THOSE of you who remember Pontchartrain Beach, probably remember the rides, the smells of the food, and, perhaps, some of the acts that we got to see on the raised stage there. I vaguely remember a few beauty contests (in bathing suits) on that same stage. Over the years, several beautiful young women started their national careers as beauty queens crowned at Pontchartrain Beach in New Orleans. Two come to mind.
FIRST is Dorothy Dell Goff, Miss New Orleans, 1930, at age 15. After winning the Miss USA contest, as well as becoming Miss Universe, also in 1930, Ms. Goff changed her name to Dorothy Dell. She appeared in the Ziegfeld Follies in New York and went to Hollywood in 1933. Paramount began to consider her as a potential star. Her most important and substantial role was in the Shirley Temple film Little Miss Marker. Dorothy Dell was killed in an automobile accident in California in 1934. She is buried in Metairie Cemetery.
NEXT, appearing in the 1930 Miss New Orleans Contest with Dorothy Dell Goff was her good friend and classmate at Sophie B. Wright H. S. in New Orleans, Dorothy Lamour, who won the title of Miss New Orleans the next year, in 1931. This Dorothy became a big band singer and later a movie actress, known for wearing a sarong, very well! She repeated this wardrobe often as she played in the Road movies with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope.
I OFFER this information to you, Dear Reader, so that you will have a little background in these early beauty contests in New Orleans. A secondary reason is to make you aware how daring these bathing suit competitions were in the early 1930’s, with short skirts (knee-length) only begun to be worn in 1925. This is the world my proper, modest aunt, Anne Leigh, entered when she signed up to be in the Miss New Orleans Competition of 1931.
ANNE knew Dorothy Dell Goff, Miss New Orleans 1930. They had worked together at Maison Blanche. I don’t know if Dorothy Dell Goff had encouraged my aunt to enter the next year, or, by just knowing the previous winner, my aunt decided to do so. This was a courageous decision. I’m sure no one in her family encouraged her, least of all my grandmother! I don’t know where she got the bathing suit, but according to her, it was very skimpy, as most were in those days – no padding, no stays.
MY AUNT’S telling of her experience was always tinged with a little guilt in even being in the contest. She told me that she looked out into the audience and saw her brother and younger sisters (my mother was one), and was embarrassed to be seen by them on stage in a bathing suit, not to mention the hundreds of others who were gawking at all the contestants. Anne also described the way they paraded around, each contestant holding a card with her number on it.
ANNE’S number was six, or was it nine? She never could remember. Whatever it was (she was very nervous, as well as being mollified at the entire experience) she accidentally turned her number upside down. Therefore, if her number was six, it now became a nine; if it was a nine, it now became a six. Get the picture? MY AUNT ANNIE was always a wonderful story teller. I have already related her experience at having gone to the casting call in New Orleans for the role of Scarlett O’Hara in GONE WITH THE WIND, and I am certainly not casting any doubt on her factual telling of these stories. However, one wonders. . . As you might have guessed, the winner of the Miss New Orleans Contest, 1931 was announced. . .NUMBER SIX, or was it NUMBER NINE? Well, according to my aunt, Dorothy Lamour, another contestant, might have turned her number (six or nine) to reflect the number announced, nevertheless, Dorothy was crowned Miss New Orleans, 1931, and we all know what happened to her!
MY AUNT never went into another bathing beauty contest. She became a first grade teacher and was the first teacher at St. Martin’s Episcopal School in Metairie, LA. She never married but had an interesting, full life. These near-misses for fame and fortune were so fascinating to us as kids. As I got older, I came to realize that, while these things happened if Anne said they did, she also had the ability to look at any situation with a twinkle in her eye, a great sense of humor, and as a teachable moment!
I CLOSE with one last example of this wonderful woman’s wit, wisdom, strength, and faith. Aunt Anne was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and had to leave teaching and was completely bedridden with her limbs, as she put it, frozen. One day I was visiting her and related a new treatment I had read about that was having some success in Florida. I suggested that we go to check it out. She looked at me kindly and said, “ Honey, do you remember in the Bible when the people tried to get the crippled man to Jesus, but the crowds were so great that they couldn’t get in the door?” I nodded. Then she continued, “So, his four friends took his cot up to the roof, removed some stones, and lowered him down to Jesus who healed him.” Again, I nodded. “Well,” Aunt Anne sighed, “I don’t have four friends who are able to take me to Jesus!”
Whenever I left Aunt Anne, I would bend down to kiss her good-bye. She couldn’t put her arms around me to hug me good-bye. Instead, each time she would give me her same benediction: “Pray for wisdom.” Aunt Anne certainly had it (after her beauty pageant experience), and I have prayed for years to have it too.
Dorothy Dell Dorothy Lamour Anne Leigh