Old Photos: Miss Mizzou

After a popular post about the sorority girls of KU I searched the Life photo archives for something about the University of Missouri. There weren’t too many photographs but they led me to this interesting story.

In 1959 the Life Magazine published an article Famous Cartoonists Share a Silver Jubilee. One of the cartoonists was the future Hall-of-Famer Milton Caniff – creator of the famous comic strip Steve Canyon.

(Canyon) is so famous that Colorado changed the name of Squirrel Gulch to Steve Canyon. Columbia, Mo., home of “Old Mizzou” (student name for the University of Missouri), would have named a street after Caniff except the conservative citizens protested. They suspected Miss Mizzou, a Canyon dame, wears no clothes under her trench coat

Infamous Miss Mizzou appears among other “ever-luscious ladies” who frequently graced the comic strip (sorry for the quality, I had to splice this from two sides of the magazine).

Miss Mizzou
Caniff's strange dames are luscious but for Canyon unattainable. These are Copper Calhoon,financier; Princess Snowflower, victim of Red Chinese; Convoy, lovable war waif; Poteet Canyon, a teenage kissin' cousin; Miss Mizzou from Missouri; Savannah Gay, actress; Summer Olson, sweet but married; Cheetah, the pert Oriental; Herself Muldoon, underworld queen; Gilberta Hall, blind and lovely; Doe Redwood, Pilot; Feeta-Feeta, secretary; Deen Wilderness, doctor; and Madame Lynx, spy. ©Time Inc.Milton Caniff

Some sources report that Miss Mizzou, who was introduced in 1952, was patterned after Marilyn Monroe, others mention a model named Bek Stiner.

Update: JB Winter of Mid-Missouri Comics Collective emailed me the following information:

“For some time I had been mulling over a girl character who would be what a Marilyn Monroe type might be like if she had not hit the jackpot in Hollywood,” Caniff explained in a 1954 letter. “Every college town has girls who live and work on the edge of the campus and who are very much a part of the life of the school, but who who do not get invited to fraternity formals. Usually they come up from small towns and often become as loyal to the school as the best-heeled alumnae. I decided my gal wold be from the University of Missouri, if not of it.”

But he did also base the character off of Bek Stiner (born Bek Nelson) too. He would often model new characters off of real people with the intention of having the photos of the model in the paper to publicize the strip.

Even though Miss Mizzou was fictional, the street-naming fiasco mentioned in Life was real, warranting a humorous article in the 1958 Time Magazine:

Faintly but distinctly, the mesmeric boomlay-boom of publicity drums on Manhattan’s Madison Ave. is heard 980 miles away in Columbia (pop. 43,000), site of the University of Missouri. Stout-souled citizens wonder what is wrong. Chamber of Commerce members writhe to the beat and get the message. It is so nonsensical that at first it seems to be garbled: name the new boulevard (boom-lay boom) after Milton Caniff.

In the end, the name Providence Road won.

One of the subheadings in the Life article was titled: Can Real Girls Ever Catch Up? Apparently the same question was on the minds of the students of the University of Missouri, whose Journalism fraternity Sigma Delta Chi started publishing an annual Miss Mizzou calendar in 1956. So without further ado I present few photos from the 1960 Miss Mizzou Beauty Contest. I’ll leave it up to you to decide if there is any clothing under these trench-coats.

University of Missouri student, Julie Raney winner of Miss Mizzou beauty contest. ©Time Inc.Michael Rougier
©Time Inc.Michael Rougier
©Time Inc.Michael Rougier
©Time Inc.Michael Rougier
©Time Inc.Michael Rougier
©Time Inc.Michael Rougier
©Time Inc.Michael Rougier
©Time Inc.Michael Rougier

Bonus: Before there was email.

Female student typing a letter at the University of Missouri.1937.© Time Inc.Alfred Eisenstaedt