The surprising thing about Texas’ former Miss Americas isn’t that they’re darn pretty but that they’re pretty darn smart. Each winner—Jo-Carroll Dennison, Miss America 1942; Phyllis George, Miss America 1971; and Shirley Cothran, Miss America 1975—parlayed her reign into a respected and financially successful career. Dennison, a Tyler belle, was the first wartime Miss America. Her successors, George and Cothran, shared more than just a beauty title; both were born and raised in Denton. All three Texans were Miss Americas back when the pageant was all glamour and girliness (measurements were essential to every news story; in fact, George and Cothran even shared identical vital statistics: 36-23-36). Given their determination and savvy, though, all three could have been contenders even if the pageant of yesteryear had been the modernized, brains-are-okay event that it is today. And one final note: So far, no Miss America from our state has ever been a blonde. Brunettes of Texas, take heart.
Tiara slippage made Phyllis George who she is today. George, who has homes in both New York City and Lexington, Kentucky, is one of only a handful of Miss Americas who went on to achieve true celebrity; she has been a sportscaster, a TV personality, a convenience-food entrepreneur, and the first lady of Kentucky. But she owes her household-name status in large part to an unruly rhinestone crown. Here’s how George remembers what she calls “the crown incident”:
“I was about five ten in heels, and Pamela Eldred, the exiting Miss America, was a petite little Dresden doll, and she wasn’t tall enough to pin the crown on very well. Plus, back then there was the robe and the scepter and the roses to keep up with. I started down the runway and turned to nod my thanks to the judges, and when I did, the tiara fell off and stones went everywhere and the audience gasped. All I could think was, ‘This is your moment, Phyllis—all your friends and family are watching—and look what you did!’ But even then I could laugh about it. As I told Johnny Carson three nights later, ‘You’ll remember me—I’m the