The History of Pageants: 1960s
Camelot, Vietnam and Space
The Miss USA/Universe sister pageants move to Miami Beach, Florida, where CBS begins to televise them.
Corrine Huff makes history when she wins the Miss Ohio-USA title and becomes the first black woman to win a state title and compete in a major national pageant, the Miss USA Pageant.
The first international pageant for children is staged in Miami, Florida — “Little Miss Universe.” The contest is discontinued in 1966.
The “Little Miss America Pageant” contest is started in New Jersey, affiliated with Palisades Amusement Park.
The Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants continue in Miami Beach, Florida, where Marlene Schmidt, Miss Germany, is crowned Miss Universe 1961, and Sharon Brown, Miss Louisiana (far right), is crowned Miss USA. Miss USA places 5th in Miss Universe. Germany has not won a Miss Universe title since.
The Miss Teenage America Pageant is founded as a program to honor young women’s achievement and judges contestants’ grades and achievement. The scholarship pageant has no swimsuit competition. Diane Cox, of Virginia, beats out 95 contestants for the national title. CBS acquires the rights to televise the event.
By happenstance, Nancy Fleming, Miss America 1961, is visiting the hometown of astronaut, Alan Shepard, on the day he becomes the first American in space. She is invited to watch the historic and dangerous Freedom 7 space launch with Shepard’s nervous parents.
Miss Haiti 1962 becomes the first black woman to make the semi-finals at the Miss Universe Pageant. |
Almost half a century down the pageant timeline, toddlers everywhere will be watching Eden Wood in a hit TV show called Toddlers & Tiaras on “reality TV” — sometimes on an unfathomable gadget called a tablet… but this is the early 1960s, and children’s pageants are only beginning to sprout up — as a surprisingly prim-and-proper creation intended to help adorable little girls in party dresses develop confidence on-stage.
In 1962, Marge Hannaman founds a children’s pageant which she titles the Our Little Miss Pageant, “the first of its kind in children’s pageantry”. An eventual nominee for the Basketball Hall of Fame as an “All American Red Head”, Hannaman creates the wholesome Our Little Miss scholarship pageant “to promote an outlet for young girls to have a way to better their social, business and personal speaking skills to | enable | them to grow in the business ‘man’s’ world.”
The first World’s Our Little Miss Pageant is held at the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans, Louisiana and offers two divisions, Our Little Miss and Miss LaPetite. The first winner is Debbie Smith from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Diane Sawyer wins the 1963 America’s Junior Miss title, representing Kentucky. The daughter of a prominent judge (deceased), Diane is an über serious student who is seems like a perfect fit for the straight-laced Junior Miss program — where high school-aged contestants are judged on their academic record and swimsuits are replaced by a perky “physical
Interestingly, Sawyer initially strikes several judges as too serious to serve as a teen titleholder… until nearsighted Diane walks headfirst into a metal post in front of the judges during rehearsals and dissolves into laughter. Charmed by Sawyer’s silly side, the judges change their votes in her favor and name her America’s Junior Miss 1963.
Sawyer uses her pageant scholarships to attends Wellesley College and is hired as a press aide to President Nixon. She moves on to television reporting and rises to become a superstar and one of the highest paid female news anchors in television history. […read more about Diane Sawyer]
Donna Axum, Miss America 1964, is attending a conference in Dallas, Texas when the shocking news arrives that President Kennedy has been assassinated only miles away.
Miss USA/Universe contests separate into two televised pageants, Miss USA and Miss Universe, beginning a tradition that would become one of the highest rated television specials in the world. Apasra Hongsakula, Miss Thailand, and Sue Downey, Miss Ohio, win the Miss Universe and Miss USA titles, respectively.
The America’s Junior Miss Pageant is televised for the first time.
The Miss America Pageant is broadcast for the first time in color. Miss Kansas, Deborah Bryant, wins the crown after performing a vaudevillian act in which she plays all three roles: heroine, villain and onlooker.
Miss Americas travel to Vietnam to entertain servicemen with Bob Hope. The tradition continues through the early 1970s.
The Miss Universe Pageant ends its ban on hairpieces and falls, allowing contestants to wear them for competition. Falsies remained grounds for disqualification.
Sylvia Hitchcock, Miss USA, is named Miss Universe 1967, the first American to capture the coveted title in seven years. Although a native of Florida (Miami), Sylvia wins the national title as Miss Alabama (where she attends college). Miss Florida, Cheryl Ann Patton, assumes the Miss USA title.
A group of 400 women’s rights activists, some of whom describe themselves as “The Women’s Liberation Front”, protest the Miss America Pageant as FBI anti-riot squads have them under surveillance. The picketers toss symbols of the beauty culture in a “freedom trash can.” Protesters infiltrate Convention Hall during the pageant creating a commotion that is audible during the telecast. Miss Illinois, Judith Ford, wins the Miss America title after performing on a trampoline in the talent competition.
Pageant chairman, Albert Marks, attempts to dump the song There She Is, but after a public uproar, the decision is reversed.
First Miss Black America Pageant is held in Atlantic City as a protest against the absence of black women in the Miss America Pageant.