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St. Pierre still a beauty years after controversial photo

LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / November 16, 1998

LAFITTE – At 77, Doris Martin St. Pierre is still pretty.At one time she was at the heart of a “scandal” over a photograph of her which appeared in a promotional book about Louisiana. It portrayed her, atage 16, dressed only in tobacco leaves and a swimsuit.

The book stirred up such outrage over the pictures of the Miss Perique Tobacco Queen and three other similarly-clad young lovelies that the book was denounced in Ohio as “lurid.”The photo is innocent enough. She displays pretty legs with perhaps ahigher “hemline” than was the norm in 1938, but it was hardly indecent by today’s standards.

Doris Martin was certainly qualified to reign as a beauty queen. After all,her father, Volture Martin, was one of the few St. James Perique tobaccofarmers in the world. Now, her brother, Percy Martin, is the only remainingSt. James Perique tobacco farmer, located right here in Grand Point.”It was unexpected,” Doris recalled. “My first cousin asked me to take offfrom work and come over. Christopher Roussel took the picture in his frontyard.”She smiled at the memories. “We used big leaves – three for the skirt andtwo for the top. I had a bracelet and necklace of cigarettes and cigars fora crown.”Her photo was one of four used in “Louisiana the Finest,” issued by the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Administration for 1937-38 to promote the products of the state.

The other pictures had pretty girls garbed in sugar cane stalks, moss and rice strings.

“They wanted me to have a two-piece suit, but I didn’t want that! I couldn’t even wear shorts then!” she laughed.

Roussel perched her on a birdbath in his front yard and the photo was snapped up for the book.

“My daddy never did comment too much,” she recalled, adding, “I never smoked. Daddy never did, either.”Meanwhile, in Cleveland, Ohio, Superintendent of Schools Charles H. Lakeordered 100 copies of the book burned after looking at the pictures and finding them “too alluring.”The books were sent to Cleveland for a convention of school administrators, according to an Associated Press story of the time.

Miss Sugar Cane was described as wearing a “hula-hula” costume of sugar cane stalks and leaves, with the caption: “Lots of Louisiana sweetness – Louisiana produces more sugar cane than any other state.”Miss Rice wore a rice-grain costume which left her abdomen uncovered.

“Louisiana’s Rice makes them perfect” was the caption.

“Miss Moss” featured moss streams in her hair with a moss skirt. Thecaption read: “Instead of the moss-covered bucket that hung in the well, Louisiana’s moss industry provides livelihood for hundreds of citizens in the Southern part of the state.”And, finally, for Miss Perique Tobacco, Doris Martin, the caption read: “You have to smoke up to beat this.”Louisiana Gov. Richard Leche had his own quick-witted response to theheavy-handed reaction by Lake. “The man is so far behind the times hemust be a Republican,” he said at the time.

Louisiana’s Commissioner of Agriculture, Harry D. Wilson, noted: “It is toobad that their sense of modesty up there goes to such lengths. I justwonder if they ever go to the bathing beaches.”However, state publicity director Charles Frampton had the definitive response: “The only reason I can see that they would burn the books is that Louisiana girls are so much prettier than the ones in Ohio.”The controversy hit the New Orleans States newspaper on March 29, 1939, with the headline: “Louisiana the Finest: Cleveland Burns Them.” Soonafterward, the book-burning order was rescinded Doris, meanwhile, married Lawrence St. Pierre the following year. Theirson, Ray, later became a John Ehret High School football coach and a Jefferson Parish School Board member.

Her husband is deceased now, and she has her two grandsons living close to her in Lafitte (one other is deceased) and three great-grandchildren.

In 1988, at the annual convention of the Louisiana Wholesale Tobacco and Candy Distributors Association in New Orleans, Doris was honored and the controversy recalled.

“I was always a sales person,” she said. She worked for Stanley HomeProducts giving home demonstrations and became one of their top sales people in the Gulf Coast. She also worked as a bus driver for 16 years.Her pastimes nowadays are crocheting, working out on her exercise machine and visiting Boomtown Casino with her sister, Lillian Duhe of Lutcher, on a weekly basis.

Doris said her grandsons have never seen the controversial picture of their grandmother, but she may show it to them now.

And why not? She’s always been a beauty.

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