You know, I always loved the Miss
pageant---those glowing young ladies seemed set apart, somehow, with all their talents and their shining, beautiful faces and the glimmer of their unattainable gowns---it was a special evening that we looked forward to with envy and delight---we grubby children of the hot, dusty South. America
I’ve been going way back into my childhood and teens, relating little snippets of life-as-I-knew it, the small hometown goings-on, the lessons and the activities and some of the customs which made up interests and manners and daily life of a little Southern town, and I was recently reminded that one of the most anticipated events of a year to us smalltown girls---and indeed, to all our families, for watching such a looked-forward-to program, like some of the big sporting events must be today, was that September Saturday when we’d all gather around our black-and-white Motorolas, avidly watching from first moment to last, as the Miss America contestants brought their best and brightest smiles and talents and all the pageantry of another time and place.
We’d talk about it for days ahead (and after), even sometimes gathering at each other's houses to make paper crowns and tiaras, ironing long swags of leftover ribbon or butcher paper for our “state sashes” and making sure to pin-curl our Halo-and-Tame tresses early in the day, so they’d be dried and brushed out into shining ‘dos to befit the grandeur of the occasion.
We’d watch and cheer, calling out our “winners,” and applauding as our favorites were moved forward again and again toward the finale. Even our parents got into the spirit of things, for every household we knew set aside that Saturday night for a special viewing of that annual bit of beautiful---the best and the brightest from each state, with their ideals and their ambitions and eager ideas of how they’d better the world.
We cheered and wept as our own Mary Ann swept away the crown, and then the very next year, our Lynda Lee graciously accepted the title, as well. Two years in a ROW---wow. State pride reached a new high, and even license plates and billboards proclaimed “State of
.” That last one was a little boastful, but we accepted it---the highway department had put those signs all over the place, after all. Mississippi had several more winners through the years. Beautiful Women
And Mr. Bert Parks---the epitome of gentleman and perfect emcee---smart and witty and gracious, and when that lucky girl went floating down the runway, laden with crown and flowers and nerves and tears, big old satin sash flapping in the flashbulbs, the first mellow notes of “There she IZZZZ. . .” would send us all into happy swoons and dreams of what it must be like walking on air of our own.
won again this year, some forty years after this clip, but THIS is how it should be. Wisconsin
Bert was replaced somewhere in the seventies, I remember, with an incongruous twinkle-of-the-moment, and somehow, it’s been all downhill from there. The quality of the talent and the aspirations and purposes of all those bright young women hasn’t changed a whit, but whosoever is in CHARGE---what have they been THINKING?
They’ve taken an American staple, an event as anticipated as our birthdays, and somehow transformed it into some sort of deteriorating reality/sideshow that is but a fleeting echo of what it’s all about. The hopeful ladies are the same, but the succession of vacuous second-rate showbiz faces and voices and dull remarks holding microphones has absolutely driven this wonderful tradition into a boring, embarrassing spectacle in the worst meaning of the word.
I happened upon the latest edition on Saturday night, finding it late in the second hour, and just seeing the words on the index, “Miss America Pageant, 2012” kindled a little lift of the heart, a smile of remembrance, and a quick click of the remote.
Is anybody familiar with the Southern term “Goat-ropin’?” That’s a kind of generic encompass-all for the sort of activities and entertainment you wouldn’t be caught DEAD at, or a brouhaha of such puny proportions and bad planning, execution and manners as to make your Mammaw blush in the telling---nice people might GO to such, but only under duress, and even then, they’d never let on.
This “pageant” was the most pathetic descent from greatness I can remember in quite some while. The lighting was atrocious, the “questions” were absolutely inane, and the talent, vibrant and impressive, was buried in a rush between “jump up and run onstage breathless when your name is called,” and the crushing news that “the NEXT name I call WON’T be performing---she’s been EEE-LIMMM-i-Nated!!”
All this announced by two of the most wooden announcers in the history of TV---the woman WON Dancing With the Stars, so I KNOW her feet must move, but above the neck---not a muscle. Her immobile lips just might have curved into something of a smile whenever she thrust the mike into the faces of the unfortunates, asking over and over, “And how did YOU feel when you found you were out/eliminated/voted off the island?”
And some Brain Trust must have gotten together to think, ‘Let’s make this REAL!’ for they set all those waiting to perform/be cast out on long low sofas, and must have told them to “do something,” for one was doing splits to warm up, a tiny ballerina was en-pointe-ing her heart out---I swear, when the camera panned past once, a young lady in red had her head flung back, and was putting drops in her eyes! I expected the next frame to catch some unwary contestant shrugging into her pantyhose.
People, it was AWFUL. And not because I’m old enough to remember the Glory Days, of anticipation and preparation and Atlantic City and live music and BERT PARKS and such a feeling in the air. This farce would have made the Gong Show look like Cirque de Soleil.
I know this is quite a departure from my usual don't say anything mean stance, but this was such a travesty of a precious memory that it brings out my Ouiser side, and I ain’t as SWEET as I useta be.
And they DID play that age-old recording of Bert singing the theme song, and that was an uplifting moment, when the memories flooded back and it could have been 1959 again. But Y'all, I’m tellin’ you---dear Bert Parks could have done the whole thing better, hosting solo, straight from his repose at Forest Lawn.