11th place – Janelle Commissiong, Trinidad & Tobago
(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)
Miss Universe 1977, the 26th edition of the pageant, was held at the National Theater, in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, on July 16, 1977. The Caribbean country hosted the pageant hoping to promote tourism. A record of 80 participant countries competed, a number considered high for Miss Universe standards even nowadays. Antigua, British Virgin Islands, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Reunion, St. Kitts e St. Lucia, debuted that year. Bob Barker and Helen O’Connell hosted the pageant.
Santo Domingo, the first city founded in the New Continent, was venue for Miss Universe in times when the Dominican Republic was under a totalitarian regime, just like several other countries which hosted the Miss Universe pageant in those times.
82 contestants were supposed to compete, however, Miss Martinique was not allowed to for being under age (16), and Turkey wanted to send the same candidate who had competed in 1976, something against Miss Universe’s rules. 80 was the final number.
Most of the 16 black beauties who competed often complained about the treatment they received from press journalists and photographers, who always chose to photograph and interview the white beauties.
The big favorites for the crown were Misses Germany, Marie-Luise Gassen, Holland, Ineke Berends, USA, Kimberly Tomes, Venezuela, Cristal Montañez, Argentina, Maritza Elizabet Jurado, and Scotland, Sandra Bell.
Other possibilities were Austria, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Peru, Mexico, and France.
Janelle Commissiong, Miss Trinidad & Tobago, was always a popular beauty in the Dominican Republic, but never a favorite. She started being noticed 4 days before the big final, when she was voted “Miss Photogenic”. Many thought she was too short (1.65 m-tall) to be Miss Universe. Besides, a black beauty had never won the title.
Among the judges, the popular singer Dionne Warwick, supermodel Wilhelmina, former Miss Universe Marisol Malaret, from Puerto Rico, and fashion designers Oscar de La Renta and Roberto Cavalli. Cavalli would later get married to Miss Austria, Eva Maria Düringer.
With a great production and a stage reproducing the colonial architecture of Santo Domingo, Miss Universe 1977 kicked off in great style.
The Top 12 semi-finalists were: Scotland, Trinidad & Tobago, U.S.A., Germany, Venezuela, Austria, Spain, Argentina, Nicaragua, Colombia, Holland, and Dominican Republic.
The surprises were Misses Spain and Dominican Republic, although the last one may have placed for being the hometown girl. Miss Nicaragua made the cut for the first time with the very elegant Beatriz Obregón Lacayo.
Miss Germany was very representative of the 1970’s women: modern, alternative. When interviewed by Bob Barker, she did not hesitate to say: “I need a drink!”. She also stated that her favorite magazine was PLAYBOY, which made co-host Helen O’Connel choke!
One of the main favorites for the crown, Miss Holland, Ineke Berends, perhaps one of the most striking faces in Miss Universe history, did not seem comfortable all night long and failed to advance to the ‘top 5′. She did much better in Miss World, where she was a runner-up.
Miss Argentina, Maritza Jurado, was one of the most elegant women around, and many thought she should have been a top 5 finalist.
Miss Trinidad & Tobago, Janelle Comissiong, showed confidence in her interview, a perfect figure (despite her lack of height), and was very elegant in a golden gown which made her look absolutely stunning.
The most applauded girls of the night were Dominican Republic, Austria, Trinidad & Tobago, Nicaragua, USA, Scotland, and Colombia.
The ones who advanced to the Top 5 were Germany, Scotland, Austria, Trinidad & Tobago and Colombia.
Although it was a beautiful group of finalists, there was no clear standout, and it was an open game at that point.
The 4th runner-up was Miss Germany; Colombia was announced next, as 3rd runner-up; Scotland was the 2nd runner-up; Miss Austria finished as 1st runner-up, and Janelle Comissiong, Miss Trinidad & Tobago, was the first black woman to be crowned Miss Universe!
The crowd stood up to applaud her at that historical moment. Many contestants, especially the black delegates, jumped around in joy and tears, celebrating her victory, and judge Dionne Warwick said in tears: “It feels like I won”.
After 25 years, a black woman was finally crowned Miss Universe!
During her reign, she was an advocate for black rights and world peace. Commissiong was awarded the Trinity Cross, the country’s highestaward, in 1977. Three postage stamps were also issued in her honour.
Janelle had one of the most extensive, having traveled to countries such as Iceland, Argentina, Hong Kong, Peru, Puerto Rico to the United States.
JANELLE COMMISSIONG, MISS UNIVERSE 1977
MOST BEAUTIFUL MISS UNIVERSE FROM THE CARIBBEAN (1952-2010)
MOST BEAUTIFUL MISS UNIVERSE FROM THE 1970’s (1952-2010)
(The top 10: 1953, 1961, 1974, 1978, 1989, 2000, 2002-dethroned Oxana, 2004, 2008, 2010)