In Lebanon it was the greatest thing since cedar trees. Imagine: a girl from Lebanon winning the Miss Universe contest in Miami Beach, of all places, and in competition with 90 of the most beautiful girls in the world—sorry, universe. "For Arabs," said one observer, obviously not a Turk, "it was like getting back to the Gates of Vienna." Only more so. In Miami Beach the Arabs won.
Admittedly, there were those in the Arab world who took exception to the victory when, in her first confrontation with the press, the newly elected Miss Universe stumbled into an endorsement of Free Love. But slim, hazel-eyed, sometime-blonde 18-year-old Georgina Rizk quickly won them over. First she began, with a style worthy of Doyle, Dane and what's-his-name, to sing the praises of Lebanon to anyone who was listening (roughly half the civilized world). Then she went back to Lebanon in person and, however high their eyebrows when they saw her comments on love, President Nixon and other subjects in which she clearly had a staggering disinterest, her critics capitulated. It had something to do, observers said, with her slim 35-24-35 figure, radiant good nature, inexhaustible patience and astonishing endurance.
Georgina Rizk, if her friends can be believed, and we couldn't find any enemies, is a thoroughly nice girl whose bright smile reflects the girl herself and the background that produced her: a father named Georges, who works in Lebanon's customs department, an enthusiastic Hungarian mother, an admiring sister and 12 years in the Holy Family School where, we grant you, she showed less enthusiasm for arithmetic than for, say, water skiing.
At the age of 14 Georgina caught the eye of model Andrée Lavidiotti. Andrée saw Georgina's potential and set out to develop it in line with her own view on beauty: "Beauty is discipline." Andrée put Georgina on a strict diet, to erase 10 pounds of adolescent weight, revived the old book-on-the-head bit to smooth out her walk, enrolled her in a dancing class and gave her a course in the magic of cosmetics. Georgina was soon winning credits as a model in Beirut's small but competitive fashion world and in 1970 became Miss Television and in 1971, Miss Lebanon. At last she began thinking of the big one. Should she? Could she?
She wasn't sure and neither was anyone else until she had. Some observers, in fact, cynically speculated that Georgina's victory was somehow engineered by the CIA or some such agency as a political sop to the Arabs, a sad reflection, perhaps, on the scarcity of Arab triumphs in the last few centuries. But then Georgina returned to Lebanon and turned doubters into believers. Despite a work week that would break a stevedore—motorcades, press conferences, fireworks displays, a Presidential appointment, a ministerial luncheon, elegant dinners, appearances at night clubs, festivals, sports events and ceaseless posing—neither her temper nor her smile failed her for a moment. In November she repeated the performance, leaving her critics confounded and fully justifying the words of one girl who, in a letter to the editor, said:
"As a Lebanese, I feel proud to know that our Miss Lebanon brings to her new title not only a sample of our country's beauty but also her own personal example of graciousness and dedication."