Magazine article The New Yorker

Underground Beauties

Magazine article The New Yorker

Underground Beauties

Article excerpt

UNDERGROUND BEAUTIES

Long before Dr. Zizmor and Poetry in Motion, beauty on the subways came in the form of the Miss Subways competition, which ran from 1941 to 1976. The idea, hatched by the New York Subways Advertising Company, was to prettify the train cars while drawing eye traffic to the surrounding ads for chewing gum or cigarettes. Every few months, a new glamour shot would appear on posters underground, along with a few lines describing the winner's hobbies ("modern dance, piano and ceramics") and aspirations ("plugging for B.A. but would settle for M.R.S."). Nearly two hundred women claimed the title.

If Miss Subways is remembered today, it is primarily because of the 1944 musical "On the Town," whose heroine is Miss Turnstiles; she is pursued by a trio of sailors who have just learned that the Bronx is up and the Battery's down. A Broadway revival of the show was the occasion, the other day, for a gathering of some twentyfive former Miss Subways winners, at Ellen's Stardust Diner. The reunion took place there because Ellen herself--Ellen Hart Sturm--was crowned Miss Subways in March and April, 1959. "I was seventeen and a half, and I was going to Jamaica High School," Sturm recalled. She held up her poster, in which she sported an Elizabeth Taylor look. "I thought this would be a springboard for my career, but, instead, I got married when I was twenty-one and had my son before I was twenty-two." She rebounded in the eighties, singing the national anthem at Rangers and Knicks games. "I get up and sing here occasionally," she added, referring to her diner, whose waitstaff belt out show tunes on their shifts. "And I climbed the Empire State Building this year: eighty-six flights for multiple myeloma!"

The Miss Subways wore sashes and posed with their posters while sitting in vinyl booths. Mary Gardiner Timoney (May and June, 1953) was working as a secretary for Scandinavian Airlines when her boss submitted her photo. "I ended up onstage at Radio City Music Hall," she said. "I travelled all over with General Motors. I was on 'The Perry Como Show.' I just retired when I was sixty-five--my last print job was for arthritic hands." Dolores Mitchell Byrne (January and February, 1961), whose poster identified her as "the 'outdoor' type," took up scuba diving. "My last dive was about two years ago, in Hawaii," she said. "I saw a giant manta ray right over my head on my hundredth dive. I said, 'O.K., better quit while I'm ahead. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.