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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Miss Subways Meet Buddy Beaverhausen

Current NYC subway ads bore me. And I detest the recent trend of total saturation, "theme" advertising where entire cars are plastered with ads for the same product. The Poetry in Motion posters are nice, but there are so few. What I really would like to see is the return of Miss Subways posters in our cars. A bit of beauty, a bit of refinement, a touch of class. Miss S may not be as highly regarded as Miss America but, hey, I'm sure the subway ladies wished for world peace, too.

"Miss Subways was a title accorded to individual New York City women between 1941 and 1976. The woman who was 'Miss Subways' at any one time appeared on posters placed on... trains, along with a brief description of her. In 1957 it was estimated that '5,892,000 pairs of eyes a day' viewed Miss Subways on '14,000 car cards.' The program was run by the New York Subways Advertising Company. Around 200 women held the title during the program's run," Wikipedia explicates.

In 1971, Bernard Spaulding, sales director for the New York Subways Advertising Company, said Miss Subways developed from "a World War II pinup phenomenon and then lost social significance."

Mayor Ed Koch ruminated, in 1979, that "Even now, I can sit in the subway, and look up at the ads, and close my eyes, and there's Miss Subways. She wasn't the most beautiful girl in the world but she was ours. She was our own Miss America." Mayor Koch wasn't the most handsome mayor in NYC but he was ours. (Come to think of it, all the mayors of New York City I can recall were pretty doggy looking up till this day.) Koch was, however, closely associated with a real Miss America, Bess Meyerson, at one time. In fact, she was his "beard" during his first campaign for mayor.

Perhaps, then, Miss Subways is defunct because it was perceived to be sexist. But if Buddy were head of the New York Subways Advertising Company (if it indeed still exists), he'd merely add a Mr Subways campaign for fairness and balance. I would certainly have no problem with images of handsome men's faces on the subways. Hell, just put up shirtless NYC firemen from the pin-up calendar!

Unlike Miss America, Miss Subways was not a competition and there were no bathing suits involved.

In 2004, reporter Melanie Bush brilliantly analyzed the phenomenon:  

From the first ('Mona Freeman, wants to be a top notch freelance illustrator') to the last ('Heidi Hafner ... Her goal: a flight instructor's rating'), they focused on women's ambitions, and in the 1940's or the 70's or [2000's], that's a rare rose to find clamped in the teeth of mass advertising. Yet there it was, and there it more or less firmly remained, probably because the contest was structured during World War II, when more than three million women were offered paying work for the first time, and were thus riding the subways, not to mention operating them, in much greater numbers than before. The posters were at their most radical during the war years, and reflect women's later return to the home. Miss Subways' journey tracks a clear underground parallel to the prescribed roles of her sisters' above: While the civilian women of World War II may have been crucial to the work force, the purpose of housewives, as Betty Friedan puts it, 'is to buy more things for the house.' From the exhilarating peak of December 1942's Marguerite McAuliffe, 'whose aim is to be a doctor as good as her dad,' and November 1943's Cecile Woodley, whose 'main interests are her job and the Navy ... enthusiastically O.K.'s skiing, Mozart and Katharine Hepburn,' we slide submissively toward Irene Scheidt, June 1950, whose 'fondest hope is a trip to Bermuda.' Then up we go again to Eleanor Nash, November 1960, 'young, beautiful, and expert with a rifle.' ... What I waited for each new month was: What did she do? What were her goals? The Miss Subways I wanted to be was the airplane pilot. Or how about 'travel writer'? 'Scientist'? 'Surgeon'? ... Maybe next month she'd plan to be an astronaut. Or president! What was actually going on here, I saw, was women, real New York women, talking to each other about their intentions and transmitting these messages through the medium of some men's advertising campaign.

Although a subjective standard of physical beauty was applied, according to Wikipedia:

"'The general rule [was] that to be eligible, a woman had to be a New York City resident and herself use the subway.'" John Robert Powers, the head of the modeling agency, selected the winners" until 1961 or 1962 and later 'for some years, winners were chosen by the contest organizers.'"

The series represented ethnic diversity with African-American and Asian Miss Subways, reflecting the melting pot quality of NYC in the spirit of the times during which I grew up in the New York City area.

I reviewed some of the Miss S posters on the Internet and here are a few random thoughts:

Ok, Cecile Woodley is fierce! An Assistant buyer at a department store, she's positively in Joan Crawford mode. Her ambition? To be the buyer! Interests? Her job. And the Navy. "Hello, sailor. See anything that... interests you? Let's see if I have something in your, ummm... size."

I enjoy her "enthusiastically okays," too, incidentally. Fabulously phony.

I'd pretty much steer clear of anyone named Borgia, frankly. Call me old-fashioned. Helen only "hopes to practice Law" [emphasis my own] because, like, it was 1941. "[L]ikes to... wear distinctive hats." As you can see, Ms Borgia is smartly sporting a throw pillow.  "Says her brothers are much better looking..."! Holy yowzer! Helen, are you reading this? Are they still alive? Are they rich? Are they interested in an over-the-hill rent boy? (Ahem! I just may know one is all I'm saying. Contact me.)

A stewardess named Landing?

Ironic, no?

Of one Miss Subways, it was written that she "loves to subway," the first time I've seen the word used as a verb. To subway. I think I'll add it to my lexicon: "What a grand day to go subwaying!"

Ah, fellow New Yorkers, these could be our dreamgirls once again. MTA, bring back Miss Subways! (Ok, call her Ms Subways if you must.) (And with Mr Subways, please.)

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for bringing back some great memories of yet another piece of NYC History, that is no longer with us. Love 'ya, Buddy!