Master Class - Summer Session, 1997
 
The 1957 Miss Universe Pageant:
Succès de Scandale

 

FOREWORD

In the first of what Beauty School hopes to be a quarterly series of Master Classes on various incredibly important topics, we are going to give you an in-depth profile - complete with pictures - of the 1957 Miss Universe Pageant.

Why 1957 you ask?   The 1957 pageant has proved to be one of the most controversial to date, with breath-taking scandals  that were splashed across the front pages of the world’s newspapers like never before...or since.  On the 40th anniversary of those turbulent times, we thought it the perfect Universe pageant on which to focus our first Master Class.

What could these scandals be?  How did the pageant deal with them?   As we take you back in time, we ask you to ponder a simple question:  were they masterminded by a school-age Donald Trump?

Succès de Scandale 

1957.  Like any year, it was full of surprises.  In October, the U.S.S.R., under the rule of Khrushchev, stunned the world when it launched its secret space satellite, Sputnik.  Ghana and Tunisia became independent nations in 1957 (both going on in later years to compete in the Miss Universe pageant.).  In the U.S., Dwight D. Eisenhower began his second term as President of the USA.  Among the most-watched U.S. television shows were Gunsmoke, and I’ve Got a Secret.   Elvis Presley’s songs dominated radio airwaves.  At the movies were Sayonara, Peyton Place,  and An Affair To Remember.

As the 1957 Miss Universe Pageant began, there were no signs of the Secrets, Sayonaras, and Affairs to Remember that would become its hallmark.  The 1957 Miss Universe Pageant was the 6th annual event, and like the five others before it (and in fact through 1964), it was held jointly with the Miss USA Pageant. The pageant kicked into full swing on July 11, 1957, when the majority of the Universe and USA contestants arrived  in Long Beach, California, the site of the pageant.  Miss Japan, Miss Ecuador, Miss Uruguay, and Miss Tennessee among others had already arrived and were pool-side at the Lafayette Hotel, official hotel to the 1957 pageant.

 

 As was custom, each American girl shared a room with a foreign miss.  There were a total of 76 entrants - 44 American ‘girls’ and 32 ladies from abroad.  In 1957 abroad included Alaska and Hawaii.  All the ladies from abroad arrived dressed in their native costumes.   The schedule of events for the glorious and sensational week (in more ways than one!) was as follows:

 Friday, 12 July  Registration and Tour of Long Beach Harbor

Saturday, 13 July  Opening Ceremonies,  Veterans Memorial Stadium
(at which the ‘girls’ recited the Miss Universe Creed)

Sunday, 14 July  Miss Universe Parade

Tuesday, 16 July  Preliminary judging for Miss USA, Long Beach Auditorium               (selection of 15 semifinalists)

Wednesday, 17 July  Selection of Miss USA 1957

Thursday, 18 July  Preliminary judging for Miss Universe
(selection of 15 semifinalists)

Friday, 19 July  Selection of Miss Universe 1957

Saturday, 20 July  Coronation Ball


In this Master Class, we will give you a history of the pageant, providing you with fascinating and compelling bits of trivia.  We will focus on the amazing events that occurred on the final days of Friday and Saturday.

Thursday, 11 July
The reigning Miss Universe, Carol Morris, and Miss Welcome to Long Beach, Ann Trebes, greeted the contestants as they arrived at the Long Beach Airport.  Also there were Oscar Meinhardt, Executive Director of the pageant, and a crowd of over 300 pageant fans, well-wishers, government officials, reporters, and photographers.

Pan Am, the official airlines of Miss Universe. 1957

Saturday, 13 July
12,000 people filled Veterans Stadium to see the 76 women vying for the title of Miss Universe make their first public appearance.  Miss Universe 1956 opened the event by setting in motion a huge lighted globe.  The mayor of Long Beach, Raymond C. Kealer, presented each contestant with a key to the City.  He charmed the senoritas from South America with his fluent Spanish.

 Carol Morris, Miss Universe 1956

Sunday, 14 July
150,000 spectators watched the Miss Universe Parade.  Each contestant had her own float and all wore the same swimsuit (in different colors).  Each float was pushed by an enthusiastic sailor.  The parade lasted two and a half hours and followed a 1-mile route along Long Beach’s Ocean Boulevard.  Parade spectators were asked to cast their vote for the ‘Most Popular Girl in the Parade’ and press photographers were given ballots to vote for ‘Miss Photogenic.’
 
 











































Here is how the Los Angeles Times described the excited and cheering throngs: "There were cries of ‘Viva Mexico!’ for Irma Arevalo of Mexico City and ‘Vive la France’ for Lisa Simone of Argenteuil; ...Filipino sailors in white uniforms dogtrotted faithfully alongside the float bearing Mary Ann Corrales of Manila..."  Crowd favorites were Miss Italy, Valeria Fabrizzi, a va-va-voom Marilyn Monroe look-a-like, complete with blonde hair, and Miss Morocco, Jacqueline Bonilla, who was intoxicating and  exotic in her long robes and veil.

Miss Italy or Marilyn Monroe?
Monday, 15 July
A few contestants suffered sunburn from the parade, including Miss Germany.  But they all got some relief from the pageant on this day.  In an unprecedented move, pageant director Oscar Meinhardt dismissed the contestants one hour early from rehearsals.  In his opinion,  they had nailed, or perfected, the opening number (more an opening parade), which was to be performed on each of the following four nights of competition.

Tuesday, 16 July
On the day of the preliminary judging to select the 15 finalists for the Miss USA title, there were still no signs of the cataclysmic events that would violently rock the pageant.  Each night of competition had a special musical theme honoring four continents.  Europe was honored on this night, with the operetta The Merry Widow.

Before an audience of approximately 2000 adoring fans, all the contestants participated in the opening ceremony, walking down a 50-foot runway in evening gowns (American girls) and native costumes (foreign girls).  After that, the stage was turned over to the American girls, who first competed in evening gown and then in swimsuit.

The Miss USA swimsuit competition. 1957.
 

 Before the announcement of the 15 semi- finalists, the winners of the ‘Most Popular Girl in the Parade’ and ‘Miss Photogenic’ were announced.  The fans along the parade route cast their vote for Miss Canada, Gloria Noakes, an 18-year old brunette from Toronto.  The press photographers voted Miss Germany, Gerti Daub, 19, from Hamburg, as ‘Miss Photogenic.’  The Los Angeles Times described Miss Germany as  "...exquisitely beautiful..." and "...becoming a favorite to win the Miss Universe crown."
 

The judging took two hours.  These were the 15 semifinalists selected to compete for the title of Miss USA:

Arkansas, Helen Garrott, 19;
California, Peggy Jacobson, 18;
Ilinois, Marianne Gaba, 18;
Iowa, Judith Hall, 20;
Maryland, Leona Gage, 21;
Massachusetts, Sandra Ramsey, 19;
Nebraska, Carolyn McGirr, 18;
Nevada, Joan Adams, 23;
New York, Sanita Pelkey, 21;
Ohio, Kathryn Gabriel, 20;
South Carolina, Jean Spotts, 20;
Texas, Gloria Hunt, 20;
Utah, Charolotte Sheffield, 20;
Washington, Diana Schafer, 18; and
West Virginia, Ruth Marie Parr, 18

There were ten judges (who would judge the entire competition - from this preliminary through Friday’s final).  They included Alberto Varga, creator of the Varga Girl; Earl Wilson, syndicated columnist; Roger Zeiler, chairman of  the Miss Europe pageant; and Lois J. Swanson, associate dean of students at Long Beach State College.
 
 

 

Wednesday, 17 July
3,500 were on hand to watch the election of Miss USA 1957.  The musical theme of the evening honored Africa, with The Desert Song.  The 15 semifinalists competed first in evening gown, then in swimsuit.  Each one delivered a one and a half minute speech, expressing thanks and appreciation to Long Beach.  Miss Texas, Gloria Hunt, brought the house down when she stated, "It was nice meeting all of you all."  The crowd favorite during the competition was Miss Nevada, Joan Adams.

The field was narrowed to five - Miss Maryland, Miss Nebraska, Miss Nevada, Miss Utah, and Miss West Virginia.


Miss Maryland & Miss Nebraska make the top five.

 It took three rounds of voting to decide the winner...Miss Maryland, "tall and stately brunette"  Leona Gage.  The runners-up, in order, were Utah, West Virginia, Nevada, and Nebraska.  Press reports indicated that many contestants, American and foreign, were disappointed in the outcome.  Their favorite, like the audience’s, was Miss Nevada.

Leona's crowning moment.
 

Thursday, 18 July
The press called it a true Cinderella story. In her press conference after the USA pageant, Leona told how she and a cousin had pooled their savings to buy Gage a $45 dollar evening gown for the Miss Maryland contest.  At Miss USA, she won the title with a dress borrowed from a Long Beach merchant.  From rages to riches in one day!    The new Miss USA said she was hoping for a movie career and was not interested in marriage at the moment.  "...I’m not marrying until I’m 26, " she was quoted by the Los Angeles Times as saying.  Her prize winnings included a $2,000 personal appearance contract and a house trailer.

The new Miss USA 1957 - Leona Gage.

But it was not happy ever after for this 5'9, hazel-eyed Cinderella.  On this, the day of the preliminary judging to select the 15 semifinalists for Miss Universe 1957, vicious and anonymous rumors began to circulate that Miss USA was married.  Backstage, literally minutes before the preliminary competition was about to begin, a Los Angeles Times reporter asked Miss USA if the rumors were true.  She went into hysterics and had to be calmed by pageant officials.  She did manage to quickly regain her composure and competed in the preliminary judging.
 
During the judging, Miss USA was tightly guarded by pageant officials and no one from the press was allowed backstage.  KTTV-Channel 11 provided exclusive TV coverage of the selection of the 15 semifinalists.  They were:

Alaska, Martha Lehmann, 18;
Austria, Hannerl Melcher, 19;
Brazil, Terezinha Goncalves Morango, 20;
Canada, Gloria Noakes, 18;
Cuba, Maria Rosa Gamio, 19;
England, Sonia Hamilton, 23;
Germany, Gerti Daub, 19;
Greece, Legeia Caravias, 18;
Italy, Valeria Fabrizzi, 21;
Japan, Kyoko Otani, 21;
Morocco, Jacqueline Bonilla, 19;
Peru, Gladys Zender, 18;
Sweden, Inger Jonsson, 20;
USA, Leona Gage, 21; and
Uruguay, Gabriela Pascal, 18

Also during the competition, Miss Puerto Rico, Mapita Mercado, 18, was announced as the winner of "Miss Friendship," an honor bestowed upon her by the other contestants.

Once the judging was over, Miss USA was rushed to a dressing room, where for 30 minutes she was kept from the press.  When she did come out to be interviewed, she broke down again, wailing, "They said they’d get me," and was led away by pageant officials.  Later, she recovered and posed with the other semifinalists for press photos.


Leona composes herself in time for this photo op.

The rumors centered on an air force sergeant in Baltimore named Gene Norris Ennis.  The Chicago Daily Tribune reports that  Mr. Ennis denied he was married to Ms. Gage  but subsequently said "...I don’t want to get involved in all this."   Backstage after the competition, Miss Gage was heard to say, "I never heard of any Ennis.  Who could say such a terrible thing?"

Were the rumors true?  What would the pageant do if they were?  Would the Miss Universe contest go on as scheduled? It was a long and fitful night for the Miss Universe Pageant as intrepid and muckraking reporters hustled to uncover the truth.

Friday, 19 July  - Part One
On this fateful Friday, on the day the new Miss Universe was to be crowned, the pageant faced the first of what be two consecutive crises unprecedented in its history (the second crisis would come the very next day!).

According to the Chicago  Daily Tribune, here is what happened on that Friday morning:  "...after a night of sleeplessness and weeping, Miss Gage, in a closed session with Meinhardt, admitted her marriage..."  She also admitted she had two children and had lied about her age.   Her mother-in-law had been the one to confirm the rumors, saying Ms. Gage was married to her son, air force sergeant Gene Norris Ennis,  was the mother of two children, ages 2 and 3, and was 18, not 21.

Miss Universe pageant officials acted quickly and decisively.  Pageant rules did not  (and still do not) allow married women to compete.  Ms. Gage was officially deposed as Miss USA, thus becoming the only "Miss USA For Just One Day."  Her first runner-up, Miss Utah, Charlotte Sheffield, was named the new Miss USA and received the prize package that had been awarded to Ms. Gage.   The official rankings of the runner-ups to the new Miss USA also changed.  Just as Charolotte Sheffield moved up a notch, so did the other runners-up:  the second-runner to Leona Gage became the first runner-up to Charlotte Sheffield, etc., and a new fourth runner-up to  Miss USA 1957 was officially declared:  Miss Ohio, Kathryn Gabriel.
 

 
 

However, pageant officials decided that Ms. Sheffield would be unable to compete in the Miss Universe pageant that night, as she did not participate in the preliminary judging for that title instead, she would go on to compete at the  Miss World Pageant in London).  This would be the first - but not the only - Miss Universe Pageant in which the USA was not among semifinalist nations competing for the title.  With Miss USA out of the competition, pageant officials moved the 16th placed contestant in the preliminary judging into 15th place, allowing her to compete in the semifinals and finals that evening.  The lucky woman?  Miss Argentina, Monica Lamas.

The pageant announced all these actions at press conference later in the day.  At the press conference, Ms. Gage spoke about her secrets: "I have been married four years...My full name is Mary Leona Gage Ennis.  I am really 18, not 21..people think you aren’t smart if you’re 18."  She also spoke about her motivations: "We needed money badly in Maryland.   We owe a lot of bills...My children need clothes."  She said she had informed a Miss Maryland-USA official about her marriage, but was  told, "No, don’t worry about it.  Just forget you ever told me, just forget it."  The official later denied this.

Ms. Gage’s husband was reported to be supportive of her actions: "I have no objection to her career as long as my children are properly taken care for and they are very well taken care of."  (Ms. Gage’s children were with her mother-in-law). However, he did balk at his wife’s assertion that they were in dire financial straits : "A glance at my wife will convince you she’s not starving to death."

As news of Leona Gage’s story broke across the nation, she was showered with show business offers:  movie  deals, an engagement at the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas, an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, etc.   Reporters continued to dig into her past, and that evening, as the Miss Universe pageant was getting underway, she learned that her father, whom she had believed to be dead, was in fact alive and in Texas!  When a reporter told her this news, she fainted in his arms.   Ms. Gage would fly back to Maryland the next day - where she would reveal one more secret.
 

Leona was showered with Show Biz offers.. one can see why.
 

Friday, 19 - Part Two
The show must go on as they say, and despite the morning’s tumult and crisis, the Miss Universe Pageant went on that night as scheduled.  KTTV-Channel 11 again provided exclusive TV coverage.  As with the Miss USA pageant on Wednesday, the 15 semifinalists first competed in evening gown, then swimsuit.
 

Miss Brazil and Miss Peru before the swimsuit competition.
 They also made short speeches.  The crowd favorite that evening was Miss Germany.  When the field was narrowed to five, the lucky women were Miss Brazil, Miss Cuba, Miss England, Miss Germany, and Miss Peru.  These five were kept backstage as the emcee, Ed Hennessy, announced the judges’ decisions.  The judges voted Miss Germany as fourth runner-up.  According to the Los Angeles Times, this decision did not please the audience.  There were loud boos, and the emcee had to ask for silence.  The third runner-up was Miss Cuba, Maria Rosa Gamio.  The second runner-up was Miss England, Sonia Hamilton, who had disclosed a little secret of her own that day - her real name was Cynthia Cooper.  The first runner-up was Miss Brazil, Terezinha Goncalves Morango.

And Miss Universe 1957 was...Miss Peru, Gladys Zender.  Miss Peru "appeared stunned and overwhelmed by her victory" according to the Los Angeles Times, and told news reporters she feared she would faint when she realized she had won.  Her parents, Eduardo and Rosa Zender, had accompanied her to Long Beach and rushed on stage to congratulate her.  As the new Miss Universe, her prize package included two $5000 personal appearance contracts, jewelry, a fox stole, and other gifts.

 
Miss Peru is the new Miss Universe.

Like the audience in the theater, television viewers were not happy with the outcome.  They flooded the phone lines at KTTV and the Los Angeles Times to complain about the judges’ final rankings.  However, the four runners-up proved to be quite professional.  They showed nothing but utter happiness over Miss Peru’s win.   Miss Germany did cry a bit, though.  She said it was from being homesick and tired and that she was not upset at her placement.
 
 
 
 
  
Beauty School takes you behind the scenes.
 

Saturday, 20 July
Peru was positively jubilant with their new Miss Universe.  Standing 5-7 with brown eyes and black hair, Gladys Zender became the first winner from Latin America.  She began a tradition of Latin American dominance at the pageant.  From a wealthy family and the oldest of three children, she proclaimed at her first press conference that she had never been kissed.  In those days, the pageant still released the contestants’ measurements.  The new Miss Universe was perfect:  36-23-36.

However, there was another ‘figure’ of hers that wasn’t quite so perfect.  In what could be considered a foreshadowing of events, Miss Peru was the very last contestant to arrive in Long Beach because of a problem with her passport.   As it turned out, there would also be a problem with her Miss Universe paperwork.  A big problem.  She was 17, not 18, and therefore under the minimum age requirement.

For the second day in a row, the Miss Universe pageant faced an unprecedented crisis.   Would the new Miss Universe have to resign, too?  Could the Miss Universe pageant survive yet another day of unmitigated turmoil?

The crisis emerged at a news conference in which Mr. Zender stated his daughter’s birthday as 19 October 1939.  When asked to explain why he had allowed her to enter the contest, given the age requirement, he said, "For all practical purposes, when a girl reaches 17 years and 7 months in Peru they go as 18 years of age."  He also added that, "We were under the impression in Peru that the age limit was 17 to 28."

Pageant officials rushed to review the new Miss Universe’s paperwork.  How could this have happened?  Here is what they found:  on her original application, filled out in Peru, she listed her age as 18 on side one; on side two, she gave her birthday as 19 October 1939, which would have made her 17, not 18.  Too further complicate the matter, on another form that she and her father filled out after she arrived in Long Beach, her birthday was given as 19 October 1938.

The discrepancies confounded pageant officials.  They went into a closed-door conference to determine Miss Universe’s fate.  As for Miss Universe, she was sequestered in her room at the Lafayette Hotel, with three policemen standing guard outside her door.  It was already nearing the time for the coronation ball.  The embarrassment and pressure mounted.  The Los Angeles Times reported that pageant officials huddled for two and a half hours.  They emerged to make their announcement literally minutes before the coronation ball was scheduled to begin.

Would Miss Peru keep the crown or would it pass to Miss Brazil?

Miss Peru would keep the title.  "We are going to accept Miss Peru as Miss Universe.  We feel that her entry was made in good faith by herself and her family," declared pageant official Lawrence Collins Jr.

In making the announcement, the pageant deferred to international rather than U.S. protocol.  Their decision not to dethrone Miss Peru as Miss Universe was made after teleconferences with two high-ranking diplomats:   the Peruvian Ambassador to the United States, Don Fernando Berckmeyer ; and the Peruvian Consul-General in Los Angeles, Julio E. Ego-Aguirre A.  They also conferred with one of the judges, artist Alberto Varga, himself a Peruvian.  All three corroborated Mr. Zender’s statement: in Peru, it is customary to consider someone one year older if they are more than six months beyond their previous birthday.

Everyone was happy with the decision.  Contestants interviewed by the Los Angeles Times felt  the pageant had made the right decision - in both cases.

Meanwhile, Leona Gage was back in Baltimore, reunited with her husband and two children.  At a downtown press conference, she revealed one last secret:  she was married once before.   She said she was 14, it lasted one day, and was later annulled.  Later that day she accepted an offer to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show, one of CBS’s highest rated shows at the time.


AFTERWORD

Gladys Zender was one of the first Miss Universe titleholders to have an official full-time chaperone - her mother!  Unlike previous titleholders, she did not receive a movie contract, which was typical for winners then.  Her  father had nixed that.

Gladys could have easily been a movie star.

On Wednesday, 24 July 1957, Miss Universe got together  with several other contestants  - Miss Brazil, Miss Cuba, Miss England, Miss Mexico, Miss USA, and Miss Ohio - for a good-bye lunch.  They were the among the last contestants remaining in Long Beach.  Soon each would be off on their separate ways.   Miss Universe’s whirlwind year would start August 1, when she would visit Mexico.  She had her ‘homecoming’ on August 11, which was declared a national holiday in Peru.

Gladys Zender went on to become a national ping-pong champion in Peru.  She made appearances at several Miss Universe Pageants, and she was one of the judges at the 1982 pageant.  In 1994, she was a judge at the first Nuestra Belleza Internacional pageant, televised on the Spanish-language network Univision in the U.S.  She has been married for more than 30 years.  She is the mother of four and the grandmother of four.  Her father may not have allowed her to try her hand at acting during her reign, but there is an actor in the family now.  Her youngest son, handsome Christian Meyer Zender, acts in Spanish-language soap operas .  Her pasatiempos (hobbies) include painting, ceramics, and jewelry-making.  In 1996, the Spanish-language magazine Vanidades quoted her as saying about the 1957 pageant, "I remember it as an extraordinary experience that changed my life."

The 1957 pageant was indeed extraordinary.  It was shaken to its very core and survived.  Pageant officials reacted calmly to the crises, though, and made careful and measured decisions.  1957 was a veritable succès de scandale.  While there have been other scandals and lurid headlines, such as the one this year about Alicia Machado’s weight, none have ever rivaled the scandals and headlines of 1957.

In concluding this Master Class, Beauty School is struck by Gladys Zender’s recollection.  Year after year, someone somewhere in the Universe watches the pageant on television or sees it live for the first time and is changed forever by the extraordinary experience.  We all know what Gladys Zender is talking about.
 

 
 

Acknowledgments:

The author wishes to thank pageant scholars Donald West and Dan McEvily for their assistance. Beauty School is eternally grateful to a private collector who graciously allowed us to use the rare photos seen here. Thank You.

Bibliography:

Los Angeles Times:
July 11, 1957.  Planeload of Beauties to Arrive Here Today.
July 12, 1957.  Art Ryon.  Foreign Beauties Arrive to Seek Universe Title.
July 14, 1957.  Art Ryon.  Miss Universe Entries to Ride in Parade Today
July 15, 1957.  Art Ryon.  World Beauties Parade in Long Beach Pageant.
July 16, 1957.  Art Ryon.  Miss Universe Beauties Called Braniest Ever.
July 17, 1957.  Art Ryon.  15 Named to Compete in Miss U.S.A. Finals.
July 18, 1957.  Art Ryon.  Maryland Girl, 21, New Miss U.S.A.
July 19, 1957.  Art Ryon.  15 Finalists Chosen in Universe Contest.
July 20, 1957.  Art Ryon.  Miss Peru Named Miss Universe.
July 21, 1957.  Art Ryon.  Miss Universe Only 17, TooYoung to                       Enter Contest--But Keeps Title.
July 21, 1957.  Ex-Miss U.S. Admits Being Married Twice.
July 22, 1957.  Art Ryon.  Miss Universe Opens Reign by Worshiping.
July 22, 1957.  Other Girls Approve Miss Universe Award.
July 25, 1957.  Miss Universe Beauties Have Farewell Lunch.

Daily Press (Newport News-Hampton, VA):
July 19, 1957.  Md. Beauty Is Selected Miss U.S.
July 20, 1957.  Miss U.S.A. For Just One Day.
July 20, 1957.  Mother-In-Law Saddened by Leona’s Lying In Contest.
July 21, 1957.  Miss Universe Found To Be Under Age.  However, She Keeps Her Title.
July 21, 1957.  Married Twice, Admits Deposed ‘Miss’ U.S.A.
July 22, 1957.  Miss Universe Hurly-Burly Ends With Sighs of Relief

Chicago Daily Tribune:
July 15, 1957.  Thousands Watch 76 Miss Universe Aspirants Parade.
July 19, 1957.  15 Finalists Selected for Miss Universe.
July 20, 1957.  Universe Title to Miss Peru.
July 20, 1957.  Seymour Korman.  Miss U.S.A. Barred; She’s Mrs. and Mother.
July 21, 1957.  Miss Peru Keeps Title Tho Still 17.

Vanidades, Year 36, Number 11, May 21, 1996.  Miss Universo:  Las Latinas Mas Bellas Del Mundo.
 

                                              All rights reserved.

       Reprinting by permission only. Beauty School.
July 31, 1997


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