"Miss Melrose" of 1964 -- only half a century ago

... a reporter remembers, finds 50-year-old photos

from Don Norris

Presenting the new "Miss Melrose of 1964", Miss Diane Conway! Others in the resurrected photo are Ms Bebe Shoppe Waring (Miss America 1948), and the Melrose Jaycees' program chairmen Anthony Romano and Ray Macone. The highly popular pageant was the work of the Melrose Jaycees.

Things happened years ago that we can't help but remembering. Like the  birth of a child, the Great War, the fabulous trip we took one winter to Key West ...

And as a community, there are significant works that we all remember -- the building of new, modern high school on the Fellsway in 1933 - and it's replacement thirty years later. Even the bad times sometimes brought on good
things -- like the idea of a new golf course and park being built right in the middle of the Great Depression.

At the left are Jaycees Frank Paolino and Leo Colborne (Leo was the stage manager and key person in the production); in the middle is the eventual winner (we believe it's Miss Conway's image), and Miss America of 1948, Bebe Shoppe Waring, producer and super-star.

Personally, I can remember a show the Jaycees -- the Junior Chamber of Commerce -- produced in the early '60s -- called the "Miss Melrose Pageant" which went over with a bang in 1963, but unfortunately produced no winner from the several contestants from Melrose. A year later, the Jaycees worked their magic again, but this time there was a Melrose girl on top -- and in second place, third place and the runner-up -- all from hometown Melrose -- out of 11 contestants.

On the Front Page of the Melrose Free Press that Thursday morning -- May 28, 1964 -- the headlines blossomed with a photo of the winner -- Diane Conway. The pix also featured Bebe Shoppe Waring (Miss American of 1948) and the two production bosses, Jaycees Anthony Romano and Ray Macone, chairmen of the event.

The show was a huge success and made up (to the community) the previous edition with not just the top winner, but three other girls from Melrose. Beside Miss Conway, earning trophies were Miss Pamela Gore (first runner-up), Miss Sandra DiBlasi (second runner-up), and Melinda Sunderland (Miss Congeniality). A Wakefield girl, Veronica Fitzgerald, was selected as  the contestant with the best talent.

Jaycees in towns all across America held similar pageants, the winners of which were elevated to State competition -- and on to the Miss America Pageant, if they are both lucky and had the right stuff.

* * *

The other story here was that Don Norris -- now a SilverStringer writer, editor and photographer -- was one of the founders of the Melrose Jaycees. He was, at that time, on the staff of the Melrose Free Press, first as a writer and later as manager of the advertising department. As a Jaycee, he was on the scene at every stage, photographing with a "new" 35mm camera using slide film.

Surprisingly, Mr. Norris recently discovered in his attic, boxes upon boxes of slides that he and Mrs. Norris (Lorry) had taken from their days in the Marines in the fifties until the advent of digital photography in the nineties. In the carton were some three thousand slides of the Norris family -- including some 150 slides of the "Miss Melrose" pageant.

And so, some few weeks ago, Don and Lorry began the job of sorting, naming and rescuing this treasure trove. Included in the lot were some 75 slides of the Miss Melrose Pageant of 1964 -- held just half a century ago. The slides were badly faded, spotted and dirty, some had to be tossed, but a few others were put through Adobe Photoshop.

The results were amazing, he said. Not perfect, but good enough to reproduce in an article half a century after they were taken -- by a younger Jaycee Don Norris.

Those were the times of such luminaries as Chief Sid Field of the Fire Department, Captain MacWilliams in the Police, Harold Rand was the school superintendent, Larry Lloyd was the perennial mayor. Walter Bruce was the
heavy voice on the Aldermanic Board, Imry Dixon was MHS principal and Miss Amy Damon was head of the English Department. George McPheters taught history and was the schools most-liked teacher, leading his students to a yearly trip to Washington. Harold Poole ran the football team in those early days.  

For those who lived in Melrose during the mid-century -- those who followed the Melrose Free Press weekly -- Frank Schueler was the owner and publisher, both of the weekly newspaper and the expanding printing company. Miss Dorothy Raymond was the editor, having joined the company in 1933. She was the boss during my time in the editorial department, in the fifties, until I took over the advertising unit in the '60s. Mr. Schueler's two children, son Frank and daughter (I forget her name) were active in the company over the years, and finally it was Frank Jr. who sold the operation to one of the new newspaper conglomerates. That virtually ended the monopoly the Free press had in Melrose, and several other publications edged into the city.

As for the Jaycees, they prospered in town for many years -- until -- under the presidency of Michael Festa, "the boys" decided to accept membership of women in the local community. It became a movement across America -- to accept woman in the Jaycees -- until the national organization stepped in, decreeing that this was a male organization and females are not welcome. The Melrose group responded to national, refusing to dismiss its female members, and, facing dismissal, the local organization disbanded.

It also ended any possibility of another Miss Melrose Pageant in Melrose.

But, ending this article on an high note, the Jaycees produced a marvelous show in 1964 -- exactly 50 years ago -- and in doing so, awarded its top trophies to Melrose's own beauties.

April 4, 2014

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