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Miss World 1953

Julio Rodríguez Matute


                Due to the great success of the first two editions of Miss World and thanks to the support of the prestigious “Sunday Dispatch” newspaper, Eric Morley set out to organize the third edition of the contest. For this he decided to hire a young lady who would serve as an assistant and, in turn, as a chaperone, Miss Jean Gibbons.

                Among the changes he would implement this year was to reduce the lenght of the contest to just one week and with the money saved he would be able to increase the cash amount of the prize the winner would get, from £ 100 to £ 500. However, the National Bathing Contest, from which Miss Britain was chosen for Miss World, had greater support from local sponsors and offered as a first prize the juicy sum of 1000 pounds sterling. In this contest 40 candidates from all over the United Kingdom were registered, and, in the final held on Monday, August 31st at the National Swimming Stadium in Morecambe, Ms. Brenda Mee, 20, of Derby, was the chosen one. She was also the winner of the title “Miss New Brighton 1952” and she had already participated in the first edition of Miss World without success. This was her third consecutive attempt to be Miss Britain and she finally made it!

                Morley already had 19 directors, or “sponsors” – as they were called at that time – in different countries of the world, who would send him candidates for the third edition of Miss World. One of his achievements was having the Miss USA organizers send the representative of the United States for the first time.

               However, after the “problem” of the previous year with the representative of Belgium, the sponsor of this country for Miss World decided that the chosen candidate, Sepia Degehet, would not be sent to London, she would only compete in the Miss Europe contest in Istanbul, where she was an also-ran.

                Meanwhile, the newly elected Miss Italy, Marcella Mariani, 17, gave up of competing in the Miss World contest at the last minute, because she received an invitation to work in her first film “Siamo Donne”. Her short film career culminated 15 months later, when she died tragically in a plane crash near the commune of Rieti, on a flight from Brussels.

                Two other invited contestants, Miss Austria (Lore Felger) and Miss Lebanon (Hanya Beydoun), were unable to travel to London due to lack of sponsors.

                Miss France 1953, Sylviane Carpentier, after becoming third place in the Miss Europe held in Istanbul, Turkey on September 9th of that year, returned to Paris unhappy with the results and decided to give up her participation in Miss World to work on her wedding plans. Then, the organizers of the French Committee of Elegance decided to hold a contest to choose the French representative for Miss World, an event held on October 11th at the Coliseum of Paris. This contest had 21 candidates and it was won by the lovely Denise Perrier. In second place was Danielle Genault, who would attend Miss Europe the following year as the French representative. The day after she was chosen, the new Miss World France had to take a plane to London to compete in the world contest!


                Morley was ready to receive the 15 international candidates in the English capital. This year he had canceled the tour of the British cities due to the fatigue it produced to the queens the previous year. However, one of the entrants anticipated their arrival in London for more than a week. The first to arrive was the candidate of Ceylon (country now known as Sri Lanka). Mrs. Manel Illangakoon arrived on October 3rd accompanied by her husband. Her husband explained that they had never left Ceylon before and that he did not want his wife to travel alone. Mr. Edwin Wijeyeratne, the high commissioner of Ceylon in the United Kingdom, received them at the airport. However, Morley did not allow the dedicated husband to stay in the same hotel where the candidates would stay, since that was against the rules of the contest. But the husband respected the conditions imposed by Morley and caused no problems to the organization.

                The second girl to travel to London was Miss Israel, Havatzelet Dror, a 19-year-old soldier, who arrived a week later, more exactly on the 10th.

                The arrival of the largest number of hopefuls was on Monday, October 12th and all of them stayed at the Clarets Hotel in London. They were Miss Denmark (Ingrid J. Andersen), Miss France (Denise Margaret Perrier), Miss Monte Carlo (Elizabeth Chovisky), Miss Norway (Solveig Gulbrandsen), Miss Sweden (Ingrid Johansson) and Miss Finland (Maija-Riitta Tuomaala).

                On Tuesday October 13th, Miss Egypt (Myshimarina “Marina” Papaelia), Miss Switzerland (Odette Michel Conue) and Miss Germany (Wilma Kanders) arrived. That same day Miss Great Britain (Brenda Mee) joined the group . That night also came Miss United States (Mary Kemp Griffin) who arrived on a flight from New York. Mary was the first runner-up of the Miss USA contest held in Long Beach in July.

                The last two entrants to arrive were Miss Holland (Yvonne de Meijer) and Miss Greece (Alexandra Ladikou). They both arrived early on Wednesday October 14th. Miss Ireland (Mary Murphy) failed to arrive in London, despite being expected, because she became ill shortly before traveling to the contest.



                On Wednesday, October 14th, at noon, a photo session was held at the premises of the Cafe de Paris, a chic site in the English capital. All of the girls attended with the exception of Miss Holland, who stayed at the hotel, in bed with the flu. In this first official presentation to the media, the candidates posed in cocktail dresses, national costumes and one-piece swimsuits. Mecca Dancing invited their guests “to study very carefully the young ladies assembled here today.”

                There was Miss Egypt, a 20-year-old Cairo model named Marina Papaelia who was in constant peril from a very low-cut gown – it kept slipping. And Miss Ceylon, a luscious 20-year-old named Manel Illangakoon, who was very unhappy when the time came to put on bathing suits – she’s used to a sarong back home. And Miss Denise Perrier, the representative of France, who shrugged her shapely shoulders and said, “I haven’t a ghost of a chance”. They were all so very modest. Miss Germany, a 20-year-old model from Dusseldorf, summed up for most of them by saying, “I do so want to win – but I don’t think I will. The other girls are all so much prettier than me”. One of the most followed was Miss Sweden, Ingrid Johansson, an 18-year-old secretary, perhaps due to the fact that her two predecessors had won the Miss World title. Could she become the third Swedish to win the coveted title in a row? Meanwhile, Miss Norway, 23-year-old Solveig Gulbrandsen, from Oslo, said she had a twin sister named Synnove who had participated in the Miss Universe contest that same year and had been a semifinalist there.

                Another of the girls that caught the attention of photographers on that day was the representative of the United States, Mary Griffin, 23, a model from Los Angeles, a city where she decided to live after competing in the Miss USA pageant and who appeared in a dazzling white swimsuit. She confessed to reporters that she didn’t have a steady boyfriend, but her favorite man was President Eisenhower. “Even if I don’t become Miss World, he will always be a Mr. World to me” added the beauty. The candidates spent practically all day at the Cafe de Paris, where they had lunch, chatted, danced and had dinner with the guests.

                In the following days, the girls visited St.Paul’s Cathedral, where they arrived on a bus that had signs in the windows where they were sitting to delight the journalists and pedestrians. This bus, called “Comet” in honor of the new passenger plane, was provided by the BOAC to transport the young ladies. They went to the Piccadilly Circus, walked along the Thames Embankment, had dinner at the very elegant Embassy Club and made a courtesy visit to the London Airport, where they met Captain J. Peers and posed for photos on one of the BOAC Comet planes, one of the most modern jetliners of the moment.


Winners of the Miss Egypt 1953 contest, Antigone Constanda (the winner at center) and Marina Papaelia (right).

                On February 23rd, the Miss Egypt 1953 contest was held. The winner, Antigone Constanda, was unable to attend Miss World and the organizers sent in their place the first runner-up, Myshimarina “Marina” Papaelia (interestingly, the following year they sent Antigone to the contest and she got the first and only Miss World title for Egypt).

                Marina Papaelia was a voluptuous and sensual red-haired girl, of Greek origin and who spoke five languages (Arabic, French, English, Greek and Italian). But, according to Eric Morley, although the young woman was a model, she was a little overweight. She was very outgoing, she liked to get attention. Her character and personality were very explosive, so much so that after one night in the same hotel room with her, Miss Denmark, Ingrid Anderson, ran screaming into the hall and demanded a new roommate. Miss Egypt then had the room all to herself, because no-one else would move in with her. However, as the days went by, Marina became the spokeswoman for her fellows. If there were any complaints or suggestions, she was always the one who demanded them.

The voluptuous Miss Egypt in a bikini. She was the reason of Morley’s headaches

                As I mentioned earlier, Miss Egypt was determined to call attention in any way possible. On the day of the Press Presentation at the Cafe de Paris, at the time of introducing herself to the journalists, film executives and the most prominent fashion designers in the city, the tremendous Egyptian candidate decided to attract attention by appearing in the scantiest of bikinis that she found. The manager looked at her shocked and made the corresponding claim. Next, Marina was pushed into the dressing room by Morley to prevent press photographers from continuing to capture the graphics. Morley forced her to wear an entire swimsuit like the other participants. However, from then on she did not go unnoticed and was considered favorite by the journalists, who compared its beauty with that of actress Rita Hayworth. The nightclub manager, after the row with the beauty queen, stopped gently at her table to say: “”I hope you are successful in the competition” and she politely replied: “I hope you are too” …

                Another night the girls were invited to dinner at the exclusive Embassy Club on London Bond Street, an event sponsored by the Mornessa Fashion House and its President, Mr. Wallace Austin. After dinner and a cabaret show, the orchestra of Sidney Simone started to entertain the guests. Miss Egypt did not miss the opportunity to dance and terrify her partner, took off her shoes and began to dance barefoot throughout the room. Then, while dancing, she began to sing to the sound of music, getting the rest of the people who danced there to surround her while she owned the center of the hall. At the end of the song, she received a standing ovation from those present, but Morley forced her to sit down and behave.

                Minutes later, Miss Egypt rose from the table and disappeared. Morley realized that she was not there when the Club Manager whispered in his ear asking if he wanted to ruin him. What does it mean? Morley asked. The Manager replied that he was losing all his clients and in effect, the room looked almost empty. Morley went to the foyer looking for the restless Egyptian girl. Upon arrival it was found that the foyer was full of people clapping and cheering for Marina Papaelia, who, sitting on the counter of the little cloakroom, sang loudly. Evidently, she was to blame for customers not being inside the Club! Morley took her by the arm and in the middle of the boo of those present, he sat her down again at her table but not before warning her that if she did not behave she would be disqualified and sent back home. It was to be imagined that, the next day, the newspapers would mention her as the clear favorite to win the contest!


                Hours before the contest, at the Clarets hotel, the chaperones made sure everything was ready for the competition. The official chaperone, Mrs. Patricia Emms, sighed with relief: “Well, another 36 hours will see it all over. And I won’t shed any tears of regret. Looking after a bunch of temperamental beauty queens is a full-time job.” And evidently she was referring to the headaches caused by some candidates, not just Miss Egypt! For example, Miss Norway tried to escape every night from the hotel to have a date, a clear violation of the rules of the contest, but she could only leave if she was accompanied by some member of the staff. “They treat us like school girls,” the Scandinavian Solveig shouted angrily. On the other hand, Miss Greece had decided to eat only oranges throughout the week to keep fit for the contest. But in spite of the lots of vitamin C, she could not avoid a cold that kept her in bed the day before the finals!


                Then it came the night of the election of Miss World 1953, that was on Monday, October 19th in the Lyceum Ballroom of the British capital city. The candidates had to arrive at the hall at 7 pm, but they arrived 20 minutes late. They were grouped in two dressing rooms, they only had three mirrors available so the chaperone told them that they could use it maximum 10 minutes for each one. Miss Egypt complained that Miss Norway had already taken 30 minutes with the mirror for herself!

                The contest was scheduled to start at 8 p.m., but it started at 8:45 p.m., 45 minutes late even though the English are famous for their punctuality. The event was again being sponsored by the “Sunday Dispatch” newspaper and organized by Mecca Dancing. Eric Morley, as in previous years, served as Master of Ceremonies of the event, but this time accompanied by an assistant, Mr. Robert Shakell, and a military band was in charge of the opening of the contest. With a fanfare of trumpets by the Marines, the presentation of the contestants started.

                The judges were the British actress Margaret Lockwood, English actor David Niven, Viscountess Tarbat, journalist Godfrey Winn, artist Cowan Dobson and M. Pireur, a member of the Miss Europe committee. The one in charge of tabulating the votes was the editor of the sponsoring newspaper “Sunday Dispatch” Mr. Charles Eade, who was also the Chairman of the board.

Denise Perrier in her evening gown

                The candidates paraded in evening gowns and one-piece swimsuits. Miss Egypt did it again; She refused to wear a long gown for the parade. Instead she wore a knee skirt with a pronounced neckline. Like the previous year, the candidates did not parade in alphabetical order. The order was as follows: Sweden, Ceylon, Switzerland, Greece, Israel, France, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Finland, United States, Holland, Monte Carlo, Great Britain and Egypt. In the last presentation, the swimsuit, they continued the tradition of cape and pedestals with the name of the participating countries.

                In this last leg of the competition an accident occurred and the culprit was Miss Egypt! It turned out that when it was time to parade in a swimsuit, the Egyptian candidate did not go on stage. Morley went to the dressing room to find out what was happening and one of the chaperones informed him that the girl was depressed and did not want to put on her swimsuit. Actually she was not depressed, she was crying hysterically in dressing rooms !! Marina had realized that in her parade in evening gown she had not been as applauded as Miss France, so she no longer wanted to remain in competition. Morley tried to cheer her up by telling her that she would surely eclipse the other contestants by going out in a bathing suit and that the judges would surely go crazy with her wonderful figure, but the young woman, spoiled, kept insisting that she would not go out. Morley had no choice but to threaten her. He told her that he would count to three, and that if she didn’t start to change, he would change her by force and push her to the stage. Given Morley’s menacing tone and when he was already counting in two, the Egyptian had no other way but, between sobs, to start to change. In less than three minutes she was on stage. And when she arrived on it, she did it with the best of her smiles, as if nothing had happened!

The beauties in swimsuits

                Before selecting the finalists, the contestants were briefly interviewed on stage. At that time it was not called “interview” but a “test with the microphone” and the girls were evaluated for their voice, charm and ease in speaking. Miss Egypt said that she felt she was going to faint. That being said, she fell to the floor being barely supported by Mr. Shakell, she definitely wanted to keep attracting attention !! She was carried into dressing rooms, examined by a first aid man who confirmed that it was just an “ordinary hysterics.” After a few minutes on the floor she rejoined with a big smile. After this last round, the judges decided on five candidates, who were chosen as finalists. The entrants changed again and put on their evening gowns. Miss Egypt was forced to wear a long gown this time!

                It was the first year that Morley used the “Majority Vote” system for the final selection, considering it the most fair procedure, instead of points from 1 to 10. After selecting the finalists, the judges had to vote by position, giving 1 to whom they considered should be the winner, 2 to the second and so on. This system meant that the winner had to have at least 4 first places (4 of 7 judges) to win, and if she did not have it, it would be defined by the contestant who had a majority of second places.

                The final result was as follows: The fifth place, and winner of a prize of £ 100 (about 210 US dollars in that time), was Miss United States, Mary Kemp Griffin, 23, a native of Florence, South Carolina but who worked as a Model in Los Angeles.

                In fourth place came Miss Ceylon, Manel Illangakoon, a 20-year-old lady from Colombo, who won a prize of £ 150.

                Interestingly, the remaining three candidates, Miss Egypt, Miss France and Miss Greece, were tied, with two votes each for winner, so Charles Eade, editor of the Sunday Dispatch and who was the Chairman, decided that the three young ladies had to parade again for the tiebreaker.

                Then, the third place was taken by the very surprised Miss Egypt, Marina Papaelia, earning £ 200 as a prize. Second place went to the 20-year-old Miss Greece, Alexandra Ladikou of Kavala, who won £ 250. Unlike the previous year, the awards were made in evening gowns.

                The winner, who had the approval, not only from the judges but from the audience, was the representative of France, Denise Margaret Perrier, 18, who had previously been chosen as Miss St.Raphael, days before Miss France and only 22 days before winning the 1953 Miss World title. Denise was 5 feet 6 inches tall, weighed 119 pounds and her measurements were 33-22-35. As a curious fact, her fellow French Christiane Martel had been crowned months before as Miss Universe in Long Beach, being the first time that both Miss Universe and Miss World came from the same country the same year! Denise won a check for £ 500, a sash (for the first time a Miss World received a sash that identified her) and a silver rose-bowl sponsored by the “Sunday Dispatch” in addition to a huge bouquet of flowers.


                When the judge’s verdict was known, Miss Egypt was attacked by hysteria, shouted, cried, kicked, crossed her arms and did not applaud the winner. When interviewed by reporters, she said about Miss France “She a very pretty girl, but she don’t look so good in zee mornings. She look like an old hag. She’s not elegant, she only look good by a pool”. Then she added: “These beauty competitions, they all the same. I’ve been Miss Egypt twice, so I know.” She added that she thought the first prize should have been for Miss United States. When questioned by another journalist about the winner, Marina only managed to say “I theenk she steenk”!

                Half an hour later, at the celebration party at the Cafe de Paris, Marina chatted happily and amicably with the brand new Miss World, as if they were longtime friends! Denise Perrier denied what Miss Egypt said when she was photographed in her bed the morning after she won the title, looking radiantly beautiful!


                The candidates had to leave the Clarets hotel at noon on Tuesday, October 20th. Miss United States could not take her flight back to her country because the weather conditions did not allow it. The usual London fog was very thick and the flights had to be canceled until the next day. She had to return to the hotel and the rooms were all occupied. In the end, the hotel owners arranged a bed on the bathtub of one of the rooms to accommodate Miss United States and Miss Holland, who had to stay one more night in London.

THE WINNER.-                                           

                Denise was born on July 28th, 1935 in the town of Les Pérouses in Ambérieu-en-Bugey. As her father was in the military and had been sent to Indochina, she lived in Saigon, Vietnam, where she studied until 1951. Her family returned to France in 1952 because Indochina was becoming dangerous and settled in St. Aygulf. She dreamed of being an archeologist but life brought her other things in her future. During her summer vacation of 1953 on a beach in St. Raphael, on the Cote d’Azur, the owner of the casino asked Denise’s parents to allow her to participate in the final of the Miss St. Raphael contest that would be held that same night. Denise decided to enter the contest and won. After winning the title of Miss St. Raphael she had to go to the Miss France competition of the French Committee of Elegance and then, the Miss World contest in London. After she got the title of Miss World, she returned to her country on Friday, October 23rd and immediately began working as a Model. She made countless fashion shows in France, Italy and New York. She toured several French casinos until she got tired of it and decided to do painting. In 1955 she presented her first art exhibition.

                Her first marriage was in 1958. She had a son, Milhan, in Cannes in March 1960. Shortly after that, she divorced and had to return to work as a model to her living. She married again in 1964 with a French journalist named Maurice Huleu.

                Later, she made an acting career, between 1965 and 1971, participating in the film “Diamonds are Forever” with James Bond in 1971. In 1972 she won the crown of “Lady Festival” at the Cannes Film Festival. She continued working as a model internationally and in 1977 she opened her first modeling company called “Art et Mode”. In 1975 she attended the silver anniversary of the Miss World contest in London as a special guest.

                Years later (from 1978 to 1990) she entered politics, carrying three municipal mandates on the list of Jacques Médecin, then Mayor of Nice. She was Delegate of Tourism for Nice, and she was in charge of Museums and exhibitions. She was also President of the Nice Garden Club. In 2000 she returned to the Miss World contest, again in London, as a special guest. She remarried and today she is Mrs. Lanfranchi.

                She was a judge of the Miss World contests in 2005, 2010, 2011 and 2013. She currently lives in the South of France and maintains a beautiful friendship with the current owner of the Miss World contest, Mrs. Julia Morley.


A recent photo in 2019

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