Throwback Thursday: Miss Rheingold

“I remember running from store to store, grabbing as many ballots as I could. In the neighborhood there sure wasn’t talk about the election for mayor or governor … but when it came to the Miss Rheingold Contest, everybody was involved. The talk was all about it. Everybody talked about it … and everybody voted.”
— John Corrado, resident of East Harlem, New York City during the 1940s and 1950s. As quoted by
Will Anderson in his book, From Beer to Eternity

The voting every year for Miss Rheingold was a huge event in Brooklyn
– in all the five boroughs in fact. It is said that more people voted for Miss Rheingold than any elections other than the presidential ones. Kids couldn’t wait until their moms had to go to the corner grocery so that they could vote . . .and vote . . . and vote. Some folks used up whole pads of voting slips to cast for their faves.

If memory serves the Miss Rheingold Contest always came at the start of baseball season. My cousin Linda and I would go to the store with my Aunt Mildred and stare hopelessly at the beautiful pale and mostly blond girls whose pristine purity was on display. No hope for us . . . or Italian girls, or blacks, or Puerto Ricans. Jinx Falconburg, a Spaniard and probably the most ethnic-looking of the Ms. Rheingolds, was the only one who held out some sort of hope (however false) to the boroughs’ browns and olives. Blacks and Asians were S.O.L.

The Rheingold contestants were always modest. They were rigorously vetted.It could just be me, but I don’t remember ever seeing a Miss Rheingold pictured with a can or glass of beer.

The contest ran from 1941 – 1964, so anyone from our region who came of age during that period will remember this event, some with more pleasure than others. The contest was genius marketing: I’ve read that for much of this period, Rheingold held a 35% market share. I couldn’t tell you what the beer was like.  I was too young to drink then. In any case, I’m a lifelong teetotaler.

The Miss Rheingold Contest evolved over time, originating from a print salesman’s marketing ploy. He showed the Rheingold folks some sample material that happened to have Falkenburg pictured. She became the first Miss Rheingold. Subsequently Miss Rheingolds were selected by a vote of the retailers. Ultimately contest voting was opened to the public.

There were lots of perks and benefits to be derived from winning, so there were thousands of applicants including Grace Kelley (she didn’t make the cut), Hope Lange (a finalist), and Tippi Hedren (a finalist). The  six finalists (selected by the entertainment industry, Tony Randell was one of the judges) were worked hard, paraded around town for every event (with chaperon) and the winners, of course, had lots more of the same. 1964’s winner was host at the Rheingold Pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York, which happened to be the site nd occasion of my very first date. (My mother chaperoned. Boy, haven’t times changed?)

Eventually the Rheingold company recognized that it had a diverse customer base. Hence, in the early sixties, it purchased advertising on the short-lived Nat King Cole Show. It used black, Hispanic and Asian actors in its ads, among the better known was Jackie Robinson. (Rheingold was the official beer of the NY Mets. Robinson, who broke the racial barrier in baseball played mostly for the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Cleveland Indians, retired from baseball in 1954.) Because of this recognition, the Miss Rheingold contest ended in 1964. The concern was that blacks and Hispanics would be offended by the continued parade of six fair candidates every year, while whites would be offended by the entry of blacks and Hispanics into the contest.

In 1976 the company, no longer able to compete with the larger conglomerates, closed. In 1998, when the Rheingold label was revived by  Mitaro’s Rheingold Brewing Company LLC, the contest was reinstated. A new breed of contestant emerged. Consistent with the times, they were unabashedly bare-armed, tattooed, pierced, and had six-pack abs.

Thirteen bartenders entered the fray in 2003. Kate Duyn(27 at that time) won. The Village Voice declared the contest “the best marketing campaign co-opting hipster drinking habits.” The company was sold in 2005 to Drinks America in Connecticut. To my knowledge, there are no longer any Miss Rheingold contests.

2003 Miss Rheingold, Kate Duyn.

The Rheingold Bewing Company was headquartered in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn.

© 2008, article, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved; Public domain photograph of Jinx Falconburg (January 21 1919/Barcelona, Spain – August 27, 2003/Manhasset, NY, USA), the first Miss Reingold, from the April 27, 1947 issue of Yank, The Army Weekly; The 1964 World’s Fair poster for Rheingold via eBay auction; Miss Reingold 1949 illustration is in the public domain; 2003 Miss Rheingold, Kate, Duyn, copyright holder might be Mitaro’s or Drinks America.