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Missing Miss America

Reflecting on the history of the pageant and the events leading up to its departure from Atlantic City

By Mike Epifanio
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Sep. 15, 2005

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Since we won't have a parade to attend on Friday evening or a pageant to watch on Saturday night, we can't help but feel a little ... well, empty this week. No Miss America in Atlantic City after 85 years of history in the town that was always synonymous with the annual competition. Enjoy the trip down memory lane as we wax nostalgic over the pageants of yesteryear.

1921 First Miss America competition is held. A group of hoteliers and other businessmen invent a beauty pageant with the intention of attracting visitors in September and extending the summer season to pad their seasonal profits. The winner of the pageant was to be called "The Most Beautiful Bathing Girl in America." The pageant's first winner, Margaret Gorman of Washington, D.C., would soon be the first to be called "Miss America," but not until the end of her reign.

1925 The pageant is broadcast "live" on radio for the first time.

1928 Religious and women's advocacy groups gain ground in their annual protests of the Miss America pageant, which they content is an exploitation of the women involved. The pageant's organizers vote to cancel the pageant. No Miss America is crowned in 1928.

1929 A Maryland organization capitalizes on the Miss America pageant's inaction in Atlantic City. The winner of the Maryland-based "National Beauty Contest" is the first Miss America to be crowned outside of Atlantic City.

1932 With the Atlantic City business community's lackluster support of the controversial Miss America pageant, the annual event fades. The city of Wildwood takes advantage of the situation and stages a moderately successful Miss America pageant.

1935 Frank P. Gravatt, owner of the Steel Pier, and his associate, Eddie Corcoran, bring the Miss America pageant back to Atlantic City for good. In addition to interviews with the judges and scores in the eveningwear and swimsuit competitions, a new -- and optional -- talent category is added. Half of the contestants opt to showcase their talents. Pittsburgh's Henrietta Leaver performs a singing and tap-dance routine that propels her to winning the crown.

1940 The competition moves from Steel Pier to Boardwalk Convention Hall. With the exception of the wartime years (1942-45 at Warner Theater), when the military took over Boardwalk Hall for use as a training center, Miss Americas are crowned in Boardwalk Hall every year until 2004.

1945 Bess Myerson of New York City is awarded the pageant's first scholarship grant ($5,000). Myerson becomes the first college graduate to serve as Miss America.

1954 The Miss America broadcast makes its live television debut on the ABC network as 27 million viewers watch California's Lee Meriwether capture the title for 1955. The pageant also enjoyed another first that year as the first "Illuminated Night Parade" rolls down the Boardwalk.

1955 Bert Parks serves as master of ceremonies -- a post he holds for 25 years -- and introduces the program's theme song, "There She Is, Miss America," for the first time.

1957 CBS begins broadcasting the pageant and will serve as Miss America's network home for nine years.

1966 The pageant shifts to NBC, which broadcasts the competition in color for the first time. With the exception of one year (1977 on CBS) the pageant stays on NBC for the next 30 years.

1970 The first African-American woman, Cheryl Adrienne Browne of Iowa, competes for the Miss America title.

1980 Bert Parks is fired in an attempt to reach a younger audience. Parks is replaced by actor Ron Ely as pageant master of ceremonies.

1982 Gary Collins takes over as master of ceremonies after a brief, two-year stint by Ron Ely. Collins will stay on for nine years before a parade of hosts begin to pass the baton of hosting duties for the ensuing 20-plus years (see sidebar, MC Du Jour).

1983 Vanessa Williams becomes the first African-American Miss America.

1984 Vanessa Williams resigns after her nude photos (taken prior to her victory) appeared in Penthouse magazine. Williams is replaced by New Jersey's Suzette Charles (the first runner up).

1987 Al Marks retires as Miss America CEO and is replaced by long-time board member and legal counsel Leonard Horn, the organization's first full-time paid executive.

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