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!
It was true, one day I was one of the 6 girls in the photo above and lo and behold a few months later back in LA the phone rang and I answered it only to hear that very message! I became the last elected Miss Rheingold and that was the 25th year of the contest!
Rheingold Beer, founded in 1883, was a New York beer that held 35 percent of the state’s beer market from 1950 to 1960. The company was sold by the founding Liebmann family in 1963 which was the year I got involved in the competition. According to the New York Times way back when, “Rheingold Beer was once a top New York brew guzzled regularly by a loyal cadre of workingmen who would just as soon have eaten nails as drink another beer maker’s suds.” Its VP-Technical Joseph Owades claims credit for Rheingold developing the first light beer.
At the center of its media campaign was the “Miss Rheingold” pageant. Beer drinkers voted each year on the young lady who would be featured as Miss Rheingold in advertisements. In the 1940s and 1950s in New York, “the selection/election of Miss Rheingold was as highly anticipated as the race for the White House.” The first Miss Rheingold was Spanish-born Jinx Falkenburg. The last elected Miss Rheingold was me, Celeste Yarnall in 1964. I received 20,000,000 votes and often made appearances throughout the year at Rheingold’s own Pavillion at the New York Worlds Fair, which was a replica of a 1904 tavern. I was featured on television, radio and point of purchase promotions and traveled extensively making personal appearances nearly every day of my reign as Miss Rheingold 1964.When Nat King Cole became the first major black entertainer to host a television show, advertisers stayed away—but not Rheingold; Rheingold was the New York regional sponsor for Cole’s show. As early as 1965, Rheingold aired television ads featuring African American, Puerto Rican and Asian actors, to appeal to its racially diverse customer base. The company’s headquarters was in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. Rheingold was the official beer of the Mets and the Jets, and I often made appearances as these events and its advertisements featured many celebrities over the years including John Wayne, Douglas Fairbank, Jr., Jackie Robinson, and the Marx Brothers.
These days even though life as the last Miss Rheingold was many years ago, I am usually game for almost anything exciting that offers an opportunity to be a part of a bit of nostalgia but when a former Miss Rheingold candidate invited me to come to NYC to attend a Rheingold girl reunion I thought it was a bit too much of a journey to take from LA to NYC just for one evening and the opening soiree at the New York Historical Society, which is currently sponsoring an exhibition called “Beer Here – Brewing New York’s History.” However, it seems my declining this invitation made me somewhat conspicuous by my absence! My friend sent me a wonderful article where my year is mentioned several times but my name was not…oh well out of sight out of mind. You can peruse this homage to Miss Rheingold here: http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/?s=beer
Point of Purchase Display Image of Celeste Yarnall, Miss Rheingold 1964
The subject matter right now is rather near and dear to my heart as I have written a book proposal on this amazing election/selection which was kind of like the ‘Mad Men’s’ first attempt at American Idol! It nearly backfired on them as they created such a huge contest that Miss Rheingold herself overshadowed the product…a little beer called Rheingold. Who cared about the beer anyway. The Beer was the means to the end and the happy end was being a part of the selection/election process for favorite girl each year and that was what mattered each and every year for 25 years as a new star was born for the people to call their own.
Everybody we talk to thinks my writing partners as my Miss Rheingold book proposal is great ..everyone except the publishers..they don’t think anyone remembers or cares about this amazing quarter century of nostalgia that taught people to vote for image and style over substance. How we looked and how we presented ourselves on camera got us elected…sound familiar. Every politician has a stylist, script writer and image maker in tow everywhere they go. I’d say that has social significance but alas the feed back we get from Big Publishing is we don’t have a big enough platform to launch Miss Rheingold from …I bet we can give it legs with your help right here in the blogosphere…if this resonates with you all could even help me save this bit of Americana ‘her-story” by sharing it far and wide. I can see it now Miss Rheingold goes viral! (LOL) Hey, why not!
My year was very interesting not just because it was the last year of the elected Miss Rheingold’s but because the day I was notified that I garnered 20,000,000 votes and won it all, was the day before John F. Kennedy was shot. This happy new 19 year old Miss Rheingold went from joy to sorrow in 24 little hours as I was kid fresh from that Camelot ‘fantasyland’ and Jackie Kennedy was my idol..I had the dark hair cut in the flip, the white gloves and the pearls! My heart was broken when I flew into New York to have my photo’s done that would announcement my winning the election..hey with those same 20,000,000 votes I could have beaten Nixon, too!
Perhaps getting out my old scrapbooks from the box with all my Rheingold memorabilia (including the photo above) got me thinking about Jackie Kennedy and that special on her that aired last year on ABC. You know the one where they transcribed the tapes of her expressing her feelings. The ones that couldn’t be heard for x number of years. I was mesmerized by them when they were played on that TV show as they revealed a Jackie I almost wish I didn’t have to learn about. My Jackie was not only an angel but the fashion icon that taught us all how to put ourselves together. My image was helped along of course by the chaperone that Rheingold hired to watch me like a hawk and tell me what to wear for every appearance. Her name was Fran Klein and I really respected her. She was a bit of everything, kind of like a finishing school embodied in one little lady with silver gray hair..or what you might think of today as a stylist who made sure I dressed and conducted myself appropriately as Miss Rheingold. My fashion statement was critical to my role as the 25th Miss Rheingold and I made it clear to her that it was the Jackie look that I wanted to have and she didn’t mind that at all as fashion was everything in those days!
I found this great quote which sums it all up beautifully,”Fashion is as profound and critical a part of the social life of man as sex, and is made up of the same ambivalent mixture of irresistible urges and inevitable taboos.” ~ Rene Konig. She was a German sociologist (1906 – 1992), and her words, are just as true now as they were when Jackie inspired us to wear those pill box hats.
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.
Portrait of Celeste Yarnall as Miss Rheingold 1964 by Nazim Artist
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?
Photo used in the press kits for Miss Rheingold 1964
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.
Miss Rheingold 1964 was the reigning queen of hearts on the Easterm Seaboard. Who even remembered it had something to do with beer?
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?