Tax Exempt For Life...

Luz Marina Zuluaga, Miss Universe 1958

By Ed Dominguez

Just as the Trustees of Beauty School were sitting down to discuss the next inductee to the Pantheon, we received a nomination for this honor from a Beauty School student in Panama, Ed Dominguez. It is often said that "timing is everything," and it certainly was true in this case. Not only was the lady nominated for the honor truly worthy of it, but to induct her now would also coincide with the 40th anniversary of her crowning.

We are talking about a Miss Universe whose fans are legion and their devotion to her almost saintly - the once and forever Miss Universe of 1958, Colombia's Luz Marina Zuluaga.

Here is Ed's essay.


Forty years after winning the crown, we are proud to present the story of a very special woman, Luz Marina Zuluaga, the only Miss Universe from Colombia. After winning the Miss Universe title in 1958, she was declared tax exempt for life, had a house built for her by the government of Colombia, and was honored with a postage stamp of her very own...all this without actually winning the title of Miss Colombia!

Luz Marina was born on October 31, 1938, in the city of Pereira, Colombia. In 1957, at the age of 19, she entered the Señorita Caldas contest and won, earning the right to represent her state at the Reinado Nacional de la Belleza, the Miss Colombia Pageant. To compete for the Miss Colombia title, she was given $5,000 by the state of Caldas towards the cost of competing (wardrobe, etc.), but she ended up spending $20,000 of her own money!

Before traveling to the Miss Colombia pageant in Cartagena, Luz Marina was invited to represent Colombia at the Panama Carnival. Juan Carlos de Borbón, Prince of Spain at the time, would be at the Port of Colon for this event and they wanted one of the queens to welcome him. Luz Marina was selected for this honor.

When she arrived on November 8th at Cartagena, for the Miss Colombia final, Luz was quoted as saying, "Everyone was so gorgeous, I didn't have an inferiority complex, but neither did I have hopes."

According to Luz, "The day of the finals, Doris Gil Santamaria led the parade of contestants. I was fourth in line. There was incredible heat and we were all trying to cool off by using a big fan that Doris had brought to the pageant. We were talking among ourselves and predicting that Doris would be the winner. Some of the girls predicted that I would win. But in the end Doris won the title of Miss Colombia."

Four months after winning the title, Doris Gil Santamaria resigned in order to get married. The manager of pageant sponsor Max Factor, Mario Barriga, asked Luz Marina if she wanted to compete as Miss Colombia at the Miss Universe Pageant, making her Colombia's first entrant ever.

"I couldn't decide," she said, "Barriga gave me time to think it over and told me to keep it a secret. It would be awesome, but there would be so many beautiful women...and me. The truth is that I was scared and sad to think I was going to come in last place, but I accepted."

On July 7th, Luz Marina arrived in Long Beach, California, the site of the Miss Universe Pageant. While ensconced at the Lafayette Hotel, she bumped into Gladys Zender, Miss Universe 1957, whom she had met before in Cartagena. Seeing Gladys again was a comfort to her.

Luz Marina remembers the final night of the pageant this way: "I don't know what I felt when we paraded into the auditorium, which was full. There were 11 judges and they were sitting right in the middle. When they announced the 5 finalists and I was one of them , I almost died. After they had announced the 4th, 3rd and 2nd runners-up, I was left standing right next to Miss Brazil. We held hands together, very tightly. So tight that the president of the pageant tried to separate us, but we wouldn't let him. When they put the sash on me, I asked Miss Brazil, 'What does it say there?' and she told me with great excitement, 'It says Miss Universe!'"

Luz Marina with, left to right, 1st runner-up Miss Brazil, Adalgisa Colombo; 2nd runner-up Miss Hawaii, Geri Hoo; 3rd runner-up Miss USA, Eurlyne Howell; and 4th runner-up Miss Poland, Alicja Bobrowska.

In its coverage of the pageant, the Los Angeles Times reported that Luz Marina, "...showing a great poise and with a gentle graciousness...," strolled the runway in her blue swimsuit (covered with the royal Miss Universe robe), her sceptre, and her $500,000 pearl crown. After her walk down the runway, she "...modestly decried her own charms to exclaim over the loveliness of the other girls."

The Los Angeles Times carried this headline about the reaction in Colombia to Luz Marina's victory: "Miss Universe Hits Colombia Like Revolution," noting that the country "...exploded with excitement..." over the news. In Manizales, Luz Marina's home town, "...the bells of the ancient cathedral were tolled and joyous crowds swarmed the streets and plazas."

The following day, Luz Marina, the new Miss Universe began her reign by touring Long Beach. Soon she was off to Hollywood, where she rubbed elbows with many artists and celebrities. After Hollywood came a trip to New York City.

Her triumphant return to Colombia began with a stop in Barranquilla, where she spent an hour giving interviews. Then she continued on to Bogota and then Manizales, for the largest celebration of all.

Her plane was full of orchids and other tropical, Colombian flowers. To her surprise, there were also radio journalists and hosts from Barranquilla who were broadcasting the flight minute by minute!

A few days after her arrival to Manizales, the job of being Miss Universe began. Her first official tour was throughout South America. She traveled with her mother and visited all the countries in South America. In Buenos Aires, a journalist, as bald as a billiard ball, asked her if she preferred men with or without hair. She said, "What was important was the fact that he should be a good man and that he loved her."

In every country that she visited she was greeted by the president and was showered with gifts from them. In Argentina, they gave her a gold brooch and earrings; in Brazil, a bracelet; and in Chile, some big golden coins.

The Colombian government, thanking her for being such a wonderul ambassador for her country, gave her a mansion, declared her tax exempt for life, and issued special postage stamps in her honor.

After she gave up her crown to her successor, Akiko Kojima of Japan, she received an ultimatum from her boyfriend who said, "Either you go to Japan to model or you stay here and marry me". Luz Marina did the obvious and stayed.

Today, she is happily married to Enrique Velez, and has four children: Carlos Enrique, Juan Pablo, Marcelo and Andrea. Marcelo is president of the Miss Coffee International pageant that is held every January in Manizales; and Andrea represented Caldas in the Miss Colombia Pageant in 1991.

Pageant fans last saw Luz Marina at the 1998 Miss Spain Pageant, where she served as a judge.

Luz Marina will always remain in the hearts of all Colombians, who have hoped, for many years, to once again have another Miss Universe. They have come close, having three first runners-up in a row (1992-1994).

Here is Luz Marina with Paola Turbay (1st runner-up to Michelle McLean in 1992); Paula Betancourt (1st runner-up to Dayanara Torres in 1993); and Carolina Gomez (1st runner-up in 1994 to Sushmita Sen).

Colombia is optimistic that in the future, the Miss Universe crown will rest on the head of yet another Colombian, someone who will their place in the hall of fame, next to Colombia's Fairy Tale princess, Luz Marina Zuluaga.

Two Brilliant Jewels From South America
Luz Marina Zuluaga with Gladys Zender.

More Pictures of Luz Marina Zuluaga

In addition to being a Miss Colombia aficionado, Ed has also established the unofficial Miss Panama website. Be sure to visit!


"My Happy Story" - Luz Marina Zuluaga's autobiography

"El Heraldo" - Barranquilla, Colombia

"Los Angeles Times" - Los Angeles, California, USA

"Mas Vida" - CBS special

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