By Wesley Harris
In the 1930s and 40s, many colleges called upon well-known artists, actors, cinematographers, and other celebrities to select the beautiful coeds to appear in the schools’ yearbooks.
In 1934, Bing Crosby selected beauties for the University of Northern Iowa yearbook from ten finalists. The University of Southern Arkansas used natives of the state like actor Dick Powell and radio comedians Lum and Abner to choose beauties for the Mulerider, the school’s yearbook.
Louisiana Tech also adopted this policy in the 1930s. In the 20s, a single coed was usually selected annually as the school’s “most beautiful” or “prettiest girl” for the Lagniappe, the college’s yearbook. A bevy of campus beauties was first selected in 1929 by vote of the students.
In 1930, actor Charles “Buddy” Rogers selected five Tech beauties from twenty photographs mailed to Hollywood. Rogers was well known at the time, having starred in nearly twenty films, including the first one to win an Oscar (Wings, 1927).
No celebrity was used to make the 1931-33 Lagniappe choices, but actress Mae West selected the 1934 yearbook beauties. As one of Hollywood’s original “sex symbols,” West may have been a controversial choice for a conservative Southern school like Tech. When she made the Tech beauty selections, her current film was aptly named I’m No Angel.
In 1935, after student balloting narrowed the field to eighteen, seven-year-old actress Shirley Temple picked six Tech coeds for the Lagniappe. Temple was at the height of her popularity, having already made over a dozen films. A photograph of the honorary Oscar winner holding a Tech Talk, the campus newspaper, announcing her selection as judge appeared in the yearbook along with the chosen coeds.
By 1936 when she was asked to select Tech’s beauties, Claudette Colbert had already made nearly 30 movies and won a best actress Oscar. She would be nominated three more times for best actress and won a Golden Globe for best supporting actress for a TV mini-series.
Louisiana Governor Richard Leche made the selections in 1937 just after Tech named its new administration building in his honor. After Leche was convicted of serious corruption charges, Tech renamed the building for former President J. E. Keeny.
Hollywood star Charlie McCarthy made the 1938 selections, followed in 1939 by Kay Kyser who made the choice “from among a group selected by a campus-wide poll.” Kyser’s orchestra was hugely popular in the 30s and 40s with eleven number one records. The band also appeared in several motion pictures.
Theatrical producer and composer Earl Carroll made the 1940 picks “on the basis of a bust photograph and a full length pose, supplemented by a chart of measurements and general descriptive information.”
No celebrity was utilized in 1941 so the selections were most likely made by student vote. In 1942 big-time producer Cecille B. DeMille, the founding father of the Hollywood film industry, made the choice.
The last year Tech used a celebrity for judging campus beauties was 1943 when comedic actor Bob Hope picked six Tech coeds. The autographed photograph of the star of stage and film sent back with the selections read, “I’m breathless!—but ‘Thanks for the Memory’ of 28 real beauties.” Hope presented his stand-up act at Tech in 1985 and got to see many of its beauties in person.
The disruptions brought on by world war played a role in ending the practice of celebrity judges. Tech did not produce a Lagniappe for 1944 because of war shortages and celebrity selections were discontinued when publication resumed. Whether the Hollywood stars made the selections or deferred to a manager or press agent is anyone’s guess. But the consistency in selecting many of the same young women in consecutive years indicates someone made a serious effort to choose the most beautiful of the beautiful.
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