Know It All: The Miss America Pageant
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There She Is...1 of 12
Looking to liven things up around the office water cooler? With the 86th Miss America poised to be crowned this Saturday, Glo searched through the annals of pageant history to bring you 12 surprising, fun and (somewhat) informative facts.
In 1921, the first iteration of Miss America took place. Called the "Inter-City Beauty Pageant," there were a mere seven contestants. The winner? Sixteen-year-old Margaret Gorman from Washington D.C., who resembled silent film star Mary Pickford.
Keeping Score2 of 12
Competition was strictly a numbers game in the pageant's early days. According to PBS's Miss America film, throughout the '20s contestants were judged on a 100 point scale: 15 points for "construction of the head," 10 for eyes, facial expression, legs, arms, hands, torso and "grace of bearing." The remaining 15 points went to a woman's mouth, nose and hair, each valued at five points. By 1939, a "long-stemmed" Miss Michigan was crowned Miss America. Her stats? She stood 5 ft. 7 in. tall, weighed 127 pounds, and wore a size 22 hat.
Hits & Mrs.3 of 12
Miss America 1949 Jacque Mercer got hitched to her high school sweetheart during her reign, going from Miss to Mrs. The couple divorced in less than a year and, regretful over what she called her "teenage nuptial folly," Mercer asked pageant officials to forbid winners from marrying during their reign; they obliged. While the Pageant also used to require that contestants had never been married or pregnant, that changed in 1999. Now contestants must sign a document that says, "I'm unmarried" and ''I am not pregnant and I am not the natural or adoptive parent of any child.''
All for the Bess4 of 12
Crowned in 1945, less than a week after the end of WW II, Bess Myerson was the first (and so far only) Jewish Miss America. According to PBS's film, before the competition, Pageant director Lenora Slaughter urged Myerson to change her name to the less-ethnic sounding Beth Merrick. As the daughter of Russian-Jewish immigrants, she said, "I cannot change my name. I live in a building with two hundred and fifty Jewish families. The Sholom Aleichem apartment houses. If I should win, I want everybody to know that I'm the daughter of Louie and Bella Myerson."
Suit Yourself5 of 12
In 1951, Mobile, Alabama's Yolande Betzebe refused to pose in a swimsuit during her reign as Miss America. Betzebe, who had been raised in a convent, wasn't about to compromise. Because of her firm decision, Pageant sponsor Catalina Swimwear ended its relationship with Miss America and instead created the Miss Universe Pageant.
Lip Service6 of 12
In 1938, Pageant officials added a talent category to the competition—lest women be judged on their looks alone. Since then, there have been nine baton twirlers recognized with a Preliminary Talent Award, a few noteworthy ventriloquists (like Miss America 1965, Vonda Van Dyke, pictured). And last year's talent standout? A clogging Miss North Carolina.
Host with the Most7 of 12
The original crooner of "There She Is," Miss America host Bert Parks, was the show's longest running MC, starting in 1954 with the pageant's first national broadcast. (That same year, Grace Kelly served as a judge.) After 25 years as the host, Bert Parks was replaced in 1980 by an actor named Ron Ely, the former star of Tarzan in the 1960s.
Sign of the Times8 of 12
Backlash against the Pageant was inevitable and by 1968, the Womens Liberation Movement was gaining momentum. That year, more than 150 women gathered outside the pageant in Atlantic City to protest the event. They burned bras, wigs, false lashes and women's magazines in a "freedom trash can," an act that earned feminists their bra-burning rep. Protest organizer Robin Morgan railed against the Pageant's unrealistic standards of beauty: "To win approval, we must be both sexy and wholesome...demure yet titillatingly bitchy or should we say ill-tempered."
Ask Me Anything9 of 12
When Rebecca King was announced the winner of Miss America in 1974, she did the unthinkable. She didn't cry. The law student from Colorado (who sang If I Ruled the World during the competition's talent portion) further shocked Pageant fans when she spoke openly about being pro-choice. She is also credited with pressuring Miss America officials to count the private interview portion in the contestants' final scores.
Breaking Boundaries10 of 12
Some 40 years after Pageant organizers created the rule that "contestants must be of good health and of the white race," Cheryl Browne of Iowa became the first black woman to compete in Miss America in 1970. Almost 15 years later, Vanessa Williams would become the first black woman to win Miss America. And when Williams' reign was cut short, runner-up Suzette Charles became the second. (They both share the title of Miss America 1984.)
Making a Splash11 of 12
One of the most controversial elements of the pageant has long been its swimsuit competition, now called "Lifestyle and Fitness in Swimsuit." In 1994, contestants went barefoot during a beach-themed swimsuit number. A year later, viewers voted 5 to 1 to keep the swimsuit competition. By 1997, heels were back and competitors were given the option of wearing a two-piece suit. And in 1999? Swimsuit rules were again tweaked, prohibiting string bikinis and thongs.
Hair to the Throne12 of 12
Last year's Miss America Teresa Scanlan was only 17 when she won, just a year older than the first Miss America, Margaret Gorman. While many other contestants relied on extensions to give their hair more Pageant volume, the blond teenager from Nebraska opted for a wig made of human hair and costing $2400.
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