There they were last week, bright exotic birds in a cluster. The pink, purple, green, blue and yellow plumage was not unusual for Las Vegas, but these girls, 21 of them, were not opening in a new revue. They were present and breathing to compete for the title of Miss Rodeo America, the winning of which, as one aspirant put it, "is something every girl dreams of."
Presumably her dreams had expectable motivations, which included some $1,700, $6,000 worth of stock in the Mary Kay Cosmetics company, 27 complete outfits and a new saddle—although this year there was one contestant who simply explained her presence, "I just like rodeos."
The pageant was held for the fourth year at the Frontier Hotel, which volunteered in a news release that "wholesome Western-type beauties" would bring "...their skills in horsemanship for the suspenseful competition. A five-day period of trials will follow under the watchful and observing eyes of judges from IRM [International Rodeo Management Association]. Ratings will be based upon Personality, Appearance and Horsemanship." There is no bathing suit competition in the Miss Rodeo America contest, but please remember that at Atlantic City they don't tie goats.
Nineteen states and Canada sent queens ( Texas, reportedly being large, sent two) and the girls flitted around the pageant's registration booth in the lobby of the Frontier, flashing smiles at each other and, when in doubt, at the wall or at a chair. Occasionally the radiance dimmed and a certain squinchy-eyed look, usually associated with cowboys staring down an empty main street at the bad guy, took its place, but that was pretty much confined to moments when a rival checked in and got checked out.
The contestants, finally assembled, were firmly led off to the official suite to have certain rules laid on them by coordinator Dorothy Alexander who, although new to Miss Rodeo America, is the veteran of many a Miss America triumph. "One bad incident can wreck a pageant," she said darkly, and proceeded to make sure that nothing of the sort would occur in Nevada. The girls, two to a room, were not allowed to leave it without a chaperone. Doors were to be bolted at all times and, no matter who was knocking, were to be opened only to a chaperone. Naturally—if ironically in Las Vegas—drinking and gambling were forbidden under pain of disqualification, as were phone calls and conversations without the chaperone. No communication was permitted with parents, who were thus forced to lurk about the lobby and dining room of the Frontier in the hope of a passing glimpse of daughter and/or her competition.
Pondering all this, the girls were returned under close escort to their rooms to change for a reception to launch the festivities. This was hosted by singer Wayne Newton, and it was clear that the five-day period of trials was under way. A plain Miss America candidate would have had it all over a Miss Rodeo America hopeful at this one, as Western attire calls for gloves. Some of the girls gave up the battle with plates, hors d'oeuvres, publicity poses and the gloves and simply ate with them on, inviting unimaginable damage to their Appearance ratings.
The judges duly judged the girls eating dinner and were there again at 7:30 in the morning for breakfast. The smiling contestants took their places, and each managed a short talk about herself and her state. This seemed to kill some appetites, but tension was relieved when Fran Devereux, Miss Rodeo Arkansas, stood up and gave a lusty hog call. (Miss Devereux was subsequently elected Miss Congeniality.) At lunch, as Miss Rodeo America is expected to be able to think fast, the girls were tested by having to field questions on subjects ranging from national affairs to tricky rodeo problems. After this, each had three interviews, one for Appearance, one for Personality, one for Horsemanship.
The Appearance judges all but used a jeweler's loupe to examine the contestants. The girls first modeled their outfits (a rodeo queen's wardrobe does not, of course, include a dress) and then took off their jackets, a maneuver that would have taxed Gypsy Rose Lee, entailing, as it did, removing the gloves, unpinning the state banner at shoulder and hip, and answering questions while unbuttoning and removing the jacket. Tall and dashing Valerie Foutz, Miss Rodeo New Mexico, filled in the time by explaining that her yellow crushed velvet outfit weighed 20 pounds. "Yellow is my favorite color," she said, "but I couldn't find the material I wanted except in upholstery fabric. It is hot and heavy, but when I get tired of it I can always cover a piece of furniture."
Geri Gibson, Miss Rodeo Utah, ultimately won the Miss Appearance award. A Sunday-school teacher, among other things, she admitted that she had spent all her state-award money on clothes—three $235 suits, ordered by catalog from Denver. Marilyn Norris, Miss Rodeo Texas, who was third runner-up, said with justifiable pride that her clothes were custom-tailored by her mother. Her boots, however, were of ostrich skin.
As one chaperone said, she could spot tailor-made clothes at a glance. "The suit, for example, can run between $250 and $350. Boots start at about $50, and the hat at $25. Then there is the shirt, scarf or tie, gloves, belt and buckle, and so on. I figure most well-turned-out contestants are standing up in about $600 worth of clothes, and most have at least 10 complete changes."