She called me at eleven in
the evening. I was half asleep and surprised. We hadn't seen each
other for two and a half years. She got to the point quickly and
asked me if I could come to see her tomorrow, that she had a problem.
"That's pretty short notice," I said, "What's wrong?"
"Can you come?"
She sounded impatient and there was something else in her manner
I couldn't identify.
Just like her, no explanation, "Just do what I say." And
I did. I agreed to go and see her the next day.
I hung up and thought how sorry I was that our lives had taken us
in different directions even though we both lived in New York City.
We'd been through so much together as children and teenagers. She
was like the sister I never had, being an only child. It would be
good to see her.
She was a big part of my history and was instrumental in changing
the whole direction of my life when I was fourteen. I still remember
when we were fourteen going on fifteen....
She must have run the whole two blocks
from her house because she was out of breath as she huffed, "Read
The letter requested me, Laura Crossley, to appear at the Sherman
Hotel, downtown Chicago, at the end of August at six p.m. It said
to bring a bathing suit and to write an essay describing the happiest
day of my life. There was a post-script that said, 'Enclosed is
the photography you sent us to qualify.'
I looked inside the envelope and there was a snapshot taken of me
at the beach earlier in the summer. I looked at her and there was
a huge smile on her face.
"You submitted me for a bathing beauty contest?! And you didn't
even ask me?!" I screamed in horror.
"Hold your pants on," she said, "Look at this."
She showed me an advertisement from the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper:
'Win an all-expense-paid tour through Mexico, Canada and California
along with a movie screen test. Try out for "Miss Happiness
She could hardly contain her excitement as she said, "If you
win, you can bring a friend - all expenses paid."
"Why didn't you send your picture?" I asked, "Everyone
says you look like Elizabeth Taylor and you've got the personality
for this kind of thing."
"No, I'm short with dark hair. You're tall and blonde. They
always pick tall and mostly blonde girls."
I looked at the front of the envelope and it was addressed to me,
care of Pamela Rutland, at her parents' house.
"How'd you get this past your parents?"
"I got up early and went to the mail box every day for two
"Well, that's too bad," I said, "because I'm not
going to do it. And anyway, I'm too young, don't have a decent bathing
suit or even own a pair of high heels. They always wear high heels
in those things. So that's that."
No, it wasn't. It never was when she wanted something. She opened
a brown paper bag and pulled out her sister's gorgeous black velvet
one-piece bathing suit and the adorable red 'baby doll' high-heeled
pumps. Pamela and I coveted those pumps whenever her sister wore
She held the suit against her body and said, "Try it on even
if you're not going to do it. Just for fun?"
I couldn't resist. I put it on and ran my hands up and down the
sides of my body enjoying the sensual pleasure of the soft, fuzzy,
She handed me the red pumps. I put them on and my ankles caved in
just the way they did when I tried ice-skating. She laughed.
"See," I said, "this isn't for me."
"Everyone has to practice," she said, "Even my perfect
sister. I learned with her and I'll teach you."
"I didn't say I'd do it," I protested.
"No," she said, "It's a good thing for you to know
how to do for later."
After thirty minutes or so I could
walk without my ankles caving in, but I was still shaky. She told
me I could keep the shoes and practice until Friday.
"My sister will be going out on her many weekend dates and
will probably need them. God, she's such a whore. She celebrates
every time she buys a box of Tampax."
We both laughed. The she went back to the brown paper bag and out
came a shoebox with makeup in it.
"I told you no," I said.
"I know, I know," she said. "Just for fun. Sit down
and I'll make you up."
I was intrigued. I'd never worn makeup before except for a little
color on my lips.
I sat down on one of the kitchen chairs and she smoothed a skin-colored,
creamy mixture all over my face. Then she put a pink cream on my
cheeks and a green cream on my eyelids. The powder she used to "set"
the whole thing smelled of gardenia. Very intoxicating.
I started to get up so I could go and see myself in the hallway
mirror but she pushed me back into the chair.
"No, no, I'm not finished yet. We've got to do something about
"Ouch, ouch, ouch," I whimpered as my nose and eyes filled
up from her tweezing out hair after hair.
"Where'd you learn to do this?" I asked.
"The whore, who else."
Another "ouch" as she poked me in the eye while applying
mascara to my lashes. Then she lined my lips with a brush and filled
them in with Revlon's "Fire and Ice" lipstick.
"Okay, you're ready."
She held my arm as I wobbled over to the full-length mirror in the
hallway. Standing behind me, she pulled off the rubber band that
held my hair in a ponytail and fluffed it up with her hands.
I looked into the mirror. She had transformed me. My eyes looked
enormous and so did my lips. My body curved in and out like my mother's
and my legs looked very long. I looked grown up!
How could this be, I wondered. And another thought sneaked in as
I stood there looking at myself: And maybe the Grand Winner of a
trip to Mexico, Canada and California. Not to mention a screen test.
"Let me see that letter again," I said as I wobbled back
to the kitchen table and the letter.
"It says here I need to write an essay describing the happiest
day of my life."
"You can write You've always been good at that."
"Do you think your sister will go for the bathing suit and
"Of course not, but she won't know because our Aunt Elsie is
paying for her to go to London at the end of the month."
"I thought Aunt Elsie was going to send you to England."
"Yeah, she was, but my sister's sucking up must have paid off,
because all of a sudden one day I wasn't going and the whore was."
"Oh," I said, not knowing what to say since I knew her
biggest dream was to go to London some day.
She'd frequently say to me, "I'm one hundred percent English
and some day I'm going to play the piano in the Albert Hall."
She'd played the piano from the age of eight and everyone, even
her music teachers, said she was a natural born musician. Aunt Elsie
should have sent her to England, I thought. Maybe she could have
figured out a way to play at the Alert Hall if she was there. It
wasn't fair that her sister got to go.
She walked around me.
"You look the part and I think you can win. Just think of the
wonderful trip we might have. No more boring days sitting around
eating Tootsie Fudge and potato chips."
A pause, and then, "Maybe you can get me a screen test, too.
That is, if you decide to do it."
"Well sure," I said, "I don't want to be alone in
Hollywood with all those movie moguls. We'll protect each other."
"Then you'll do it?"
In short, we were on our way to the
Sherman Hotel. On Pamela's lap was the shoebox with the makeup in
it for touch-ups, which I would surely need once we got there. The
essay I'd written was in a brown paper bag on my lap along with
the velvet bathing suit. I had the red shoes on and I was wearing
my mother's Pauline Trigere dress that I had 'borrowed'. There were
dark spots under the arms now. My mother's hair would have turned
white if she knew, but she didn't know, and she didn't know about
Miss Happiness Tours either. Only the 'sisters in sin' knew. That's
what Pamela called us now.
She had borrowed her sister's dress and another pair of her shoes.
She decided that we both had to look grown-up.
Tired of looking at the slums, I took the essay out of the bag and
started to read it. When I finished it, I was in despair. It seemed
like such a frail, stupid story to me now. I couldn't think of a
subject but Pamela could.
"Do you really think "The day my dog had puppies"
will interest anyone?" I asked.
"Yes," she said, "everyone loves dogs."
I'd written about a dog I no longer had called "Flopsy"
who'd never had puppies. I went on to describe each of the four
phantom puppies in detail, what their markings were, their separate
personalities and how they interacted with each other. In other
words, I lied with her encouragement.
I looked over at Pamela and said, "If I go to hell it will
be your fault."
"If you go to hell I hope I go with you. Anything is better
than the boredom of the south side of Chicago."
Finally we reached downtown Chicago. We passed Marshall Fields department
store and the Chicago Theater where Frank Sinatra was the headliner
and you even got to see a movie. If only I could shop at Fields
and go to see a movie and Frank Sinatra, I wished.
We walked up to the entrance of the
Sherman Hotel. A doorman opened the polished brass door for us.
About twenty-five feet in front of us was a long counter with several
people behind it.
"What do we do now?" I whispered as I checked out all
the baroque furniture in the lobby.
"We ask where the "Miss Happiness Tours" contest
is," Pamela said as she grabbed my hand and took me to the
"Where is the "Miss Happiness Contest," she said
using a very broad English accent.
The man at the counter with a real English accent told us to go
back to the entrance and go down the stairs to our right one flight.
We did. At the bottom of the stairs there appeared at least fifty
of the prettiest young girls I'd ever seen.
"These girls are all at least eighteen years old," I said
She looked around, evaluated the situation and said, "You're
just as good as anyone here. Don't chicken out now that we've come
I wanted to go home and kick off the 'baby doll' shoes that were
pinching my toes and take off my mother's dress that was sticking
to me, and eat some Tootsie Fudge.
"What's your name?" a portly, bald headed man asked me.
"I'm Laura. Laura Crossley," I mumbled.
He checked my name off on a long list, gave me a number and told
me to carry it with me when I go out onto the stage. Then he asked
Pamela for her name.
"I'm Laura's friend," she said with great authority in
her English accent.
"O.K.," he said to me, "go back behind that door
and change into your bathing suit."
On stage in a bathing suit, I thought, getting dizzy. How am I going
to pull this off?
We entered a room filled with at least two hundred girls in various
stages of undress and nakedness.
I blushed and said, "I can't. I can't undress in front of all
"Yes, you can," Pamela said taking off her full-skirted
dress and holding it up as a shield.
We found a corner in that huge room and I changed into her sister's
sexy black velvet bathing suit. Then we waited.
The girls were going out fifteen at a time. Eventually my name was
called and I walked out onto a brightly lit stage. I couldn't see
anyone in the audience but I 'd heard that there were five judges.
A loud voice from the void told us to walk around in a circle and
then stand at the back of the stage in a line until our individual
numbers were called. Then we were told to move forward one at a
time and walk back and forth.
My number was called last. I walked to the front of the stage alone.
Pamela had coached me to walk like a pony and I remembered to do
that and smile, but my mind went blank. Everything was gone... the
fear... the embarrassment. I moved but a part of me wasn't there.
I'd never experienced anything like that before, but today I think
it might be likened to when men go into battle. At the time I didn't
know I was in a battle, but later on I found out how many of these
girls wanted to win.
I heard the loud voice from the audience say, "Thank you"
which meant for our group to get off the stage and make room for
the next one. Pamela was waiting for me. "How do you feel?"
"Numb," I said, as we sat on the floor to see if my number
would be called again.
A woman came in and called out several numbers including mine. Several
cries went up in the room from the girls who were eliminated. A
few were grumbling in anger. Everything started to move very quickly
after the initial elimination. There were more exhausting jaunts
around the stage. Eventually I was chosen to be one of the fifteen
We were asked to hand in our essays on "The Happiest Day In
My Life," put on our clothes, and wait. Some chairs were brought
in for us.
I became aware of the other girls looking at me. I smiled. They
smiled back. No one spoke, not even Pamela.
I was tired. It had been a long day... a long school day. We had
ditched school to come here. Then I realized I was going to have
to tell another lie to the school. I wanted this to end!
But it didn't. The next step was to meet the judges separately in
a smaller room set up with a television camera. The interviews were
to be done on live television.
The lights were twice as bright as those on the stage. I smiled.
The judges smiled. There were five. One complimented me on my essay.
One asked me the breed of the dog I wrote about. I must have answered
but I don't remember any more of the interview. I didn't then and
I don't now.
When it was finished, Pamela asked me what Two Ton Baker was like.
"Who?" I asked.
"Two Ton Baker, the music maker! You know the radio disc jockey
- he is one of the judges."
"I don't remember," I said. I was told later that along
with "Two Ton", the other judges were a matinee idol who
was touring with a Broadway show, the owner of the Sherman Hotel,
his manager, and a columnist with the Chicago Sun Times.
I was in a bathroom stall peeing when Pamela came running in.
"You won, Laura!" she yelled jubilantly, "We're going
on a trip through Mexico, Canada, and California, and for dessert
you, and maybe me, will get a screen test!"
My first thought was not so jubilant. I wondered what I was going
to tell my parents. My second thought was that I had won under false
pretenses because I never had a dog that had puppies. I won because
I lied, so did I really win?
"Pamela, this was supposed to be an adventure for us. I never
thought I'd win so I lied on the essay. I have to tell them."
"Wait a minute, wait a minute," she said, "You mean
you'd give all this up for a little thing like that?"
"You're crazy. I'm in this, too. I got you the bathing suit,
the shoes, the makeup. I taught you how to walk. It's my win, too!
Aren't we partners? How could you do this to me?" and she started
to cry. "First, I loose the trip to London because of the whore,
and now you are deserting me." She was sobbing now. She never
"Please, please don't cry." I said, hoping I wouldn't
be judged so harshly in heaven if I was helping her. So I took my
"win" against my better judgment.
When I told my parents they
were at first dumb founded, and then angry at all the deception.
Later on they met with the owners of "Happiness Tours"
and it was decided that I pose for a few publicity photo shoots
(sans bathing suit) and take the tour with my mother during summer
vacation from school. Since I was underage there would be no screen
test. How I regretted that Pamela could not go; I hoped I could
make it up to her someday.
There were more consequences. The principal of our high school was
watching the contest on television in his office. As I write this
I wonder why he was doing so and maybe that's why I was let off
easy. He never found out about Pamela.
He called my parents in and was going to expel me. My mother said
she talked him out of it by assuring him that I would be "duly"
punished. I was grounded for a month and forbidden to see Pamela
My mother and I went on a whirlwind tour for three weeks, mostly
traveling in between quick trips to tourist places. She had a wonderful
time socializing with all the people on the tour who were around
her age or older. I was bored and wanted to get home to my friends,
particularly Pamela. I learned that summer that a win is not always
Dolores Dorn has been acting all
her life. She has been under contract with Warner Bros. Studios
and Columbia Pictures where she played leading roles opposite Cliff
Robertson, Rod Steiger, and Allan Ladd. She was voted the best actress
at the San Francisco International Film Festival for the role of
Elena in Chekhov's 'Uncle Vanya'. A one-act play
she wrote recently was produced and thusly reviewed, "'Throw
Away Woman' puts a poignant and real face on homelessness in an
uncaring court system." She taught for twelve years at the
American Film Institute and loves animals of all species.
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