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Yucca beauty by Nancy Kolsti
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Yucca beauty

Down the Corridor


Before North Texas students Phyllis George and Shirley Cothran ('73, '74 M.Ed.) were named Miss Americas in the 1970s, they were Yucca Beauties. The Yucca Beauties contest, established by the Yucca yearbook staff, was an eagerly awaited annual event on campus for decades.

Beauties appeared as early as the 1928 edition of the yearbook, and in 1930 Ruth Steele ('33) was featured as "Queen of the Yucca." One of eight beauties selected by the student body, she was chosen queen by Oswin King, a Dallas Journal writer better known as "Uncle Jake." Bandleader Guy Lombardo was the celebrity judge for 1933, and entertainer Eddie Cantor served in 1935, "with a show of courage and fortitude flattering to American manhood," the Yucca editors reported.


Josephine Bridges was selected to be the 1946 Yucca cover girl by actor Van Johnson.

After a short break during World War II, the yearbook staff conducted a "cover girl" contest for the 1946 edition. Actor Van Johnson, then one of the hottest names in Hollywood, chose Josephine Bridges ('48) from the 12 finalists' photos sent to him via a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer talent scout. Bridges appeared on the cover of the 1946 Yucca wearing a Greek costume provided by MGM.

In 1947 Rose Marie Royall ('47) won the contest, chosen by Texas Gov. Beauford Jester from 20 finalists flown to Austin on a special airplane labeled "Yucca Queen."

By 1950, the Yucca Queen contest had once again become the Yucca Beauties contest. For the next 24 years, eight to 12 students, most nominated by campus organizations, were chosen annually. Judges included golfer Byron Nelson and pianist Carmen Cavallaro.

Beauties were photographed in evening gowns at first, but more casual wear took over in the mid-1960s. In 1969 Nicky Wilson was the first African American named a Yucca Beauty. George and Cothran were selected in 1970 and 1972.

Actress Philece Sampler ('75) was a Yucca Beauty in 1974, the year the contest — and the Yucca — abruptly came to an end. The staff announced that year's Yucca would be the last because the Student Service Fee committee was no longer allocating support. The yearbook was revived as the Aerie in the 1980s — but without a beauty contest.

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