For most folks, September means schoolwork, football, and the promise of cooler weather. But for me, September represents something far more serious and significant: the Miss America Pageant. It’s a spectacle of blatant sexism, the pinnacle of political incorrectness—and the high point of my year.
I shamelessly confess that I adore watching Miss America; so do plenty of other viewers (some 18 million last year) who tune in to the annual parade of pulchritude the second Saturday after Labor Day. In fact, four fellow pageantophiles and I have made the telecast the linchpin for a no-men-allowed weekend of face-stuffing, wine-swilling, bimbo-jeering fun. We can identify dozens of former Miss Americas by name and year and sing the complete lyrics to “There She Is, Miss America.” This month marks our twenty-fifth autumn extravaganza, Miss America Weekend ( MAW). We had to chuckle earlier this year when the public relations firm for the Miss America Organization suggested, in a press release, that viewers start a tradition of Miss America parties. Since we’re ahead of the curve on that one, I offer, for both the experienced viewer and the virgin, a quick history of Miss America and MAW, as well as tips for maximizing your pageant-watching fun.
The tradition and title started in 1921 in the oceanside resort town of Atlantic City, where civic boosters sought to prolong the tourist season. The first winner was Margaret Gorman, a sixteen-year-old schoolgirl best remembered for her bustline (or lack of it)—she was a flapperesque thirty inches. Contemporary pictures depict Gorman wearing an Old Glory cape and a crown that resembles an inverted octopus in the grip of rigor mortis. For the next few years, the pageant was a wildly disorganized affair. Women’s clubs attacked it as indecent (this in an era when even the most risqué swimwear resembled a medieval tunic). Several contestants turned out to be Mrs., not Miss; one even brought her baby along. But eventually the pageant went truly national and polished its image, soliciting a contestant from every state and standardizing the evening gown, talent, and interview requirements. The awarding of scholarships (begun in 1945) attracted even more wannabes; last year Miss America officials urged journalists to substitute the phrase “scholarship program” for