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Original Issue

The Day of the Dark Filly

There were only two likely candidates for Sports Day Queen, but the vagaries of high-school politics caused an upset

Homecoming Queen is the big thing at some high schools. At ours it was Spring Sports Day Queen. There were a number of candidates for the position in my senior year more than a quarter of a century ago, but it was obvious that the field would be narrowed quickly to two outstanding girls. Remember the early Ava Gardner? We all believed that Mary Jean Buck could pass for her twin sister. And Nadine Samuelson was considered the local look-alike of Betty Grable. Trouble was, Nadine had incurred the deep-seated enmity of Donkey Clausen, a political manipulator of considerable talent, when she turned down his invitation to the glee-club skating party. As a result, he spent uncounted hours plotting her humiliation, and when Mike Robbins broke his leg during the final game of the regional basketball tournament Donkey sensed opportunity.

Mike Robbins was more than merely another high-scoring basketball forward, star quarterback and cleanup hitting shortstop. He was Jack Armstrong come to life. Knowing this, Donkey assembled a small and select group of conspirators and announced, "We're gonna elect Marlys Melin." We were all mystified. True, Marlys was small and dark and slender, and her smile burst upon the beholder like the first day of spring. But she was by no stretch of imagination a fit challenger for either Mary Jean or Nadine. What we forgot was that Marlys had one almost irresistible attribute: she was Mike Robbins' steady.

Abandoning barren logic and dull reason, Donkey went to work on the electorate's collective emotions. He produced a photograph of the hospitalized Mike, his cast leg raised, calculated to draw tears from any voter. Bunny Carter, who worked after school in a print shop operated by a half-crazed evangelist, was instructed to forget about religious tracts for the moment and to concentrate instead on campaign signs. Soon the school corridors burst forth with red-lettered reminders: A VOTE FOR MARLYS IS A VOTE FOR MIKE and MIKE SEZ: "I'M FOR MARLYS—HOW ABOUT YOU?"

With becoming—if genuine—modesty, Marlys accosted each of us in turn, and her message to all was identically succinct: "Gee, guys, I never said I wanted to be queen. Please withdraw my name." Donkey, of course, ignored her request. As the campaign wore on, Marlys' pleadings became more intense. She informed us that neither Mary Jean nor Nadine was now speaking to her. Donkey pointed out that that fact alone made her one of the more fortunate members of the student body.

As election day neared, Donkey stepped up the campaign tempo. He prevailed upon Sylvia Olson to surreptitiously produce campaign bulletins on the school mimeograph machine. Half-pint Pugh's leading boast that he could open any locker in the school merely by listening to the tumblers click as he turned the knob on its automatic lock naturally qualified him for the job of bulletin distributor. The rest of us concentrated on classroom electioneering.

Despite our efforts, as the student body prepared to ballot, Donkey wore a tense and desperate expression. Well he might. The separate forces supporting Mary Jean and Nadine had not been idle. They had, of course, picked up Marlys' well-advertised pout that she didn't want the job, and they had used it against us endlessly. Even more to be feared was the fact that both Mary Jean and Nadine had unlimbered their most powerful and obvious weapons. Wearing seductive party frocks and spike heels, they conducted yeoman campaigns in the corridors and locker alcoves, backing young and susceptible males against the wall and standing close to them as they solicited their votes. After being subjected to Nadine's breathless assaults, some of the sophomore boys actually wore dazed expressions for hours.

On election day we all trooped down to the auditorium to get the returns. After we'd sung the school song, the Spring Sports Day Queen candidates assembled onstage. Mr. St. Morris, the principal, read the results. "Fourth runner-up," he said, "is Faye Rosenwald." That was to be expected. She ran for everything in school, and she never got elected to anything. "Third runner-up," Mr. St. Morris read, "is Mary Jean Buck." Mary Jean's mouth immediately welded itself into the iron smile that beauty-contest losers everywhere habitually wear. "Second runner-up," Mr. St. Morris announced, and I felt Donkey's arm alongside mine on the chair arm tense like frozen rope, "is Nadine Samuelson." Donkey muttered, "Hot damn!"

Mr. St. Morris pointed dramatically. "The 1938 Spring Sports Day Queen is Marlys Melin." Marlys approached the microphone. For the moment, all Machiavellian plottings fled our minds, and we were honestly proud of our choice. Marlys' eyes sparkled and her cheeks glowed. She was as radiant as any Queen in history. "I want to thank everyone who voted for me," she said prettily, and the student body applauded wildly. "And especially I want to thank—" she broke off and stared down at Donkey and me and the others "—those wonderful fellows who worked so hard for me. I'm so thrilled and honored, I just can't tell you." Then she burst her bombshell. "But I'd like to withdraw in favor of the girl who is more worthy of the title—Nadine Samuelson."

Things happened so fast after that, I didn't have time to look at Donkey. Nadine shrieked, "I'm not playing second fiddle to anyone," and stumbled tearfully into the wings. Mr. St. Morris turned to where Mary Jean Buck had been standing only a moment earlier. But, after sobbing something into her handkerchief that sounded like "laughing stock," Mary Jean had vanished. That left only Faye Rosenwald, and she accepted with alacrity.

Later, all of us who had managed Marlys' campaign were commanded to appear in Mr. St. Morris' office. "Elections for the Senior Boy of the Year and Senior Girl of the Year are coming up soon," he warned us. "I want you people to pretend it isn't happening." We promised, and you can be certain that we meant it.

Funny thing, though. Donkey Clausen was one of the guys assigned as a sedan-chair bearer at Her Majesty Queen Faye Rosenwald's coronation. Four years later they got married.