Saturday, September 14, 2013

Uncle Dusty's Guide to Miss America

                I have been involved with the Miss America system since 1991 and I in that period of time I have educated more people than probably wanted to know about the great things the Miss America Scholarship Program can offer young women.  Outside of being the largest provider of scholarships for young women in the world, any young lady can increase her confidence, involve herself in social causes and get wonderful interview tips simply by competing.  As the 92nd Miss America will be chosen this week, I thought it only appropriate that I give you Uncle Dusty’s Guide to Miss America. 

 1.       Miss America was started in 1921 in Atlantic City, New Jersey.  The first winner was 16 year-old Margaret Gorman from Washington, DC.  Originally, the pageant was a traditional beauty pageant highlighting the women wearing swimsuits.

2.       The only person to every win the pageant twice (that practice was stopped soon after) was Mary Katherine Campbell from Ohio.  She was Miss America 1922 and 1923 and was 1st Alternate in 1924.

3.       The pageant was stopped in 1928 due to a few scandals and waning interest.  It was revived in 1933 and 15 year-old Marian Bergeron (Connecticut’s only winner) was crowned.  The contest wasn’t held in 1934 so Ms. Bergeron unofficially held her title for two years.

4.       Resurrected in 1935, they added Talent as a mandatory category and Henrietta Leaver of Pennsylvania took the title with a song and dance routine.  Some of the more interesting talents that have snagged a crown include Vibraharp (Bebe Shopp, 1948), poem recital (Evelyn Ay, 1954), an original fashion design exhibition (Nancy Fleming, 1961), ventriloquism (Vonda Van Dyke, 1965), conducting the Miss America orchestra (Jane Jayroe, 1967), trampoline (Judith Ford, 1969), Flute (Shirley Cothran, 1975), Gymanstics (Kylene Barker, 1979), Tahitian Dance (Kaye Lani Rae Rafko, 1988) and Marimba (Debbye Turner, 1990).  These days most every winner sings, dances or plays the piano.  I long for roller ballet or clogging.

5.       In 1941, when the first runner-up from 1940 (Rosemary LaPlanche of California) came back to effortlessly win the pageant, the rule that a young woman could only compete once was instituted.   Jo-Carroll Dennison from Texas won that year.  I'm going to assume she deserved it over Roselle Marie Hannon of Pennsylvania who first runner-up in 1941.  Since she's from Texas, I'm giving Ms. Dennison a pass.

6.       In 1945, Bess Myerson became the first Jewish winner and the first Pageant scholarship recipient.  This scholarship came at the suggestion of Jean Bartel, Miss America 1943, who was the first college student to win the title.  For those who are curious, she was a Kappa Kappa Gamma at UCLA.  I was fortunate enough to meet her in 2011, a few months before she passed away; every bit as elegant as you'd expect royalty to be. 

7.       The pageant began post-dating the year for the winners, leaving 1950 without a representative.  Miss America 1951 (crowned in 1950) was Yolanda Betbeze, an opera singer from Alabama, who refused to tour the country as a swimsuit model for Catalina swimwear, the Pageant’s major sponsor.  The subsequent comment at a new conference by Miss America 1949, Jacquie Mercer of Arizona, “Why don’t you go start your own pageant,” led to the beginning of the Miss USA Pageant.  This is why there is no talent category in Miss USA.  As a note, the beauty queens you see on YouTube who have embarrassed themselves answering questions are Miss USA contestants.

8.       In 1955, Lee Meriwether became the first winner to be crowned on television.  I offered to carry her to her room when she said her feet hurt after the Miss America Shoe Parade in 2011.  She politely declined, but did ask if she could use my shoulder to help keep her balance to change out of her heels.  I do believe I’m still smitten.

9.       The first back-to-back Miss Americas from the same state are crowned; Mary Ann Mobley and Lynda Mead Shea, Misses America 1959 and 1960 respectively.  As a note, they were also Chi Omega sorority sisters at Ole Miss, giving that particular house more Miss America titles than 28 states.  Hotty Toddy!

10.   The only other state with back-to-back winners is Oklahoma, bringing their total to six.  This places them in a tie with California for the state with the most Miss Americas.  Ohio has had six titles, but only 5 winners (see #2 above).  The other states with five winners include Pennsylvania, Illinois and Michigan.  Mississippi and New York have four each; Texas, Minnesota, Arkansas, Alabama, Colorado, Kansas and Virginia have had three each.  The only southern state to not have a Miss America is Louisiana, although they’ve had several first runners-up.  Why the focus on the South, you ask?  As Suzanne Sugarbaker said, "You will never see an ugly Miss Mississippi!"

11.   There have been 86 young women who have held the title of Miss America.  I have met 35 of them.  Yes, I am bragging.  Most impressive was Bebe Shopp, Miss America 1948.  I met her in 2011 and she walked the Shoe Parade route for in 3-inch heels.  That, my friends, is a real woman.  It was after this parade that I also formed an alliance with Miss America 1982’s (Tawny Godin) husband to pilfer her parade sign as a souvenir.  I feel my knowledge of and dedication to this program should give me immunity from any punishment.

12.   The first African-American Miss America contestant was Cheryl Browne, Miss Iowa in 1970.  The first African-American winner was Vanessa Williams of New York.  When she resigned her crown 11 months later she was succeeded by another African-American woman, Suzette Charles, of neighboring New Jersey.

13.   Sharlene Wells, Miss America 1985, is the only winner born in another country.  Her parents were Mormon missionaries in Paraguay.

14.   Social platforms were added in 1989 at the suggestion of Miss America 1988; Kaye Lani Rae Rafko (by far, the best named Miss America).  Ms. Rafko was a Nurse who spent her year talking about AIDS hospices.  There is a requirement for each contestant to have spent many hours volunteering with the social cause of her choice.  Miss America 2000 and my fabulous friend, Heather French Henry, spent her year as an advocate for Veterans and she has written and illustrated children’s books with a patriotic theme. 

15.   I haven’t always agreed with the winners (Missy Hurdle was robbed in 1992!) but I will always love the Miss America program and the great things that it does for the participants.  Good Luck, ladies! 
And that is all I’m saying.

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