20th place – Gladys Zender (Peru)
(Our judges are: Greg Borowski, Willian Prendiz de Jurado, Edwin Toledo (Times of Beauty), Ricardo Guiraldes (Chilean Charm), Julio Rodriguez (Belleza Venezolana), Alberto Dubal (Miss Memorabilia), Jimmy Harris (Beauty School), Pepe Medel, Jean-Marie Vandecasteele, Andre Sleigh, Rose Foulger, Luis Trujillo. From GB, Ed Dominguez, Henrique Fontes, and Chris Kuntz)
The 6th Miss Universe pageant, Miss Universe 1957, was held in Long Beach, California, USA, for the 6th consecutive time. Initially thirty-three, and finally thirty-two contestants, competed. Miss USA was disqualified for being married.
It was an edition packed with controversies, dramatic twists, and lies. A whole book could be written on Miss Universe 1957. The problems began in the end of 1956, when Universal Studios decided to leave the pageant, as an associate and sponsor. The thousands of girls who participated in Miss Universe dreaming of becoming a Hollywood start, no longer had that chance, at least through the pageant.
Even Carol Morris, Miss Universe 1956, had her contract with Universal cut short, causing great disappointment on her. For many, it was the beginning of the end. The situation was so chaotic, that it was believed that Miss Universe 1958 would be the pageant’s last edition…
One year earlier, when Latin America was not present in the top 5 of Miss Universe, national directors menaced to boycott it in 1957, which ended up not happening. Only Chile and Dominican Republic failed to return, and Paraguay debuted. Two other countries which sent delegates for the first time to Miss U were Morocco and Martinique. Martinique was the first black beauty to compete in the pageant, Ginette Cidalise-Montaise. She spoke English and French, and caught the press attention with her elegance and stunning figure.
Both Morocco and Martinique were expected among the semi-finalists.
Even though in general terms the European group was one of the weakest in the 1950′s, one delegate was the absolute favorite for the crown: Germany’s Gerti Daub. A Grace Kelly look-alike, the German stunner was chosen as Miss Photogenic by unanimity. The other European standout was Miss Sweden, Ingrid Jonsson.
Miss Italy was a very controversial beauty. Always posing for photos like a sexy movie star, she challenged the organization by showing up at the pool area of the Laffayette Hotel with a red and white swimsuit brought from home, alleging that she did not like the Catalina model (Catalina was an official sponsor of the pageant). In the following day, the Los Angeles Examiner wrote: “In Bologna OK, in Long Beach …NO!”.
The favorites from the Americas were Brazil, Uruguay, Canada (voted the Most Popular Girl), Venezuela, Argentina and Puerto Rico.
Miss Peru, Gladys Zender, was late. She was the last candidate to join the group, and at first did not catch the press attention. She was nicknamed “Miss Socialite”, for coming from a prominent family. The Peruvian girl started shinning when she finally got on stage: she was considered one of the most elegant and had a unique way of walking and moving her arms. She would always put one hand over the other at the height of her belly, just like a true queen. Suddenly, Miss Peru started being mentioned as a possible semi-finalist.
Leona Gage, Miss Maryland, confirmed her favoritism when she was elected Miss USA. She immediately became another favorite for the Miss Universe crown, and one of the Top 15 semi-finalists, announced the night before the final event. The other 14 were Alaska, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Cuba, England, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, Morocco, Peru, Sweden, and Uruguay.
Favorites from Martinique, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico (Miss Amity), did not make the cut.
At that same night, an anonymous call to a pageant official, would twist the fate of Miss USA: she was accused of being married, which, at first, she denied. The next day it was confirmed. Not only she was married, but also she was the mother of two boys! Such scandal was all the Miss Universe organizers did not need at such difficult times, but it was only the beginning!
Leona lost her title and her spot among the semi-finalists. Miss Argentina, Mónica Lamas, replaced her. Leona Gage passed away in 2010.
Despite all the scandals Miss Universe was facing, the Municipal Auditorium was crowed to its full-capacity and there were hundreds of people outside trying to get in. In addition, never before so many journalists and press photographers covered the final event. They all wanted to know: what was next??
Although it was not a surprise to see Miss Peru among the semi-finalists, nobody expected her to go any further than that. When the top 5 were announced, Brazil, Cuba, England, Germany, and Peru, the inclusion of Cuba, and mostly Peru and England, shocked the crowd. At that point, Miss Germany was thought to be the next Miss Universe, that was not a single soul who doubted that!
Suddenly, Miss Germany was announced as 4th runner-up! That was probably more shocking than the dethroned married and mother-of-two Miss USA!! The crowd booed the judges’ decision for minutes, non-stop! The outrage was such, that in the following day the city of Long Beach presented Gerti Daub (Miss Germany) with a plaque saying that she was Long Beach people’s honor and moral winner of Miss Universe 1957. It was given by the mayor of Long Beach.
As the people attending the pageant finally calmed down, Miss Cuba was announced in 4th and Miss England in 3rd place. With Brazil and Peru left, it was believed that Brazil, Terezinha Morango, had it, but in a year full of upsets, Miss Peru, Gladys Zender, was announced as the winner. Mad and disappointed with what the judges had done to Miss Germany, the crowd reaction to Miss Peru’s victory was the most frivolous since the pageant started in 1952.
Later it was revealed that Misses Peru and Brazil had tied in first place, each with 5 votes. The tie-break factor was the Top 15 voting round, and then Miss Peru won by a two-vote difference.
And that was not the end! The first Latin American to be crowned Miss Universe nearly lost her title twice. First, her father would not let her sign the contract until all clauses were reviewed in detailed and some were changed, under his demand. One of them was that her mother would be with her in all Zender’s trips as Miss Universe (would Mr. Trump accept something like that nowadays?).
Then, it was discovered that Miss Peru was not 18, as she was supposed to be, according to Miss Universe regulation, the moment she competed. She was 17 + 9 months old. Again, Miss Peru’s father attested that in Peru, when a person was 17 1/2 years old, she was no longer a minor. The Consulate of Peru in L.A. confirmed it the following day, and, although it was against the U.S. laws, and the Miss Universe regulation, her title was ratified to avoid another scandal. Miss Brazil, who just wanted to go back home and get married, did not file a formal complain.
And there was more… It was discovered that Miss England was over age (25) and, her real name was Cynthia Cooper, and not Sonia Hamilton, and both her parents were Australians!
For Miss Universe organizers, 1957 was a year to be forgotten, or at least, to learn many lessons from. Starting in 1958, pageant officials started reviewing the contestants’ forms and documentation in a much more strict way.
Ironically, instead of sinking the pageant, all such scandals renewed the interest in Miss Universe, and the pageant returned stronger in 1958.
If not the most popular choice when elected, Gladys Zender is always remembered as one of the most glamorous and elegant women to have been crowned Miss Universe. Back home, she was welcomed by thousands of people, all proud of her achievement. Zender secluded herself into a family life. She got married and had four children, one of them, Christian Meier, a well-known actor and singer in Peru.
MOST BEAUTIFUL MISS UNIVERSE FROM THE 1950′s
Special thanks to Alberto Dubal!
(Still competing: 1953, 1961, 1963, 1972, 1974, 1975, 1977, 1978, 1986, 1987, 1989, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 (dethroned winner), 2004, 2005, 2008, 2010)