DATE: Feb. 26th, 2012

The Academy Awards will be handed out today for the 84th time. The scene of the Oscars, the Hollywood and Highland Center has been buzzing all week as thousands of people have prepared for the big show.

Tomi Hinkkanen at the 84th annual Academy Awards in Hollywood

It takes carpenters, electricians, publicists, cameramen, directors, producers, presenters and numerous other people to create the Oscar experience. Early last week the stretch of Hollywood Boulevard between LaBrea and Highland Avenues was closed. The first thing to go up: the media bridge.

The media bridge, from where the network anchors bring you the Oscars.

This is where the star network anchors have been reporting for days leading to the gala tonight. It is an expensive piece of real estate. Networks pay premium for each little booth on the bridge. Reporters and photographers from all over the world have flown in to cover Hollywood’s biggest night.

Moments before the gala begins, last minute preparations are made.

This years’ contenders for the best foreign language movie come from Belgium, Canada, Iran, Israel and Poland.  At the foreign directors’ press conference Friday, four out of five countries vying for the best foreign film were present –Iran was absent. Its’ entry, A Separation, is a story of a middle class Iranian couple headed for a divorce.

Belgian director Michaël Roskam

Belgium’s entry, Bullhead, is a story of a cattle farmer, who is lured into dubious dealings with a shady businessman.

“I wanted to make a movie, which would evoke a sense of redemption instead of judgment in the end,” director Michaël Roskam explains. This is his second feature and there’s more to come – he plans to start writing his next script in the near future. He says that just to be nominated for an Oscar is an honor.

“It’s almost like a title given to a nobleman – an Oscar contender. For the rest of your life you will be known as such.”

Canadian director Philippe Falardeau

Canada’s entry, Monsieur Lazhar, is a story about an Algerian immigrant, who is hired a teacher after the former teacher has committed suicide. But as he assumes his new post, he must also deal with dramatic events unwinding in his own life. Director Philippe Falardeau believes the nomination will also shed light to other indie productions. He comes from the French speaking Quebec. The language drives the French speaking Canadians to create art.

“We are struggling to maintain our language, our identity. This pushes us to write books, make movies, plays and dance performances.”

His advice to young filmmakers is to be authentic.

“Think from the heart. Don’t imitate big Hollywood productions and don’t give any thought to Oscars.”

Israeli actor Shlomo Bar Aba

Israel’s Oscar-nominated film, Footnote, is a family drama about a father and a son with unresolved issues. The star of the film, Shlomo Bar Aba, is a veteran stage actor from Tel Aviv, known mainly for comedies and musical extravaganzas. This is his first movie role in 30 years. The success of Footnote from Cannes to Hollywood came to him as a surprise, but he believes it is due to the personal nature of the story.

“Everything revolves around the family. If we cane resolve our intimate family issues, we can also deal with global problems affecting relations between countries,” Bar Aba says through an interpreter.

“I myself had no chance to come to terms with my own father. My advice is: If your parents are still alive and you have unresolved issues with them, resolve them. If you don’t it’s going to haunt you for the rest of your life,” the actor concludes.

Agnieszka Holland, one of the top directors from Poland

Agnieszka Holland is one of the premier filmmakers of Poland. She is best known for her war time drama, Europa, Europa. Her current Oscar entry is called In Darkness. This film also takes place during WW2. In the Nazi-occupied Warsaw, a sewer worker and a thief helps the local Jews hide from the Nazis utilizing his knowledge of the sewer system.

“I wanted to point out with this story that the line between good and bad is blurry. It is easy for a person to step on each side of the line,” Agnieszka explains.

Since she has lived and worked through the Communist era, I ask her, what is it like to make movies in the post cold warPoland.

“Funny enough, when I look at my Iranian colleagues, I feel that somehow they have it easier. To be under oppression makes movie-making more meaningful. But I enjoy my freedom, even if the movies were less powerful as  a result.”

A German TV reporter is doing her stand-up on the red carpet.

A handful of Los Angeles Finns work in the entertainment industry.

Make-up artist Kristina Duff and CNN anchor Piers Morgan at Hollywood Reporter's pre-Oscar party in Hancock Park

I asked make-up artist Riku Campo, what goes into making a filmstar ready for the Oscars. As it turns out, it is a major operation.

Riku Campo - a Finnish make-up artist of the stars by Jonny Kahleyn

Riku Campo - a Finnish make-up artist of the stars

“A week or two before the show, the star goes to the teeth cleaning at the dentist. Then a week before he or she has a microdermabrasion and a facial deep cleansing. A couple of days before the gala, many of the stars take a spray tan. It takes a day or two to even out the tone”, Riku explains.

On the morning of the awards show, Riku Campo shows up at the star’s dressing room.

“They usually check into a hotel a night before, even if they live inL.A.It’s just easier to do all the preparations in a hotel than at home. As I arrive around 10.30 am, the room is already buzzing of people. There’s the star’s publicist, agent, manager, pedicurist, hairstylist, fashion stylist and sometimes family members – about ten people altogether.”

Campo has been given a picture of the star’s gown earlier, so that he can plan for an appropriate make-up.

“Pedicure and manicure are done first. At the same time, the hair stylist works on the actor’s hair. Once the hair has been blow-dried and rolled up, I create the make-up foundation and after that the whole make-up. After that the hair is opened up and finishes, the star is dressed and body make-up applied.”

The whole process costs thousands of dollars, but is worth every penny, as the limousine door opens and the star steps onto the red carpet. The TV lights are so bright and the high definition cameras so brutally sharp that without a perfect make-up the star would look horrible. Riku Campo’s books, containing make-up tips is called Best in Beauty and is available on Amazon.

Costume designer Susanna Puisto by Jonny Kahleyn

Costume designer Susanna Puisto

Costume designer Susanna Puisto has created outfits for the A-listers Faye Dunaway, Michael Douglas and Leonardo DiCaprio among others. She is currently working on the procedural show Body of Proof, starring Dana Delaney.

“The Academy Awards are the most elegant of all the awards ceremonies. The gown has to look at the same time classy and stunning. There’s the body contouring mermaid gown and the princess look, with a wider skirt,” Susanna characterizes.


Gigantic Oscar statuettes welcome the audience at the Hollywood and Highland center.Since the Oscars end the long awards season, most of the stars have already been to at least half a dozen galas. Each require a different gown. While the star is not reimbursed for her time it takes her to pick and choose and fit all the outfits, the clothes are given to her free by the fashion designers wanting exposure for their creations. Susanna anticipates a colorful Oscar gala.A Los Angeles sculptor George Stanley designed the Oscar statue back in 1929. It has endured and remains the symbol of the Academy Awards even today.

“I believe we will see a lot of color. The trend colors for this spring are cobalt blue, orange, yellow, green, even neon colors. This reminds me of the 80’s. Peplums are is fashion. They are like double-decked skirts that can be worn over slacks or as a blouse.”

The last minute preparations in dressing a star include attaching the gown carefully with tape to avoid any wardrobe malfunctions.

“If the designer fails, the critique the next day is murderous.”

She will ring in the Oscars at home with friends, sipping champagne and eating little nibbles, paying special attention to the red carpet arrivals.

“There’s always surprises – and hopefully some catastrophes!”

Producer Joni Labaqui at the Golden Age Theater gives Oscar themed walking tours in Hollywood.

At the eve of the Oscars, I took a walking tour of the Oscars past and present, given by producer Joni Labaquin of the Golden Age Theater.

We visited the Roosevelt Hotel, the site of the very first Academy Awards ceremony in May of 1929.

“Douglas Fairbanks hosted. The dinner tickets cost five dollars. There were only 15 Oscar categories, whereas there are 24 today. Two best picture Oscars were given – one for a drama and another for a comedy. That first years’ winners included Clara Bow and Charlie Chaplin. The best drama picture was the Wings. It was the only silent film to ever win a best picture Oscar,” Labaquin says.

Finnish actress Anna Easteden, appearing at the Golden Age theater, took the walking tour before her performance.

If the modern silent film the Artist wins this year, that bit of history has to be rewritten. The tour then takes us to this year’s Oscar preparations. Peaking from the second floor balcony of theHollywoodandHighlandCenter, we are greeted by a peculiar sight: On the ground level there are people walking on the red carpet , carrying signs on their neck saying Jonah Hill, Natalie Portman, Cameron Diaz, Meryl Streep, Brad Pitt ja Angelina Jolie. However, “Angelina Jolie” is a man and “Brad Pitt” an African-American woman. “Meryl Streep” looks surprisingly youthful, about 25, wearing jeans and a sleeveless hirt.

Stand-ins for the stars rehearsed on the red carpet saturday.

“Those are stars’ stand-ins. They rehearse the actual stars’ every move in sequence on the red carpet for the director and the cameramen,” Joni Joni Labaquin tells.

Nothing is left to chance at the Oscars. Enjoy the gala!

Tomi Hinkkanen at the 84th annual Academy Awards in Hollywood

For the complete listing of all the nominees, events and winners, go to www.oscars.org


The fascinating story of John Hauli: a mysterious man who left his small eastern Finland town of Kuusjärvi at the turn of the century in search of a better life in America and whose legacy lives on in a little piece of paradise called Hauli Huvila.

John Hauli's Hauli Huvila



Susanna Puisto by Jonny Kahleyn

Costume designer Susanna Puisto is one of the very few Finns working in Hollywood film industry. Susanna works as a freelancer and is hired separately for each film production. A costume designer creates the clothes actors wear in movies and leads the costume department in any given production. The costumes for a movie are planned weeks before the cameras start rolling. The work requires an artistic eye and a healthy dose of diplomacy.

Susan receives the journalist and photographer at her home in Silver Lake district of Los Angeles. She lives on a hill in a detached house with stunning views of downtown Los Angeles skyscrapers. The home is warmly decorated in pastel colors. The living-room bookshelf is full of costume-design art books. Susanna plays one of the lastest films, MacGruber, from a dvd as a sample of her work. The film is a comedy, based on Saturday Night Live skits and a parody of the TV series MacGyver. It is set in the present time, but the main characters played by Will Forte and Kristen Wiig have remained stylistically in the 80′s.

– Some of the clothing was pre-determined, since they were based on well-established skits, so we had to use them. But there was only one piece of each garment and we needed a dozen. So, we had to have them taylor-made at a high price.

A common misconception is that a costume designer creates each and every piece of clothing by him or herself. In reality, they are obtained from all possible places – department stores, used clothing stores, from other designers, and from costume rental facilities. Only those clothes that are not available anywhere else are planned from scratch. A costume designer is a foreman with a budget and team. A typical studio film has a a costume budget that equals to about one percent of the total budget  i.e., in a 10 million dollar movie, it is one hundred thousand dollars.

Susanna_Puisto_by Jonny Kahleyn

Susanna Puisto by Jonny Kahleyn

Susanna’s workdays are busy:

– I go to the office at eight o’clock in the morning. I start by having a meeting with my team, and give them their tasks which  include shopping for clothes and making returns. We also do product placement, that is, we will contact clothing manufacturers and designers who want visibility for their clothes. The background actors need costumes as well. My principal assistant and I go to the first fitting at 10 o’clock.  Afterwards, we upload images of the cast wearing their costumes and email them to the director. Then we go shopping for future fittings.

One of Susanna’s latest works include a drama based on a true story called “From the Rough”. She began designing outfits for it six weeks before the filming started.

– The film is about golf, so we had to learn quickly about everything related to golf. I did not have any previous experience of the subject, but that’s only a matter of studying.  My motto is: there is no need to go to the outer space in order to make outfits for a space movie. You learn something new from each assignment.

A good costume designer understands and highlights the thematic content of the scene.

– I was costuming Josh Lucas for a movie “A Year in the Mooring”. He wanted to wear a colorful t-shirt in a very dramatic scene. Isn’t that an awfully happy-looking t-shirt for such a dramatic scene, I asked him. Bad things happen to people who wear happy-looking clothes, he responded.

Susanna is known in Hollywood for her good relations with major stars. Rebecca De Mornay is one her friends who constantly asks Susanna to design her costumes. Even Val Kilmer, who has a reputation of being difficult, succumbed to Susanna’s will.

– We didn’t have any problems. In the first fitting I started to hand him his costumes: ‘this is number one, number two, number three …’, and he just looked at me. Then I started going through the rack and removed the ones which I did not feel right for Val now that I had met him. “I usually do that”, Val blurted out. Oh really, I replied. ‘Doesn’t anyone tell you no’, he asked. I answered, ‘No, do you want to be the first?’ ‘No’, he replied.

Susanna Puisto by Jonny Kahleyn

Susanna Puisto by Jonny Kahleyn

Susan has also worked with Renny Harlin on the film The Cleaner.

– I love Renny, he is absolutely wonderful!

In the thriller “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt”, she got to design for Michael Douglas.

– We talked on the phone first. Michael wanted to imitate the Republican politician Mitt Romney who wears tailored suits. I took it as a starting point. Douglas was used to wear specific brands, but I had a contact with the Italian clothing company Canali that makes fabulous suits.

They met for the first time at the Universal Studios.

– Michael is absolutely wonderful – a class act. They don’t make men like that anymore. He drove from his bungalow to my office in a golf cart. Michael was interested in my background. In the middle of the fitting, when my stomach began to rumble from hunger, he offered lunch.

– Once the costumes were tailored, I met Michael again in the Beverly Hills Hotel to make sure everything was ok. His wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones came along. ‘Good job,” she said, ‘Michael could use a change.’

After the filming was over, Douglas wanted and got to keep the outfits Susanna had created.

Once in a blue moon the designer can also influence casting. Susan proposed a Bulgarian-Finnish actress Vera Jordanova for a horror film Hostel II as a villainess.

– I was hired as costume designer on the movie. So, I met with director Eli Roth and producer Dan Frisch. I asked if they have already cast the part of Axelle. They said no. Then I spoke the famous words: I have a friend. They checked out Vera on the internet and called her to come to an audition. She got the part.

One cannot pin Susanna to say anything negative about any star. A large part of the job is to be able to massage big egos.

– They are all demanding. One can never say ‘no’ to anything. One has to be diplomatic. We are called the dream team. We want to please. After all, actors are the ones who have to wear the costumes. If they don’t want to, I cannot force them to do so. My job is to help the actors in their work, not make it more difficult. The costume department is often compared with the art department. I always say that they have nothing in common for walls don’t have opinions.

Born: in Helsinki
Parents: journalist-writer, Tuula Poutasuo and steel industry businessman, Raimo Puisto (divorced)
Background: The family moved to Spain in 1979. Since then, Susan has lived in Monaco, the Bahamas, New York and San Francisco, where she studied acting. Susan moved to Los Angeles in 1990 in order to become an actor. She got a job instead as an assistant costume designer for a TV series. She assisted a costume designer for three years. In order to become a costume designer herself, Susanna had to do free work on indie films and theater to prove herself. A theater play called Big Al spawned her first paid work as a costume designer for a TV pilot, and launched Susanna’s career.
Marital status: Divorced, no children
Hobbies: Traveling, nature hiking, going to galleries and playing with her dogs Misty and Scruffy.




Päivi and Santeri Kannisto were a well-to-do Finnish couple with all the trappings of a successful life – both well educated with a nice house and great careers. But seven years ago they got tired of the rat race, sold all their worldly possessions and set out to tour the world – permanently.

Q. Talk about your life in Finland when you were still ”normal”,
working career people?

Santeri had an open source software house for some 12 years and Päivi
worked as a Management Consultant.

Q. It seems that both of you had found your vocation. You had an
interesting careers that no doubt paid quite well. What are the
reasons why you grew tired of that kind of a standard western life?

Those careers were what others expected us to do, not what we wanted
from our lives. Päivi wanted to travel and Santeri wanted to devote
his life for love and get rid of possessions.

Q. You allowed three months to prepare for your new nomadic life
style. Lift that curtain a little – what did you do with taxation,
property and how much savings did you take with you?

We finance our travelling by writing books. Our income is modest but
we consume very little nowadays. Our average total monthly spending
varies between US 400-700$. The taxation keeps on taxing no matter if
they have the right to do it any longer or not. Our income is too low
for any country to tax and most of it consists of tax free grants.

Päivi sold her property and Santeri walked out of his life leaving
everything behind. Santeri’s possessions ended up mostly to the
pockets of lawyers fighting for what was left.

Q. The United States and Finland are both expensive countries – every
time you leave your house, you spend money on gas, food, shopping,
etc. What kind of a daily budget do you normally have – how much is
spent of food, lodging, transportation, etc. and do you select the
countries you go to based on the costs?

We buy fruits and vegetables (we are vegans) and cook ourselves. We
walk distances under 10 miles and use the cheapest public
transportation available for longer distances, and use Couch Surfing.
If we stay around in a place for a bit longer, we rent a small
room/apartment and often help the landlord to decrease the rent by
doing renovation work, installing electricity, fixing things,
painting, etc.

Our living costs have varied very little between countries and
continents. We don’t buy stuff except the bare minimum such as clothes
and shoes, and laptops for writing. There is enough pollution in the
world without us increasing it by consuming products and services.

Working in the traditional sense of the word and possessing cars and
real estate are the most expensive things in life. We don’t do any of
them. We have no need to show off with possessions.

Q. What kind of cultural differences and barriers have you run into?

In Finland people take shoes off when they enter someone’s house. We
do that, too. Sometimes it has been hard to convince people from other
cultures to do the same when they come to our place.

Q. You have said that some countries have been pleasant and some less
pleasant surprises – tell us a little of both – which countries have
you liked, which not and why?

We like countries that allow free debate and do not condemn
differences in opinion. We avoid countries that believe they can make
peace by killing people or countries that support or participate in
such activities. For us, there is no acceptable excuse in taking any
life, human or animal. We are all one. If you hurt others, you end up
hurting yourself.

Q. I bet you have run into some characters on your travels – tell us
about some of the most memorable people you have met?

Meeting Professor Erik Cohen was definitely such an occasion. We have
been doing research on lifestyle travellers and he is also interested
in the subject. We went to see him and ended up sharing a wonderful
night together cooking and talking philosophy. He is almost 80 and
beat us in speed walking.

Q. Right now you are in China. What part of the country are you at and
what is life like there?

We are right now in Guangzhou in the province of Canton in Southern
China. We are staying this week with our American friend from Iowa
whom we met four years ago when we were touring China for the first
time. The country itself is not very tempting because of visas and
pollution, but we came here to meet our friends.

The environment is pretty much spoiled thanks to all products made for
the Western countries. In bigger cities you can’t see the blue sky,
it’s just grey and hazy all year around. Western companies come to
China where it is cheaper to make products. The reason why it is so
much cheaper is because they don’t have to care about labour or
environment. Unfortunately the pollution does not respect the borders
and will eventually spread everywhere just like Fukushima radiation.
It’s pretty short-sighted.

Q. You mention the internet censorship in China – talk about that and
have you witnessed other kind of human rights abuse there?

Four years ago it was possible to find open proxies and web services
allowing access to censored web services. None of them work any more.
The only viable option is to buy a vpn service which is both costly
and technically challenging, because vpn documentation and client
downloads have been blocked, too.

Human rights are rhetoric everywhere in the world, not just in China.
For example freedom of movement has been limited with all kinds of
artificial restrictions and payments. Think about having to obtain a
permit to practise a religion and then pay a fee every 5 years to have
your freedom of religion.

Perhaps the situation is a bit better now, because Google is no more
working in China revealing the emails of dissidents to the government
for persecution.

Q. You are currently doing a study of the nomadic lifestyle and you
have interviewed other people who share this lifestyle with you – give
us a little peak into what you have found out?

We interviewed 30 contemporary nomads (9 Americans) from 17 countries,
who have been travelling the world continuously over 4 years without
permanent residence or work. Many of the travellers wanted to get rid
of the Rat Race and enjoy adventures, idleness, and masterless life.
They are not owned by countries or corporations. They are
professionals of travelling for whom the mobile lifestyle has solved
some of the biggest mysteries in life. The book will be published next

Q. You are both now about 40 years old. After six years on the road,
how long do you think you can keep on traveling and will there come a
point when one simply gets too old to do that – in other words, have
you talked about eventually settling down, and if so, where?

We are both 41 and have been 7 years on the road. This is now our 8th
year. For us, the future does not exist. We are living in this very
moment with only one plan: no plans. Earlier we had the idea of
finding a perfect place and settling down, but then we discovered
there are are too many of them and so many places still to see, so we
kept going.

Q. In the United States the Occupy movement has spread into every
major city. The Occupy people demonstrate against corporate and
capitalistic greed. Do you feel affinity with the Occupy movement?

We have no sympathy for corporate and capitalist greed, nor for police
states that some of the Western countries represent. In that sense, we
feel affinity and might well stop by to spend a few days in such a

Q. How often do you visit your family and friends in Finland?

Last time we visited Finland in 2006. Some of our family members and
friends have come to visit us abroad which has worked better for us.
People tend to have more time for us when they are on holiday.

Q. What do you think is the best country in the world?

There are so many of them. Some countries we like a lot include
Brazil, France, and the city of Hong Kong.

Q. And the worst?

In general all countries. It is an absurd idea to divide the small
earth into even smaller pieces of land (countries) that quarrel with
each other and try to build barriers between people instead of uniting

We tend to avoid countries that charge for visas or entry permits
complicating border crossings. Visas are the best way to unwelcome

Q. What is the most valuable thing you have learned from your travels?

Less is more. Travels have taught us that we don’t need much, and the
less we have, the happier we are. When we possess something, that
thing starts to possess us and as a consequence, we loose our freedom.

Q. What is your typical day like – I mean, what do you do and how
much is spent on working?

It depends if we are Couch Surfing or renting a room. With other
people we usually follow their rhytm and habits. When we are alone, we
usually wake up before sunrise, have a morning walk or go jogging,
then write a bit, prepare lunch, go shopping groceries, sometimes
watch a film or play computer games, and go to bed soon after sunset.

Q. What happens if either one of you gets sick?

Santeri does not believe in medicine and if Päivi gets seriously sick,
we travel to a third world country such as Thailand that offers
affordable, high-quality medical services.

Q. Have you been in danger?

We visited Indonesia 2 weeks after the Bali bombings. The island was
empty of tourists and local businessmen were desperate. One evening we
we went to a hotel and agreed the price. In the morning, the business
owner wanted to double the price. We declined his offer and then he
started taking our photos with his camera phone and sending them to
his friends saying that they would come and beat us. Then he showed
his backyard and told that the previous tourists who refused to pay,
had been killed there. We sat down with him smiling and repeated that
we are happy to pay him the agreed sum. After 3 hours, he gave up and
accepted the agreed payment.

Visit Päivi & Santeri’s fascinating website for more information, pictures and videos:






Pia Pakarinen by Jonny Kahleyn (copyrighted)

Pia Pakarinen by Jonny Kahleyn  ©

The Finnish beauty queen was crowned Miss Finland in March, 2011, and by September she had abdicated her crown amidst terrible press. “What happened?” we asked Pia as she arrived in America for the very first time.

A year ago nobody knew anything about Pia Pakarinen, a 21-year-old country girl from Juuka, Northern Karelia. Then, last spring, she won the Miss Finland beauty pageant and became an overnight sensation. The beautiful and well-spoken blond bombshell seemed to be everywhere. With great triumph, the Nordic maiden was sent to the Miss Universe contest in São Paulo, Brazil. That’s when things started to go haywire. Reports began appearing in the media that Pia insisted that her entourage be brought along and that she demanded money for interviews. She returned from Brazil empty-handed and was said to be canceling and/or missing gigs that she had previously agreed to do. She then dramatically gives up her Miss Finland title in a live TV-broadcast and denounces the organization behind it. Pia Pakarinen was a persona non grata in Finland. There was only one thing to do: Go Hollywood!

Enter Maria and Paul Kizirian, a couple who work at the Network modeling agency in Los Angeles. The Finnish-born Maria happened to know Wille Wilenius, a friend of Pia’s.

Pia Pakarinen by Jonny Kahleyn (copyrighted)

Pia Pakarinen by Jonny Kahleyn  ©





Armi Kuusela Williams by Tomi Hinkkanen

Long Beach, California, June 29th, 1952. I Love Lucy was a hit show on TV and Harry Truman the president of the United States. An average American worker earned $3,850 a year. A new house cost $9,000  and gas 25 cents a gallon. It was a different era alright. And for one lovely 17-year-old woman from Finland, that day would change everything. She would become the very first Miss Universe ever. That young woman was Armi Kuusela. 60 years later she still turns heads, attracts crowds and glows eternally youthful. 77 years never looked lovelier.

Armi was born in the village of Muhos, which is located in Northern Finland, some 20 miles southeast of Oulu. Her father was Aarne Kuusela and mother Martta Kyrö. Aarne was said to have been extremely handsome and Martta was known to be a vivacious woman. They had met in Ontario, Canada, where their first child was born. Upon returning to Finland, there would be six more  – five girls and a boy. One of the girls died as a child. Armi was born August the 20th, 1934, and is the fourth oldest of the children.

After graduating from middle school in Muhos, she continued onto the women’s college in Porvoo where she excelled in sports. She was particularly fond of swimming, skiing and gymnastics. In fact, she planned a career in athletics, intending to apply to the University of  Helsinki Gymnastics Institute. However, that was never to be. Armi competed and won the title of Suomen neito (Maiden of Finland), a national beauty pageant on May 24th, 1952. Her prize was a box of chocolates, a gold bangle and a round-trip ticket to the United States, sponsored by Pan Am. That June in Long Beach, California, she participated in the first ever Miss Universe beauty pageant along with 29 other girls from all over the world – and won. Armi was just 17 and her strategic measurements read like Scarlett O’Hara’s from Gone with the Wind:  height: 5′ 5″ , weight: 108 pounds,  bust: 33.5 inches, waist: 22 inches, and hips: 33.5 inches.  She was immortalized in all her glory in a Finnish movie World’s Most beautiful Girl, in which she played herself opposite to the leading man of the Finnish cinema, Tauno Palo.

Next year the reigning Miss Universe took to a whirlwind tour around the world. It turned out to be another life changer for Armi. During her travels she met a dark and handsome Filipino businessman, Virgilio ‘Gil’ Hilario. Armi fell in love head over heels and couldn’t wait to get married. She even gave up her crown three weeks shy of the end of her Miss Universe year, just to tie the knot with the man she loved. They Married in Tokyoin May of 1953. The newlyweds moved to Manila, settling in the quiet suburb of Forbes Park. Their house was on a road known as ‘Millionaire Street’. Armi parlayed her Miss Universe fame in a film shot in the Philippines as well. But now she had another role to play –  that of a mother. The couple had five children: three boys and two girls. During those years Armi and Gil would sometimes travel to her native Finland. Another ex-patriot from the same area in Northern Finland, Taimi Mäkikihniä, recalls how Armi and Gil would be exhibited in a train car sitting at a station. People were charged admission to enter the train and walk through the car where the couple was sitting. It sounds bizarre today, but Finns were lining up on the station just to get a peek of the biggest celebrities Finland had ever seen. It seemed that the couple had everything anyone could ask for:  fame, fortune and a happy family. But it all came to an abrupt end on the faithful day of September 7th, 1975. Gil Hilario suddenly died of a massive heart attack at the age of 48. Armi was grief-stricken.

There were lonely years after Gil was gone, but Armi had the good fortune to have five loving children around her to cheer her up. By now she was a woman of the world who moved effortlessly and elegantly in high society circles. Two and a half years after Gil’s death, Armi found a new love. She married a tall, slender, handsome (and then bearded) American diplomat Albert Williams on June 8th, 1978. Albert was stationed in Spain at the time, so the couple started their married bliss in beautiful Barcelona. Albert’s next assignment took them to the more exotic Izmir,Turkey. The third largest city of Turkey is an ancient merchant capitol by the eastern Mediterranean and boasts exceptional historical sights, culture and magnificent sea views. Those were exciting years for Armi.

Armi Kuusela Williams and Albert Williams by Tomi Hinkkanen

When Albert retired from the State Department  it was time for the couple to settle in his home country, the United States. In 1990 Armi and Albert found a peaceful two story traditional on Waverly Avenue in affluent La Jolla, California. The tall trees and shrubs shield the house from prying eyes. The beach community means  ‘the jewel’ in English. It used to be a vacation community for the very wealthy and  became known as ‘Beverly Hills South’. Armi settled into a quiet life of a retired socialite, dedicating her time to charitable organizations. She sits in the board of directors of the prestigious Sanford Burnham Medical Institute, a cancer research center. The endless fascination of Armi endured in her native Finland, but the ex-beauty queen grew more and more reclusive, categorically refusing all interviews.

The long self-imposed exile from the lime light ended this summer. Armi Kuusela-Williams surprised everyone by attending the glamorous FinnFest gala dinner and dance on August 12th inSan Diego with her husband Albert. Armi dazzled in a light blue silk gown designed by Jordan. The accessories included a golden purse and the same color shoes and a classic pearl necklace. They had reserved a VIP table for their entourage of 10. Each seat cost $290 and the proceeds went to the FinnFest organization. That same evening Armi was recognized by the City of San Diego as the mayor issued a proclamation that read ‘Armi Kuusela Williams Day’.  The audience of 350 heard her first public remarks in years, as she climbed on stage to thank for the honor: “I am so touched by such a tribute. I can only say that I have been lucky in my life in so many ways. It is an honor to celebrate Finland with Finnish and American friends. I am very grateful, Armi said”. Her inner circle was there to celebrate the evening with her: authors, artists, scientists and business people. Business woman Kathryn Kennedy has known Armi and Albert for 15 years. They meet at charitable events, at the opera, concerts and church. She had fond memories of a recent birthday party for Albert at the couple’s house. “It was the most fun I have had in years. Armi served grav lax for dinner, chocolate cake for dessert and throughout the evening she kept pouring us shots of Koskenkorva vodka in crystal tubes, Kathryn recounts. Banker Joy Blount has known the couple for ten years. She met them soon after relocating from San Francisco to San Diego. “We are all deeply involved in philanthropic activities, go to the opera, symphony concerts, talk about the politics and our families, Joy describes.

Armi Kuusela Williams with Finnish actress/model Anna Easteden and American baseball coach Rob McKinley

Armi likes to entertain her closest friends in the couple’s Spanish style two storey house decorated with antique furniture and decorative items they have collected from their travels around the world. The dining room table seats comfortably 12 people. Guests are pampered with Finnish foods prepared by the couple’s private cook. Armi is an avid reader and loves nothing better than to curl up with a good book. Both Armi and Albert spend a great deal of time traveling to see her five children and five grandchildren who live in the United States, Canada, Chile, the Philippines and Spain.

The FinnFest gala ends with American standards performed by pianist Lenni-Kalle Taipale and singer Sami Pitkämö, who had flown especially for the event from Finland. We now know that Albert William’s favourite tune is ‘The Shadow of Your Smile’, for when it started to play, he asked his wife Armi of 33 years to dance with him and planted a tender kiss on her lips.