sister-in-law, Josefina “Nening” Acebedo Pedrosa-Manahan [ Mrs. Antonio Manahan ].

“She was intelligent and very well-read, actually very cerebral.  Yes, she had her light moods, but she could be silent, profound, and contemplative.  That was the inherent Ledesma in her.  Many people who thought they knew her didn’t know that side.”  continued Nening.

“At home, she liked to wear ‘malongs’ or wraparounds, her slightly past shoulder length hair down, her shoulders bared.  And no make-up at all.”  recalled her daughter-in-law, Lilia Rosa “Liliane”/”Tats” Rejante-Manahan [ Mrs. Johnny Manahan ].

“She actually liked simple Filipino food like ‘nilaga’ and ‘paksiw.’  Like a true ‘Ilongga,’ she liked to eat her meals with ripe mangoes and ripe  ‘latundan’ / ‘lakatan’ bananas.”  continued Tats.

“At a young age, she was taken by her Vargas godmother, actually a relative, and taken to live at the sprawling ‘Kawilihan’ compound in Mandaluyong, from where she was launched into Manila society.”

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7 Comments

  1. Julio Ledesma Arenas said,

    September 25, 2011 at 6:34 pm

    OMG the lady in drag barkada nila mommy kag ni tita Marietta. Nomer Pabilona days and ‘HER'; in fairness considering SHE WAS IN DRAG. Danny.Cruz – i think I got that right . THE NIGHT OF HIS LIFE. thats a true story. my gulay I can see alll of them in my minds eyen now all talking together at the same time.screaming mimi’s mismo. Ambot nalang sa aton. Allora bona serra.

    Elivira Ledesma de Manahans laugh was genetic that is classic the rasp and nasal harmonics are unique to us. The one that emanates from the gut and is so infectious it borders on the Hazardous to your Health label goodbye i must be going I better go Hail Mary.

  2. Julio Ledesma Arenas said,

    September 25, 2011 at 6:13 pm

    My fondest memories of manang Elvira were always at our parents home in San Lorenzo. Invariably at the latter stages 11nish or so When Tito Johnny Litton would swipe the mike from whomever was the band leader before you’d know it the two of them improv would be Roasting the celebrant, all the way up to the doyens and the love jabs were essentially public ‘coming outs’ of whatever wasnt even dared blind itemd yet all these were done in a manner that was more self deprecating to the j’ accuse than the target of the moment. And no matter how one tried to be a literally among the flowers and frangipanis everybody but everybody got charbroiled. ‘wala guid ni isa nakalusot’ and those who tried to frenchee their way before this were the first ones william telled.
    My mom says no matter what shed be there for each of our deliveries’first in Manila and then MakatiMed.
    Her mother Tiya Conchita was the wife of Simeon my Grandads CABO MAYOR at La Fortuna and indeed her ONE lament was Elvira. She was like my surrogate mother my first year in Santa Clara my junior and senior year.
    Again Tiya Conchita had this way like her daughter of being able to intertwine three stories all simulcast and in a manner that made sense I cant explain it- but IT WAS surreal.
    And this while helping me learn how to starch and press and do the laundry that was Our bonding timed. Actually she did most of it. Her maniyas of gathring sorting- making it even more awkward and so Id engage her in ellicting all these vignettes. It was because of her that I stripped all the stupid automotive finish on the art deco furniture in Fortuna revealing period pieces that I will now get her Greatgrandson pala a Berkeley architect to help me do what Manang Elen [we were present summer of '75 at the point george and elens nascent probes became a full blown romance it was also one of our longest ever stays at the Roca. I think my lola and lola lilia had ensured would come to pass, nothing else explains it.] what Manang elen wanted to do and I do believe can be done and enhance the existing structure.
    I still believe that one can make additions _ that are architecturally relevant, and enhance to be able to evolve- a Legacy Heritage tourism site Like Hda. San Antonio in mexico of this billionaire anglosaxon. But I digress.
    They all had their favorites and It was theirs to make but with Manang Elvira and Tiya Conchita there were constants that like my Ninang Juliet would be like rote. In Tiya Conchitas manner of ‘story-quilt’ weaving with Elvira it seemed that the women were favored be they kin daughters in law and the granchildren, I somehow didnt feel the endearment for the men but then I somehow didnt feel that TOO.
    Dr.Tito as she addressed him was Samantha. Sam this and Sam that. This Was in `80&81 I state this so that these statements I was party to may be better appreciated. I will say this too. Of all Elviras children ‘tiya Conchita like Tita Juliet when she had her wits about her- For Her it was Johnny this and Johnny that. Thats how close I was to my Lola Julietaa and All I can say in their time I guess with so many children and grandchildren it was and numerous barren unwed or idle or for the simple reason because it was theirs to betow. Like I said I was always mingling with the peers because I really felt I belonged there. Ive been going on all tangents but Id rather put down now a memory sprung even as I believe Ive also managed to ‘story-quilt’. Isnt it ironic that Ive never had the priviledge of “meeting” tats up to now. Ironic that alot of people here unrelated have had lots of interaction ang one degree here a couple weeks theres ones path never even cross with others.. All the time totoand you guys were talking about Zaffy I thought it was ‘Celsos father being referred to Ilolilos former mayor. And by the time id like connected the dots he too was with the faithfully departed– then manang elen.. For what its worth I told Celso Ledesma– I did tell him that should they decide to sell the home of Don Celso his grandfather my grandpapas= Key Go To brother during the breakdown because HE DID have one.
    Im sorry its the hour of the eve I married an actress and I knew now what I knew then… Id do it all over again. Never regret, never Fortet

  3. Enrique Bustos said,

    January 16, 2011 at 3:48 am

    A cousin of Dr. Constantino “Tito” Manahan, Lourdes Perez-del Rosario is the owner of the popular Spanish restaurant “El Comedor.” She is the granddaughter of Pilar Hidalgo de Paz, sister of the painter Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo.

  4. Myles Garcia said,

    December 22, 2010 at 1:12 am

    It makes sense why Elvira and Baby A. Fores were ‘bosom buddies.’ Their husbands after all were the founding fathers of Makati Med.

  5. Enrique Bustos said,

    December 20, 2010 at 5:39 pm

    Rogue Magazine
    Shadows and Fog
    Tats Rejante-Manahan

    From a distance, she was all about the sweeping gestures, elegant couture, colorful sound bites, and infectious laughter. Her 59-year-old life had all the subplots worthy of a film epic: an Ilongga beauty born to privilege, a teenage bride widowed in wartime, a decadent social life as an “unofficial” Blue Lady, a star-spangled career as a TV host, and a mysterious, gruesome murder in 1986. Tats Rejante-Manahan attempts to demystify the legend that was her mother-in-law, Elvira Manahan.

    With great trepidation, I awaited the day I would meet her.

    I had already met her a few years before. But under very different circumstances. I was a member of my school’s all-girl basketball team, one of the first women’s teams to form the WNCAA. And of the three or four teams comprising the association, we were the champions. Around this same time, playing at the Araneta Coliseum were the Harlem Globetrotters, that team of black basketball players who did trick passes—but true to their race, were good shots. Their “games” were more of performances rather than competitions. There was this inconspicuous hype about it. But after stepping into its door—and inhaling that sentimental whiff of antiques—it was exactly as I had imagined; every item was treated with reverence. It had this almost mystical ability to make you feel everything at once: nostalgia, awe, melancholy—except for that all-too-familiar feeling of wanting to acquire something, anything.
    Elvira Manahan had this marvelous idea of putting both teams on her show, Two for the Road, to play against each other. Our average team height was 5’4. The Globetrotters were well over 6 feet. They were professional, African-American male jocks, and we were amateur Asian school girls. But that made no difference, because in Elvira’s mind, it was a fair match. On the night of the live telecast, Elvira had two basketball goals set up in the studio. However lopsided the competition went, Elvira predestined our team to win. So that was that, in the spirit of rollicking fun, all to her amusement.

    Meeting her as the fiancee of her son, Johnny, was a different thing altogether. She had moved to London then, and for a good year or so, he would receive mysterious letters informing him of a job awaiting him at the BBC. I never added two and two together until years later. She had friends in high places, and she wanted her son where she was. The idea of physically separating us would have been, well, just a side effect.

    Elvira Manahan was the stuff that myths and legends were made of. Many anecdotes, when recounted among friends, often developed side stories or took on vastly different perspectives. Through many re-tellings, the stories would often take on layers of patina. Sometimes, someone who was an actual eyewitness would distill the story with the facts. Oftentimes, the story, with all its layers, would remain as truth until the next re-telling.

    Elvira Ledesma was the firstborn child of Simeon Ledesma and Conchita Bermejo of Silay City, Negros Occidental. Just before she turned two years old, she was handed over to her grandmother, Gertrudes Montinola Ledesma, to be brought up in Manila. Elvira’s affection was centered on her grandmother and her two spinster aunts, Pacita and Soledad Ledesma, leaving her emotionally estranged from her own parents and the six other siblings that followed her.

    Elvira’s younger sister, Carmen Ledesma Solomon, says that she never saw her eldest sibling until she was already 14 years old. This distance between Elvira, her siblings, and her parents was ever so slightly bridged during occasional visits. On Elvira’s last visit to the United States, where her mother was visiting her youngest sister, Beatrice, Elvira spent time with her mother. It was perhaps the closest they ever got in her lifetime.

    Armando “Mandy” Eduque Jr., Elvira’s eldest and only son from her first marriage to Armando Sr., never knew the full circumstances of his father’s death by Japanese gunfire. In a 1995 documentary about the survivors of war, Mandy relates that when the air raid siren sounded, Elvira ran to the safety of the air raid shelter. His father, however, ran after Elvira’s dog that got away.

    “He never came back,” Mandy said. The wartime trauma would later give Elvira nightmares, frightening dreams that sent her fearfully cowering into a corner. Some say it was because, days after that fateful air raid, Elvira herself found her husband’s body. When asked if this was true or not, Mandy, in the televised interview, said, “She never talked about it.”

    Married at 16, widowed and pregnant at 17, and by 18, she was the bride of Dr. Constantino “Tito” Manahan, who was 13 years her senior.

    Tito Manahan was the son of jeweler Juan Manahan and the Castillian mestiza Clotilde Canon Perez (whose father was a Spanish navy commander from Leon who married Fernanda Canon). After graduating medicine from the University of the Philippines, Tito left for the United States on a ship with President Manuel Quezon. It was at the Johns Hopkins Medical Center that Tito earned the distinction of being the first Filipino OB-GYN resident.

    In Manila, he left behind a fiancee, the beautiful and intelligent socialite, Conchita “Conching” Sunico. It is said that by some twist of fate or human intervention, missives between the two never reached the other, causing a chill in affection between them. At wartime, Tito returned to Manila on the same ship as Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Within the year, he would meet Elvira.

    If the following story is to be believed, to say that Elvira was swept off her feet would not be an exaggeration. Tito Manahan was the hottest young OB-GYN on the block and was high on the list of Manila’s eligible young men: accomplished, pedigreed, and with matinee idol good looks. Truly a “catch.”

    As fate would have it, Elvira—the young, pregnant widow—was his patient. During one of her visits, a fire broke out in the hospital, and in true Rhett Butler form, the gallant young doctor swept the frail and hapless (and pregnant) maiden off her feet and carried her down the stairs of the burning building.

    This had been an often told tale, but in an attempt to verify the story, I learned history never actually recorded the hospital as being on fire. Neither was there any evidence showing that both Tito and Elvira were engulfed in life-threatening flames, allowing them to elicit a scene worthy of a Cecil B. De Mille movie.

    Nening Manahan, Elvira’s sister-in-law, ventures that perhaps it could have been confused with the time when their mother-in-law, Clotilde, was lighting a candle in church and another devotee’s candle caused the sinamay sleeves of Clotilde to catch fire. The flames were valiantly doused by her husband, Juan. The two stories are distantly related, save for the element of fire. But such is the stuff that make legends.

    As a young married woman, Elvira’s persona grew especially in social circles where she was a much sought-after guest or hostess. Parties thrown by her close friend, architect Don Luis Araneta (the father of Greggy Araneta), are rivaled by none to this day. At one costume party, Elvira arrived in a Slim’s creation, plumes in the hair, followed by a blackened man posing as her personal blackamoor slave.

    At another high-profile gathering where all guests were expected to come bejeweled and dressed to the nines, Elvira deliberately showed up in a severe long-sleeved black gown without any jewelry, save for a gold Bulgari chain with an antique coin, her thick hair left flowing to her shoulders.

    Another story is that she hosted a dinner for the party of U.S. President Richard Nixon when he visited Manila. (As to whether Nixon was at the dinner or not is unconfirmed.) Among her guests was a popular lounge singer, also a known transvestite (a fact he/she never hid). As the tale goes, one of Nixon’s bodyguards became thoroughly enchanted by the tall, dusky, and curvaceous (albeit bulky) singer. The singer confessed to Elvira in tagalog his/her nervousness over the dilemma, just as the bodyguard hinted at his desire to escort the “lady” home. With gleeful hospitality, Elvira offered her car and chauffeur, much to the singer’s consternation. But since they both considered each other good friends, the incident was laughed over with each re-telling.

    There is a saying that every gay has his swan, as Truman Capote had his Babe Paley. Such was Elvira, who was a coveted swan, especially in the world of fashion. She was muse to fashion design icon Ramon Valera, who sometimes made her gowns for the sheer pleasure of having her wear them.

    In later years, young designers yearned to be noticed and worn by her, a desire she honored by asking up-and-coming designers to style her for her weekly television show. As a tribute to her, one of them even made a dress (that Elvira never got to wear because of her untimely passing in October 1986) and tearfully gifted his own mother with it, even if she, all of four sizes larger than Elvira, wondered how she would ever winsomely wear it.

    In the garage sale of her numerous possessions, the most sought-after items were her clothes and books with her signature. Among the lucky “sisters” who had first pick of her feather boas, scarves, and shoes were stylists Dennis Tan and Ruben Nazareth. Dennis, to this day, unabashedly wears an Elvira scarf or lounging robe on occasion.

    Elvira’s sense of style, coupled with a twist of wit, made her that icon looked up to by females, admired by males, and many times copied by gays.

    When he was a young boy of seven, museum curator Joey Panlilio says he recalls watching Elvira on television one evening. She was hosting a fundraiser for the mega typhoon Yoling. While the phone-in calls were being patched on air for viewers to hear the charity pledges, one insistent caller asked Elvira if it really was “Elvira Manhan” he was speaking to. After repeating the same question several times, and Elvira confirming that it was indeed her, the caller made a most indecent remark. It sent Elvira laughing (and hopping) on the studio floor. The show immediately went into commercial—and little Joey Panlilio was immediately sent to his room.

    The closest Elvira ever got to politics was when her brother-in-law, Sen. Manuel Manahan, ran for vice president alongside Raul Manglapus. As one of Imelda Marcos’ unofficial Blue Ladies (she preferred being called a friend), Elvira was a privy to the first lady’s socials. At one luncheon, Chito Madrigal Collantes, who was then campaigning for her husband, arrived late. Exhausted and hungry, she commented that “what you eat on the campaign trail is shit.” To which Elvira replied, “Chito, remember, you are what you eat.”

    Among Elvira’s closest friends was Baby Araneta Forés. Their fondness for each other grew as Elvira was invited to parties at the Bahay na Puti, as the Aranetas’ Cubao residence is known. Parties for visiting celebrities who performed at the Araneta Coliseum had Elvira on the permanent guest list. American entertainers like Pat Boone, Sammy Davis Jr. (and his wife, May Britt), Bob Hope, and many others fell captive to Elvira’s spontaneous charm.
    For over 10 years, it was a tradition for Baby and Elvira to spend close to three months in the Araneta apartment in Manhattan, New York. There were riotous evenings at the infamous Studio 54, quiet dinners together, and shopping.

    But the fondest memories Baby Forés cherishes are the mornings when Elvira would saunter to Baby’s bedroom, where they would spend hours talking about life, while Elvira would file her famously long nails or nip at her cuticles.
    In October of 1986, Elvira opted to stay in Manila instead of joining Baby in New York. And the rest, as they say, is history.

    Even in death—the cause of which was pieced together by family, friends, and lawyers—there were many rumors: that the alleged murderer was her lover (not true), that the family had the suspect done away with (not true, the family actually heard of his death on the morning news anchored by Korina Sanchez).

    It took real estate broker, Susan Saulog, many years to sell Elvira’s Forbes Park home—the scene of the haunting, hideous crime. The Anahaw Street house, with its ivy walls, canary yellow shutters, and wrought iron gates with swans, was eventually sold to the French Ambassador at that time, Jacques Le Blanc.

    Several ambassadors later, a Filipino theater director (whose work was cited by the French government) was receiving an award from the current ambassador at the house. He recounted that at the awards ceremony, as he stood in front of the crowd to receive his medal, he noticed a distant, beautiful lady at the back of the room. The woman was smiling, her hands highlighted by long red fingernails, with a red goblet—similar to the one Elvira used to hold on her television show—cradled in her arms.

    From a distance, she was all about the grand gestures and colorful sound bites. But up close—sans the make up, her hair twisted in a bun, a sarong tied around her chest, watching television, eating her meal from a TV tray—she was the perfect model of domesticity.

    Over the years, the initial fear and trepidation of knowing her eventually dissolved into wonder. Whether or not the tales are fact or fiction, these are the stuff that legends are amusingly made of. And my mother-in-law Elvira Manahan, it seems, was much too large for this life.

  6. Enrique Bustos said,

    December 20, 2010 at 5:31 pm

    The Beauty of Elvira Ledesma of Silay Negros Occidental was legendary during her time boys from De la Salle would go to Holy Ghost after there classes just to see her waiting for her car Ninoy Aquino had a big crush with Elvira he would join the Barkada of Doy Laurel just to see her one time they were all swimming in a pool Ninoy Aquino would act like as if he is drowning just to get the attention of Elvira who would then save him from drowning the barkada is composed of Goyito Abreu Tito Martinez Eduque Danny Vasquez Ronnie Velasco at 16 she married Mandy Eduque of Balayan Batangas a member of the Martinez family a landed family in Balayan Batangas but during the liberation of manila in world war II Mandy Eduque was killed by the Japanese Elvira was then pregnant with her son Mandy she had a check up with society doctor Constantino Manahan who fell in love with her at first sight they would tease them that the courtship began with her legs open wide open. Because Elvira was so popular many babies for her contemporaries were named after her Elvira Henares daughter of Larry and Cecile Henares Elvira Liboro Yulo daughter of Dr Oscar Liboro Elvira del Rosario daughter of Bert del Rosario Elvira Araneta Buencamino daughter of Luis Araneta Elvira Dayrit and Elvira Esquerra

  7. Myles Garcia said,

    December 8, 2010 at 2:23 pm

    Mais oui, Tita Elvira!!


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