The Honey Trap

The East German Beauty Queen

The story of Marlene Schmidt….

marleneschmidtmu1961frokk1In today’s climate, beauty pageant’s and particularly the Miss World and Miss Universe competitions have seen their shows downgraded from the prime time television slots in the 60s and 70s to (if they’re lucky) the most obscure channels. It does remain popular in certain countries but nothing like its heyday when the likes of Marlene Schmidt wore the fabled crown.

The contestant pictured on the left being crowned was far more than a very attractive woman, this twenty four year old was a qualified electrical engineer who, a year before winning both the Miss Germany and Miss Universe titles had fled her home town of Jena in East Germany for life in Stuttgart. It was a cause for considerable embarrassment on the part of the East German communist leader Walter Ulbricht who was mocked for allowing such a beautiful refugee to escape across the border.

As the electrical engineer gave up her $53 a week job for the thousands of dollars and luxuries which became a top beauty queen so the East German regime looked to retaliate. The year was 1961 and tensions between East and West were dangerously high. As Paramount Pictures broadcast the show in colour around the world thousands of East Germans rigged up rooftop antennae in a bid to catch the signal from their Western neighbours and so see their home grown girl take the crown in the name of their neighbours.

East and West scrambled to win the propaganda contest with the East accusing the West of deliberately picking Schmidt in a way to highlight the then refugee problem. Schmidt for her part could not care less and believed she won on merit. Here was a woman wanted in connection with helping smuggle her mother and sister across the border before she herself fled and the authorities were quick to condemn both her and the life which awaited her.

By the 1962 she married the Hollywood actor Ty Hardin, a marriage which lasted for four years and ended along with a movie career of eleven films most noted for displaying her considerable beauty. As the realisation of the realities of the Hollywood lifestyle sank in she returned to West Germany and her career in engineering in the town of Saabrücken.

Whilst both sides fought to gain the upper hand in the propaganda war she enjoyed the spoils of a mink coat and appearance fees, doubtless laughing at the hollowness of the East’s accusations of her being treated as little more than an object of desire by the West. Either way, she and her family had the last laugh.

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