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THE BEAUTIES OF JAMAICA

THE FIRST "Miss Jamaica" contests were sponsored and organised by The Daily Gleaner during the late 1920s as a strategic promotional event to boost circulation.

For the first contest in 1926, the Editor invited young ladies to send portrait photographs of themselves. These photographs were judged by a specially selected group of ladies and a gentleman of St. Andrew society. From these about a dozen were chosen. The young women were then invited to meet the judges in the boardroom of the newspaper to be interviewed. During the next few days, The Gleaner informed the public that it would be publishing the photographs of the winner and her runners-up in its magazine section the following week.

Miss Jamaica that year was Brunhide Spooner of "Eldeweiss" in Cross Roads, St. Andrew.

Up to 1929 when Leslie Fox was declared the winner, the finalists for the Miss Jamaica contest continued to be chosen from photographs. In 1930 the contest became public and young ladies were invited to a tea party at the Myrtle Bank Hotel at the east end of Harbour Street in Kingston. Stands were erected on the lawns so that members of the public could see and admire the beauties as they paraded before sitting for tea in the company of the judges. The winner was Laurie Duperley.

Subsequent contests continued to be held at the Myrtle Bank. Winners included Dorothy Arscott in 1931, Phyllis Hylton in 1932 and Ouida Calneck in 1933. In 1938 the contest took place at Sabina Park, Kingston. The winner was Daphne Chin, who subsequently became one of Jamaica's leading fashion designers. Other early winners were Joyce Trotter of Swift River, Portland, and Dorothy Arscott.

THE FIRST MAN HUNT

The popularity of these contests influenced The Gleaner to begin a photographic search for Jamaica's handsome men, married and unmarried. The invitation assured men that they would not have to parade, as had been the case for the Miss Jamaica contestants in previous years. According to the Editor, men should not be shy about their looks as there was nothing effeminate in having a finely moulded face, and it was only lack of intelligence that made some people confuse beauty with effeminacy. The Editor pointed out that the strongest and most virile of men have had good looks and were not over reticent about having other people see their handsome faces on the screen, in books and in photographs. The first prize was five pounds (£5).

Among the men who entered were Everard Burke, a photographer, and Eric Coverely, a show promoter and actor. The contest, however, was not repeated as the public, which was enthusiastic about female beauty contests, were indifferent to a contest for handsome men.

ODDS STACKED AGAINST BLACK GIRLS

Subsequent Miss Jamaicas included Joy Mott-Trille of Mandeville, Evelyn Andrade and Leonie Samuels in contest organised by Aimee Webster and Percy Miller, journalists and publishers of the Caribbean Post magazine. There was, however, a simmering antagonism toward these contests as it was observed that except for Daphne Chin in 1938, who was not a full Chinese beauty, all other winners were from minority races. Black girls therefore never entered, as they knew instinctively that the judgmental odds were stacked against them.

The Star, The Gleaner's sister paper, sought to correct the view that beauty of the female face and figure was confined to European types. The paper organised a series of contests for black, Chinese and Indian women.

One of the winners of the "Miss Ebony" contest subsequently noted that "black women like me saw that we are beautiful ­ not black but beautiful, but black and very beautiful".

Subsequent Miss Jamaica contests were organised by the Jamaica Amateur Body Beautiful Association led by Ken Rhino and the Jaycees of Jamaica. The latter, however, found themselves in hot water when they insisted on sending their own selection as a chaperone to Mitzie Constantine to the Miss World contest in London, instead of her mother as she had requested. She was therefore withdrawn from the contest and was replaced by Erica Cooke, her runner-up.

Other winners during that period included Judy Verity, Marlene Fenton, Sheila Chong, Marguerite LeWars, Judy Willoughby, Marlene Murray, Carol Joan McFarlane (Gore), who died recently, and Joan Duperley.

For some years after, it was the Jamaica Festival Commission which organised these contests. Winners included Yvonne Walter, Laurel Williams, Karlene Waddell, Marlyn Taylor, Betty Ann Lindo. Ava Joy Gill, Gail Phillips, Patsy Yuen and Andrea Lyons who was the first and only Miss Jamaica to wear an afro.

It was reported that she complained that black women could never win the Miss World contest. Comments like these and other concerns led to a decision by the government to dissolve the Miss Jamaica contest the following year (1975) and substitute it with a different type of contest that would select a Miss Jamaica based on creative talent, intelligence and an awareness of Jamaican affairs and culture. Winners would be titled Miss Jamaica Independence and would not participate in the Miss World or Miss Universe contests.

The following year, the Council of the Associated Chambers of Commerce decided that it would persuade the business sector to resume the original Miss Jamaica contest. The contest was not to be held during the annual independence celebrations.

In 1976 Cindy Breakspeare won the Miss Jamaica Body Beautiful contest and then the Miss Universe Bikini in London. With no official Miss Jamaica that year, she was entered as Jamaica's representative in the Miss World contest. She won.

The following year Sandra Kong, who also won the body beautiful and bikini contests, was entered as Jamaica's representative in the Miss World competition. She, however, withdrew from the contest because Miss South Africa was also competing. Her decision -- when it was heavily favoured to keep the crown in Jamaica -- demonstrated that she would not be associated, even indirectly, with the South Africa apartheid regime. While she gave up the chance of winning the title and reaping the financial rewards, she kept her honour.

Since 1978 until recently, the Miss Jamaica (World) contest has been organised and sponsored by Spartan Health Club since. Joan McDonald took the crown that year.

INTERNATIONAL SUCCESSES

* Patsy Yuen, Miss Jamaica 1973, placed third in the Miss World contest that year. The title was subsequently withdrawn from the winner Marjorie Wallace and, because the runner-up, Evangeline Passual of the Philippines, could not take up the mantle, Yuen represented Miss World for most of the reigning year.

  • Debbie Campbell, Miss Jamaica 1979, also placed third in the Miss World contest.
  • Michelle Harris made it to the top 15 in 1980.
  • Sandra Cunningham in 1981, was another third place finisher.
  • Two years later in 1983 Cathy Levy place fourth.
  • In 1985 Allison Barnett place fifth.
  • In 1990 Erica Aquart was sixth.
  • Sandra Foster was fourth in 1991.
  • Lisa Hanna, in 1993, was our third Miss World.
  • Christine Straw was sixth in 1998.

So who are your favourites? Mine are Evelyn Andrade, Mitzie Constantine, Laurel Williams, Regina Beavers, Karlene Waddell, Sandra Cunningham, Allison Barnett, Joan McDonald, Janice Whittingham, Ava Joy Gill, Marlene Murray and Debbie Campbell.

A round dozen. And one who came fourth.

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