Reblogged from BROOKLYN: MISS RHEINGOLD 1949, Pat McElroy Since I first posted a feature on Miss Rheingold, I’ve had lots of emails about who were the ladies and now there is a conversation going on in the comment section of … Continue reading
This is a photo of the final six Miss Rheingold candidates in the summer of 1963 campaigning to become Miss Rheingold of 1964. That’s me Celeste Yarnall, the third girl from the left.
And a voice on the phone said Celeste Yarnall, you’ve been elected Miss Rheingold 1964!
Our Nation’s first lady was front page news nearly every day. For better or worse, we gobbled up everything we could about her; from the outfits Oleg Cassini designed for her including, her signature jewelry, even the length of her kid gloves. And of course there was that Jackie hair! Her famous bouffant styles were re-created by hairdressers all across the country because we simply had to have Jackie’s look.
I often find myself wondering why some of us feel we need to emulate some famous persons hair and image.’Could it be that we actually need a role model when we are growing up and that helps us find our way to become our authentic selves?
I must admit that Jackie came a long as a role model for me at just the right time in my life as I was launching my career as a model and actress. This was the time when young women either went to college to look for a husband or got a job as a secretary until the right husband came along. A career in modeling and acting was a pretty revolutionary concept early in 1963. A woman’s role in those days was to be the woman behind the man you married and the mother of his children. Jackie would be that role model for me, as she seemed to me at the time to have mastered the best of both worlds, career and family. I hoped I would be able to that one day, too.
Watching that Jackie TV special dredged up in my gut the yearnings of what and who I aspired to be all those years ago. Jackie, although a wife and mother, seemed to be breaking free from that stereotypical female image. But after watching that special and hearing those audio tapes of her expressing her true feelings, exposed an entirely different Jackie than the one we thought we knew. Had her ‘image and style’ been one of those creations that got its start on Madison Avenue just like Miss Rheingold?
I remember one evening at dinner being seated next to Jackie Kennedy’s sister Lee in a swank New York city restaurant. She actually started talking about the Miss Rheingold contest and me, thinking I couldn’t hear her, but I heard every word, she mentioned the she and Jackie thought this one or that one was the prettiest. Can you believe Jackie Kennedy knew who we were?
By 1964, Miss Rheingold had gained so much popularity that the contest was being referred to as an election rather than the more sexist term of beauty contest. The people themselves, wherever Rheingold Beer was sold, voted for their favorite of six final candidates for the new Miss Rheingold each year and had done so for 2 decades. That is how the Miss Rheingold election became America’s second largest election, next only to our own presidential race and amazingly enough, she would be both associated with the beer but also disassociated from it as a celebrity in her own right. I’d often go to a posh Manhattan restaurant with my friend on my evenings off and there would be a crowd of fans and paparazzi just to get a snap of me going in and coming out! You can bet the columnists of the day would share who I dined with in their column the next day!
Why on earth would I want, in 2012, to resurrect this election and write a book in order to share it with people today? The answer is simple, because this is the very election that taught people to vote for ‘looks and style’ over substance, for beauty over brains and talent. It was the first time this ever happened and ever since this beer-and-beauty idea became entwined and this ‘election’ began to work it’s magic over consumers, our political elections changed, too. This is when the real ‘mad men’ learned they could create and control a branded ‘image and style’ and rule our lives with what they put out through all media sources. And today it’s business as usual for them to bring in the stylists, spin doctors, speech writers, and a whole cadre of press agents along with other expensive professionals who groom and package the people we vote for (from the American Idol contestants to the presidential election itself). Remember the Mad Men episodes revolving around JFK’s running for office and ultimately winning the election?
Even though Mad Men gave us a glimpse of how it worked in the 60‘s elections, the precedent was set long before Jackie and Jack made the White House their home. It all really started when the Madison Avenue boys saw what Miss Rheingold‘s election was accomplishing, most likely as early as 1942 or 43.
The Miss Rheingold election was the first time in American history that people voted in an election solely based on ‘style and image’ alone. It started with beer and beauty being packaged together for the purpose of selling a particular brand of beer. They saw that a beautifully photographed, wholesome, pretty female face, smiling into the camera and looking at the viewer, sent a powerful subliminal message to that person, which made them actually buy that brand and even vote for the person smiling.
Miss Rheingold garnered over 20,000,000+ votes my year and several other years, and indeed she created big profits for Rheingold– people liked beauty with their beer! Men and women alike would vote for Miss Rheingold and even their kids would sneak up and stuff the ballot box for their favorite of the six finalists.
After the first decade or so of the election the winners prize money each year kept going up until ultimately she got a contract for her entire year’s ‘reign’ worth over $50,000, plus I got a wardrobe designed by Jackie’s very own couturier Oleg Cassini. Along with my $50K I got a Manhattan apartment and chauffeur driven limo’s to take me every where I went. I got to be the ‘first lady’ of beer for 1964 and their were all those beautiful women who came before me.
Can we learn anything from this trip down memory lane? Are our elections and selections about who people really are or how they are packaged and ‘spun?’
Jackie and Jack Kennedy were certainly given quite a ‘spin’ in the media back in their day. Her radiant smile, ‘image and style’ exposed a brilliant actress who was masking powerful opinions of the people she entertained and was so often entertained by and we get to hear them all these years later. A perfect image frozen in time until a tape recorder shows us someone other than who we thought she was. Will time reveal others this way to us?
I’m hoping that by meeting Miss Rheingold we can see where it all began and recognize the contemporary significance of her election to right now. Then, the next time we are called to vote for anyone or anything again, we can truly weigh the value of real substance over ‘image and style and truly think for ourselves. Do you think we can do that or have we become just a bundle of belief systems that the news and Madison Avenue have sold us? Can we still think for ourselves even with them ‘selling’ us someone or something 24/7?