Thursday, December 14, 2006

Searching for Miss Austria

You know those dim childhood memories living in the back of your brain, the ones that have gone dark and smoky and fuzzy around the edges? You almost never think of them, but occasionally they pop up entirely unbidden, and you say to yourself, ‘Why is my brain holding onto this?’ And then you wonder about the specifics?

That happened to me yesterday.

I’m not sure why, but I suddenly flashed back on watching the Miss Universe pageant on television one night when I was a kid. This would not have been a common occurrence, because we were not pageant-followers as a rule. My mother was a quasi-feminist who saw little value in beauty pageants. (And justifiably so, I suppose.)

I couldn’t remember any of the details, like what year it was, or where the pageant took place, or who won. But I remembered swaying palm trees and lots of color and glamor.

In particular, I remembered Miss Austria. She was my favorite, with long blonde hair and a dazzling smile. She remained in the contest until its final moments, with just two women remaining on the stage - and then, shockingly, she didn’t win. She was first runner-up. I, at that moment her greatest fan outside Austria, was terribly disappointed. (My mom stated quite authoritatively and somewhat mysteriously that she didn't win because she was “too young.”)

As I thought of this dim memory, I began to wonder: Could I find Miss Austria again? Could I figure out who she was, and, even better, what she’s doing now? Could I flesh out this hazy figure?

Google is an amazing thing. Within moments, I’d found lists and lists of pageant winners. But most of those lists didn’t include runners-up, because, after all, being a runner-up is like being an unsuccessful nominee for an Academy Award. It’s briefly exciting, and then no one ever thinks of it again.

I focused on the late ‘70s. I figured that had to be the right time period. But I recognized none of the winners’ names.

I searched some more. Finally, I found this page, which was gracious enough to list runners-up. And there she was: Eva Maria Duringer, Miss Austria, first runner-up in the Miss Universe pageant of July 1977.

That would have been about right. I would have been 10.

More Googling. Lo and behold, Eva Maria Duringer also participated in numerous other pageants of her day, which I suppose is to be expected. There’s also now a philosophy lecturer at the University of York, in the UK, named Eva-Maria Duringer. Could that be her? Would beauty AND brains be too much to expect?

Ultimately, I discovered through Wikipedia that Eva Maria Duringer - the Miss Universe runner-up, not the philosophy lecturer (at least, I don’t think so) - married the Italian fashion designer Roberto Cavalli. They have three children. Apparently now known as Eva Cavalli, she is part of the jet-setting, benefit-attending, yacht-traveling cadre of people who appear in magazines like “Hello!

I also found this page, which shows Eva Maria Duringer with the other top winners of Miss Universe 1977 _ held, by the way, in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. The page also shows her today.

And then, most bizarrely, there are several clips from the pageant itself on YouTube - including the defining moment.

She’s pretty. I’m not sure why she so captivated my 10-year-old homosexual imagination. But at least my memory’s not so hazy anymore.

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