The History of Pageants: 1930-1939
The Heyday of Hollywood Beauties and Tinsel Town Talents Reshapes the Miss America Contest
Wildwood, New Jersey holds a “Miss America” contest for one year. Dorothy Hann, a 5’2″ Camden woman, wins as 50,000 spectators watch.
Atlantic City’s Miss America contest is revived in 1933 under new management as The Variety Showman’s Jubilee. The first pageant is almost a fiasco. Preliminary events are delayed when a judge oversleeps, Miss New York State collapses onstage from an abscessed tooth, Miss Oklahoma is rushed to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy, Miss New York City drops out, Miss Arkansas is revealed to be married and three western contestants are disqualified for living on other states.
Marian Bergeron, a 15-year-old cop’s daughter, who is a dead-ringer for movie star Jean Harlow, is crowned disqualified when officials realize she is underage. Instead, she is allowed to keep the crown, but is dubbed with the nickname “Baby Vamp”. Sadly, she doesn’t keep the crown after all when it is stolen from the queen’s hotel suite hours after her victory.
A financial failure, the contest is canceled. No Miss America contest is held, allowing Bergeron to unofficially reign for two years. The Miss America contest is revived permanently under the capable leadership of Lenora Slaughter.
In Spa, Belgium a beauty contest is held to choose a “Miss Universe” from among international contestants. Miss Turkey, Keriman Halis, was named Miss Universe 1932. The event was unrelated to the modern Miss Universe Pageant which was first held in Long Beach, California twenty years later in 1952.
Reflecting the nation’s fascination with Hollywood, the Miss America Pageant adds an optional talent competition. Winners receive Hollywood screen tests and Hollywood agents representing moguls such as Howard Hughes scour the contest for potential screen starlets. Some contestants make it to the big screen including Dorothy Lamour (1935) who later co-stars in Bob Hope’s Road to film series.
Hours after being crowned Miss America 1937, Bette Cooper disappears with her bachelor chaperone, Lou Off, in the middle of the night. The next morning when the queen is a no-show for a photo shoot, a statewide police search ensues and newspapers publish photos of an empty throne surrounded by runners-up. Rumors fly that, like Kind Edward, who had abdicated the throne to marry Wallis Simpson, the American queen had abandoned her throne for love. Actually, Bette, who wanted to return to school, had called Off and asked him to smuggle her out of
her hotel and back home.
The talent competition becomes a mandatory category of competition at the Miss America Pageant.
The Mrs. America Pageant is started as a pageant honoring married homemakers’ achievements. Ohio’s Margaret Chamberlain, wins the first pageant which is held in New Jersey’s Palisades Amusement Park. According to the Mrs. New Mexico™ Pageant, “The original contest was not considered a beauty pageant but a competition of homemaking skills, including table setting, arrangements, laundry, bed-making and cooking, as well as managing the family budget, personality, hairstyle, make-up and formal dress.”