Miss Universe 1987

The Dish On The Universe

The 80's - Part Three

By Jeannie Szoradi, Ph.D,

Miss Universe-ology

The Decision of the Decade:The final moment of the 1987 Miss Universe Pageant...two incredible women left standing...Miss Italy, Roberta Capua...and Miss Chile, Cecilia Bolocco. If you had been a judge that year, who would you have voted for? It would have been a hand-wringing decision, no? Well, one judge that night, journalist Neil Hickey, in a 1988 article for the U.S. magazine TV GUIDE, dished the 1987 pageant and revealed who he voted for...Miss Italy!

1987 - Singapore

Miss Bermuda, Shelley Bascombe, was eliminated before the month-long pageant even began - she was over the upper age limit of 25. However, she still got to attend the final week of the Miss Universe pageant - watching from the audience.

Halfway through the pageant month, Scotland’s Eileen Caterson was eliminated for being five weeks too young, according to the pageant cut-off date. Strangely, she would have qualified had the pageant been held in July, as it had been every year in the past. Unlike Miss Bermuda, Miss Scotland did not have funding from her franchise owner to allow her to stay and watch the procedings. At that time, the owner of Miss Scotland and other U.K. country-franchises was Julia Morley, of the Miss World Organization. To make the story of poor Miss Scotland even sadder, she was invited to return to Singapore, all-expenses paid, the following month, to serve as a judge of the Miss Singapore-International pageant. According to the Singapore Straits-Times newspaper, Julia Morley refused to let Miss Scotland avail herself of the offer, as the Miss International pageant is a rival of Miss World.

Clear-cut, set-in-stone favorite of the press and Singaporean Miss Colombia 1987 pageant fans: Colombia’s Patricia Lopez Ruiz (on the right). The raven-haired beauty was constantly singled-out for her “Asian features” and became a true idol during the four weeks of the pageant. It was no surprise that she won the Miss Photogenic trophy, voted upon by Singapore photographers. Others mentioned as possible finalists included India (Priyadar Prahnan), Philippines (Geraldine Asis), USA (Michelle Royer), and Italy (Roberta Capua).

There was great hope that local beauty, Singapore’s Marion Teo, would get into the top 10, but she was not given very high chances. Unlike past gah-gah coverage of local favorites, the Singapore press cut no slack for Marion. She was candidly criticized at every turn, from speaking too much, to styling her hair in an unbecoming upsweep do, to wearing an “ugly fuschia evening gown that made her behind look too ample” during the Presentation Show! Singaporeans were the first to stand in open-mouthed wonder when Ms. Teo was named a semifinalist.

The set for the 1987 pageant was one of the most elaborate, consisting of three parts - the gigantic Merlion in the middle, a hill with a huge waterfall on the left and an oriental gate with lanterns to the right. The 12 judges sat on a special elevated platform that was turned, so that they would always be facing the action.

One of the chaperones in the 1987 pageant was Bridget Ong, who represented Singapore at the 1967 Miss Universe Pageant in Miami Beach.

The Singapore Straits Times was so pageant-mad that they ran full interviews with virtually everyone connected with the pageant, including an in-depth article about veteran choreographer Tad Tadlock, who gave away some of her “secrets” on how she directs the contestants during the finals…lying down on the floor of the stage, giving hand signals from a spot of the stage that cannot be seen by the cameras!

Even assistant choreographers, Scott Grossman and Alex Cole, were the subjects of an article, complete with photo (“Two Dancers Get to Put their Arms Around the Five Top Contestants”). Grossman, who is now the chief choreographer for the Miss Universe pageant, was described then as “…27, single and debonaire…1.88 m tall…recently completed a show clled ‘Dance Academy’ in which he played an ex-football player.”

For this year’s parade, the delegates rode in man-pedalled “trishaws” (Singaporean rikshaws) down Orchard Road, waving and signing autographs for admirers are they went along.

During the inaugural show in the World Trade Center, many persons in the audience walked out even before the National Costume Competition began at 11 p.m. (!) as they were unable to see or hear what was happening on stage. This problem was rectified for future shows with the installation of speakers and risers for the seats.

The costume competition was won by Brazil’s Kaqueline Meirelles, wearing a stunning high-plummed, beaded carnival outfit that represented the Tropical Forest.

The exclusion of Misses Colombia and India from the semifinalists shocked most local pageant fans. As soon as the 10 were announced bets were placed in favor of Misses Italy, Puerto Rico and Chile. As soon as the interview portion was over, however, it became clear that it would be a tight race. In the end, Chile’s Cecilia Bolocco had the personality and charm to win the crown.

This was to be Bob Barker’s last year as emcee (due to his resignation the following year, in protest of the awarding of fur coats as prizes at Miss Universe & USA). It was not without negative comments. The Singapore Straits Times noted that Barker seemed entranced by Miss Chile and helped her to win with the tone and content of his questions. The newspaper went so far as to publish a photo of the moment when Barker was whispering an answer into Cecilia’s ear, to help her shine.

Unlike 1986, Puerto Rican newspapers gave ample coverage to Miss Puerto Rico’s participation in the 1987 pageant. Blonde Lauri Simpson was celebrated for having made 4th runner-up. However, veteran pageant expert and journalist, Angela Luisa Torregrosa, wrote in her column for El Nuevo Dia that Lauri’s smile was “too plastic” and that she lacked “salero” (roughly translated as “a sassy Latin warmth”). In contrast, Miss Chile had plenty of “salaro” to spare.

Sour Grapes of the Year Award: Miss Mexico, Cynthia Fallon, was noticeably ticked at not having made the semifinals. During the celebration lunch that immediately followed the pageant-which took place at 9 am in the morning, to accommodate prime-time TV viewing in the U.S.-she snapped “Later!” to all admirers who wanted her autograph or a photo-pose.

1988 - Taipei, Taiwan R.O.C.

Miss Universe 1988 Coverage of the pageant by the Taiwanese media was so-so…complete but less than enthusiastic. This was perhaps because there was no recent local tradition in pageantry, as pageants were banned in the country between 1964 and 1987. Also, all local media representatives were disillusioned with the high-handed manners of the Miss Universe, Inc. press representatives that year.

During the initial two weeks of the month-long pageant, the print media devoted more space to coverage of a “local” international beauty pageant called “Miss Wonderland” than to Miss Universe. In fact the Universe contestant were housed during the initial two weeks in the CKS Airport Hotel, as the Wonderland girls were occupying all complimentary space at the downtown hotels!

Local television showed more interest in Miss Universe than did the print media. The state-run CTS network produced daily half-hour-long programs on the comings and goings of the contestants.

An unfortunate “fiasco” occurred early-on, when three mini-buses full of local and other Asian journalists arrived at the Airport Hotel for what the Taiwan Local Host Committee had scheduled to be an introductory press conference with the contestants. As soon as the press arrived, it became clear that the Miss Universe staff had no knowledge of the event, which the local committee had failed to put it on the American staff’s schedules! Miss Universe press liasons asked the reporters to obtain their credentials from the official press office at Linkou Stadium. “But there is no office there yet,” someone shouted. Miss Universe staff said, “Yes, we know. They open May 14th.” “That’s two weeks from now!” shouted back the reporter. No answer - that was that. Henceforth, journalists branded the “Inc.” in the Miss Universe, Inc. name as standing for “Incompetent.”

In a conversation with a San Juan newspaper immediately following the 1988 pageant, Miss Puerto Rico (Isabel Pardo) told how almost all of the 66 contestants became ill with food poisoning soon after their arrival in Taipei. They had to stay at the less-than-first-class CKS Airport Hotel. Nobody was eating and all became dehydrated. Finally, pageant officials switched them to a better, more centrally-located hotel where they could eat without fear. As a result of the mutual suffering, says Miss Puerto Rico, there was a genuine spirit of cameraderie and no backstabbing among the contestants.

Three days before the finals, a violent anti-government protest occurred in Taipei (not necessarily linked to the pageant). The final pageant telecast, as seen in Taiwan, was briefly interrupted with a bulletin for a Civil Defense emergency exercise.

The Taiwanese media did not get into the ‘pageant spirit’ as in other countries and, thus, did not make predictions about who would win or make top 10. Nonetheless, one report in The China News cites that the pageant’s contestants believed that Venezuela’s Yajaira Vera Roldan had the greatest chance of winning. Mexico’s Amanda Olivares and England’s Tracey Williams appear in photographs more often than the rest. (England took the Photogenic prize.) Newspapers also mentioned that the largest cheering section, during presentations, was for Miss Mexico, with “some support” for USA and Thailand. Miss Rep. Of China, Jade Hu, was given virtually no publicity, no hype.

The pageant venue, Linkou Stadium, could seat over 9,000 spectators, yet was described as “virtually empty” during the initial presentations and had only 4,000 spectators for the finals. [Note: Compared to most venues for Miss Universe in the 1980s, this was one of the larger crowds!]

This was one of the most visually stunning Miss Universe pageants in years. The stage setting was a sort of “Living Scenery” - a huge multi-tiered pyramid upon which folk dancers held props to represent various themes, such as a moving dragon, a garden with flowers that opened & closed, a the waves of the ocean (rows of young ladies holding blue ostrich-feather fans, moved up and down in a “wave” pattern).

The summer heat got to many of the contestants, including Miss Finland, Nina Bjornstrom, who fainted during the video-taping of the “group waving swimsuit shot” at the Grand Hotel.

First-time emcee Alan Thicke demonstrated his sense of humor at a press conference upon his arrival in Taipei. When asked how he felt about hosting the pageant, he quipped, “Well, this really isn’t such a reverential prize. I mean - it’s not the Pulitzer Prize or Nuclear Science. It’s Miss Universe!” We will note, kind readers, that this was Mr. Thicke’s first and LAST time as emcee of Miss Universe!

During the Dress Rehearsal for the finals, the audience burst into laughter as Alan Thicke read the name of the “New Miss Universe” - Scott Grossman! The China News described Scott as “American male dancer.” [Most recently, the stand-in “Miss Universe” at dress rehearsals has been Scott’s wife, Michelle…so the crown stays in the family.]

Miss Universe 1988The homecoming of Miss Universe 1988, Thailand's Porntip Nakhirunkanok, was a 50-day visit during which the country swelled with national pride, despite the fact Porntip had spent the better part of her 20 years in the USA. During her homecoming, she was decorated by the Thai Royal Family with the Companion (Fourth Class) of the Most Exalted Order of the White Elephant. She was also the object of a fierce battle between Colgate-Palmolive and Lever Brothers. Both companies wanted her to be their Thai spokesperson for their beauty products. Porntip won - she got lucrative deals with both.

1989 - Cancun, Mexico

The 1989 Miss Universe Pageant was the longest of the decade, lasting over four weeks. It was amply covered by the media throughout Mexico.

There were a number of big favorites among Mexican journalists and pageant-watchers, including Australia (Karen Wenden), seen as a Joan Collins-twin; Holland (Angela Visser); Turkey (Jasmine Baradan); Spain (Eva Pedraza); Argentina (Luisa Norbis);and, naturally, Mexico (Adriana Abascal). As the pageant progressed and more people saw the 76 candidates on television, the names of Brazil (Flavia Cavalcante Rebelo), Poland (Joanna Gapinska) and-especially-USA (Gretchen Polhemus) were added to the list of sure-semifinalists. Many others were given a nice mention here and there (such as Nigeria’s Bianca Roon or Japan’s very tall Eti Tsililio), but never to the degree of the others mentioned above. In the end, the three names cited as most-likely winners were Australia, Holland and USA. [Australia did not even make the semifinalists but did win Miss Photogenic.]

This year’s pageant events were held in a specially-constructed, 1,300-seat theater attached to the brand new resort hotel the Fiesta Americana Condesa. Tickets for the principal events were sold out several weeks in advance. In face, many seats were sold several times, to different persons! During the Judges’ Presentation Show, Dress Rehearsals and Finals, several hundred persons were unable to see the show, as they found other people seating in their assigned seats. Total pandemonium! To make matters worse, there were no seats for press photographers during those final shows; the only still photographer was from the Miss Universe Organization.

The Little Sisters of Cancun had a pageant among themselves to select Little Miss Universe-a title that had not been awarded since 1964 in Miami Beach. The winner was Little Miss Denmark, Alison Cabrera Castillo. Pageant fans with videos of the 1989 finals will note that, seated among the chorus of Little Sisters serenading the semifinalists is one little girl with the banner “Little Miss Universe” - that’s Alison.

As happened too often before, a contestant was sent home due to not meeting the age qualifications. This year it was Miss France, Stephanie Zlotkowski, who was found to be too young by a few weeks. However, this time there was a replacement, who was able to arrive in Cancun in time to compete-Pascale Meotti.

One day before the finals, Excelsior newspaper published the names of what it believed to be the ten semifinalists, as passed on by a ‘secret informer’ within the Miss Universe Organization. They were right on only five - Mexico, USA, Holland, Germany and Venezuela; wrong on Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Turkey.

Security was the tightest ever in the 1980s during this pageant. A well-known private group of security guards - considered as ‘bullies’ or ‘thugs’ by many Mexicans - was contracted by the Governor of Quintana Roo State, Miguel Borge, to keep a close eye on the ladies and, especially, the keep the press far, far away. Many incidents occurred in which the thugs demanded that photographers turn-over rolls of film or threatened physical violence.

Security was so strict that the contestants were not allowed anywhere outside Cancun city limits for the entire 4-5 week period. Therefore, for example, the delegates were unable to visit many beautiful archeological ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula, such as Chichen Itza and Palenque. You will note, when viewing the pageant video, that the only scenes outside Cancun are of Porntip Nakhirunkanok’s travelogues.

The contestants’ welcome party was at “El Boom - the official discotheque of the 1989 Miss Universe Pageant”! We wonder how the bidding process for that honor was conducted.

A highlight of pageant month, for the ladies, came on May 16th, when, according to Miss Venezuela (Lisa Ljung) they were “finally able to dance with young men of our own choosing!” Does this mean that, prior to May 16th, the contestants either had to dance on their own, among themselves or with the bodyguard thugs?

Excelsior newspaper awarded the title of “Miss Antipatica” (opposite of Miss Amity) to Miss Universe 1988, Porntip Nakhirunkanok, for what their reporters perceived as her “stuck-up” manner and “belief that she really is a queen.”

Excelsior’s journalists wrote highly-detailed, somewhat catty accounts of the pageant procedings. For example, in reporting the swimsuit portion of the presentation show, it was noted that “the public winced when Doly [presumably, Doly Minhas, Miss India] appeared in swimsuit. It was the nightmare reaction that pageant organizers try to avoid.”Miss Universe 1989 with Miss Universe 1982 Not even Miss Mexico was spared. Shortly before the finals, Excelsior candidly assessed Adriana Abascal’s chances, stating that, while physically one of the most beautiful, she possessed “a bad character and is spoiled.”

The final show and the outcome was, in general, applauded by both Excelsior and the Diario de Yucatan. The only negative production note was the “cold delivery” of the trio of presenters, John Forsythe, Emma Samms and Karen Baldwin. The victory by the stunning Miss Holland, Angela Visser, was not disputed, as she was considered the perfect candidate. Local government officials declared the pageant a total victory and ruffled the feathers of Miss Universe officials by announcing prematurely that the next three Miss Universe pageants were going to take place in Cancun. As we all know, that was not to be.


Newspaper Sources:

All years (1980/89) - author’s private collection:

  • El Mundo - San Juan, Puerto Rico
  • El Nuevo Dia - San Juan, Puerto Rico

Plus host-city newspapers for specific years - Library of Congress, Washington, DC, USA:

  • The Korea Times - Seoul, South Korea (1980)
  • The Korea Herald - Seoul, South Korea (1980)
  • The New York Times - New York City, New York, USA (1981)
  • El Comercio - Lima, Peru (1982)
  • The St. Louis Globe-Democrat - St. Louis, Missouri, USA (1983)
  • The Miami Herald - Miami, Florida, USA (1984 & 1985)
  • Diario Las Americas - Miami, Florida, USA (1984 & 1985)
  • La Prensa - Panama City, Panama (1986)
  • The Singapore Straits Times - Singapore (1987) The China News - Taipei, Rep. Of China (1988)
  • El Diario de Yucatan - Merida, Mexico (1989)
  • Excelsior - Mexico City, Mexico (1989)

Additionals sources:

  • People (1985)
  • The New York Times - New York City , New York, USA (1988)
  • TV Guide (1988)

Photo Acknowledgements:

Our Esteemed Benefactor, Michael Knittel, Sergio from Chile, and the Miss Universe 1988 Web Site.

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