The History of Pageants: 1980s
Vanessa Williams, Miss America Platforms, Gretchen Carlson, and the Burt Parks Firing
After 25 years as emcee of theMiss America Pageant, Bert Parks is dismissed. Fans are outraged and talk show host Johnny Carson starts an unsuccessful “Bring Back Bert” campaign. Parks is replaced by Ron Ely, television’s Tarzan.
The Miss T.E.E.N. Pageant, a program honoring teen excellence, is founded. Susan McDonald wins the first title.
Lenola Sullivan, Miss Arkansas, is the first African-American woman to make the top five at the Miss America Pageant. She also wins the swimsuit competition.
Twenty-year-old Shawn Nichols Weatherly, Miss South Carolina-USA wins the coveted triple crown when she is awarded the titles of Miss USA 1980 and, then, Miss Universe 1980. The South Carolinian is the first American in thirteen years to accomplish the feat. Upon Shawn’s victory as Miss Universe, Jineane Ford, Miss Arizona-USA and the first runner-up, assumes the Miss USA title.
Moments after the credits roll for the 1979 Miss Universe Pageant in Australia, the stage collapses as 200 reporters and contestants rush forward to congratulate the winner, Maritza Sayalero, of Venezuela. Eight contestants plunge through the stage floor to the concrete beneath and Miss Malta and Miss Turkey are hospitalized for minor injuries after rescue workers pull them from the debris.
‘TEEN Magazine acquires the rights to the Miss Teenage America Pageant from the Dr. Pepper Company and transforms it into a nationwide mail-entry contest celebrating teen achievement. Finalists are judged on grades, community service, and intelligence. The winner serves as a ‘TEEN columnist and spokesperson.
Ron Ely is replaced as master of ceremonies by popular actor Gary Collins, husband of Miss America 1959 Mary Ann Mobley. Collins had starred in the film Born Free, while Mobley had appeared in two Elvis Presley movies.
The coronation song There She Is is replaced by Look at Her and Miss America, You’re Beautiful after a contract dispute between pageant officials and songwriter Bernie Wayne. However, the public is disappointed and There She Is soon returns by popular demand.
BS televises the first Miss Teen USA Pageant from Lakeland, Florida. Ruth Zakarian, of New York, wins.
A media frenzy ensues after reporters reveal that Vanessa Williams posed for sexually explicit pictures before her victory. When Penthouse publishes the photos, officials request that Vanessa step down. She resigns during a nationally televised press conference. William’s first runner-up, Suzette Charles, becomes the second African-American woman to hold the title.
The Miss Teen of America Pageant is founded. Debbie Brooks of Modesto, California wins the first title.
For the first time, an Eurasian woman wins the Miss USA title, when Mai Shanley, who is of of Philippine and Irish parentage, is crowned Miss USA 1984.
In another racial breakthrough, 1985 became the year of the Latina beauties. Laura Martinez Herring, a naturalized Mexican-American, is named Miss USA, making her the first Hispanic to win a major U.S. pageant title. She later marries a European count.
The Mrs. World Pageant is founded. Rosie Senanayake, Mrs. Sri Lanka, wins the first title.
The Mother/Daughter Pageant is started.
The first beauty contest television series is started, the syndicated Dream Girl USA Pageant. It lasts one season before being canceled.
Miss Black USA Pageant is founded by Karen Arrington.
The first Miss Latina USA is crowned in 1986, Sandra Luz Cedillos of El Paso, Texas.
The Mrs. United States Pageant is founded. Sharon Kirkby wins the first title (1987).
Kaye Lani Rae Rafko, an oncology nurse from Michigan, wins the 1988 Miss America title. When she voluntarily devotes part of her year of service to advocating hospice care and promoting the nursing profession, she sets a new precedent of social activism for titleholders. Her actions are so positively received by the public, that the Miss America Pageant begins developing an official “platform” through which future titleholders can be role models for public service.
The first Miss Black USA Pageant is held at the J.W. Marriott hotel ballroom in Washington, DC., with twenty-one intelligent, beautiful and talented African-American women from across the nation. Tamiko Gibson, Miss Black Maryland, a 21-year-old University of Maryland Broadcasting Journalism major is crowned the first ever “Miss Black USA”.
For the first time, an American wins the Mrs. World title, Mrs. America, Pamela Nail of Mississippi.
Gretchen Carlson, Miss Minnesota and a classical violinist and school valedictorian, is named Miss America 1989. The Stanford graduate goes to become respected television journalist and co-host of the popular Fox Network show Fox & Friends before moving on to have her own show The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson. She created an international stir when she sued her old boss, Fox honcho Roger Ailes, for sexual harassment. They settled for $20 million.
The Mrs. International Pageant is founded. Rhonda Berglan, of Oklahoma, the mother of two children, wins the first title.
The Lone Star state achieves a monopoly on the Miss USA title when Texans win the national crown for five consecutive years, 1985-1989. All five women prepare under the tutelage of Richard Guy and Rex Holt, the flamboyant founders of GuyRex, Inc.