Oh, my God, it's like a cat or a dog show, but it's girls, it's just a girl show. Welcome to You're Wrong about the podcast that is not a pageant, but a scholarship competition and how dare anyone suggest otherwise. I scraped the bottom of my vest, Miss Congeniality, knowledge of the pageant world for that one.
I am Michael Hobbs. I'm a reporter for the Huffington Post. I'm Sarah Marshall. I'm working on a book about the satanic panic.
And if you want to support the show, we're on Patreon at Petrossian dot com slash. You're wrong about.
And as you may have noticed last week, we both have other podcasts.
I have a show called Maintenance Phase. Sarah has a show called Why are Dads and those are available on your telephone wherever you listen to podcasts. Yeah.
Or just, you know, call one 800. Why are dads getting that one? And today we are talking about Vanessa Williams. I'm really excited. Oh, my God.
Do you know that I wrote a weird little prose poem once called Misses about the fates of various Miss Americas? No way. Yes, I found it to you.
I mean, we're going to talk about some of these people today. This is great. I read it.
Yeah. Find some people you remember. OK, Margaret Gorman, nineteen twenty one won the title of Miss America and AC Green Chiffon. And later on a greyhound named Long Goodie Bess Myerson.
Nineteen forty five. The first and only Jewish Miss America ignored multiple suggestions that she changed her name, served as chair of the Anti Defamation League and was arrested for shoplifting. Elizabeth Ward in nineteen eighty two, admitted to having a one night stand with Bill Clinton during her reign as Miss America and filed for bankruptcy in nineteen ninety nine.
Gretchen Carlson nineteen eighty nine was nany by Michelle Bachmann as a child.
Shut the fuck up. Yeah they all do each other's hair. Unbelievable. Here's Vanessa. Vanessa Williams nineteen eighty four. The first black Miss America in the pageant's history was forced to resign her post after Penthouse published photos taken of her before her reign as Miss America.
Do you feel that to be accurate as a summary, my yes. That is one hundred percent true. Yeah. Okay, good job. Twenty twelve. Sara.
So, yeah. What do you what do you know about this story. Yeah.
So my understanding was that Vanessa Williams became Miss America, nearly completed her entire reign because I think Suzette Charles was only Miss America for like seven weeks or something like that. That is exactly correct.
Seven weeks. Well done. Oh my gosh. I didn't remember before we pulled this up, the penthouse was involved, but I'm not surprised it was she was forced to resign. And I don't know what the mechanics of that were or how much agency she had within that. And the other thing I will say about her is that she is the only Miss America who I can name off the top of my head and who has any kind of cultural relevance do for most people who aren't like pageant buffs.
I know this is like one of my favorite types of maligned nineties women that, like things just go great for her.
Afterwards, she was the first Miss America ever to relinquish the crown. It was a huge deal at the time. It's kind of incredible that she was able to pull a extremely successful career out of the ashes of what looked at the time like it was going to define her forever.
And now, like you talked to people about Vanessa Williams and the first thing they say is sometimes the snow comes down in June.
So I would like to introduce you to Vanessa, but I think it is better to let Vanessa introduce herself. So I am sending you a clip. This is Vanessa introducing herself at the 1984 Miss America pageant.
Three to one go. I'm 20 years old and presently a junior at Syracuse University, majoring in musical theater through hard work and perseverance. I hope to make my dream of a successful career on the Broadway stage come true.
That was wonderful. It's funny because I've watched pageants kind of while I was growing up and I'm like, yeah, there's the weird passive posing section.
So she looks like the Statue of Liberty in that dress.
Yeah, she really does. And is a white one shoulder.
I don't know fabric's, but it's very flowing. It's got some spangles.
What I'm most amazed by is that she's able to look to like sell the idea that she feels comfortable doing this incredibly weird thing.
Oh, yeah. I keep coming back to I realize it's a cliche, but the word poise, she just has poise. She doesn't look nervous. She doesn't seem like she's rehearsed this line in her head, even though she obviously has. She just seems like she's coming out. She says a thing and then she smiles because she's delighted at what she's just heard herself say. Yeah.
And she's like, Hello, audience in Atlantic City. I also like that Vanessa's obviously wearing heels, but she walks like she's wearing pajamas or something. She just looks comfortable. Yeah. She just looks like she's like clopping out to the living room now.
I feel like she's like, welcome to my home.
Yeah. So would you like to learn how Vanessa came to this place?
Yes. I have so many questions. Needle scratch. I'll bet you're wondering how I got here. She's born March 18th. Nineteen sixty three. She is in Millwood, New York, which is about an hour north of New York City.
Her dad is Milton, her mother is Helen. Her family is the only black family on the block. And when her parents bought their house, all of the white neighbors formed a coalition to try to stop them.
They got together.
They tried to sort of challenge their mortgage papers, basically saying there's no way they could possibly afford this. And the only way that they were able to buy their house was because the guy that was selling the house lived across the street. And he was like, I guess, social justice warrior.
Something something like he was committed to the idea of going through with the sale. Wow.
Imagine moving into a house where, you know, all of your neighbors have tried to keep you from moving there. You know, Vanessa talks about how eventually her father sort of won over all the neighbors because he's like such a nice guy. He's like a fixer upper dude. And so he'll help the neighbors, like, repair a fence or whatever, like he's super handy. She says he manages to have really great relationships eventually with the neighbors, but that's still sort of sitting in your head.
That is like you had to prove yourself well.
And also, I guess the I think the fact, too, that, like, if things go well, it's also conditional. It's like things can't go well in a sense, because, you know, the acceptance that you experience if the world is that poisoned against you, it's the exception. Yeah.
So a lot of the stuff about her childhood comes from her memoir, which is excellent, called You Have No Idea and it's very cute. She wrote it with her mom. So the chapters will sort of switch off.
They'll be like one chapter from Vanessa's perspective and then one chapter from her mom's perspective. So this is an excerpt of the kind of upbringing that she had because both of her parents are music teachers. They met in the music department at Columbia University a couple of years before they had Vanessa.
And Vanessa says mom is downstairs in the family room at the baby grand piano ordering students to play their scales. Well, my dad, a one man woodwind and brass ensemble, is upstairs teaching trumpet or clarinet or saxophone or French horn or oboe to the neighborhood kids.
Her parents are not particularly strict, but they say that she has to learn a musical instrument and she has to practice every day until she's eighteen.
That's pretty good. Oh, yeah. And basically everything else, their main value is just independence. Like, I want you to be exploring the neighborhood. I want you to be out on your bicycle. I want you to be out in the woods. As long as you practice French horn every day, you should be going out and doing other stuff.
I mean, that seems typical, too. I feel like I like something I love about Stephen King's. It is that in this town where we know that there is something or someone that is like ripping the arms off of children, they're like, OK, kids, because of the scary monster, we need you home by seven. But other than that, just like run around, be free, go into the woods. Yeah.
You know, climb into the sewers, but be home at seven, though, because there is a killer cloud.
So as we see in a lot of these stories, Vanesa, even though, like, she eventually becomes Miss America. Right. She's obviously very pretty.
She never feels pretty because she's the only black kid in the entire school.
What she says in her book is that, like, she's looking around and all of like the pretty girls have long blonde hair and they're often like much more wealthy families than she is.
She's like a heroine in a romance novel has like I just don't know how beautiful I am because I grew up marooned on the island of blonde white girls.
She also says when the kids would do their classroom matchmaking in grade school, they would always suggest that I go out with Jacob, the Indian kid, because he was the only other brown kid in the grade.
I've known several women over. Years who are like women of color, but they're not black, but who were cast as Scary Spice. Oh, God, ever you had to do Spice Girls casting because it was just like, OK. And very Scary Spice. Yeah, sorry.
She also get the thing and I feel like this is very typical for kids of color in like very white spaces that kids will say extremely racist shit to her, but they'll be like, oh, you don't count. Like I can say this in front of you because, like, you're not really black.
And she's like her first big awakening on this is apparently when she's eight years old, she's on the school bus and another little girl just walks up to her and calls her the N-word. She says, I had no idea what the word meant, but I knew it was ugly because they said it with such venom.
And her mom talks about, like very movingly in the book about how we knew that this was going to happen to her. But we didn't want to introduce that concept to her yet. We wanted to keep that away from her for as long as possible. And eventually when it happens, she comes home crying and her mom tells her it doesn't define you, but it does define the person saying it to you.
Then, I mean, as opposed to a lot of the other women that we've covered on this show. Vanessa knew, it seems like from day one exactly what she wanted to do with her life. From her earliest days, Vanessa wanted to be sort of singer, actress, dancer, like something on Broadway, in movies.
She's obsessed with Meryl Streep. So she just watches Meryl Streep movies over and over again. And I guess she practices the accents.
Oh, that's so great. It feels like she's also unusual because from what you've said, she came from like a loving and secure home.
Yeah, it sounds like they're very nurturing and she's sort of living out their dreams to some extent, too, like they play. There's this really adorable photo of them all playing music together as a family. So I think like after dinner, they would all like as an ensemble play songs together.
It seems important to acknowledge that it is possible to just genuinely and sincerely and truthfully believe that you have a talent that you want to share with the world, that you want to sing and dance for a living.
Throughout her book, she doesn't have a lot of sort of self-consciousness. She seems to just be like, I am good at singing, I am good at acting. I would like to be a singer and actress plays.
And that's what it is to to have a vocation. Right. Is that like if you're a professional singer, if you're in the arts, you can't wake up and be like, am I good or my bad? Will they like me? Will they not? You have to be like, OK, I have my voice lesson in the morning. I am my instrument. And like each day I'm figuring out how to improve myself.
And I think we don't know how to really recognize confidence from women also in the media, especially like young black girls who are comfortable just saying, like, yeah, I'm good at singing and I'm good at acting and I'm going to do this.
So all of this family togetherness, band practice after dinner type upbringing starts to rend at the seams when Vanessa is ten and she experiences sexual abuse.
So it's nineteen seventy three. Her father's brother is dying of cancer and they have good family, friends in Orange County.
And so to just give him and Vanessa's mom a little bit of time to sort of manage all of the various logistics that come along with this, they send their kids off to their friends in Orange County.
So these family friends have two kids. There's Susan, an eighteen year old daughter, and John, a twelve year old son.
They sort of hang out with his family for a couple of days. Then on one evening, they're all watching TV together with the family. And John invites Vanessa to walk around the neighborhood with him and he takes her to an abandoned construction site. She likes John. She has a crush on him. He's cute. They're talking at this construction site and he leans over and kisses her on the mouth. This becomes a big thing in the legal cases later, the fact that she had experienced abuse as a child.
And so I was reading this like very trepidations. I was like, oh, fuck, what's John going to do now?
And after this little peck, John walks her back to the house of this family. She says, good night. She goes to bed. And when she's asleep in the middle of the night, Susan comes into her room.
And so this 18 year old daughter, Susan, asks her to lie down on the floor, get out of bed, and Vanessa lies down on the floor.
And Susan molested her and then is just like, go back to sleep, don't tell anybody and goes back upstairs.
And I feel like this is a time when we're just barely beginning to hear that anyone is sexually abused as a child. And there's like no literacy around the idea that there can be young female perpetrators of this and that it can be like other young people to write other kids.
Yeah, yeah. And we don't know Susan's story. Like most of the children that abuse other children are experiencing abuse themselves.
It's just one of these things that, like we're just not well set up to deal with at all.
This is really sad that you know, Vanessa. Was that something bad has happened? She feels extremely uncomfortable as she's flying home. She decides she's not going to tell her mom because she's nervous about what her mom is going to say. She's afraid her mom is going to say like, well, what what did you do to invite this or what were you wearing?
Or something. So she's just nervous. Tell her mom. But she decides that she is going to tell her dad, like, I need to tell somebody about this. And she lands at the airport and her parents pick her up and both of her parents are just ashen. Her dad has visibly lost weight. His brother just died. And so she basically tells herself, like, OK, I can't I can't tell him now because he's going through so much else.
So I'm going to wait until sort of he's a little bit better and then I'll tell him and it just sort of falls off of her radar.
Yeah, I think most kids don't look at themselves and be like, wow, I'm a kid. Like, I'm very vulnerable. Yeah, I am not big enough or mature enough to be tasked with handling this trauma all by myself. And it is my parent's job to take care of me. When you're a kid, you're like, this is the oldest I've ever been. Yeah. And I take my responsibilities seriously and this is my job. Like, I think kids are are more likely to think that than we might realize once once we're so big and they seem so small.
There's also the element of like the story that she tells herself about the abuse. So there's a really interesting passage in her book where she says, I struggled to make sense of it. I thought, OK, there's this thing I did. It felt good. And since it was with another girl, it was probably OK.
That's how I rationalized it. But even as I told myself this, I thought it wasn't really OK at all.
Yeah, she feels really uncomfortable with it, but she's sort of talking herself into it wasn't it wasn't such a big deal. And it's with a girl and part of it felt good. And maybe it's OK. Like she's just sort of torn in a million directions, like trying to figure out how she feels about this.
Well, and this is also the thing where, like, if you want to minimize your trauma, which there are a million reasons to do, like there's always something worse, there's always something mitigating. You can always find a way to tell yourself like it's not that bad. Yeah. Look to the work of Roxane Gay for explication on the phrase not that bad.
Well, there's no this is not like a binary distinction, so it's just really difficult to deal with all these complexities, especially when you're fucking ten and it's like nineteen seventy three. It's like everyone's terrible on this shit. Yes. Jesus.
Oh my God. Yeah. And nineteen seventy three. I mean these are the years when like Ted Bundy is abducting and murdering college students and the police are like sometimes college girls because leave a big blood stain in their pillow and walk away in the middle of the night. Don't tell anyone where they're going. Yeah, crimes against women which have never been taken seriously are like not in a particularly great place exactly either. Yeah.
So what happens after this and we see this in so many of these stories is she just starts to pull away from her parents. The secret between them just creates this distance.
And so over the next couple of years, she just becomes more rebellious, she becomes more moody, she starts lashing out at them for random things. They start fighting a lot more. Her and her mom are fighting so much and she's slamming the door so much at one point that her dad takes her door off its hinges that he's like, I can't take this anymore. So, like, it just gets really tense in the house.
And there's there's a really funny sequence in the book where she talks about how she started smoking weed. At this point, she's like a freshman in high school and her and her friend are in the backyard in a sort of they have like a green house that's sort of like a lean to it, just like walls and a roof. And they're smoking weed in the middle of the night in this little green house. And then they're done and they want to go back inside and watch TV and eat Viennetta.
And so they just pour like whatever is in the bowl of the pipe, like just on the ground. And that guy, let's go back inside.
And, you know, when you're a teenager and you're buying super shitty weed, you often get weed with, like, stems and see, I had to so what Vanessa does not know is like because this is a green house, there's like this little seed in her shady weed ends up turning into a plant.
So like four months later, her mom, like, storms into her room. And it's like you're growing weed out there like you're a trafficker. And Vanessa's like, what? I have no idea.
I don't even know how to grow weed. I mean, her mom takes her outside and like, yes, there is a legit weed plant in their greenhouse.
Well, it's like when a district attorney escalates something, you know, to like felony trafficking should be possession. But like it's your mom and it's through greenhouse Majak.
Yeah. And it also it sounds like something that somebody would say as a lie to defend themselves in court.
Oh, just fell out of the pipe. But like, it actually happened, like, I totally believe that that happened.
And that is exactly the kind of thing that is always happening to me. But also, I like the idea that that is a lie that Vanessa Williams came up with in the moment. And then they're writing this book together like.
Yeah. Do you like I'll tell my mom about everything else. This is the lie I'm going to die with. You just got to keep one secret and then you can let everything else go, but no one can ever know. Do you think that happened? No, that's great. Like, seeds are very durable.
So this is also the time when she starts dating, when she's 16, she starts dating a guy named Joe, who is 20 years old and a bodybuilder and studying to be a mortician.
And I love in the book that both Vanessa and her mom go out of their way numerous times, talk about how hot Joe was.
They want you to know that Joe was extremely hot.
I think there's something really wholesome about, like parents being, like, excited for them being like that. Joe, he's great. You know, if Joe really is great.
So according to her, the sort of the central thing in the relationship is, you know, she's a virgin, she's 16 and he's 20 and he's presumably not.
And so he keeps trying to get in her pants and she's not ready yet. And so she's just sort of rebuffing his advances.
But he basically gets bored of this, it seems like, and she also gets bored of this. And so within sort of a couple of months, it's like they're still technically dating, but it's kind of petering out at this point.
And so when she's 17, she goes to a New Year's Eve party, she goes with Joe. And as soon as she gets there, Joe just like wanders off and she spots him later on, like flirting with some other girl.
Who Vanessa mentions very briefly is Pam Greer's cousin. He's so uninterested in her by that point that midnight comes and he's not even around to kiss her at midnight.
So she's just sort of there with one of her female friends. And this random dude just comes up and says, Happy New Year and kisses her on the lips and then walks away. And she's like, OK, well, that night went sideways.
So this is Bruce, who she ends up dating for the next three years. And here, let me show you a photo.
Vanessa would also like you to know that Bruce is extremely hot, like this is something she brings up throughout her book. All right.
Here's a photo from her book. Wow.
Yeah, I would join I would join a couple if these two let us seriously. OK, so the caption is Bruce and I posing for a Syracuse photography project on campus and they're both wearing like peak late 70s, early 80s workout gear. She has a sweatband and some sneaks and leg warmers and he's tying his sneakers and he's got his foot up on a chair and is leaning over her shoulder and looking smoldering at the camera.
He's like, OK, this I think this explains it best.
He has a like, relatively thin mustache and he doesn't look like a serial killer slash highway patrolman to me.
Right. Or like the villain from Sonic the Hedgehog. Yes. Yes.
Like, he's pulling it off so they start dating kind of semi sort of in secret because her parents don't approve of him to this day. Her parents say that they didn't approve of him because, like, they were very co-dependent, very fast. They just start spending all of their time together. She is a senior in high school. He is a freshman in college, and he eventually transfers colleges so that he can be closer to her. So her parents say they don't like him because they're just too codependent, too fast.
And she says they don't like him because he's white. And apparently, according to her, they will give her lectures about sort of the difficulties of being in an interracial relationship.
So they're kind of sort of dating in secret.
They're both young and they're both hot. And Vanessa is very open in her book. And I really appreciate this about the fact that, like, they start having sex with each other relatively early and she's just like, yeah, the sex was great. He just she talks about it a lot.
Isn't it amazing that, like, women like one of the things that makes, you know, that historically has made us credible or not or like assassin ANÍBAL as public figures or not, is like plausible deniability about virginity? Yes. We just want to not have affirmative proof that they are having sex or, God forbid, enjoying it. Exactly.
And this is like one of the reasons why I appreciate her book so much, because she's like, yeah, I dated hot dudes and we fucked.
It was like, yes, how dare someone enjoy the fact that they're beautiful and they get to pull hot dudes and have sex with them.
So there's this event where they are hanging out in her parents house and it's middle of the day. Her parents aren't home.
And so they're feeling sort of frisky and they pull out like the couch in the living room is a pullout couch and they pull it out into the bed and they start like apparently going at it.
And then Vanessa's mom walks in.
You know, they don't even know that she's really dating Bruce. They don't approve of Bruce. And then her mom walks in. And the way that Vanessa puts it in her book is that they are mid stroke.
We're so great. Were at it in the living room and her mom walks in. Oh, boy. What her mom says really pisses her off is not only are they having sex, but after they stop having sex and, you know, wrap themselves in a sheet or whatever and sit down on the couch. Her mom is lecturing both of them, and neither one of them seem ashamed of it at all.
They're just like sitting there holding hands and they're just like, yeah, we're having sex. We are dating. I am 18, he is 19. This is what 18 and 19 year olds do.
And her mom is like, no, you're supposed to feel bad about your mom walking in on you.
She played her French horn today. So I don't know.
It's unclear if sort of like it was this sex or other sex that they were having. But during her senior year of high school, she doesn't get her period for six weeks.
She's like, that's a little weird. But because it's the 70s and there's like not great sex ed, she doesn't really know what the symptoms of pregnancy are.
So she has to let go into her parent's room and like, sneak one of their weird health books off of the shelf.
And she, like has to flip to the pages that are like symptoms of pregnancy. And she's like, yep, my boobs are sore. Yep. I've been puking in the mornings. I haven't had my period. And she's like, oh shit, I might actually be pregnant. And she goes and she gets a pregnancy test and there it is. It tests positive, you know, she tells Bruce immediately and she says, at no point was not getting an abortion an option.
The minute she told him, he was like, OK, we can find a clinic for you. There's Planned Parenthood's. And she's like, yep, let's get me an appointment.
And so she doesn't tell her mom. She says she's like, I'm at a rehearsal and she goes to the clinic, gets an abortion. And again, she doesn't tell her mom until they're writing the book together.
So we are now fast forwarding to the summer of nineteen eighty two. Vanessa has just finished her freshman year at Syracuse University.
Bruce has proposed to her and she has said yes, but she's also starting to feel a little bit smothered.
She's just like, I'm spending too much time with Bruce. Bruce is way too into this and I'm trying to build a career. Her current plan is she wants to study abroad in London her junior year so that she can, like, audition for plays and stuff and like go see plays on the West End. So she just sort of drifting away like I need a summer of freedom.
And so I'm going to send you a photo. Oh, cool. All right. So this is an action shot. This is her jumping. It's black and white and she's fully nude. It's basically like the human body in motion, I would say, is the same here. Yes. She looks like she's on a trampoline exercise class and Superman's looking at her.
So this is the summer that she ends up posing for the nude photos. So how old is she? Eighteen. Nineteen. She's nineteen at this point when she poses the way that it happens is, you know, she needs to earn money for the summer. She's looking through the classified ads and there's an ad that just says models want it.
So she's like, oh, like modeling might be an interesting way into acting, being on the stage, et cetera, for me. So she answers the ad. She meets this photographer, Tom Chappell, who runs this modeling agency, and he says, you know, the first stage to becoming a model is getting a portfolio. Right. Like she doesn't have any professional photos taken. She pays him a hundred bucks and he takes a bunch of sort of professional looking studio.
Well, let modeling type shots so that now she has this portfolio. He does this. He says come back in a couple of days, pick up the proofs. She goes away, she comes back in a couple of days and they end up just sort of making small talk. And he mentions like, you know, it's hard to run an agency like this because I really need a receptionist and I need somebody to sort of do makeup and other like various logistics for the women that come in to have their shots taken.
And so she says, like, well, why don't you hire me? And so he's like, yeah, sure sounds good. So she's like a girl Friday. Yes, exactly.
So she she gets his receptionist gig. It pays decently well. It's regular hours. And, you know, she sort of slightly proximate to the sort of modeling world. Right. She can like find out how the industry works. One of the first things that she finds out when she starts working for Tom Chappell is that this is a total scam.
OK, this is not a modeling agency. Tom Chappell has no inroads with the modeling industry.
Well, I'm sure he's the only guy who's unscrupulously claiming to run a modeling agency and then just getting contacts for a bunch of hot young women and taking their money, I assume.
Well, this is the thing. So apparently this is a well known business model where you pretend to be a modeling agency, but you're actually a modeling, quote unquote, registry.
It's like you're officially registered as a model now, which means nothing like I'm officially registered as a podcast host. Like there's not that's not a thing.
I mean, if they pull you over in your modeling without a license, if you get three months of hard time. Exactly.
It's just something that sounds legit, but it's not in any way legit. And the whole scam is, you know, I can start selling you to the agencies. I can get you hooked up with an agency, but you need a portfolio first. Hey, guess what?
I'm also a photographer and I happen to do a portfolio that's the scam is you're getting them in the door and then you charge them to make these portfolios and then nothing ever happens, which is like not that bad because I guess you're selling them a service that they do actually need.
So I would make that like a four point four on the scam at. It's so Vanesa figures out that, like she got scammed, but like whatever she has, she now has a portfolio. So as she starts working for Tom Chappell, he seems nice, like she goes and meets his wife and like they have a good working relationship. He pays her on time. And he is a photographer like he does, in fact, consider himself a photographer.
And he's like kind of a little bit pretentious about it.
And so at one point during the summer, he asked her if she's ever posed nude. And she's like, no, I've never done it. He's like, do you want to try it some time? And she's like, sure, this is like her daring summer. This is the summer of freedom. She's finally away from Bruce after three years.
I also wonder if this is a situation where someone kind of not thinking too much about like being photographed nude because it just doesn't seem that significant to them. Yeah, it's going to bite them in the ass later because also, like in modeling, posing nude isn't it doesn't have to be prurient. You do it a lot for just a normal campaign where you might not be particularly sexualized, like it's just something that people do.
And also, she has no idea that she's going to be Miss America. I mean, part of the problem for Vanessa is the juxtaposition between Miss America is a wholesome, all-American image. And there's nude photos.
Right, because in Miss America is about grown men sitting in a panel and numerically judging women on how live in bathing suits. And that's a wholesome family activity would be so horrible to corrupt that with images of a woman fully nude. Yeah, and because that's worse.
Also, like she trusts Tom Chappell and she says, like, these are just for you. It's up to you if you ever want to release them or not. And interestingly, he takes her out into a forest and they do these like artsy, nude, whatever photos. And to this day, these have never leaked.
I don't know if, like, he gave her the negatives and she destroyed them or if you destroy them or whatever. But we've never seen these.
They're in a they're in a vault with all the Al Capone stuff that her all the money.
And yeah. So they've already done this nude photo shoot and everything goes fine. But then like a week later it's sort of after work. And he says, well, look, you know, I think the nude shot went really well last week. Have you ever thought about doing nudes with another woman, just like Botticelli used to say?
And he says, like, well, you know, I've got this sort of contact. Her name is Amy. She's a teen. She also wants to be a model. And I'm thinking of doing these, like, nude photo techniques. I think there could be something really interesting that sort of shapes and silhouettes, but he sort of talks her into this is like an art project that they're doing together.
Vanessa talks about these photos in her book. She has never expressed any shame about the actual photos. She's always been very clear about, like the human body is beautiful.
Nude art is a perfectly legitimate form of expression. So like to this day and at the time, she was never like, I never should have done the nudes. She's like, the news were fine. It was the world's reaction to the news that was.
Yeah, you know, I just I'm not going to agree to the thing where I'm like, yes, that thing I did was terrible. Like, everything about it was wrong. It was wrong for me to be naked ever. It was wrong for me to have sex with anyone again. Like, I really can't stress enough how relatively insignificant nudity is. Yes, it's strange to act as if the object of everyone's wholesome, apparently fascination, while slightly clothed, is like suddenly dangerous when unclothed.
So, I mean, she talks about this entire shoot that they did together. It was like thirty five minutes and you know, she had had like a beer or two after work with Tom. And you know, he was very adamant, like, of course I'm not going to publish these. I mostly just like testing out the lighting and it was going to be able to see your face anyway.
And she's thinking like, yes, I would like to see how I look in these maybe. Yes.
And another thing she says in her book is there's something so freeing about doing what you're not supposed to.
And that seems like a part of this, too, that there's just some very standard teenage rebellion stuff going on.
Like this is a little bit forbidden. It's a little bit sexy. It's kind of cool to do something you're not supposed to.
Yeah, I mean, honestly, it seems like things were fine until the Miss America pageant got its filthy little mind and stuff.
So I'm going to send you some photos from the shoot. I will not be putting these on our website or anything, but you can pretty easily Google to them.
So it's Vanessa and this other girl, and they are standing facing each other with their legs touching and their arms around each other. And each of them have their hands placed on the other's like lower back. But and they're sort of like symmetrically loosely holding each other. They both have their heads bent and therefore heads kind of together. They're totally nude. It's pretty lovely. Like I'm noticing that Vanessa has like she's doing the thing that I as an expert in modeling from watching one million hours of America's Next Top Model when I was growing up, she's doing the thing that I think is important and modeling, which is like creating an.
Narrative like she has this expression of like kind of wonder and like peaceful joy on her face, if you're going to project anything onto it, it doesn't look lascivious. It looks like they're in love.
Yeah. And like they're touching each other's butts because that's what you do when you love someone, you touch their body. Yeah.
And you have to go poop. Yeah. And then I said you two more. So the second photo, the second photo is kind of an action shot. The other girl is like kind of on top of Vanessa and they're laughing. And Vanessa was pointing at her chest kind of between her boobs. And they're like having, you know, acting out, having some kind of a moment or just having some kind of a moment. It's just like girl intimacy.
It feels very real to me. I mean, this is like the thing of like when you're having sex with somebody and like you're about to or you've just finished and you're like joking around about like. Yeah.
Skardu or like making fun of their chest hair or making fun of their lack of chest hair or whatever, like this sort of playful pre post sex thing.
Like it's a very good reenactment of that.
But yeah, I like putting your fingers on their veins. Yeah. Yeah. And then this final one is like the sexiest one of the most explicitly sexy one. It is Amy on a stool and she's like on her knees on a stool and then doing a back then so that her hands are on her, her ankles and she's like arching her back bent back through yoga. Yeah. Yeah.
And it's also very joy of sex. Yes. I'm calling on like all of all of the print media I secretly consumed when I was a kid to contextualize these images. And Vanessa's on her knees in front of her again with this, like, very kind of rapture. They both look rapturous. Yeah, but Vanessa, I have to say, I like her, her modeling chops more. And this she has her face, like, resting lightly against the skin, like right above the pubic hair.
Yeah. On Amy. And she is based on context clues, perhaps either about to perform some oral sex or just has. Yes.
She also, Vanessa, also talks about how extremely fake all of these setups were, her knees, her other modelling, her back hurts.
This is like a performance of spontaneity. But the procedure of making photos like this is the least sexy and spontaneous thing imaginable.
Right. And I mean, it's a testament. It's unfortunate, but like, she's good at what she's doing here because you're like, wow, it's so sexy. What a sexy scene.
And it's like, yes, what a sexy scene between two freezing, underpaid people like holding it being like, well, yeah.
I mean, this is kind of one of the you're wrong about about this episode is that there is one or two nude photos from the show.
He's like, why don't we take some nudes of you alone while Amy is getting ready? So, like, that's the jumping shot that you saw. But it's not nude photos that gets her kicked out as Miss America. It's lesbian photos.
Oh, the lesbian ness of these photos is central to why she loses the crown.
God, that lead was buried. Oh, my. Yeah, of course. There's nothing more dangerous than a lesbian, Michael. Nothing.
This is why Playboy doesn't publish the photos of Hugh Hefner, won't publish lesbian stuff. And they're too dirty for Playboy.
Yeah, he's like, no, no, no. I know what's sexy. What is sexy is a woman standing next to a cow and a little halter talking.
I'm a shirt and jeans cutoffs. And she's standing there staring lasciviously at the camera and we're just going to do that for sixty years.
So there's like two layers to the quote unquote immorality that Vanessa Williams is accused of, that not only is she nude, but she's nude with another woman and she's simulating sex with another woman. And like, that's not something that mainstream America is ready to reckon with. Right.
But so she does this on like a Thursday afternoon or whatever. About a week later, he comes back and he's like, hey, do you remember that thing last week with the other woman and the silhouettes and stuff like, hey, I got the contact sheets, I got the negatives. Why don't you take a look? And this is very important.
She never sees them blown up to photo.
She only ever seems like the contact sheet. So she has to look at it with a little loop.
Yeah, I'm like, maybe they're negatives, maybe they're not like it's not clear what she can see in those.
And so he shows them to her like, hey, remember how I said you wouldn't be able to see your face in these.
Look, you can't really see your face in these. They're just silhouettes.
And she looks at them and she's like, yeah, you can't really see my face in those no big deal. She looks at these and she leaves very confident. She's like a you can't see my face. And B, Tom says he's never going to publish them. It's just testing the stuff, whatever. Yeah.
And she was looking at the negatives, especially it would you have no way of knowing, like, how he was going to develop them, like how much you can do with contrast or whatever to make someone's face more visible.
Yeah. So at the time she's not even like hurt or offended or feels betrayed at all. She just she works for him the rest of the summer. She's like, yeah, yeah I know Tom. And you know, it's not like I'm going to become massively famous in the next year anyway. Right. Like nobody expects this to happen to them. Yeah.
I was cleaning out my room at my parents house last summer and I found a nude Polaroid of myself. After I saw it, I remembered how it happened, I was like drinking with, like a friend of mine and like asked her to take a Polaroid of me so I could see my boobs, I think, actually, and then completely forgot about it for like 13 years. And then I found it and I was like, oh, if I hadn't found this in a drawer, I would never have thought of it again.
And then it's like, how many other things in drawers might I never see again? The world may never know. That's the thing.
This is why we delete all of our old tweets.
I don't do that, but it's good that you do. All right. So are you ready for another. You're wrong about. I think so. There's not a set of nude photos.
There are two sets of nude photos.
Oh, so we are fast forwarding to the end of the summer. She does not describe in her book how, but she just says, like, I'm back together with Bruce. She hasn't told him about the first set of nude pictures because, again, she doesn't consider it all that interesting of a story. She's like, I did this weird thing with Tom one day.
Also, it's not necessarily his business. Yes. And also that. Yes. So she takes the train from where she's living to Grand Central Station and she's walking out of the station and some random guy comes up to her and is like, hey, are you a model? I think this is something that happens regularly to blindingly attractive 19 year olds, that people just come up to you and ask if you want to be a model or whatever. Apparently, he has his portfolio with him and he's like, no, no, I'm a I'm a legit guy.
Like, let me let me show you some photos. And so he brings out his portfolio.
And apparently they're extremely good and they're better than any of the work that Tom Chappell is doing.
And he's like, look, I don't wanna be pushy. Here's my number. If you want to do a shoot with me any time, just let me know. And then a day or two later, she gives him a call.
He invites her to his studio, which turns out to be his apartment.
So immediately, Vanessa's like, that's not great.
But it's also like not that weird for a photographer.
But she hasn't seen fame. He takes a bunch of photos of her on the street.
He then takes her inside, like, do you want to do anything a little bit more artsy, a little bit more daring?
He pulls out some like it's not clear if they're Helmut Newton photographs, but they're Helmut Newton ish.
They're sort of a bit more like leather industrial Fenby something. And he's like, look at these. Aren't these cool looking? And she's like, yeah, those are cool. And then he pulls out this, like, sort of leather harness type contraption.
Do you want to try a couple of shots with this?
And there's this Wendy Williams album cover I love.
So here is the photo that they take. Yeah, this is very Road Warrior. Yeah. OK, so yeah, it's her kneeling and she's it's a frontal shot. She's looking at the camera and yeah. She's wearing this leather harness that is like this is a good look like I. What are you trying to get me to buy a leather harness.
The last two episodes have been attempts. Yes.
Because if you are it's working. It's, it's leather. It's like, God, I don't know the terminology for any of this, but it's got like a metal ring that goes right over the pubic area. And then it's got to leather straps coming up and out to where the boobs and then two other rings, one over each boob. Yeah. And so it's just like kind of a cutout bikini basically. And yeah, it looks good. And again, she's giving great face I think.
Yeah. They bury the lead which is that she's good at modeling. Yes. Yes.
And so she takes a couple of shots with this. She says that like as soon as she gets into this outfit, as soon as he starts taking photos, it just feels wrong to her.
The way that he's posing her. She's like, this doesn't feel artsy.
This feels like wlad mag to me. It's it's hot for teacher. Yes, exactly.
The vibe just totally changes after she puts on this sort of harness type thing and after he takes a couple photos, she's like, you know what, I'm not into this. I'm not cool with this anymore.
I'm going to go. And so she changes in the bathroom, gets back into her normal clothes and just goes home and she waits a couple of days because she feels nervous about it. But she eventually tells Bruce, like, just so you know, that guy who's studio you drop me off at the other day, he convinced me to sort of do these sort of bondage pics.
And I just feel kind of weird about it. And what happens is a couple days later, her and Bruce go back to this guy's apartment and they're like, look, we feel weird about what happened. We want all of the negatives she wants have an acting career.
She wants have a singing career. This could damage her. I'm sorry, but we just need to take the negatives from you.
And he pushes back like, this is my art. You can't do this. You signed a release, blah, blah, blah.
But eventually they push hard enough and he's like, all right, fuck it. Here's the negatives. Let's never see each other again. So this is basically where Vanessa is that there's these two sessions, but one of them is with this guy that she trusts and you can't see her face in the photos anyway. And the other one was like maybe one a little bit too far. But also, like, she has the negatives, they've been destroyed. So there's really nothing to worry about.
So we are finally at the part of the show where we talk about how Vanessa ended up in the Miss America pageant. But before we talk about that, I just want to take a little musical interlude and.
We show you one of the most demented fucking things I've ever seen. This is the opening number for Miss America in 1980, for which Vanessa will eventually win. We're going to watch a lot of clips of this.
To preface this, we have to put ourselves in nineteen eighty three mindset.
OK, I'm always a nineteen eighty three mindset. My I know I can smell your hairspray. Three to one go. It's that time again and again the challenge that. This is kind of the choreography that they used in Newsis, where they're like, all right, we have too many people, we got to have them all do a little dance. Yeah, let's just put them all in a bunch of robes and have them do choreography together.
I am most struck by the fact that so many of these women are wearing sweaters.
And also all the sweaters are like extremely elaborate. Like they look like carpets. Yeah. Or the the print that they have on public transit. Like on the seats. Yes.
I feel like I'm watching a NutraSweet ad. Look at the sweaters. These outfits are intense.
Look how conservative they are. It's ankle to sleeve. This is like when it would be a hot 22 year old and he would dress like Marje from the PTA.
Now, a man who knows what it takes to get a star on his door, our master of. Mary, why do they have to speak, I don't know how did they do that?
I cannot overstate how weird it is to watch people forced to dance and like finding sweaters and light jackets and skirt suits. They look so hot.
They look like people in, like, corporate training videos.
Yeah. So basically, they're like, OK, we have 50 contestants. We have to get them all out on stage to do one awkward musical number before we immediately send 40 of them home.
Because if they're taken out of contention before they even know what's happening, they'll be like, at least I got to dance around in my sweater. So, yeah, what did what did you think of the clip? It was had.
I'm speechless, Mike. I am without speech.
I've watched it so many times.
I mean, OK, I'll give you my first impressions, I guess feel like you understand watching this, that the organization used to have something approaching real power. Yes. There's something that feels very of another time of people being on TV with so little irony, because getting out there and like, dancing your ass off and no one appearing, I'm sure people were thinking this, but no one is betraying the fact that they might be thinking, am I going to look really ridiculous?
Yeah, it's just like, no, everyone's going to look great. And yeah, the clothes are just like none of these are fabrics that are known for, like, wicking sweat. That's all I'm going to say. No.
So this is sort of setting the scene for the world that Venessa is about to go into.
So I think, honestly, my biggest question at this point is what enticed her to get involved in this America?
This is what's so weird about this story. So it is now spring of nineteen eighty three. Vanessa is six months away from winning the Miss America pageant.
Is anything missing from this story so far?
Yes, because as we learned in the Paula Barberi story, typically it's unusual even to go in and suddenly sweep a smaller pageant. Yes. And my understanding, too, is that pageantry is a vocation. Like people spend years, people dedicate their adolescences to this. Yes.
It's incredible that for all of her life, I mean, she doesn't mention anywhere in her book having, like, interest in the Miss America pageant or watching it as a kid. She probably did. But it's not a world that she's, like, wanted to get into or has tried to get into. She's never thought about being in one of these beauty pageants her whole life. And she basically just like stumbles into it. So when she's 20, she's at Syracuse University, she's in a musical called Swinging on a Star.
Lovely cameo alert in this production of Swinging on a Star.
Aaron Sorkin is one of her co-stars, but she's very random and messy, like Vanessa.
Walk with me. Yeah, I'm going to make my proposition. And three parts. The first two will come last and the last will come first.
So one night she's in this production. Her friend George comes and he brings his friend Bill. And Bill is on the board of Miss Greater Syracuse.
Oh, well, Bill, it seems like a big cheese. You know, Bill's doing it. So after the play, George is like, hey, Bill, what did you think of the play? And the first thing Bill is saying is that the star of this play, Vanessa, could be Miss America if she wanted to be. Wow, she's beautiful. She sings extremely well. She's a good actress. She dances. She is the full package.
It's almost like a backhanded compliment, though. It's like saying, like you could be economy czar and it's like, but do I want to be so George mentioned this to Vanessa and she's like, I guess.
And then she hears that Miss Greater Syracuse and Miss New York and Miss America, all of these huge scholarship funds associated with them.
And she's like, OK, like free money. It's at least an option, right? Yeah.
If I were twenty years old and super hot and a Miss America kind of a way and I basically knew how to do it already, it would I think it would seem like a fun adventure. It would be like, why not. If it works out then that'll be great. And if it doesn't then like it's the same. I don't care. Yes, exactly.
So she calls Bill. Bill assigns her to a woman named Vicky, who is her pageant coach, who sort of teaches her all of the stuff like how to answer these questions. She takes her out for dinner at one point to test her table manners. Do you know the number one rule is like the number one mistake that Vanessa makes about trying to be a pageant gown?
Yeah. Wearing a hat indoors?
No, it's her filler words. Oh, so Vicky as her test questions. And then it's like you have to count how many times you say, um, and you know, and get all of those out of your vocabulary.
Oh wow. So it's like they're training to be newscaster's. Yes. We talk so much about the misogyny inherent in this critique of filler words. And like part of being the ideal woman is to speak like a dude.
And then so it's not clear sort of how much time she spends training to be in the Miss Greater Syracuse pageant.
She at one point says she's thinking about doing a song from a chorus line, but she's like, it's too much effort. I'm going to do something easier.
I'm sure that's part of why she did so well. Right. Because if you're going in and your whole ego is on the line and it's not really conducive to like placing well in a talent look spectacular, I am convinced that this is why she does so well in these pageants is because she doesn't ultimately give that much of a shit.
And this is not a world that she wants to fit into. That makes it feel much better to me because I like.
Because, IRA, you know, I remember it is like she, you know, broke this barrier and achieve this dream and then they took it all away from her. And it's like I'm sure the way it went down was awful and all kinds of ways, because these stories always are. But like the fact that the thing that she let go of wasn't the thing that she had been working towards for her whole life is that's good to know.
I also love this is such an afterthought to her that she doesn't even ask her parents to attend. She's like Miss Greater Syracuse. But like I I'm on the drive over here. It just doesn't matter to her at all or whatever.
And then she spends one paragraph describing the way that she became Miss New York. She just like fast forward through the whole thing.
She's like, I won with Greater Syracuse and then I was in this other pageant than I want it. Yeah. And like any details, Vanessa, like, she does not give a shit.
If you don't really understand why you're winning, you can't go into it that deeply. And it turns out I'm going to pageants her now. Yeah.
And so she loves the fact that she gets them, you know, she gets some scholarship money for this and her summer job. So the previous summer, her summer job had been this receptionist for this modeling, quote unquote, agency. And this summer, her summer job is being Miss New York. So she goes around and does like ribbon cuttings and stuff.
I bet she has to do a lot of Daris. Yes. And it just like it's just a summer job for her. And she's like, well, great, this gives me more scholarship money and it's going to make it easier for me to do my semester in London because then I can, like, have more money for plane tickets and stuff.
Yeah, I imagine that being a confidence booster. Oh yeah. Especially if you come in with no prior experience and just sweep things.
She also spends this summer preparing for Miss America. And now we're going to rewind and talk about the Miss America pageant.
Yeah, the Miss America pageant is like, fascinating. And there's a reason why, like two hundred thousand PhD dissertations are written about it, because it's always fascinating to see, you know, the mainstream corporate TV station approved version of like the ideal woman, like in the lyrics, you know, the infamous There she is Miss America song.
The lyrics are there. She is your ideal.
The dream of a million girls who are more than pretty can come true in Atlantic City, where she may turn out to be the queen of femininity like that's what they're doing here.
It's a good thing they don't have this pageant in Weehawken or something because that's a hard name to rhyme stuff.
Well, you can go back as far as you want, but the idea of a beauty pageant has been around for like hundreds of years, that smaller towns would do this of, you know, who is the most attractive woman in our town.
Like this is a human thing, judging women on their attractiveness, which humans enjoy, judging others and sort of determining somebody's suitability for marriage.
It was very explicit in the early Miss America pageants that we are here to pick a woman who's going to be the perfect wife.
Really, that was not subtext.
That was text, because if you're a wife, you need to wear a bathing suit, wear an evening gown, do Q&A and have a talent. Yes, you need to be hot.
You need to be able to sort of display intelligence, but not like threatening intelligence.
You need to be really well trained, like this dog doing an agility course.
It also has a lot of basis in, like, weird eugenics stuff.
In the early nineteen hundreds, there used to be things at state fairs where they'd be family contests for who had the best breeding like this idea of sort of hereditary superiority was becoming more central to American life.
Says just like when you go to the state fair and they have the four kids showing their sheep or their calves. But it's just like you show yourself literally the early Miss America pageants.
When they introduced the contestants, they would have a whole thing about her breeding, like her father is from Switzerland and his father is Germanic and his father is Scandinavian.
Like this was an explicit part of the show, right.
Because she's a mare. They're selling mares. America's really creepy. Like I know I say that every week, but it continues to surprise me.
Also, double creepy. The first Miss America was sixteen. She won her sort of qualifying beauty event. It was a beauty contest run by a local newspaper when she was fifteen.
And then these editors like that's the hottest fifteen year old around like, oh, as long as none of the girls kiss each other, I think that's all fine.
But so you probably already know this, but the first Miss America pageant, Atlantic City wanted to extend the summer tourist season. So in nineteen twenty one they invented something called the fall frolic on the second weekend of September.
So the same is now you go to gamble and have like a like tiny Vegas of the East experience. Yes.
And also, I mean, I think it was like very openly controlled by the mob at the time, you know, prohibition was going on.
But this is one of the reasons why Miss America has persisted so long is because it's a way for Atlantic City to market itself as not the city of graft and vice. Because there's nothing less creepy than a beauty pageant and nothing less suggestive of graft or vice.
I mean, I think the most important thing to know about sort of the entire history of the Miss America pageant is that it has always been a vehicle to promote retrograde beauty standards. So in nineteen twenty one, the first Miss America pageant, there was a huge debate at the time about the Bob haircut, the emerging fashion trends for women having short hair, not wearing these long frilly skirts with all of this extra fabric. They were wearing clothes that were much more functional and they could do things like drive, ride horses, walk around by themselves.
And the bob, not having long hair was a symbol of women actually having some independence in their lives.
And also, I assume this to some degree, a symbol of being a viable member of the workforce, because if you're working in a factory, if you're a wage earner, like probably your hair is going to get in your way in a lot of fields. Exactly.
And also, you know, women were wearing makeup and that was also a sign of independence. So who wins the first Miss America pageant? It's somebody who wears no makeup and has really long hair.
So it's like no matter when they're doing it, they're trying to get back to earlier. And in nineteen twenty one, they're like back in the good old days of 1911, girls were girls.
Exactly. So it's, you know, it's always enforcing the beauty and personality standards of 30, 40 years ago.
There's also a fascinating thing. You mentioned that Vanessa Williams is probably the most famous Miss America, which I think she is, to the sort of the disposability of Miss America has really always been part of the pageant because they were picking somebody to be like this perfect wife. Essentially in the early years, you know, the first couple of decades, they just expected you to win Miss America and then just disappear and then, like, go get married to somebody.
They weren't selling it as a launch pad to anything. And it's like this is your last fling is a thrill.
Exactly. And so Margo Mifflin in her book Looking for Miss America, which is excellent, she talks about how the first winner of the Miss America pageant, Margaret Gorman, shows up as an audience member, just like buys a ticket and attends a couple of years after she wins and nobody recognizes her.
Like when Charlie Chaplin lost a Charlie Chaplin lookalike contest that seems wrapped up in the idea of femininity to me, too.
Yeah, we want them to be around as long as they're young and pretty and then we want them to disappear. Right. Because like with wives, you know, and the idea that the ideal wife on top of everything else is disposable, which because why they get killed so often.
I know there's also a really interesting thing that the primary architect of the Miss America pageant, as we know it today, is a woman and her name is Serena Joy.
No, I know you're going to giggle at this. Her name is Lenora Slotter.
I'm surprised, actually, that her first name is LAMS to that.
I knew you would have something. Thank you. So in nineteen thirty five, there's this huge scandal when it comes out that the current Miss America posed for a nude statue. This brings all this extra scrutiny to the pageant and the pageant organizers are freaking out. And so they bring on this woman Linera slaughterer to run the pageant and she takes it over for the next thirty two years.
And any time a girl breaks a leg, she's the one who has to kill her. Before Lenora Slaughter arrived, the women, you know, now it's like Miss Oklahoma, Miss Iowa, it's very sort of regimented who gets into the pageant. But before then, because there weren't state pageants, it would just be like like Miss Pittsburgh won one year. It would be like Miss Florida Panhandle. It would just these random regions.
It was just a free for all. Yeah.
And a lot of them were like super Janki. There's a point where Llanera Slaughter has to kick out a Swedish woman who's pretending to be Miss Alaska and she's never been to Alaska or she's been there for like a couple of days and they nailed her on the salmon questions.
So basically, Lenore Slaughter's entire project over decades is just like d gentrify the entire process of bringing women in. She brings in the talent competition. She brings in Miss Congeniality as a thing.
She's the one who develops all the eligibility criteria, which are to this day, you have to be unmarried and childless because, you know, if you're married, then you've probably had sex.
Well, exactly. Another thing that Lenore's letter brings in, which I think is so fascinating, is she brings in this idea that when you when you get a scholarship, I assume it's because we just don't want women to have money like ever.
And this was especially back then, like women just weren't supposed to have money. Right. And women couldn't have credit cards until the 70s or something like that. And. Yeah, and if you take away all of the frills and dance numbers and everything, the way you do have is people being paid for walking around in a bathing suit. Yes. Our eternal fear of like women having power and one of the surest routes to some form of power in America is just having cash in your hand.
Is money in your hand. Yeah, she. Also, infamously, one of the eligibility criteria, this is word for word contestant must be in good health and of the white race.
So we know that this rule was implemented by Linera at some point in the 1940s and she got rid of it at some point in the 1950s. But we don't know exactly when.
I think this is just like a lesson to keep in mind for stuff like this that we have Lenora Slaughter, who literally includes must be of the white race in the eligibility criteria, but also has always insisted that this is not racist.
So in 1948, when she is pressed on this, she says, we have eliminated the Negro from this contest due to the fact that it is absolutely impossible to judge fairly the beauty of the Negro race in comparison with the white race. So we're not being racist, even though we're literally barring anyone who's not white. No, no. It's that we couldn't possibly judge different people on different beauty standards.
But the thing is that all members of the white race can be judged against each other according to an objective standard. Of course, also the idea that you are selecting the best and brightest of eligible women of the white race, perhaps because this is a time when people talked openly about protecting and perpetuating and keeping pure the white race. Yeah, no, it's history. It's apples and oranges. Sorry.
People who do racist shit never think of themselves as racists. This is the most racist fucking thing you can do.
But then what's very interesting is they end up repealing this rule at some point during the nineteen fifties, but they don't have a black contestant until 1970 because all of these feeder pageants are like still super fucking racist. So at one point in 1955, a woman named Dora Berry wins Miss State University of Iowa, which is a thing.
And instead of recognizing her as the winner, the university just cancels all of her events like as if it didn't happen.
So basically, there's no pipeline for black contestants to get into Miss America because all of these, like satellite pageants are just like so Janki and like racist as hell.
I mean, this is like Shannon Falkiner getting into the Citadel and being like, no, no, no, we didn't mean you forget it.
In the 1960s, I was not expecting this. But we also get the origin of a myth that I have wanted to bust on this show since we began the myth of the bra burning feminist.
All right, let's do it. Let's dive into this cookie dough chunk. Did you know about this? Yeah, I knew that. That I mean, obviously.
Right. Because the idea the myth, I suppose, is that when you become a feminist, you burn your bra. And so, of course, being a child who like here is a hoax on The Simpsons and stuff like that. Yeah. When I was like 10 and when I think that Halloween as quote a hippie, I asked my mom about this and she was like, no, it wasn't. I mean, who's going to burn a bra, Sarah?
They're very expensive. They're very expensive. Yeah. Yeah.
So it is. Nineteen sixty eight feminists have disliked the Miss America pageant for ever.
So there's a group called the New York Radical Women that organizes a protest in nineteen sixty eight of the Miss America pageant. So it's organized by this woman named Florence Kennedy, who's a woman of color. They put out this list of sort of demands and they're number to demand. They point out there has never been a Puerto Rican, Alaskan, Hawaiian or Mexican-American winner, nor has there ever been a true Miss America, an American Indian.
And so Florence Kennedy organizes a protest of the Miss America pageant. It eventually draws around two hundred people.
That's a small protest, too. It's amazing how I like the size of a protest that you might get on a good day like Bowdon is has gone down in history for 50 plus years.
Seriously, the main thing that they're pushing is this this idea of sort of the Miss America pageant is a cattle auction. So they bring a sheep with them and they put a little beauty pageant sash on it, like you're being treated like sheep.
See, immediately I'm like, where did they get the sheep? Did they have, like, a farmer friend who is like, you can? He is one of my sheep.
And the right wing press points out at the time, they're like, it's a male sheep. It's not even a female sheep.
And like, shut up. That's not that's my point, guys. Everyone relax. Yeah.
So they have something as part of this protest called the Freedom Trash Can into which they are throwing a bunch of symbols of their oppression. So in Margot Mifflin's book, she lists women's magazines, men's magazines, dishwashing detergent, floor wax, hair curlers, false eyelashes, stockings, girdles and bras.
So they throw all of this stuff into the freedom trash can.
And then we get into the debate of whether or not they actually set it on fire.
Was it or was it not a dumpster fire? Exactly.
So it Margot. In the book, she says they were planning on setting it on fire, but they couldn't get a permit and then the plan to burn it leaked to the press and the press went with the story of feminists are burning bras rather than feminists are planning to burn bras.
You got to go with the story where the feminists are setting things on fire. I also love how, like the dangerous, scary radical feminists are like we couldn't get a permit. So although perhaps accounts differ.
Another theory is that there's a New York Post journalist there named Lindsey Van Gelder, who writes an article about this protest that starts with the sentences men burned draft cards. And what next will women burn bras?
So one theory is that the hypothetical led to this idea that women are burning bras.
I also feel bad for Lindsey Van Gelder because she says later she writes an article in 1992 where she's like, I accidentally created this bra burning thing. And I went there like with sympathy of being like, well, men burned their draft cards and that is good to women will burn their bras and that is good.
Women can't be we can't use rhetoric because it's impossible to believe that we're using, like, you know, hypotheticals or poetic license. That's just like everything a female writer says is a bare recitation of the facts because anything else would be beyond her.
But this might be a debunking of the debunking. You always do this to me for his book, Getting It Wrong, 10 of the Greatest Misreported Stories in American Journalism. An author named Joseph Campbell went back to the archives and looked for contemporaneous news sources about this protest. And he found an article from the local Atlantic City newspaper that includes the sentence as the Broz girl's falsies curlers and copies of popular women's magazines burned.
There were a few hundred people here. Can we not can is this not easier to establish?
So this author, Campbell, also talks to a reporter who was there that day who insists that they did light the trash can on fire. But he also speaks to feminists who insist it was never lit on fire. So maybe it was. Maybe it wasn't. We don't know.
I mean, to me, it's kind of moot because I think the myth of the bra burning feminist, like no one was ever like one time some feminists symbolic ZAPORA and protest. It's like the idea is that women across the nation are destroying their bras.
I think at the sort of most there was one protest where somebody lit a trash can on fire that included a number of items. And there may have been bras in there like that's very different from women are burning their bras, like the sort of the bra burning feminist myth. That's not what we're talking about, like a trashcan full of lots of stuff. It is patently a myth, regardless of what happened in 1968. Yes.
Which tends to be how it goes. It's like you have a story and you're like, well, the details are kind of hard to figure out. But really the point is that the thing people picture never came close to happening. Exactly. If women could afford to bring that many bras at the time, they would have had fewer things to protest about, frankly.
But so, I mean, to me, it's like the whole burning thing, the protest, all of this this is kind of the beginning of the end for the Miss America pageant, the beginning of the decline, although it still is like limping along like Dick Cheney.
But yes. But like the death of its relevance. Yes.
Because the whole idea of picking, like the ideal American woman just gets more and more gross over time.
I think I guess more and more obviously gross as more people who have power within society are women and are like, hey, yeah, this is gross.
So by the time Vanessa is in the nineteen eighty four pageant, the sort of the wheels are starting to come off that, you know, there's the first black contestant in 1970 and that's coincidentally or not, that's the year after Pepsi pulls that sponsorship because Pepsi's like this just doesn't speak to Americans anymore.
Like we're a pluralistic society where the choice of a new generation. You guys exactly.
Join the conversation. There's little drips of progress. So in 1970, there's the first black contestant in nineteen seventy six. There's the first black contestant in the top ten in nineteen eighty. There's a black contestant in the top five. Like we're just sort of ready for this barrier to be broken.
And that brings us to Vanessa in the pageant in September of nineteen eighty three, Vanessa walking into the creepy forest.
So I'm going to show you a clip of the swimsuit competition. And this is like I've watched this so many times. There's this fascinating thing where as there's more criticism of the swimsuit competition and just the sexism just gets more and more gross. One of the things the pageant does to try to tamp down on this a little bit is they do a split screen where they show each contestant on one half of the screen and then on the other half of the screen, they have a excerpt from their interview portion.
So the idea is they're supposed to be showing these women as intelligent and well-spoken as they're also. In a swimming suit, but like all it does is heighten the juxtaposition of like, why are we doing this to these women? So here I'm going to send you this has a couple of the contestants before we get to Vanessa. How dare you? Three, two, one, go.
Actually, I'm a very energetic person and I love athletics, and I started the first women's track team down at Troy, Alabama. They didn't have a women's program at university. Good for her. Good for her. They always pick weird excerpts. Don't be afraid to be a woman.
Don't be afraid to look good, even if you do have something to say that must be so awkward to walk around in a bathing suit, in heels. I know. It's like you're on Tony Montanas playing your. I enjoy reading, but truthfully, I have very little time to read novels, but I love to read poetry. I really do. She seems nice.
They are picking weird moments like I bet each contestant was like, why do they choose that? I know Mr. Brassica swears she reads poetry. Miss Florida. Kimberly boys, it's funny how like the hair and makeup makes them all look pretty. I know. We feel that I have something to give, and that is a genuine laughter what a lot of people in this country that I would love to share with people that sometime feel like she would make a good first lady.
I love that the hair is a totally motionless. Yeah, they all look like Audrey in Lower Shop of Horrors in Alabama.
Pam battles. Pam battles. In Alabama, as well as all across the country, anybody, I believe anybody can do what they want if they set their mind to adopt unities there and all they have to do is go for it. Just work hard, you'll be fine with the name Pam Battle. She should be like a mystery thriller heroine and battles the cartel and battles the FBI and New York. Vanessa Williams. I think that it is important for education to be endowed with a good financial backing.
I believe that the more programs that are available for education, the better the students will ultimately become. She's the only one who they haven't picked a clip of her saying something totally inane, Vanessa said socialism for our children. But also it's amazing to me that she has entered this world so recently and is doing this like it is the most natural thing in the world. Yeah. We now present the story of the legend brought to you by McDonald's. McDonnel, Dad, oh, my God.
OK, this is this is very hard to click out.
I know I'm doing it because it only it's a weird thing that they only have four sponsors. So every ad is for the same four companies and they keep mentioning the companies on the show. Yes.
This is like we have a copy of The Christmas Carol with George C. Scott that my parents taped off of CBS in 1989. And every single ad is for IBM.
It's like the Alcoa model. Yeah, there's not like that much to say here. It's an interesting year in that there's actually four black women competing and two of them end up in the top 10. Vanessa, of course, ends up winning and the runner up is also black. Her name is Suzette Charles. She's Miss New Jersey. And she's like been a pageant queen for years. And she's like some songs on TV and she's like semi famous in Atlantic City.
So the whole pageant, Vanessa is thinking, well, I'm obviously going to lose to Suzette. She also sings, she's really good. I'll probably come in second or third or whatever, and I'll still get some scholarship money and I'll go to London and like, this little adventure will be over. So the whole time she's just kind of like rehearsing what she's going to do when Suzette wins. All right. We're going to now we're going to watch Vanessa winning, OK?
Oh, I love it.
When they all hold hands together, there should be more holding hands.
And Miss America, three, two, one, go.
The first runner up and winner of a fifteen thousand dollar scholarship is Suzette Charles, Mr. Jersey, Suzette.
And then it's like, oh, fuck, ASU, that's not winning.
She has had like a very successful career. She was only soap operas. She sings like she's done very well out of this. Yeah, she seems nice. See that six of the brightest and loveliest young women in America are standing on our stage. One of them will be the new Miss America and the winner of a twenty five thousand dollar scholarship at our new Miss America. There's Vanessa Williams. Oh, I like seeing her smiling. And she's smiling really big.
She looks really happy. They put a crown on her and handed her scepter and flowers. I love her. Looks like it means nothing and means nothing at all. But it's very exciting when it's like, here's your new ruler.
They do say go out and meet your subjects, whoever wins the one that you'll adore.
And it's like, are they going to see her ever again? I know that Miss America works her ass off during her tenure, but I feel like this is the first in the last we will see of her until she shows up as a withered husk to place her crown on the new Miss America next year and then disappear in the dust.
Vanessa is also heavily criticized for being one of the only Miss America's ever not to cry. Oh, my God. I know. I know.
You know, just just as a preview of next episode, I really thought you were going to say Vanessa is criticized for stapling Aluf Butt or her dress.
What does she have to cry like? She has to force yourself to cry to show sufficient gratitude. This is like when Hilary Swank won an Oscar without thanking her stupid husband. That was lovely to watch.
And I'm curious about what that was like for her.
I mean, in her book, she says that, first of all, her first thought is, I guess I'm not going to London now.
No, it's like she's already kind of like, oh, God, I had this whole planned change of plans London next year.
And also, I don't think you could really tell in the footage because she's a pro, but like, this is not her at all.
It's weird to win something that's a huge deal to other people and is not a big deal to you. Yes.
Like, I'm not a pageant person. I have not dreamed about this moment. It's just a lot of emotions at once. Yeah.
And I guess and then the inevitable tension that comes from you winning something that you are good at and winning it because you're good at it and you have a lot of the skills.
But then we're implicitly like you owe everyone a show of like ecstasy and gratitude and crying.
Now it's what she says in her book is, up until that moment, I was just going through the motions. I hadn't thought about what it meant. I was Miss America, the first black Miss America. I'd made history. It was thrilling. It was unbelievable. It was crazy. It was also scary. But I didn't know that yet. And that's where we're going to stop.
I'm going to leave we're going to leave Vanessa on the podium holding her flowers.
I feel like I've introduced you to the concept of two parters. I know.
I regret that you're just like I learned by watching you. So what are we going to talk about next time? So we're going to talk about what it's like to be Miss America, which I think is actually fascinating. Like that's one of the most interesting chapters of her book.
It is fascinating because we never talk about it. And it seems like backbreaking work, like anything where you're like getting up early, running around, like making a bunch of appearances, basically acting like you're on a political campaign. Yeah. And you have to be in an apparently great mood and looking good the entire time, like, oh my God.
And very importantly, because she is the first black Miss America. This makes news in a way.
Winning the Miss America pageant doesn't typically and it invites a lot of questions.
So they're not asking her about sort of like, what do you eat for breakfast?
And he's like, easy. Miss America questions her like, how do you solve inner city poverty?
And she's like, I am twenty.
I do not know. I am a theater student from Syracuse. Get your shit together, America.
So immediately she is nothing like all of the other Miss America that have gone before her. Like the expectations of her are completely different.
I know. I feel like it's like it might have seemed to her like an easier, much easier job that ended up being. But it turns out that when the embodiment of the spirit of Miss America is black, she gets to become a policy czar. Exactly.
So we're going to talk about her reign as policies are more. And we are going to learn the end of Vanessa's story. There's a downfall and then a rise.
And we're going to do it with a special guest. I'm so excited about that.
So in the research for this episode, I came across a really interesting writer and podcast her who has done a bunch of work on this. And she's going to be better at walking us through it than I will be. So we're going to have her on and she's going to tell us the rest of Vanessa's story.
And we're going to watch Vanessa rise like a Phoenix. Yes. Out of Arizona.
So that's it. What did we what did we learn? What do we think about Vanessa?
Vanessa is great. And I learned that you shouldn't underestimate yourself because you might accidentally end up succeeding more than you anticipated. And it could. Yeah. Got weird.
Also, if you dated somebody really hot when you were sixteen, it's OK to talk about that forever.