Articles

Beauty Contests Are The Bunk

GORDON SINCLAIR October 15 1949
Articles

Beauty Contests Are The Bunk

GORDON SINCLAIR October 15 1949

Beauty Contests Are The Bunk

GORDON SINCLAIR

IN ACTS ballyhooed as breath-taking displays of feminine pulchritude Canada has this year been exposed to more strutting bathing beauties than ever before.

Billed as contests an honorable label not open to wrestling shows—most of these parades of girl meat on the hoof (the Miss Canada Pageant is an exception) are as phony as a speak-easy membership, as easy to get into as a bingo game and as naive as the dunce at a school for half-wits. They make but minor demands on the self-respect of contestants or customers.

On an average of 10 times a year for 20 years I’ve been a judge at these “veritable extravaganzas of eye-filling beauty” and, if heaven will forgive my tardiness, I now blow the whistle and call these shows the bunk.

This will probably mean surrender of membership in the free-meal-and-drink circuit but, courage old

boy, “to thine own self be true,” even if truth comes 20 years late.

Compared to beauty contests a moose-pasture gold mine is gilt-edged security like a Woolworth diamond or a loaded cigar. Most winners are cooked up in advance and several, on whom I’ve officiated, were lady tosspots.

One dark and humid night I was judge at a tent-show beauty contest that happened to be rained out. The storm came between the balancing dog and the mimic who did Jolson. That was well before the beauty girls did their stuff but after the morning paper had gone to press. Rain ruined the show but Miss Asthma still got her prize and a two-column cut in the morning paper. She was the dusky little fiat chest we’d all been briefed to vote for.

Beauty contests are about 30% ballyhoo, 30%, buttocks, 30 % baloney and 10%, assorted ingredi-

ents. On occasion these include charm, personality and even beauty.

My personal experience with beauty contests began in 1929 after I’d worked passage to England aboard a trans-Atlantic liner as an assistant boots. Experience as an assistant boots is presumably the type of background the impresarios seek in their judges.

The opening contest was in suburban Toronto whlere a minister’s daughter was the winnet*. I particularly remember her knees which were frequently getting in each other’s way, and I remember that the skirt on her white bathing suit was almost as big as a kilt.

Today the beauty shows feature no skirts and sometimes are textbook examples of vulgarity. In an epidemic of unredeemed exhibitionism, Canada has more royalty than India has snakes. We have queens, empresses and duchesses swearing allegiance to such varied products as maple syrup, asparagus, tobacco, ice cream and cheese.

Unless they’ve been maliciously betrayed we have tour young women justifiably claiming to be Miss Canada Cheese and one of these is also Miss Rice Lake Muskrat.

There is a Miss Greater West End Business Man who was chosen during a black-out. Finding this label sexually ungrammatical she went on to greater triumphs and emerged as Miss Welland Canal. There is a Miss Flattie, which has to do with a certain type of bobby-sox footwear; a Miss Safety on the Highways; and, we’re reliably informed, there will soon be a beauty queen who must l>e toothless.

Does the gentle reader wonder where the gals come from to take their chance for these soaring honors? Very simple. There are always committees running the shows and they can consult with

an assortment: of impresarios to provide them with competition for any number of local beauty shows.

The promoters can and do provide costumes, barkers, judges and, of course, girls. The usual proportion is 50-50; half home-towners and half imports.

Let’s suppose you’re named entertainment. secretary of the Canadaville Chamber of Commerce and you want an out-door spectacle which will attract visitors, publicity and dollars to your town. A beauty contest is suggested as part of the show and enthusiastic executives agree in principle, leaving the details to you.

The rest is relatively easy. There are five or six promoters (personal representatives in the yellow pages) who will guarantee that your show will have enough entries chosen from their abundant files.

From Nippon to Nipigon

THESE agents, of whom the best is a buxom ex-beauty, can send anywhere from six to 60 girls of assorted sizes, shapes, colorations and personalities to your town. They come relatively cheap, say $100 a dozen plus expenses, and they aren’t green enough to expect victory. They have a variety of names and home towns to choose from and are seldom worse-looking than a sealyham.

You will also import a few judges such as camera-conscious politicians, cynical reporters and thirsty feature writers (like me).

Add to each group---girls and judges a few home-towners, mix well and serve. The result is usually a zowie but, of course, things sometimes get loused up. This is especially true when the imported beauties get cargoed with the local corn.

In my apprentice days as a beauty judge I thought the contests were on t he level and the fact, that my personal selections seldom finished in the money left me with a feeling of humility rather than resentment. The whispered predictions that so-and-so should win in a walk were never interpreted by me as instructions. One day, however, a stubborn decision cost me a cleaning bill and proved the cash customers had unexpected accuracy with tomatoes.

'This posed the problem of adjusting myself to local realities or abandoning my career as a “nationally known student of art and beauty who has also judged nautch girls of distant India, sacred temple dancers of Bali and geisha girls of old Nippon.”

It began with a red, white and blue letter from an organization claiming to produce and direct “the biggest smalltown fair in Ganada.”

The impresarios explained that in addition to fast horses, proud pigeons and contented cows they were planning to parade the feminine beauty of the surrounding farmland plus a few imports — and they’d like me, who’d seen the slant-eyed maidens and dusky belles of far-away places, to help two local stalwarts with the selection.

'This was early in the war and three of the 29 girls who turned up on the dirt-track platform were in the uniform of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps. They, like the others who wore gingham or voile but no bathing suits were fresh-faced and wholesome Canadian girls. Several wore no makeup. None was beautiful and most were so selfconscious that they crept about the platform in giggling embarrassment.

My inexperienced heart stink. Somebody on this hastily built stage and somebody in this audience were due to be terribly disappointed. Many

a nice girl would have her feelings hurt and here was I leading with my chin and letting myself in for a thankless and ridiculous job.

As it turned out both fellow judges knew the ropes. They explained that I was to look over all the girls and then, while the chairman announced the winners in the nearby sow and piglet, classes, I would write down the number of the six least attractive young women. My list, would be compared with the others and the composite discard would be told not to come back to the stage. In this way, which is standard practice, embarrassment is at a minimum.

The chairman advised us to hurry it along. “And,” he added, “make sure one of them Army girls wins. Patriotism you know, and besides, they’re all county gals.”

I voted to eliminate two of the Army girls on the first ballot but such sacrilege was instantly overruled and, among the 23 who trooped for the second call, were all t hree Army girls.

In the next call, to speed it up, 10 were given the heave-ho and there was a buzz of angry muttering from the cash customers. Thirteen hometown gals had now gone their disappointed way and all of them had boy friends and brothers out front. These partisans took a dim view of the whole business from that point forward, and the vegetable stalls, already judged, provided handy ammunition.

In the final threesome there were two Army girls. That’s when the first tomatoes began to come our way. When the uniformed pair took first and third prizes the bombardment increased and we of the judicial committee retreated to a dusty tent.

Judging Ghops and duties

r V TIERE I learned that my own decisions against A the Army girls had in all cases been treated as idle whims. Miss County Fair had been selected from the entry list before she even made an appearance.

Up to this time I’d been in the leaky-roof or town-band beauty circuit, unknown to the big leagues and languishing without ballyhoo. But relief was at hand.

'The local paper (circulation 1709) mentioned the accurately heaved tomatoes and the targets for same me. From that point forward I’ve never known judicial unemployment.

I’ve sat, with the animation and intelligence of a dyspeptic turtle, on beauty boards selecting cufies, stamps, well-dressed luncheon tables, carrot labels, lace panties for lamb chops and gym costumes for tired nurses.

I’ve seen beauty contestants parade in tobacco leaves, fish nets, furs, dresses, sweaters, uniforms, tights and 10-gallon hats, but 90% of them strut their stuff in bathing suits.

Aside from growing tired of the same pairs (or is it sets?) of buttocks wavering past my unpainted kitchen chair I’ve seen a triple-chinned pachyderm of 302 pounds win a home-town beauty contest and I’ve seen a blotchy victim of a depressive psychosis run second. These two apparitions admitted to being in their 30’s, an age at which most paragons of pulchritude have either gained brains or been sent to the boneyard.

After the first few times beauty judging is easy because, like the neighboring fire chiefs and county wardens, you examine the same standard torsos from town to town. If Shirley doesn’t win at Wainwright this week she’ll have a better chance in High River next week. It might be better for

Shirley to change her name and home town during the lay-off but, if she doesn’t bother, she still has a chance.

For a few hundred Canadian girls beauty parades are career jobs like frying hamburgers, filling sausage skins or serving blue-plate specials. These heavy-duty beauties are sometimes married to the strong boy or they’re hep to the inner dreams of the visiting mind reader. One to my personal knowledge is sister to Jo Jo the dogfaced boy. She doubles as snake charmer when she has snakes.

Each member of this exalted group, known as flop insurance, gets about $8 a day plus food, usually appears at two contests a week. Then there’s the “favors”—prizes of bathing suits, nylons, and so on.

When up against the shy home-town girls with whom they sometimes compete these semiprofessionals have no chance and know it without bitterness or regret. They not only accept defeat in advance but do what they can to diminish the jitters of local girls.

A few beauty shows are well-staged and well-rehearsed. The Miss Canada Pageant, improving year by year, has never produced an international winner but neither has it staged a hey rube or a scandal.

Culturally on the level but finandaily on the rocks it switched from Hamilton to Toronto on this, its fourth year, and died on the vine.

In Maple Leaf Gardens, which can seat 12,500, the show drew 488 cash customers plus about 500 Annie Oakleys to see a beautiful Vancouver lass acclaimed Miss Canada.

The red ink ran into high figures, but S. Radclyffe Weaver, the impresario, did a grin and bear it. He said he’d be back for more, “because Canada’s beautiful girls deserve a chance.”

This chance includes a crack at the Miss America title staged in Atlantic City where, among worldly things, a girl might win a college education. Of the 18 Miss Americas up to now only three have bothered to start on this career toward learning and only one has finished.

Maybe it doesn’t prove a thing but on the steamy night that Miss Canada drew fewer than 500 free and paying customers the Toronto Maple Leafs, baseball variety, drew 17,791 paid to their ball park just a mile away. None of the ball tossers were beautiful and one or two could guarantee to stop a clock just by looking at it.

Yet despite the Miss Canada fiopperoo, most beauty shows do draw cash customers. Examine the lists of organizations who, year after year, stage a beauty show as part of their shenanigans. Good outfits. Service clubs of selfless reputation; home visitors, professional do-gooders and that sort of pious and useful citizen.

Flesh Pulls the Crowds

The Toronto police are a good example. Each year since 1882 they have staged a field day of sports and games. In most of those years ticket sales were jim dandy but attendance was meagre. Asked nicely by a cop to take a few tickets, citizens eagerly complied, but seldom dreamed of going to see human meat balls from Montreal outpull Goliaths from Toronto in the tug of war. Who’s interested in an Edmonton cop playing trick golf or running 100 yards in 11 seconds while wearing handcuffs and pistol?

So in 1935 the gendarmes tossed in the bathing beauties. They labeled their anointed queen Muss Toronto and made sure she had a revealing costume. If she was shy on what Hollywood calls bust cleavage a remedy was close at hand in the shape of falsies. The result was a wow.

Each year from then until now more than 20,000 eager patrons have turned up for the Toronto Police Association’s field day and this year’s printed program of 344 pages contained 311 pages of paid advertising.

Did the cash customers buy their I>ews to see cops throw cannon balls or to witness the breath-taking and eye-filling parade of feminine pulchritude? In case you have doubts I'll mention that after a dusky Irish belle had been crowned Miss Toronto of 1949, 6Q0 citizens remained in their seats 600 out of 20,000.

It’s a similar story with the traveling side shows and carnivals. Thirty years ago the local strong boy was a town hero if he stayed three rounds with the traveling champ or rang the bell 10 times on the slugging machine. But this is a feminine age. The current drawing card is the home-town gal who can outstrut the tinseled carnival eutie and wii. the title of Miss Four Corners against imported competition.

No girl has ever been rejected as too homely for a beauty contest and it’s a fact that young men have sometimes rigged themselves up with falsies and leg lotions to win at least a consolation prize. One such character placed third

in the main event only to be later arrested in the dressing tent. He told the magistrate he was gathering material for a novel.

In preparation for this piece of priceless prose 1 watched seven beauty contests in 15 nights. The average number of strutters was 19 and that figure also happened to be the average age. Six girls took part in every show I saw, four tried five times and three tried three times. None won a first. Of the six who entered every contest two were eliminated on the first ballot. Both were amateurs and they gamely went back for more.

Sometimes They Send a Car

When I asked why, one said, “Gosh, mister, they always give you SOMETHING.”

“Such as what?”

“Bathing suits, compacts, stuff like that. Right tonight this guy gives me a nice pair hair brushes and tickets for free meals at some restront I dont know where.”

“Did you ever win?”

“Well, not yet, but this is only my second year and I got a whole trunk full of favors.”

“Favors?”

“Gifts and things like I said. Sometimes they even give money and when it looks like the turn-out might be a flop they send a car and everything. Some of the girls even get free passes to go to collitch.”

“How do you know where all these shows are being staged?”

“Why they come and tell you. Every time there’s a beauty show the people who are running other beauty shows send scouts to sort of look you over like hockey players and all like that. Then they ask you to come to their beauty show and they tell you what the prize is and where you go and all like that.”

Statistically, the judging of a beefy steer, a bacon hog or a race horse finds an accepted standard that seldom varies pound for pound or inch for inch but in judging feminine beauty on the hoof anything goes.

Canada has seen a triple champion who stood four foot ten and another of six foot three. There have been redheads and brunettes, blondes by the dozen and scores whose hair has been mouselike and spiky.

Display? Yes. Contest? No

Judges have seen frequent competitors and occasional winners who were knock-kneed, blue-veined and prairiechested. I’ve personally seen bargainbasement beauties who were mustached, triple-chinned and flat-footed. Many, observed, from the rear, have had a waddle that no girdle could control.

While skilled experts judge hens, sheep or even white mice, cameraconscious politicians and cynical reporters sit in judgment on the girls. In an atmosphere of confused expectation and selfish vanity the judges know, as you know, that better-looking girls can be found in any factory office or packing plant.

The steady and intelligent pressure of the Roman Catholic Church, which has opposed skin games from the beginning, plus increasingly ribald comments in the daily Press, plus the bank-book Waterloo in Toronto, may mean that, like wrestling, beauty contests will fall into the field of exhibitionism. Display yes, provocation yes, but contest—no dice.

Next time you’re told that Miss Alma Applejuice is the best-looking doll in the county remember the song, “It Ain’t Necessarily So.”