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The girls cannot be all things to all people, but their backers try. A member of the Tennessee delegation spoke of his state's entry as "a fine, sincere, honest, Christian woman. But she's not religious," he quickly added.
The new image of the pageant is disturbing to some people. "I think it is upsetting the audience to see the reigning Miss America in a miniskirt," Bert Parks says. "There has not been the same response to her this year. In the past when she made her appearance the people would rise and do homage to her as if she were true royalty."
Parks is the father figure of the show, the soother with saccharine of uncomfortable moments, the quizmaster and the quintessence of the Miss America contest. He is the acme of camp. He did his first show in Atlantic City 15 years ago, when some of this year's contestants were only 3 years old. To Parks, the pageant is, "a fairyland of unreality in the ugliness and tragedy of present-day life."
The climax of the pageant for everyone has long been his singing of "There she is, Miss America." The only moment like it in the history of show business, Parks believes, was when Kate Smith sang God Bless America . The pageant theme song is so identified with Parks that when he makes personal appearances throughout the year he is usually asked to sing it. Written first for the 1954 pageant, the song was scrapped during rehearsals. Bernie Wayne, the composer, recalls leaving Convention Hall that night, getting drunk and calling his mother in disappointment. When the song was finally performed, it quickly became a fixture of the pageant.
One out of every three Americans watches the Miss America telecast, and in eight of the past 10 years it has ranked either first or second in the Nielsen ratings of the year's top shows. Occasionally the Academy Awards or a Bob Hope show outdraws it, and the fourth game of the 1963 World Series (Dodgers vs. Yankees) had more viewers.
It is a smooth production, and few in this year's television audience realized that many of Bert Parks' numbers and all of Miss America's songs were prerecorded and mouthed for the cameras. The reigning Miss America, Judi Ford, has no singing talent, so a professional singer was hired to do her songs. Ironically, one of the numbers was entitled Where Is the Real? with lyrics that went, "Can he see through the image to where is the real...?"
What is seen on television is the show, but what the multimillion viewers never really sense at the Saturday night finals is the game within the show—the contest, the sport, the judging. For this it is necessary to have a well-selected seat among the lady reporters from Bangor to Bismarck who return year after year and constitute as knowing a press box as any that ever looked down with scorn on Chicago's collapsing Cubs or ex-Allie's fumbling Giants. These ladies have a fine eye for the esoteric points of conformation that completely escape the novice. One basic rule, for example, is that a girl must look durable enough to stand the Miss America pace.
However, it is not fragility of body but of hair that first catches the eye of one of the press-row sharpies as Miss California passes down the runway. "That wouldn't do for Toni" is the comment.
Miss Colorado, the baton twirler in University of Colorado halftime shows, appears. She is too tall, too thin (she eats 10 instant breakfasts a day to slight avail) and sparkly gowned. "That's last year's dress" is the dry appraisal.
The swimsuit parade begins, and Miss Ohio looks lively, self-assured. She is 36-23-36 and has never lost a bathing-suit contest. "Mmmm," says a lady. "I don't know how she wins. One shoulder is lower than the other."