"I'm not very involved with politics or civil rights," says Jean Bell. "I just try to get along." For Miss October, though, getting along - these days, as a model - happens to include cracking a few long-standing racial barriers along the way. The first of her firsts came shortly after graduation from Houston's Phillis Wheatley high school when she became the first black clerk in a downtown men's-clothing store. "I never did find out why they changed their policy and decided to hire me - I think they just needed somebody right away, and I was there. I really enjoyed the job, because I love meeting and getting to know new people - especially men."
While working there, Jean met an attorney who suggested that she try for a job as a secretary at a local steel company. "The only black help they had then were laborers," Jean explains. "But the union was pressuring them to integrate the office staff; and when I applied, they hired me. It was slightly strained at first, but people are more human than they sometimes seem. When they see you face to face every day, and see that you're just another person, most of them will respond warmly." During her stay there, Miss October filled much of her spare time in an amateur bowling league - and walked off with a trophy for a high game of 243.
She made an even better showing, though, by acting on a whim: "One day I saw an ad for the Miss Houston contest in the paper. I'll try most anything once, so I called to apply. I didn't tell them on the phone that I was black - but they found out soon enough at the audition. The woman in charge did a kind of double take - because, until then, it was an all-white contest - but nobody said anything. I came in only fourth, but I did better in the Miss Texas contest after that - I got third in that one."
Jean's contest winnings include a scholarship to a Houston modeling school, and she was off on a new career. Assignments were initially few, but then came a few magazine ad campaigns, a three-week role as a dancer in a summer-stock version of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, a growing demand for black mannequins, and Jean was able to model full time. "I'd like to get into TV commercials next," Miss October says of the future. "Then I want to marry the right man. Like the Dylan song says, 'Love is all there is'; if somebody could make people learn that, the world might be a better place in which to live." We're sure you'll concur that Miss Bell considerably brightens the one we have now.
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