The event that put MISS UNIVERSE on the world map happened during the 1957 Pageant, the first year that married contestants were not allowed to join. LEONA GAGE, Miss Maryland, won the title of MISS USA 1957. A day after her coronation, the Pageant learned that she was married and the mother of two children.
On July 19, 1957, Miss Peru, Gladys Zender Urbina, was elected Miss Universe 1957. Site: Long Beach, California (USA).She was the first Latin American woman to win the Miss Universe. Gladys Zender studied art and languages, and at one point she wanted to be an aviator. During her early teenage years, her beauty and personality drew positive comments especially when she won the Reinado de Primavera (Spring Pageant) in her Santa Ursula school, and years later, the Reinado de los Carnavales (Carnival Pageant) of Miraflores. Before being crowned Miss Peru 1957, the representative of Max Factor company, Roman Toporow, while visiting Lima, was impressed by the style and the very Latin features of the young Gladys and affirmed that she “was a perfect beauty”. In the beginning, her family was opposed to her joining the national pageant, but later they supported her by traveling with her to Long Beach.
During the sixth edition of the Miss Universe pageant, there were all sorts surprises. It was rumoured that the pageant preferred candidates from countries that were experiencing political crisis.However,Miss Greece, Lygia Karavias, did not qualified for the semi-finals. Experts predicted that two favourites –Misses Germany and England- would win and keep the crown in Western Europe. Miss Germany, Gerti Daud, was crowned Miss Photogenic Universe.
Some observers believed that the delegates from Brazil (Teresinha Goncalves Morango), Argentina(Monica Lamas), Peru(Gladys Zender), Canada (Gloria Noakes), Italy (Valeria Fabrizzi) and Martinica (Ginette Cidalise-Montaise) would enter the finals. Many of the girls from Latin America thought that they had been invited for the sake of formality only.
There was some sort of uneasiness in the region since two Latin beauties had failed to win in two consecutive finals. In 1954, the Brazilian Maria Martha “Marilu” Hacker Rocha was adjudged as very beautiful, but her hips were two inches wider than the ideal measurement and thus lost to the American Miriam Stevenson.
In 1955, the huge favourite Miss El Salvador –who resembled Marilyn Monroe- lost by two points to Hillevi Rombin of Sweden.
Gladys Zender's victory in Miss Universe pageant had taken the Peruvian and the rest of Latin America by surprise.According to the American press, the traits that made Gladys deserve the title were these: “her captivating personality and her aristocratic bearing” and that “she had been educated in the traditional system of Latin American women” In the end, it was her whistlebait figure that won her the crown and beat the beauties from Brazil, England, Cuba and Germany.
During her homecoming on August 10, 1957, a million of her compatriots lined up along the streets to welcome her.When Gladys appeared, the crowd never tired of shouting, “Viva Gladys!”. “I cried with joy. I never imagined this welcome,” remarked the beauty queen during an interview. In 1982 when the Miss Universe pageant was held in Lima, the Miss Universe Organization presented Gladys with a special trophy to honor her 25th coronation anniversary. Today, Gladys Zender de Meir is a Latin beauty icon…an example of Miss Universe.