My parents initiated a truce the year I won a beauty-queen title. Actually, I was promoted to queen, but to my mother, how I received the title was of no consequence. In effect, I moved from a dysfunctional middle-class family into a theatrical ménage of high performers, intent on managing all aspects of my life for one year. Along with me, my parents were elevated into the glitzy world of GuyRex, the brainstorm of El Pasoans Richard Guy and Rex Holt. Fondly called “the boys” by those in their widening circle of distinctive friends in 1971, they were inordinately creative and flamboyant. This aspect initially caused my father to dig in his heels even as my mother relinquished my custodianship to the Miss El Paso-Miss America franchise. One would expect this to be a no-win-win for me, though my year was thrilling and certainly eye-opening for an over-protected teenager.
The world I entered was pure allure. It fringed on El Paso’s underbelly where a top stratum of the moneyed and theatrical artists melded with the city’s wilder, but popular element. Bank presidents, country-club auxiliary members, military officers, and actors, along with drug kingpins, high rollers, Hollywood detectives, bail-bondsmen, and defense attorneys, shared a mutual passion for the Las Vegas pizzazz that GuyRex brought the Sun City. Like the shifting desert sands that squeezed the city between the Rio Grande and the Rocky Mountains, El Paso thirsted for such refreshment, welcoming novel and creative ideas that could help exalt the Wild West city to a cosmopolitan destination.
Guy and Rex understood that their success was about showmanship and illusion. There were no nuances. They created pageants like theatrical shows— wildly imaginative, lively musical, and colorfully garbed—with a multitude of post-production acts so that everyone could share a piece of the new queen as her year progressed at events in their own neighborhoods. Not surprisingly, almost everyone invested in the excitement of a new Miss El Paso beauty queen and city-ambassador, from the Chihuahuan governor in Juárez, Mexico, to downtown El Paso city officials; from poor residents in El Paso’s southern barrios to the affluent in El Paso’s upper valley to the west; from soldiers at Fort Bliss Army Base to corporate presidents on Montana Street. And GuyRex did, indeed, deliver. They molded and marketed a beauty contestant in a way that Miss America and Miss USA pageant officials had never foreseen, making the city’s mantra—“El Paso, You’re Looking Good!”—come true.
The premiere GuyRex-Miss El Paso pageant of 1971 was just the beginning for the boys. GuyRex would go on to own the Miss Texas and Miss California USA pageants, and the term GuyRex Girl would be trademarked. From 1985 through 1989, five GuyRex Girls, all Miss Texas title-holders, went on to win Miss USA. Called the Texas Aces (four aces and a wildcard), these women became semi-finalists or runners-up to Miss Universe, catapulting Richard Guy and Rex Holt into beauty-pageant fame. Every one of GuyRex’s girls journeyed a singular experience compared to other traditional beauty contestants. Already gorgeous, the women were re-chiseled, sculpted and refined until a distinctive GuyRex-look emerged.
I know. I was a first generation GuyRex Girl—Version 1.0—an experiment as unique and bold as the new queen-makers themselves. And like all first versions in experimentation, I was flawed, as were my creators. Only in retrospect many years later, do I sense that, like beauty, my year with GuyRex was just skin-deep in my personal growth, and though pivotal, not the watershed of my life. But if I pick at the year’s scab until it hurts, I finally understand how I came to be who I am today.