The Crowning Touch of Richard Guy and Rex Holt Shapes Texas Teens into Lovelies Who Just Can't Lose

updated 05/04/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/04/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Laura Martinez-Herring was not a perfect 10 when she became Miss El Paso in 1983. Chubby and tongue-tied, the 5'6" Texas teenager was short by pageant standards and flat-chested to boot. But two years later, when she stepped forward to accept the Miss U.S.A. title, Herring looked every inch the beauty queen—sleek and poised in a pink crepe sheath.

"She's my Cinderella story," says Richard Guy, 48, who along with his partner, Rex Holt, 46, engineered Herring's two-year transfiguration. But Herring, now 23 and married last February to a German count, is only one of their many successes. Running the Texas state franchise of the Miss U.S.A. competition (rival of the Miss America system), Guy and Holt have turned a string of Miss Texas-U.S.A. titleholders into national Miss U.S.A. winners. In 1977 Kim Tomes became the first Miss U.S.A. for Guyrex Associates, the company Guy and Holt formed 24 years ago. After Herring wore the crown in 1985, she relinquished it to Miss Texas 1986, Christy Fichtner, who in turn crowned Miss Texas 1987, Michelle Reneé Royer, last Feb. 17. Since then the beauty world has been abuzz with talk of the Texas pygmalions.

"The key to our success is that we don't clone our girls," says Guy, who met Holt 28 years ago when they were dance instructors at a local Arthur Murray studio. Adds Holt: "We just try to enhance, enhance, enhance what a girl already has." No effort or expense is spared in the process. The Guyrex partners summon experts and special services to ensure that the hair, skin, diet, dress, shape and speech of their protegees will be as near perfect as possible. Guy and Holt live together in a Spanish-plush-style home next door to two other houses that include offices and an apartment for the current object of their attentions. She spends her entire year as Miss Texas preparing for the national pageant, forsaking any social life for the rigors of her regime. "We will not tolerate negatives like boyfriends or parents," says Guy.

To prepare Herring the Guyrex duo brought in a speech coach to tone down her Mexican accent. A dietician fed her a seaweed-and-fruit-juice drink, and a trainer made her skip rope 2½ hours a day "to get rid of the jiggle." Guy supplied some extra weight-loss motivation by calling her "tubby" at fittings for the wardrobe he designed. Seamstresses stitched the outfits in a basement workshop piled with lace and taffeta.

No Miss Texas U.S.A. enters this beauty boot camp unaware. Holt takes pains to warn all state semifinalists about the difficulties. Christy Fichtner, 1986's Miss U.S.A., admits that "Guy and I were barely on speaking terms" at certain stages of her ordeal. Once Guy says he caught Fichtner "slumping" at a party: "I leaned over and whispered, 'Suck it up, and keep it sucked up all night!' She did."

After a few months of basic training, Miss Texas begins her public appearances, both to compensate sponsors and to sharpen all-important social skills. "If a girl is flat-chested," says Guy, "we can put a ruffle across the top of her dress. But we cannot think for her." They can, however, follow each outing with a videotaped postmortem. "Anyone can read TIME and memorize," says Guy. "But getting out of a tricky situation—that's hard. Everyone wants to know why a girl from Texas won three times in a row. Well, she won on the interview."

In 1971 El Paso's beauty pageant business was just about moribund. Guy and Holt had been designing costumes and parade floats and running a Christmas decorating business when they found out that the franchise to run the Miss America contest in Texas was for sale, cheap. They grabbed it, but after four years the national office kicked them out because of "creative differences." "We believe in individuality," says Guy. "All their girls look alike. If you're doing Playboy, let's have Playboy. But if you're supposedly doing a beauty pageant, why pad? Why glue?"

Though the Miss America organization won't comment on Guyrex, a Miss U.S.A. spokesman is "really pleased" with the way the duo has made their once-faltering Texas franchise into one of the splashiest state pageants. "If Pam Mahoney Furs cannot give me the best fur she's got for Miss Texas, I don't want it," says Guy, who lines up the sponsors. "I don't want a little jacket. I want a full-length mink—the best." And he gets it: $90,000 in cash and prizes and a prime-time slot on Texas television, with advertisements that cost $20,000 a minute.

In the past decade Guyrex has acquired a Mexican restaurant and the rights to several smaller pageants. The firm also makes custom evening gowns for local socialites and even for some Miss America contestants. Still, the entrance fees and sponsorship revenues from the state pageant generate most of Guyrex's considerable cash flow. "We're not millionaires," says Guy, who refuses to get specific about his finances. "We just live like millionaires." After they bought control of the Miss California-U.S.A. contest last May, Guy and Holt purchased a lavish Beverly Hills home that will serve as a West Coast base. "We're more Hollywood than Hollywood," says Guy. "We should fit right in."

Guy bridles at the suggestion that he and Holt simply outspend the competition. Told of some snide comments at this year's pageant about other girls not being able to afford Miss Texas' "$40,000 gown," Guy snorts, "Michelle's dress was made out of $4-a-yard material. I told them, 'Money does not give you taste.' " And slavish imitation does not give you the Guyrex edge. Ever since Guy dressed Herring in a straight, high-necked dress to make her look taller and then added a thigh-high slit to temper the prudish effect, the runway has been littered with leg-baring copies. "Yet this year," chuckles Guy, "I sent Michelle out in a demure dress, and she won."

This summer the cycle begins again. A new Miss Texas U.S.A. will be chosen on August 3. After rooting for Royer in May at the Miss Universe contest in Singapore, Guy and Holt will shift their attention to a new fair lady and her strengths and weaknesses. As Guy is fond of saying, "This is not a bust contest, and it's not a hair contest. I want a total girl." If that's something less than a total woman, at least it's a winning formula.

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