WHEN BEAUTY QUEENS RULED TORONTO
Fame can be fleeting for many who were stars on the main stage of Toronto but not for Judy Welch who just died at 74.
It may have been back in the ancient days of 1956 when she became Miss Toronto but for decades her name was always mentioned when writers or neighbours talked about the vanished era when beauty contests were not seen as degrading and the honey blonde's stats of 35-23-35 were known by many.
A year after she took the Toronto crown, Judy won the Miss World, which really meant something in those days and wasn't just a competition hunting for new backers and TV time.
She parlayed that into her own modelling agency and represented the newer famous names in beauty and modelling, like Naomi Campbell. Pictures of Judy with the renowned like Mick Jagger, Burt Reynolds and Elvis Presley, and speculation about who were friends and who were relationships, was a staple of the entertainment pages.
I always found the politically correct veto on beauty contests to be stupid since even as a back-sliding Baptist I didn't find it evil to look with ardent admiration on female beauty. Of course the Toronto Sun faced endless hassle over its Page 3 Girls, even though they wore more cloth than is seen at many beaches.
The gutless decision to move the girlie shot to the back of the paper never made sense to me as The Editor because I saw the attacks on the Girl as just another excuse to criticize the politics of our editorials and to assault our tabloid approach. It had little to do with sexism.
The Sun used to take the calendar girls on an annual cruise and I found that many of the women were bright and lively and ecstatic about all the career opportunities that opened up to them after they were in the Sun.
But then Canada has had beauty queens in important positions, even if some Internet biographies of Carole Goss Taylor fail to mention that she was Miss Toronto 1964. I did one of her first interviews after the title and also still had relatives at her Weston Collegiate, and knew that she was very bright, very charming and a cinch to go on to posts like B.C. finance minister and head of the CBC board after she got her start at the Tely and CTV precisely because she was Miss Toronto.
Ironically, the PC activists who have killed most beauty contests haven't been able to deal with the ones with ethnic roots, such as the CHIN bikini competition which bares more than most Miss Toronto contests.
One of Judy Welch's strangest gigs was to stun a gaggle of University of Toronto profs in a skirmish in the academic wars. Murray Ross related the story to me with great relish at the party held for him as he retired as the first president of York University.
To give this a little perspective, let me quote Bill Kilbourn, a gifted writer and wacky Liberal politician on Toronto council, who had been a York prof and was fond of telling everyone just how savage academic politics could be. He said that you wouldn't realize that a colleague had slashed your throat until you nodded your head and it rolled off.
As Dr. Ross laboured to bring York into existence in 1959, he had been ordered by Queen's Park to meet monthly with a committee of U of T professors to tell them of his plans and to hope they wouldn't block him. Queen's Park kowtowed to U of T in many ways. Not only did it give its politician/professors a major voice in York's foundation, a U of T rep also sat on the board of the Ryerson Institute of Technology.
Ross started to be bugged by the monthly summons even though he had been a key insider at U of T.
So he plotted. He went to McTamney's, the famous old pawnbrokers on Church St., and rented the largest silver tea-service they had. And he hired Judy Welch. In the middle of the meeting, he asked if anyone wanted tea, and without waiting for an answer, tinkled a silver bell. In waltzed Judy in a costume so skimpy, she was falling out of every port. The professors couldn't take their eyes off her. They stuttered like kids when they asked for tea and sugar.
Then Judy left. And several profs demanded to know the name and history of the beauty that had just served them tea. Dr. Ross said vaguely that she was just a member of his staff and he didn't really know her name.
For years, Dr. Ross and Judy Welch had a giggle about the afternoon they flabbergasted the stuffy old profs from University of Toronto. Just one of the many roles she was to play in a busy life studded with celebrities, entertainers and glamour.