HOW I HOAXED THE SACRAMENTO BEE
In 1957 I was stationed with the army’s 8th Division Public Information Office (PIO) in Goeppingen, Germany. I was a Spec3 radio announcer/producer doing what the army called “hometown interviews,” three-minute clips with selected soldiers which were sent to their hometown radio stations. In June of that year I was detailed to go to Baden-Baden, Germany, to cover thedivision band’s participation in the Miss Europe Festival. Not bad duty.
I was walking along the pathway to the festival theater with my lieutenant one evening when I spotted the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. Since I spoke fluent German, I stopped her and asked her name and if she was a contestant. She was. Her name was Gerti Daub. She was 19 and had just won the Miss Germany contest and was now going for Miss Europe. Her beauty was stunning–almost overwhelming–but I at least had the presence to ask the photographer who was accompanying us to take a picture of her. The lieutenant suggested that he and I get in the picture too. Good thinking for a lieutenant!
The pageant was beautiful and Gerti came in third, but since she was still Miss Germany she would automatically go to the Miss Universe contest in Long Beach, CA. Our PIO contingent returned to Goeppingen the next day and I immediately went with the photographer to the Signal Corps photo lab where I could develop the pictures. As the photographs began to take form in the developer I had one of those “The devil made me do it” moments that would occur frequently in my life. As I gazed at the three of us in the picture I saw that it could easily be cropped to where the lieutenant and I could be shown individually with Gerti. In fact, it actually looked as if either of us could be escorting her somewhere. (See photo at top)
I quickly printed up a few cropped copies of Gerti and I and hurried back to the Public Information Office. Since our office also sent pictures to hometown newspapers we had all the forms and stamps needed for an official release. I typed up a story that said I was shown escorting Miss Germany to a division band concert in Baden-Baden Germany, stamped the back of the photo as an official release and sent it to the Sacramento Bee, my hometown newspaper. Of course, the Bee printed it.
Soon I was getting letters from my Sacramento schoolmates asking me what I was doing going out with Miss Germany! I never let on. It was a marvelous hoax. One that has continued until now.
I actually got in touch with Gerti a few months ago. She lives in Hamburg, Germany, and is dealing with the recent death of her beloved husband, a successful German businessman. At 73 she still looks great. She said she remembered meeting us but had no idea what I later did with the cropped photo and the Bee. Just as
Gerti didn’t win the Miss Universe title in 1957. That went to Miss Peru. She did win the “Most Photogenic” title and was so popular that when the winners were announced the audience loudly booed the judges–almost causing a riot–because Gerti finished only fourth. Everybody thought she should have won.
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BURT WILSON is a Sacramento writer and author of seven books.