Julio Rodríguez Matute
It was 1954 and the beauty committees of each country, associated with Miss World, began to organize their national competitions. Morley already had 22 sponsors in the same number of countries that would collaborate with him in the fourth edition of the world contest.
But not everything was so easy. On the one hand, Monaco did not hold a national competition due to lack of applicants; On the other hand, the West Indies regional committee could not get enough economic sponsorship to send their first elected Miss Trinidad, Seeta Indranie Mahabir, to the London competition. Brazil was the first Latin American country to receive a formal invitation to join the contest and they would be represented by Maria Marta Hacker Rocha, who months before competed in Miss Universe and had achieved the position of First Runner-up, however, she canceled the invitation due to commitments previously acquired. The newly elected Miss Austria, Felicitas Von Goebel, did not travel to Miss World due to lack of sponsors, but would participate the following year. And a fifth country, Norway, which had decided to send their winner to both the Miss Universe and the Miss World contests, finally was not represented in London because Miss Mona Stornes, 19, of Oslo, decided not to attend. After competing in Long Beach in the Miss Universe, she wanted to try her luck in America but fell in love with a TV producer named Sandy Young, so she broke her employment contract at a Hollywood nightclub to get married on September 19th, 1954 in Las Vegas. Although at that time the Miss World contest accepted married women, the Norwegian beauty preferred to settle in the United States and fulfill her obligations as a housewife.
On August 30th, as usual, the local candidate, Miss Great Britain, was elected at the “National Bathing Beauty Contest” in Morecambe. The winner was Patricia Butler of Hoylake.
Some countries decided to send a finalist of their national competition, for example, Greece. The representative of the United States, Karin Hultman, was the First Runner-up of the Miss USA (originally she had been second, but Miss Virginia, the original First runner-up was disqualified when they discovered she was only 16 years old). The Miss USA representative was chosen thanks to the agreement with the North American organizers. Meanwhile, Miss Egypt, Antigone Constanda, was the winner of the previous year and could not participate at that time for unknown reasons.
The newly elected Miss Italy 1954, Eugenia Bonino, 18, of Catania, chosen on September 7th in Rimini, had everything ready to travel to the Miss World contest, however, days before her trip, she had a car accident where she was injured, preventing her participation in London. The organizers had to choose a replacement at the last minute and she was the young Cristina Fanton, 17, of Modena, Emilia-Romagna, as the first Italian representative in the history of the Miss World contest. Cristina decided to modify her last name artistically to Fantoni and so she used it in the contest. Later she became a recognized actress in her country.
The French Committee of Elegance organized the contest of their Miss World France on October 10th, 1954, at the Municipal Theater of Fontainebleu. The contest attracted 25 participants from across the country, girls who wanted to emulate the triumph of their predecessor, Denise Perrier. Finally, the winner was 16-year-old Monique Lambert, Miss Côte d’Azur, who had recently also been elected “Miss Riviera 1954”, while Miss Paris, Véronique Zuber was chosen for Miss Europe 1955. However, the brand new French beauty queen, who was an accounting student in Paris, did not want to travel to London the next day to represent her country in the Miss World contest. Emergingly, the local organizers decided to send in their place the girl who was third in the competition, Miss Provence, Claudine Bleuse, who lived in a suburb of Paris and traveled on October 11th to the British capital.
ARRIVAL IN LONDON.-
Eric Morley awaited the arrival of 18 candidates to London for the fourth edition of his contest. The participants began arriving on Monday, October 11th. The first to arrive, as I mentioned earlier, was Miss France, Claudine Bleuse, who at the age of 16 and a half, was the youngest contestant in the pageant. Between Monday and Tuesday arrived many other girls: Jeannette De Jonk (Ceylon); Grete Hoffenblad (Denmark); Antigone Constanda (Egypt); Yvonne De Bruyn (Finland); Frauke Walther (Germany); Efi Mela (Greece); Conny Harteveld (Holland); Connie Rodgers (Ireland); Margareta Westling (Sweden); and Sibel Goksel (Turkey).
On Wednesday, October 13th, Claudine Chaperon Du Larret (Switzerland); Karin Hultman (United States) and Cristina Fantoni (Italy) arrived in London, while the last candidate to arrive was Nelly Elvire Dehem (Belgium). They were joined by the English representative Patricia Butler (Great Britain).
Two more beauties, Miss Israel and Miss Libya, failed to reach London. Malka Rozenblat from Israel was about to depart for London when Israeli organizers discovered that she was married. Although Miss World organizers at that time accepted married contestants, Israel did not allow married titleholders to represent the country in international pageants, and there was no time to seek a replacement. Miss Libya, of unknown identity, also did not arrive at the event despite having been expected, however, details of why she did not arrive in London are unknown.
After the arrival of the 16 participants into the English metropolis, the Miss World contest officially began. Belgium, Italy and Turkey formally debuted that year.
The contestants visited numerous tourist sites in the British capital and were officially presented in swimsuits to the media on Friday, October 15th at the Lyceum Ballroom facilities. The press favorites were the ladies of Germany and the United States. Subsequently, the girls dedicated themselves to the rehearsals to assure that the final was going to be a success.
The final of the Miss World 1954 contest was held on Monday, October 18th, at the Lyceum Ballroom in London, and again it was organized by Mecca Dancing and sponsored by the Sunday Dispatch. The opening of the event was in charge of Oscar Rabin and his band. The master of ceremonies was Eamonn Andrews. The beauty contest began with a great fanfare of trumps!.
This year, the panel of judges was increased to nine members. They were Lady Isabel Barnett, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, portrait painter Simon Elwes, radio comedian Ben Lyon, English actress Gracie Fields, American actress Bebe Daniels, Claude Berr of the Miss Europe Committee and Vijaya Lakshmi, High Commissioner of India in London. Like the previous year, Charles Eade of the Sunday Dispatch was the Chairman. Again, the voting system was based on the “Vote by Majority” implemented by Eric Morley the previous year. The actor Errol Flynn had been invited as a judge but he had not appeared and was replaced by the India´s High Commissioner. The judges would evaluate the contestants in their elegance, their figure, intelligence and sex appeal. They would also take into account the reaction of the audience in the Lyceum Ballroom. In addition, to avoid happenings such as the previous year, Morley said they also have to judge the “temperament” that would be included in the personality test, as a kind of restriction to avoid the wrong girl takes the title.
The candidates paraded, as usual, in evening gowns and one-piece swimsuits. The catwalk was arranged in the form of a T and on the way the girls were constantly illuminated by the flash of the photographers. Again they were presented randomly in the following order: Sweden, Belgium, Germany, Greece, Italy, Holland, Ceylon, France, Turkey, Ireland, Denmark, Egypt, Great Britain, Switzerland, United States and Finland. When they paraded in swimsuits, each contestant had this beautifully decorated pedestal like a doll-box with the name of her country and the young women were assisted by two models, also in a bathing suit, who took away a kind of transparent bathrobe so that the judges could appreciate their curvaceous figures.
The judges selected six finalists from the 16 beauties who remained wearing their swimsuits for the final awards. Sixth place went to Miss Denmark, Grete Hoffenblad, a beautiful 17-year-old blonde from the city of Rødovre. The Danish won a prize of £ 25.
Fifth place went to Miss Germany, Frauke Walther, 19, of Dusseldorf, earning £ 50. The fourth went to Miss France, Claudine Bleuse, from Villeconin, with £ 60 in prize money. Meanwhile, third place was awarded to Miss Greece, Efi Mela, 21, of Athens, who won £ 75 and the first runner-up or second place, turned out to be Miss United States, Karin Hultman, 22, of Brighton, a suburb of Rochester, New York. Upon hearing the judges’ verdict, she exclaimed: “Wow, I’m jinxed. I’m always second”. The American model who worked for the Eastman Kodak company, took a prize of £ 100 in her pocket. With that money she went on a trip to Stockholm, Sweden and Rome, Florence and the Island of Capri in Italy, before returning to the United States.
The title of Miss World 1954 was given to Miss Egypt, Antigone Constanda, a curvilinear model of Greek origin, resident in Alexandria of 21 years of age, brown eyes and mahogany hair, who wore a thin golden swimsuit. Antigone was 5 feet 5 inches tall, 132 pounds in weight and her measurements were 36-23-36. Antigone won a silver rose-bowl courtesy of the Sunday Dispatch, a bouquet of flowers, a jewel, a check for £ 500 (about USD1400 for the time) and the opportunity to make a film career. At the time of being proclaimed, Antigone shouted in French “Hurray for Antigone”. In addition, she said that her triumph was dedicated to Marina Papaelia, her countrywoman who last year had become a finalist and Morley’s headache. When asked after her triumph, the brand new Miss World said that “I expected to enter the first three”, “but this was more than I expected. I will leave the city the next few days before making plans”, she added.
For the first time, the outgoing queen attended the contest as a spectator. Denise Perrier applauded the new queen from the VIP section of the ballroom. At that time, the winner did not receive a crown, and this time, she did not receive a sash either.
As it always happens in these beauty pageants, not all contestants agreed with the triumph of the Egyptian beauty. Miss France seemed like she was going to cry at any moment. Once in dressing rooms, she burst into tears inconsolably, being comforted by Miss Turkey. When she was interviewed by the press, she said she felt very sad and she did not mean it for her but because she thought that who should have won was her friend Miss Belgium. While talking to reporters, she wiped her tears with a handkerchief that Miss Ceylon had lent her. Miss Sweden stated that Antigone looked very fat on her face and hips, but that she had a lot of sex appeal. “She knows how to smile but she is not a beauty”. Miss Ceylon said in reference to the new Miss World that “She is nice, but the one that should have won is Miss Greece, she is a classic beauty”. Miss Germany agreed that the new beauty queen had a lot of sex appeal, a nice face but not beautiful. “She wobbles too much like Marilyn Monroe, but she doesn’t walk that way naturally.”
Soon, the girls changed their clothes and went to celebrate to the Stork Night Club, a party also attended by the judges. At the party, the judge Gracie Fields told Miss Finland that she thought she would win because she had voted for her. But apparently, the “Vote for Majority” system had not benefited her. In the following days, the winner and two of her finalists (Miss USA and Miss Germany) toured several British cities to promote the contest.
According to her birth record, Antigone was born in Cyprus on November 13, 1932, was 21 years old and not 19 as recorded by the press at the time of winning the title. In addition to Arabic, she speaks Greek, French, English and Italian perfectly. Her family had a modest grocery store in the town of Kafr-El-Dawar, near Alexandria. She made a career as a Professional Model in the Middle East, France, Greece and Italy. She received numerous offers to work in cinema but rejected them all. She had a seven-year relationship with a 26-year-old Mechanical Engineer named Eddie Salmona in Alexandria, but the relationship ended up after she was elected Miss World. Subsequently, Antigone dedicated herself to Interior Design and opened her own company outside her country. She lived many years in Rome and did not return to crown her successor due to political problems between the United Kingdom and Egypt over the Suez Canal issue. For many years she disappeared from public life. In 2006 she attended the Miss Egypt pageant as a guest. She was later one of the judges in the Miss World 2011 in London.