She was known as Kay Sutton then and she was the franchise’s first “Queen,” a title that has gone out of fashion as beauty pageants are now relegated to obscure cable networks.
But the idea of pretty girls brought lots of attention to a struggling new league at the outset of what was to become the turbulent ‘60s and Sutton was one of the prettiest and most notable and still is. Described as a “statuesque Oak Cliff [TX] beauty” in an early team newsletter, Miss Sutton was just 19 years old when on July 4, 1960 she was selected by a jury of newspaper and radio media to be Miss Dallas Texan. She was well known in pageant circles having competed locally in the Miss Universe contest, and was considered to be the most photographed woman in Texas at the time. To no surprise, Lamar Hunt, ever the huckster for his new league, liked her image for the new team and the media gladly complied.
More than just a pretty face, Sutton was expected to know her football. Consequently, she was prepped after each game by team publicist Bob Halford to be ready for any manner of questions that might be thrown her way. “They insisted that I knew every aspect of the game and our team,” she remembers. Indeed, an early newspaper clipping from the Dallas Morning News in October of 1960 has her issuing forth on a recent Texans loss to the Boston Patriots. “Mr. Stram’s right,” she says, “a Coke playing at her splendid lips” [an observation offered up by the obviously charmed News reporter conducting the interview noting Miss Sutton’s agreement with the Dallas head coach questioning an official’s no-call on an off-sides that reportedly cost the Texans the game.]
Over time, Sutton became a familiar figure to Texans followers almost as well recognized as some team members. She hosted a series of events associated with the fledgling franchise and was seen as an important promotional tool.
“Every day I was cutting ribbons, doing photo sessions or going to important luncheons representing the team,” she recalls. Sift through enough old newspaper clippings from that era and you’ll see Sutton in a myriad of promotional photos sitting on the lap of a favored Texans player, helping to sell tickets from as far away as Abilene and Wichita Falls, or even showing up at the team’s first training camp in Rosewall, New Mexico.
“It was great fun for such a young girl to have these experiences,” she offers, looking back on her formative years. Expected to serve a role even at road games where she flew with Hunt, his wife and publicist Halford, Sutton did television interviews upon arrival and was promoted to, in her words, “give my opinion about the state of the Texans team and its players.”
As for game day at the Cotton Bowl, fans would find her riding around the field in a convertible and on rainy days braving the mud dressed in the regal wear of a traditional beauty queen.
Those who can remember early broadcasts of football games in Texas will surely recall the Kilgore Rangerettes who performed at any number of collegiate contests. Sutton had been a Rangerette and as Miss Dallas Texans was often expected to twirl a baton at halftime as she was carried onto the field on a large drum built especially for her.
All this public exposure caught the eye of Columbia Pictures vice-president and general sales manager Rube Jackter who made arrangements for Sutton to go to Hollywood for a screen test. With more worlds opening up for her and not one to rest solely on a Texas following, Sutton eventually migrated to New York and the top modeling houses of the Ford and Wilhelmina agencies and studied dance with Martha Graham and at The American School of Ballet in Los Angeles. Her face soon adorned hundreds of major magazine covers and advertisements over the next twenty years, but it was acting that was her passion and eventually she began teaching it at her own workshop in Beverly Hills after winning the Drama-Logue Critics Award.
In time, she took a family name, Lena Harris, because of the stigma often associated with models who go into acting. Today she operates Lena Harris Studio, located on the lot where some of Gone with the Wind was filmed, and where she has written a book, Twenty-Five 6 Minute Power Scenes” that is available on Amazon.com.
“I had a wonderful time as Miss Dallas Texan,” she remembers of her two-year reign, “and worked with many great people who became lasting friends.”