My older brothers told me my sister was the ugliest girl in America—which was not quite true, although she did win the contest that labeled her an ugly duckling over several thousand others. This is the story of her transformation from an ugly duckling into a beautiful swan as told through my young eyes and documented in Mademoiselle magazine.
I was six years old and my sister, dressed only in a slip, had invaded my territory — the kitchen. She needed the kitchen mirror to complete her transformation into an ugly duckling.
She had already written her ugly duckling story as part of her entry for Mademoiselle Magazine’s “Make the Most of Yourself” contest. Her entry was the story of her longing for a transition from an ugly duckling to a beautiful swan, told with her well-honed sense of humor. The prize? A six-week make-over in New York City by Bonwit Teller of her figure, face, coiffure, and topped off with a complete fall wardrobe.
But she did not know this as she slowly worked alone on her transformation into an ugly duckling before the eyes of an invisible and fascinated six year old.
She washed her hair in harsh soaps that removed all curl, then parted her hair in the middle and slowly brushed it in straight lines down to her shoulders.
The next step made me wince. With tweezers she plucked her eyebrows to change their shape, slightly flinching as each hair came out. Then she carefully darkened her eyebrows with a pencil, removing her work several times until she got it just the way she wanted. She noticed me and asked, “Have you been watching me Oscar?” This was not my name and she was the only one who called me Oscar.
Kallie was 26 at the time and worked for the Paris Company in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah, as a fashion copywriter. She knew what was in and out of fashion and carefully assembled a wardrobe that was wildly out of fashion.
I watched her dress in this wardrobe and then call our older brother Jay to take her ugly duckling photo with the family Kodak Brownie Box Camera. The film was developed and a print sent in with Kallie’s contest entry.
Here is her contest entry as reported in the October, 1938 issue of Mademoiselle under the headline “Today’s Ugly Duckling ….. tomorrow’s Cinderella”
“When I was a very little girl, I used to sit in utter fascination and pore over the story of The Ugly Duckling…. I loved this story because I was an ugly duckling and with the incorrigible optimism and blind hope of extreme youth, dreamed of the day when I too would become a beautiful swan…. I dreamed I might be granted a gift from the gods and find myself moving with lithesome ease and grace…. Oh, but those pangs of childhood were innocuous stabs compared to the bruises of adolescence. I reckon the gods must have been out to lunch, because the angles remained angles…. At dances where streamlined lovelies danced by with starry eyes and smartly incased in Schiaparelli’s latest, I sat miserably on the side lines, conscious that the stiff white taffeta, designed to make me look plumper, only succeeded in making me look dowdier…. Men are funny folks. My soul fairly glitters and yet I am hastily passed by for the glamour girls who know how to make the most of their looks…. What does one do when Nature seemingly “went on a bat” at one’s birth, and presented one with dun-colored hair, pale blue eyes, a proboscis that would make Jimmy Durante look out for his laurels? … The only redeeming thing is an indomitable sense of humor which has dispelled the galloping melancholia and made me laugh…. in order that I wouldn’t weep! … Could it be that the gods have returned from lunch in the hope-inspiring form of Mademoiselle and Bonwit Teller—all disguised in this contest to end the problems of a would-be glamour girl? I hope so!”
There was some excitement when she won, but from the door way of my kitchen confinement, I could not hear enough to understand.
But when the police showed up a few days later I took notice. I ran out the kitchen door and around to the front of the house. All the neighbors were out watering their lawns or doing yard work and were witnesses to what happened.
My first thought was, “Can you be arrested for being ugly?” This thought quickly passed as I saw her escorted into a large car. I found out later the large car was a Rolls Royce creme-colored Phantom provided by the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, complete with police escort, to take her to her New York train.
That was the last I saw of my sister.
A little over a month later the police again escorted the Phantom to the house with much excitement. Hoping they were returning my sister, I was disappointed as one of the most beautiful woman I had ever seen stepped out of the car.
Later she called me “Oscar,” which startled me, since it was a name only my long-gone sister called me. My sister had a western twang, this lady did not. My sister slouched and moved awkwardly. This woman stood tall and moved with grace, even in ridiculous high heels. She also slept in my sister’s bedroom and went to work just like my sister.
My old sister was gone forever. Slowly, I got reacquainted with my new sister, who was no ugly duckling!
My sister kept a diary of her experiences which was published in the November, 1938 issue of Mademoiselle.
She was a radio and TV host before 1942, and went on to a successful career as an author of magazine articles and as a ghost writer for several celebrity autobiographies. She married a screen writer and published novelist, living in Hollywood California and New York City with her husband.
My favorite quote from her is, “The world is full of fools waiting for their ship to come in when they never launched a ship.” This is on my Lessons Learned Page on another website.
My wife was interested in hearing the details of the ugly duckling from the viewpoint of a six year old. Another story told over coffee and biscotti during our morning talks.
Post Script: Virginia Postrel in an excellent essay “The First Makeover” in the September 2013 issue of Allure magazine gives the history of the makeover and the first two Mademoiselle magazine “Make the Most of Yourself” makeovers. I thought her keen insight into why the first (Barbara Phillips) did not take, and the second (Kallie Foutz) did take, was a correct one. Barbara was unhappy with both her inner and outer self, Kallie was happy with her inner-self, she just wanted to change her outer-self to match what she felt inside. The last sentence of the essay sums it up, “It worked. In Foutz’s case, the ‘ugly duckling’ really was a swan inside.” Apparently, this was the critical difference. As her brother, I can vouch for Kallie’s strong sense of inner worth and the sense of humor that got her through any difficult patches in her life. [8/28/2013 JF]