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The year was 1953 – not in my wildest imagination did I have any idea of what the year would bring me. Going to England to see the Coronation, going to New York and staying at the Waldorf Astoria, then being whisked off to Long Beach, California where the Miss Universe competition was held.
When it was announced that I was accorded the title of Miss SA (as Ingrid Mills) it wasn’t in a hall or I wasn’t crowned or had any type of audience. In my day the African Consolidated Theatres were the owner of the Miss Universe/Miss South Africa programme.
Let me start at the beginning.
I lived in Salisbury, Rhodesia (now Harare, Zimbabwe) and I was taking a modeling course. There were two schools in Salisbury at the time. However I was persuaded by the school to enter the competition. I did not have any aspirations in that way, but I thought it was good fun.
I duly did my parading on the stage holding my No. 6.
In the middle of the heats, I had to go down to Cape Town for my sister’s wedding. My father had an Austin and we duly drove down, taking a few days in which to do it in. Mr. Moffat the manager of the theatre at the time, was not pleased to see me go off in the middle of the heats, however he said as long as I returned in time for the finals it would be ok.
There was I in Cape Town, with hardly any spare money, except for some money that my boyfriend at the time (it was at the time of the Mau Mau emergency and the young guys came down to Salisbury to train) had given me air fare to fly to Kenya, as he was hoping that I would join him there soon. I had to use that money and promised myself that I would repay it as soon as I could.
The plane was a DC prop job. It took all day to fly back to Salisbury – I had to be on the stage that night for the finals.
Nothing daunted I did my parading and guess what? I was announced the winner, being awarded the sash of Miss Salisbury. Rhodesia was too small to have their own beauty competition, so we were incorporated into South Africa at the time. There was a Miss Bulawayo too.
I was feted by everyone, having my photograph taken with all the big wigs at the time. My only problem was I did not have too many clothes for the festivities that I was told that would be organized in Johannesburg. The head of the modelling school was so pleased that one of her girls had won, that she was only too delighted to lend me some of her outfits.
In Johannesburg the judging was held at Killarney Studios – we were made to stand and talk in front of cameras to see if we had “histrionic promise” and we had various teas where various judges sounded us out as to how we behaved in public, to see if we could hold a reasonable conversation and generally to see if we were “ladies”! We attended rugby games – where we were introduced to all the players, we drove to all the other towns on the reef, and all this was done by being driven about in Morris Minors!
We had a week of this and on Sunday when we were due to fly back to our various centres, I was told that my plane seat was given to an urgent case, I was very disappointed at the time, but my chaperon whispered that she thought I was going to be announced as Miss South Africa. Where was all the fanfare?
Monday morning I duly presented myself to Mr. Stodel the manager of the ACT and he calmly said, “Congratulations you are Miss South Africa.” I just did not feel anything as it seemed such a let down, with no one else around to hear the news [see news clipping].
However after that everything happened.
I was taken to the dentist (nothing needed to be done) to check to see whether my teeth were straight. Nothing like a crooked mouth full of teeth to spoil a good smile. Then to the hairdresser where I was minutely checked out, fortunately they did not cut my hair! I was given a facial, manicure etc.
My next biggest visit was to the courturier who was making my Miss South Africa dress! I must say that the work they did on the dress was beautiful, hand-sewn pearls designed in the form of proteas etc. The dress weighed 20 lbs, as I had to have a heavy petticoat to keep the designs getting covered by the folds of the satin [pic]. I also had to have a big ostrich feather fan!
For my prizes I was given various items like small tables, rugs, jewelry boxes, shoes and a wardrobe of clothes. In those days – no cars were presented!
My big prize was a trip to London to see the Coronation from the balcony of the Dorchester which included lunch and tea!
While in London I had to do my Miss South Africa bit by distributing Outspan oranges to children in various schools in the East End of London! Other visits I made were to various film studios where I was photographed with film stars like David Niven, Gregory Peck, Jimmy Edwards and so on. I also attended fashion shows where wool was being used in the garments paraded for us [pics].
While in London I was on the “Tonite” show where I met such luminaries like Elizabeth Arden, Laurence Olivier etc! While in England I went to various hairdressers, and unfortunately they cut my hair. (Big mistake) as I learned later!
At last I was due to fly to New York to stay at the Waldorf Astoria where I was introduced to all the European Misses, e.g. Turkey, Switzerland. Sweden, Norway etc. We appeared on various tv shows “Ed Murrow show” the biggest talking show at the time! We stayed for about 4 days at the Waldorf Astoria before flying off to Long Beach where the contest was being held.
When we arrived in Long Beach we had to wear our national costumes and all we had on the plane to change into our clothes was the tiny toilet room. Remember my dress weighed 20 lbs.
We all took turns to stand at the top of the stairs to pose for a picture, and we had to appear alphabetically [pic]. Miss Sweden always tried to get in front of me?!!!
We were whisked off to the hotel where more photographs were taken. At last we had a chance to relax and we were allowed to take a rest at the hotel! My first thought was to make a booking for a trip to West Virginia where my aunt and uncle lived, as after the competition I was going to spend some time with them.
We had to practice going up and down the ramp with our swim suit costumes and Evening Ball gowns and then our National costumes. We also had to make a small speech about our countries! I was in a quandary as although I came from Rhodesia I was representing South Africa! I cant remember what I said at the time, but eventually it was all over and Miss France (Christiane Martel) won the title.
So I thought that was that, so I went along to the airline booking office to confirm my flight and while I was there Jeff Chandler -one of the judges came up to me and said “I wouldn’t be in too much of a hurry if I were you” he said he couldn’t say much at this stage, but asked me to delay my flight.
When all the prizes were read out, the five winners were awarded week to week contracts, but I was awarded a 3 month contract by Universal studios – I was taken aback, but I thought here was another adventure!
We were taken to the Studio Club in Hollywood where all the starlets of the different studios stayed. I shared a room with Miss Australia. We had to be ready at 5 am to be driven to the studios to make a short film with two stars, we were costumed in Hawaiian outfits. Every morning when we were not filming we had to be at the studios where we were taught dancing, acting and we also had to take riding lessons.
After awhile we were told we were going to take part in a big film with Jeff Chandler and Rhonda Fleming. Our costumes were the Harem girls! We were kitted out in our gowns and of course numerous photographs were taken on the lots (out door sets) The film was called “Yankee Pasha“. [pics]
We didn’t spend all our time at the studios, we were also invited to parties where we would meet all the other stars. Some of the stars we met were Peter Lawford, James Mason, Tony Curtis, Shelly Winters, Rock Hudson and a few more whom I cannot remember at this time.
Miss Australia (Maxine Morgan) and I went around together when we were not at the studios. We wanted to drive down (Maxine bought an old studebaker) to Tijuana but the studio would not allow us to go as they were responsible for us! We did the usual shopping, and visited all the usual places where the stars were, but on the whole we were kept rather busy at the studios. If it wasn’t dancing classes, it was acting and keeping fit as well.
A lot of the time we were posing for photographs, and then again we used to go riding! I had never really been on a horse until I went to Hollywood but I soon seemed to pick it up. All new starlets at Universal had to be available at all times, as they used us to test out new film-making ideas, and this of course got us used to being behind the camera. I thought I would enjoy all this, but the waiting around between takes was so boring. When one is a big star you get your own space, but we had to just sit around and await our turn to be called.
I enjoyed staying at the studio club because there were so many different girls from all over the world staying there. But as time went by, I realized this was not the sort of life I wanted to live. I missed the people back home in Salisbury and decided after 2 months in Hollywood to give it up and return to Rhodesia.
One regret I have is that I had not given it enough time to develop my talents, but I guess that is all water under the bridge.
PS: completely unrelated, but I found this funny piece of 1953 trivia: Sean Connery, 3rd place in Mr Universe 1953
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