From Russia with Lip Gloss: Miss U.S.S.R. Takes New York

updated 12/24/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/24/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

Donald Trump, a man of unquestioned taste in all matters material, intellectual and aesthetic, was very impressed. "They're just beautiful, totally beautiful," he was heard to murmur in the tones of a pilgrim gazing for the first time on the Taj Mahal (either the one in India or the one in New Jersey).

At the time, Trump was eyeballing the best the Soviet Union has to offer in the beauty department—Maria Kezha, 17, who is Miss U.S.S.R., and Lauma Zemzare, 19, a runner-up and, concurrently, Miss Soviet TV. The two were in New York City, staying at the Plaza Hotel, owned by Trump, as part of a 16-day tour of the United States. They had done the usual tourist stuff—gotten an agent, had their teeth bonded, taken a quickie modeling course and appeared on Letterman. Maria, whose parents are engineers in Vitebsk in Byelorussia, accepted a symbolic aid package from CARE, the international relief agency, for her shortage-plagued homeland. She and Lauma, a Latvian from Riga, shopped on Fifth Avenue and danced all night at an East Side nightclub. And, summoned to his office for an audience with The Donald, they met a famous capitalist.

Later, over lunch in Trump Tower, the Soviet sirens talked about hopes and dreams and aspirations. Maria, who beat out 40,000 women to become the second Miss U.S.S.R. ever, wants to come back to America soon—maybe as soon as mid-January, if she has signed with a modeling agency by then. (Lauma wants to be an actress, in New York, of course.) Maria is a big fan of Mikhail Gorbachev. "He is a very brave man," she says. ' "I could not be here without his reforms."

Maria knows that modeling in New York would be hard work. She knows, she says, about the long hours, the boredom and the constant travel. On the other hand, she has also heard about the six-figure salaries. "I will work hard," she says, "because it will lead me to do what I want to do later."

She explains that what she wants to do later is to become a fashion designer. But, if her fascination with American ways holds true, Maria will no doubt soon learn how to say, "I want to direct and produce."

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