Popularity Contest? Beauty Contest?
Shown in the photo above are some of the contestants in the Canadian Legion Celebration Popularity Contest, gathered around the Auburn vehicle that was promised to the winner of the competition.
Although the Legion referred to the contest as being a “popularity” and a “beauty” contest, it was in fact neither. It was principally about how skilled the various women were at distributing tickets in large numbers and in a strategic fashion.
In 1927, the Legion sponsored a carnival at the Cambie Street Grounds and the Drill Hall from May 24 (Victoria Day) to May 30th. What was being celebrated was Confederation’s Diamond Jubilee; its 60-year anniversary. In order to gain admission to the carnival, folks needed a (free) admission ticket. The ladies who were in the “popularity contest” would distribute tickets to friends, acquaintances, anyone really who they could persuade to accept a ticket (or more than one) to the carnival. Presumably, the name of the “popularity girl” would be written somewhere on the ticket, and that part of the ticket would be submitted to the Legion. That way, the Legion could track who was leading in ticket distribution and, ultimately, determine who gave away the greatest number of tickets and thereby won the contest.
Enrollment criteria were pretty straightforward: Females between the ages of 16 and 21; unmarried; of “unimpeachable” character; residents of Greater Vancouver; and sponsored by a reputable businessman, the chief executive of a fraternal group, a social service, or ex-service organization (Sun 1 April 1927).
Ticket distribution began in early May and continued until midnight on May 30th (the final day of the carnival).
What would “Miss Vancouver” win, exactly? It was widely reported in the local press that she would be given an Auburn coupe automobile (provided by Duplex Sales Ltd.) and she would earn the right to represent Vancouver through a “free trip” to the Inter-City Beauty Contest to be held in September in Atlantic City, N. J. (this was the Miss America pageant).
The number of contestants, initially, was 22, but the number enrolled had dropped (for reasons unknown) to 20 by May 9th and to 18 by May 19th.
The woman who would ultimately win the contest and become “Miss Vancouver” was Velma Rogers. Watch how her name bounces around the standings. She begins in 6th place (May 9); then she dives to 15th (May 19); then she made a dramatic move into first place (May 26) and by the day before the final count she was in third place (May 30). The final standings were 1st: Velma Rogers; 2nd: Kitty Salmon; and 3rd: Gertie Preston. It took the counters until 5am to finish the tallying (Sun May 31, 1927).
The contest proved to be about not only having a large number of folks to whom you could go and beg to accept tickets. It was also about knowing when to pull out the stops. You didn’t want to ‘peak’ too early. So it was partly about strategizing.
The Real Contest
But ticket distribution, in the whole scheme of things, seems to have been a side-show. The real contest began after the counting was done; the forum was the law courts of British Columbia.
Scarcely had the votes been counted when Mrs. Letitia Salmon, mother of 2nd-place winner, Kitty Salmon, filed an injunction in BC Supreme Court on her daughter’s behalf, claiming that Kitty had been declared the winner, but that after the closing hour, votes and money had been exchanged and that Velma Rogers was then declared the winner. How it was that Mrs. Salmon obtained this information, let alone how she hoped to prove it in a court of law, wasn’t reported. The judge granted her an interim injunction, however, restraining Rogers and the Legion from “handling or dealing with the awards”, at least until June 30th (Edmonton Journal 23 June 1927).
By mid-July, Salmon’s injunction was dissolved and it looked like Rogers would be free to claim the Auburn and her forthcoming Atlantic City expenses. But her legal struggle wasn’t finished, yet.
At the end of July, a new character entered the legal fray: Joseph J. Diamond. He applied for an order that would prevent Rogers from removing the Auburn from Greater Vancouver. Diamond had a written agreement with Rogers, which his lawyer produced in court, which stated that he would be given the car in exchange for his financial aid to Rogers during the contest, in the event that she should win. (Sun 28 July 1927). By early August, the court ordered that the car be sold so that her lawyer could be paid and so that the balance would be available to the court for Diamond’s suit. (Sun 4 August 1927).
A couple of weeks later, and “Queen Velma” (as she was coming to be known in the local press) was on the legal offensive. She had been deprived of her car; there was no way she was going to be denied her right to go to Atlantic City — expenses-free — for the pageant in September!
She threatened to file suit against some 70 individuals who were “patrons” of the Legion celebration, including Mayor L. D. Taylor and Vancouver city aldermen to get enough cash so that she could travel to Atlantic City, unburdened by expenses. Apparently this was the only avenue open to her, since the Legion Celebration Committee was an unincorporated group (Province 19 August 1927).
The 70 didn’t capitulate to Rogers’ threat of bringing suit, however, so she had to actually do so. She sued the 70 for $1500 (including the costs of five evening gowns, sport and afternoon dresses, bathing suits and other apparel) (Province 21 August 1927).
Rogers won the battle, but she lost the war.
It was February 1928 before the suit wended its way though the system — and so, five months after the Atlantic City event, the Legion paid her $1000 for the Atlantic City expenses.
Velma Rogers was married a few months after claiming her $1000. She married Gordon W. Dalgleish, a theatre manager in Nelson. A few years later, Velma was back in Vancouver. She had been made the head of a new hosiery department at Rae’s Clever Shoe Store on Granville Street (Sun 4 April 1934). Not long after that, Velma and Gordon were divorced. Velma married Christopher Beute and moved to California where she worked as an accountant. According to her death notice, during WWII she was employed by Hughes Aircraft and later worked for Samuel Goldwyn Productions. She died in 1996 at the age of 90. (Desert Sun 15 October 1996).
When I was initially piecing this story together, I just assumed that the Legion would have charged for the tickets to the carnival. But they didn’t. And I think that was a mistake. To charge would have meant that the women would have had the opportunity to show off their sales savvy (or lack thereof). And there would have been some money in the ‘kitty’ for prizes. As it turned out, Velma Rogers didn’t seem to win much that she really wanted (her dream of a new car and an expense-paid trip to the New Jersey beauty contest were a total loss). The Legion was damaged by negative publicity. Perhaps the only real winners were the lawyers who represented the parties to the disputes!