Each Thursday, your Crap Archivist brings you the finest in forgotten and bewildering crap culled from basements, thrift stores, estate sales and flea markets. I do this for one reason: Knowledge is power.
Miss America Pageant Official Year Book
Discovered at: Antique mall
The Cover Promises: When the night is at its darkest, the police commissioner of Atlantic City aims a beacon to the heavens to summon that great protector of the Jersey shore: Miss America!
With the pageant scene scandalized by nudie pix, breast-implants, and contestants who on occasion answer a question with honesty, Americans might find themselves longing for the glamorous beauty contests of the past, for a time when there was something innocent about competitions wherein judges awarded scholarships to women according to the ripeness with which they crammed themselves into swimsuits and evening gowns.
Judging by this week’s extraordinary find, that time, I fear, never existed – not even for the vaunted Miss America.
This souvenir book of the 1952 pageant doesn’t shy away from controversy.
In 1923, it reveals, the reigning Miss America won again, which prompted officials to institute a term-limit.
And in 1935 the title was won by the Burger King.
In the 50s
, crushing the dreams of all but one of the 52 contestants took pagaent organizers four full nights. In ’52, the first three evenings each featured a welcome from Miss Atlantic City, a “Parade of States” led by then Miss America Colleen Kay Hutchins, as well as evening gown, swimsuit, and talent competitions.
Somewhere in there, audiences were also treated to songs from host Bob Evans, including the disingenuous “Winners All,” of his own composition. Incidentally, this is not the Evans of down-home restaurant-chain fame, although his pagaent experience certainly qualifies him to present and select meat.
On night four, the ten semi-finalists submitted themselves to questioning from grim and unpleasable men. Meet your judges!
Back then, the pagaent strived for a prim wholseomenss even as it peddled flesh. The result is utterly American: a paradoxical celebration of a sex and sexlessness, of half-dressed hotties of tremendous sexual appeal each trying to out-innocent each other for the benefit of the town elders from Footloose.
As if to illustrate the contradiciton, the great scandal of the ’52 pagaent concerned Marilyn Monroe, who, hired to serve as Grand Marshall of a Boardwalk parade of beauties, was reportedly asked to leave for flashing too much cleavage. (This excellent post from the “Accidental Mysteries” blog offers an interview with the Karol Ann Dragomir, 1952’s Miss Michigan, about the incident.)
A handy guide to 50s morality:
Great, firm, heaving bosoms aglow and rounded in sweater, swimsuit or evening gown like the melons in a still-life? Wholesome.
The cleft between said bosoms, or any suggestion of their honest-to-God mamilian reality? Sinful.
Speaking of which, meet your contestants!
Other hobbies included: water-skiing (Miss Florida), “collecting unusual china plates and golf” (Miss Mississippi), leather work (Miss Canada), and “toe dance twirling” (Miss Kentucky). Their career goals also fascinate. The ambitious Miss Idaho, Zoe Ann Warberg, specialized in oratory, and by the 1960s had gone on to become a judge. More typically of the era, Miss Arkansas had “ambitions of a degree in personnel administration
For your convenience, the ladies are broken down like livestock.
Until it moved to Las Vegas in 2006, the pageant always celebrated Atlantic City. Ads in this program trumpet Hackney’s seafood (“Home of the Purified Lobsters”) and the Stanley Restaurant, the home of Mike Freed.
Another ad presents Steel Pier as a place where wheeled carts insult their passengers.
Shills flocked to the Boardwalk to enjoy the ice capades, macaroons and peeping jailbirds.
The Real Winner:
Here she is, Miss America for 1953:
According to the Lakeland, Florida, Ledger, Neva Jane Langley banked $100,000 during her reign . . . and spent it on a citrus grove in Polk City, Florida. Since then, she’s given piano concerts in the U.S. and Italy, had a recital hall named after her at Mercer University, donated thousands to various Republicans, married into the Fickling family — the Macon Ficklings, mind you, founders of the Macon, Georgia, Cherry Blossom Festival — and founded the annual “Georgia Women of Achievement” Award.
Recipients of the GWA do not need to parade in a swimsuit. Cleavage, I’ll bet, is still frowned upon.