Ed McMahon and I first met when I was featured on the Johnny Carson Show after I won Miss Chinatown USA. I was dressed in a qi pao or cheongsam, which is a Mandarin gown, which after the Shanghainese got their hands on it, became a body-hugging number with high slits and high tight mandarin collar. You can’t eat, sit or talk in it. If you do sit, the two super high side slits creep all the way up your thighs and settle at your hips. To make the gown look right, you must stand erect with shoulders and chest out. Men were undoubtedly behind the design of this "traditional" Chinese gown.
The dress I wore for taping at the Burbank studios was a silvery gold number that my mother and I designed and had made in Hong Kong. It didn’t turn out exactly as we would have liked. The gold spangled trim looked a bit like a tacky Miami Beach palm tree during a monsoon. Nevertheless, my mother and my first foray into designing a beauty pageant dress would have to be surmounted, with….you guessed it….standing straight with shoulders back and chest out.
When I was introduced and waved to the studio audience, mid-western born Johnny quipped, “We didn’t have girls like that where I come from!” Then, Ed made that wonderfully famous chuckle.
Later, I went on to compete as the Spokesmodel contestant for the weekly TV show called “Star Search” where Ed was the Host. As Spokesmodels (this moniker was coined first here), we were allowed to select any gown we wanted to appear on the show. The racks were heavy with the finest, brightest, Vegas-esqe, Vargus-esque selections. There is something to be said for picking a gown that is too, too much. My competition grabbed the heaviest, most expensive and most elaborate beaded dress out of my grasp. I thought I had been had. But when she appeared on stage in it, she looked like a very full Christmas tree. The last dress hanging on the racks was this (relatively!) simple red dress that I ended up wearing when I won as Grand Champion. I called it my “Hyundai” dress. It cost about as much as a car and it also had to be returned.
Ed was generous with his time; he would laugh and talk with me and the other contestants back stage during the 6 weeks of filming Star Search. His wife and baby were beautiful and we all found him to be the sweetest man. After I won the contest, he gave me a big bear hug and told me how proud he was. Flash forward to the Academy Awards when I saw him two years later, he told me that I was his favorite Spokesmodel. He might have told all the winners that. But he sure knew how to make someone feel special.
He died today at the age of 86 and I will always have the fondest memories of him.