Miss California, Miss USA – via Hungary

Every Tuesday I have my morning coffee with a group of friends. We talk about politics, sports, films and other unimportant things. A couple of weeks ago, one friend mentioned a gorgeous woman he knew in the 1960s when he was a student at the University of California Berkeley.

“She was beautiful. Every boy wanted to be in her class after she became Miss California; she even represented the U.S. at the Miss Universe competition. She had a Hungarian accent just like you,” he said, turning to me.

To be honest, I had serious doubts about the existence of this “Hungarian” Miss California. I was so wrong.

In 1966 the Miss California title was awarded to Mária Reményi, who was 21 years old and a student at the University of California Berkeley. She studied physics and did research and computer programming at the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory.

She went on to represent California in that year’s Miss USA pageant and she won! Later she competed in the Miss Universe pageant held in Florida and made it to the top 15. The Miss Universe title in that year went to a Swedish beauty, Ms. Margareta Arvidsson.

Mária Reményi, Miss America in 1966.

Mária Reményi, Miss America in 1966.

Mária Judith Reményi was Hungarian, although she was born in 1945 in Denmark. Yes, Denmark! It is not well known today that in 1944 thousands of Hungarian soldiers, together with the German Nazi troops, provided the occupying military force in Denmark. Mária’s father must have been an officer in Horthy’s army, because only officers could bring their families to Denmark.

After WWII the family went back to Hungary and during the 1956 Revolution, when she was 11 years old, they left again for the West. They arrived to the U.S. with thousands of other Hungarian refugees and stayed with her aunt in El Cerrito, California, a small town close to Berkeley.

Ms. Reményi on the beach in California.

Ms. Reményi on the beach in California (1966).

The newspaper stories in 1966 about her were silly. They wrote about a “brainy beauty” who liked “muscular South-American men.” After winning the Miss USA title, she took off a year from her studies at Berkeley and later transferred to Columbia University in New York City.

I don’t know the rest of her story, what happened to her later in life, but if she reads this article, it might make her smile that some of us still talk about her in a California coffee shop.

György Lázár


Here is a contemporary news reel featuring Ms Reményi:

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