July 10, 1941.
Miss Shanghai 1941
Arcadia was the largest emigrant cabaret on Route Courbet, close to Route Doumer. In the previous years Miss Shanghai took place in Luna Park in the Internatinal Settlement and DD's cafe on Avenue Joffre.
"July 10 there will be an annual election of the beauty queen of our city, Miss Shanghai, in the garden restaurant Arcadia. Many interesting girls have already signed up for the competition. Now the question is whom the jury and the public will choose as the most deserving of the title. It is very honorable and pleasant to be Miss Shanghai. Apart from some wonderful gifts, the chosen girl will be considered the most beautiful girl in Shanghai, which in itself is very flattering. Audience wishing to attend the election or simply dine at Arcadia are recommended to book a table in advance. On the day of the contest almost everyone in Shanghai shows up."
"10 июля в саду Аркадия пройдут ежегодные выборы королевы нашего города Мисс Шанхай. Как всегда выборы мисс Шанхай проходят в очень торжественной обстановке. Много интереснейших девушек нашего города уже хаписались на выборы и теперь весь вопрос в том, кого публика и жюри признает достойнейшей. Быть Мисс Шанхай очень почетно и ... приятно. Помимо прекрасных подарков которые получит избранница, само по себе признание красивейшей девушки города несомненно льстит самолюбию и является почетным званием. Желающим принять участие в выборах и просто постеить залы и сад Аркадия в этот день следует щаблаговременно записаться и заказаь сеюе столик так как в вечер выборов обычно в Аркадии собирается чуть ли не весь Шанхай."
Two days after the "election" Nikita Lezibom, a resident columnist for Slovo, wrote a satire piece:
"Last night Miss Shanghai was elected. Ladies got very excited and chatted a lot. One mother had a fight with her daughter. The daughter said: "I want to be Miss Shanghai." Her mother, a smart damsel, replied: "Chill, Glasha. You're not exactly a goblin, but your face is far from a beauty queen material." But the girl was stubborn: "Mother, who should be talking? Makeup can make any mug beautiful, and I am rather pretty to start with." The mother objected: "Glasha, makeup sticks to the face in winter, but this heat will make your mascara and rouge drip from your chin. Forget it. In this hot weather they will probably pick a natural beauty." But you cannot stop a girl. She made up her face, put on a dress with a fur train and rode off to the contest."
"А вечером мисс Шанхай выбирали. Тоже среди дамского народу столько разговоров было. Напротив дочка с мамашей перессорились. «Хочу говорит выбираться.» Мамаша, бабенка умная, урезонивает: «Да куда тебе, Глашенька,» говорит, «Ну ты, конечно, не урод, а все же в королевы-то личиком не вышла.»
А девчонка-то с норовом. «Что вы, мамаша, понимаете! С косметикой-то из любой рожи красавицу сделать можно. А у меня миловидность явная.» А мамаша протестует. «Это, Глашенька, зимой косметическое лицо держится. А в такую жару поди и тушь и румяна потоками по физиономии-то расплывутся. Не спорь, Глашенька, по случаю жаркой-то погоды в этом году, поди натуральную красавицу выберут.» Ну куда там, разве девчонку переспоришь. Личико это нашмулевала, платье с хвостом нацепила и уехала."
Two weeks after the contest Slovo printed the photo of the winner, Faina Hablieva, Miss Shanghai 1941. (Unfortunately, I was unable to snap a picture of it, because Zikawei watchdogs had their eyes on me. Those anti-enlightenment harpies, those militant ignoramuses, those modern Red Guards... But I diverge.) But here is a photo of Miss Shanghai from ten years earlier, posing with her prize, "a magnificent Buick motor-car."
Singer and writer Alexandr Vertinsky left a hilarious record of the 1941 contest:
"[...]The sponsor of the event was the local emigrant magazine Solitude. Arcadia, the best garden restaurant in the city, provided the space. A long table covered with rugs was mounted on an open stage. There were jugs of kvass (fermented bread drink Russians drink in summer – KK) and a large vase with flowers. The jury consisted of the "titans of Shanghai intelligentsia," "prophets in exile," "spiritual leaders," and so forth.
The audience purchased entry tickets and received pink voting slips. Everyone knew that you could purchase a stack of those slips directly and ensure the victory of any girl you want. The slips were openly sold at the ticket office. The audience was waiting and digesting its steaks and cutlets in silence.
Behind the stage there were chicken coops where the owner of the restaurant kept his stock of geese, chicken and turkey, to save money on shopping. Today the coops became the changing room for the future beauty queens. They were perched on stools amid the cages, waiting to be called.
The chicken squeaked; the geese cackled; the future queens were nervous. They lifted the trains of their dresses and whacked the poultry with their clutches and umbrellas.
The beauties came in all types: dyed silver blondes, dark brunettes with Spanish ringlets on their temples, and redheads with untidy mermaid-like tresses. They created an ungodly racket:
“Nicolai, Nicolai, get that swan away from me, it’s ruining my stockings!”
“Oh my god! I stepped into something! Quickly, bring me a wipe!”
“Semyon, please pour her some valerian drops.”
At ten sharp the orchestra played a march. The contest has begun. A sleazy MC dragged the girls one by one onto the stage, like kittens from a bag. He announced:
“Number one. Miss Asphixia!”
“Number two. Miss Amphibia!”
The public murmured: “Wow, this one is ugly.”
“Number Three. Miss Potentia!”
The public whispered: “What a horse.”
Girls had to use pseudonyms.
“Number four. Miss Guarantia.” A girl in black silk with silver patches stood on the stage in the limelight. She was pathetically thin and resembled a merchant’s glazed coffin.
The public wondered: “Is she in mourning?”
Someone explained: “She’s the wife of the Unknown Soldier.”
The girl with fuzzy hair and spaghetti-thin legs was about to faint. The anxiety, the birght lights and the prolonged waiting in the chicken coop brought her on the verge of collapse.
With an air of hopelessness, the girls trotted in circles on stage. Despite the urging of the esteemed jury, the public refused to vote for what they saw. All the interesting girls were sitting among the public and refused to compete. The evening was about to turn sour when a miracle happened. A corpulent Chinese man approached the jury table. He was a famous businessman: he owned several currency exchange shops on the Bund.
The public whispered: “The pheasant is here.”
“Our lady wanchee be missee,” he spoke in universally understood Pidgin. “How much?” He produced a thick wallet from the pocket of his robe and started to count the banknotes.
The owner of the restaurant rose behind his back. “This way, please.” Two waiters appeared on both sides of the benefactor and pushed him toward the ticket office. Ten minutes later the majority of the votes “elected” his lady. She was Russian and a professional prostitute.
The trial was over. The judges climbed down from their Mount Olympus and sat down to sample free refreshments. The moon was rising. Fried meat was served."
UPDATE: Miss Shanghai and Arcadia are ongoing threads in my research. Follow the relevant tags below to see all the posts on these topics.