These girls lacquered and sheened—are part child, part woman. They still keep those schoolgirl autograph books, the ones with pink and yellow paper, writing messages for one another in self-conscious script. Yet at rehearsals they walk with ease in $200 pants suits of silk. They compete for a neat-as-a-pin award, a brooch with a diamond chip, by hanging their Neiman-Marcus gowns carefully on racks. Their selection of talent routines sometimes is telling of their age—Miss North Dakota's act this year was "Beeping Sleauty." As they talk there comes the sudden realization of how limited their experience, how unformed their tastes, how simple their philosophy ("I want to be happy"). An engaging, real Miss America quality keeps popping up. Miss Minnesota tells how, when she won the state title last June, pageant officials in Minneapolis ordered her to get rid of her poison ivy and mosquito bites, to stop climbing trees immediately and to stay out of the sun. They also curled her lank, sun-bleached hair the kind that is so in fashion in half of young America—and enrolled her in charm school.
It is impossible to be an All-American girl, and thus Miss America, without at least pretending to a few sporting enthusiasms. One of the categories that each girl must till in on her personal information sheet is Sport. Miss West Virginia had noted that she was a "champion relay runner." She explains, "Our team ran the 440, hut I can't for the life of me remember our time." What position did she run? Anchor? "I was the last one. Yes, I think you call it the anchor," she replies. Miss Louisiana "enjoys showing horses" but hasn't been on one since she was 14. A "roller skating champion," Miss Indiana, competed four years ago. (She might have scored more points by identifying herself as a cousin of Dodger Pitcher Carl Erskine.) The "swimming instructor," it turns out, has merely passed a lifeguard test, and the golfers haven't played long enough to have handicaps.
Interviews with the press—350 reporters cover the pageant—are allowed during the midday talent rehearsals, which are scheduled throughout the week. At a distant microphone some girl is practicing a monologue—"O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo...." Meanwhile, the other girls quietly explain their ambitions to reporters to be a schoolteacher, a nurse, to receive a master's degree in music, in drama, in physical education.
Some are very well prepared for these interviews. Miss Ohio has been a beauty queen for years—Miss Teen Mid- America, Miss Bowling Green, West Point Girl of the Month, Miss Independence, Miss Date-Setter. She is glossy and big-eyed. She studied a book—How to Improve Your Vocabulary—before she came to Atlantic City.
Miss Florida wants to be an actress and already has played Rita Hayworth's daughter in a movie. She reads palms. It is a hobby and makes for good conversation. She locks something like a swami as she sits there draped in fuchsia, cerise and purple veils waiting to rehearse her ballet from Kismet. She examines her own palm. "I am ambitious, hot tempered, spasmodically impulsive, stubborn, honest," she says. "I will be famous, marry twice, have one boy and three girls. I will lose a fortune in my 30s. I have sensitive bones. I am sensuous...."
"Don't write that down," the hostess says quickly.
Miss Arizona is exuberant and imaginative. She has brought her state crown along, and it can keep her talking for hours. "It's worth $3,000," she says, "and is of sterling mined in Arizona." She twirls the crown and points to the state bird and Mower and explains the number 48 in a heart—"We were the 48th state to enter the Union, and we came in on Valentine's Day. The ermine around the rim was trapped in northern Arizona, and these designs represent our industries—cotton, copper mining, cattle, ponderosa pine. We have another major industry—our climate—but it is not easy, to represent that on a crown, so I say, well, Miss Arizona has a sunny smile." Give Miss Arizona "A" for effort to go along with her grade school track ribbons—she high-jumped 4'4"—and a more positive athletic talent: she was a member of the University of Arizona women's swimming team and last year finished fifth in the breast-stroke in the Western championships.
The pageant even has a football hero of sorts, Miss Oklahoma, who won the football kick in the Sorority Olympics at Tulsa with a 35-yard boot. She says she had some professional training. " Howard Twilley, our All-America, who is now with the Miami Dolphins, taught me. He has great hands." Perhaps because it might blacken her image in Atlantic City, she did not list football among her sports. Instead, on the fact sheet she noted archery. "The archery championship I won," she says, "was in Girl Scout camp. I was 12."
As the girls talk and prepare, clusters of parents move through the backstage area on formal tours. They are florists, grocers, retired Army men, nurses, a truck driver from the New Mexico oil fields, a mother who rings doorbells for Avon. Shirt-sleeved men and housewives in slacks and Ban-Lon, they have, for the most part, faces marked by years and work, and probably monotony. As they glance at their daughters, one can't help comparing—it is, indeed, before and after. If their daughter becomes Miss America they will refinish the basement back in Marietta or Billings to show off the gifts she receives. And the Miss America award will make a handsome dowry. Appearance fees will he mailed home and deposited in the local bank. At year's end Miss America will have $50,000, as well as the $10,000 scholarship she received with the title.
Commercial establishments, such as department stores, pay her $1,000 and expenses for appearances. Churches and civic groups pay $500, and if she appears on behalf of the Pageant sponsors—Oldsmobile, Toni and Frigidaire—she receives $250 a day. The Women's Liberation Movement, which has taken to picketing the pageant, charges, among other things, that Miss America is "a slave to the capitalistic system—she is a walking commercial, wind her up and she plugs your product...." At times she does indeed seem packaged to appeal to a middle-aged, middle-America audience. The average age of an Oldsmobile buyer happens to be 40. This year at the Miss America Awards Breakfast, an Oldsmobile representative spoke briefly. He said he was very proud and pleased with their 1970 model—of car, not of Miss America, he hastily added. Actually, Oldsmobile has had some bad luck recently. Last year's Miss America was Judi Ford, and the father of this year's winner has worked for 29 years in a Chrysler axle plant.