LETTER TO THE EDITOR: An overlooked snub?

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I’m old enough (but not thrilled to admit) to have personally observed the 1957 Miss Universe Pageant that was described in last week’s Signal Tribune by author Claudine Burnett in “A Look at Bygone Days” and I can’t agree with her description of some of what occurred during that scandal-plagued pageant.

Burnett claims that Ginette Cidalise-Montaise, Miss Martinique, the first African-American contestant in the history of the pageant, actually received a plurality of votes for the title “Miss Photogenic,” but had that honor stolen from her when the rules were subsequently changed to award the title to Miss Germany, Gerti Daub.

Ms. Burnett based her claim on a single July 25, 1957 column written by Stanley Robertson of the Los Angeles Sentinel newspaper and no other evidence. Would both Robertson and Burnett have us believe that while there were enough prejudice-free international photographers among the numerous ones covering the contest to give Miss Martinique the most votes for Miss Photogenic, every single one of the numerous international reporters present were too prejudiced to report that a rewriting of the rules cost her that title?

Burnett left out of her story what ultimately turned out to be the biggest controversy of the pageant, and caused interruption of the proceedings with booing and hissing by the crowd of 4,000 present at Long Beach Municipal Auditorium–their obvious favorite, Miss Germany, did not win. The public was so upset with the judges’ snub of Miss Germany that the telephone switchboard at KTTV, the Los Angeles TV station carrying the pageant, was flooded with angry callers. The same was true at the Los Angeles Times, which then owned KTTV. The Times, itself, would report: “Obviously the favorite of the packed [Long Beach Municipal] auditorium, Miss Germany’s introduction as the fourth runner-up drew spontaneous boos from the audience to the extent that Ed Hennessy, the master of ceremonies, had to remonstrate with the crowd.”

See: wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerti_Daub

With all the phony reality shows on TV now, I’m sure many people not of my generation are thinking-big deal, a contest didn’t go the way you wanted. But the 1950s were a more innocent time. American television had very strict standards. There were numerous restrictions on what could be shown or said on TV-things that today would seem laughable: Lucy and Ricky had to have separate beds; they weren’t allowed to use the word pregnant; the 1957 pilot episode of “Leave It to Beaver” was originally yanked because it showed the toilet seat; the good guys wore white and the bad guys wore black.

Right up to the final judging, all reports had Daub the overwhelming favorite with the public. Yet there in front of us, live, we witnessed such an obvious injustice–unlike anything we’d yet been exposed to on TV.

Years later, my own sister would say that had a profound affect on how she viewed both television and the world from then on.

Richard Gutman
Long Beach resident