The annual Miss Texas Scholarship Pageant was held in Fort Worth the second week in June, to select a winner to compete in the 46th Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City the week after Labor Day. This year’s 57 contestants were college students between eighteen and twenty-three years old, each of whom had won a local pageant bearing the name of that town or area, and each of whom had polished a talent act to present for this next-to-last competition.
Through the Miss Texas Pageant, I accompanied Miss Austin, Diane (Dina) Elise Elsik, a nineteen-year-old with golden skin, good cheekbones, and nice manners. Although she had been eligible to enter the Austin pageant because of her enrollment at The University of Texas, her family lived in Seguin, where I visited with them the day before we left for Fort Worth.
Dina’s warm, outgoing mother, the former Isabel Martinez of San Antonio, reminded me at once of Ethel Merman as Rose in Gypsy. Like her, she admitted to being a “stage-struck mother.” She was proud to show me around their large ranch-style home, and to catch me up on Dina’s past. Inside the front door, much like a shrine, was a life-size oil painting of Dina as the Duchess of the DeMolays, in a pure white dress, holding an armful of red roses. In front of her image was a vase of red velvet roses flanked on either side by red candles. We looked at the framed photographs of her as Albert Pike Priory Queen, second runner-up in the Miss South Texas Pageant, and Miss Guadalupe County. After eight years in a Catholic school where Dina wore a uniform and all the boys and girls were “like brothers and sisters,” she entered the public school system, where, as pictures in her high school annual showed, she blossomed more each year: cheerleader, Sophomore Class Favorite, Junior Class Favorite, and, in her senior year, Miss Seguin High School.
Isabel explained that she had started both her daughters early on dance lessons, both ballet and tap; that for the past twelve years she had put on the annual March of Dimes shows and that Dina had danced in every one; that four years ago Dina had auditioned for Toots Johnson, “who was in movies and on Broadway.” She had instructed her younger daughter, Ava, to understudy Dina’s week at the pageant. “What a waste, I told her, if she wouldn’t learn anything from this opportunity.” Of this younger daughter, who was much in evidence, her long hair flying, Isabel said, “She wants to be like her sister, but better, go farther. She really has the competitive instinct.”
Also around for most of the day was Dina’s boyfriend Doak. Dina was very proud of him and his blond good looks and introduced him to me, “He is Mr. All Jock.” He told me that he had been named for Doak Walker, that he had a younger brother named for Kyle Rote, that he played football and baseball for Texas Lutheran College. As he stood with his arm around Dina, he provided her with living proof that one could live up to one’s parents’ hopes.
Dina’s father, Leroy Elsik, and her younger brother, Dutch, were away on a fishing trip for the week to Indianola. Although Leroy had relayed the message that “You can leave my part of the limelight out,” he had told Dina, “I may not be there but I’m behind you all the way.”
Isabel spoke of Leroy—chiropractor, rancher, and real estate developer—as if he were all that a man should be. “He’s as blond as I am dark, and muscular. He’s better looking now at 46 than he was when we got married.” She bragged that Dina had inherited his good Czech bones. Of his close relationship with his son she related that “I had two girls and he really wanted a boy. Dutch came on New Year’s Eve and all day my husband went around saying, ‘I got my boy.’” We admired the large oil portraits that showed him in his white coat in his office, and on horseback at the ranch with his son, the two of them painted to look alike.
Most of Dina’s day was spent getting together the bare minimum of clothing needed for the coming week of rehearsals and competitions: seven long dresses, eight street dresses, two one-piece bathing suits, twelve pairs of shoes, pants outfits, plus “all the accessories and jewelry you have to have.” The contestants’ handbook detailed the clothes required for each event: there would be at least four costume changes a day for all 57 entrants.
Isabel showed me the seven long gowns that Dina would take; all except one—a gift from a bridal shop—had been used in other presentations. Each gown wrapped in its plastic bag had a history to go with it: the princess-line white dress which Dina would use for her gown competition was an exact copy of a Thirties dress and was designed and beaded by her mother; the bright orange chiffon was designed for her by a talented boy “who went to fashion design school in Atlanta and is going to make it big in New York.”
As part of advancing to the state contest, Dina had changed her talent act from a semi-classical ballet to a jazz number done to Barbara Streisand’s recording of “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” For this Isabel had fashioned a scanty hot-pink suit, based on a leotard, with a pouf of scarves on the hips to wiggle as Dina danced: “This hot pink is really going to catch the judges’ eyes.”
There were other last minute changes, mostly influenced by word-of-mouth information from the other South Texas contestants, and second-hand stories about what Judy Mallett, the reigning Miss Texas and the carrier of the official gospel, had suggested. One recommendation was the purchase of a fall, bought with the money Dina had earned teaching dancing lessons, to put on top of her own wealth of dark hair; another was adopting