On July 23, 1984 my DH and I were on the New Jersey turnpike (of all places) when we heard the news than Vanessa Williams, the reigning Miss America, had relinquished her crown. We all know the story - a photographer she had worked for as an assistant several years earlier had sold some nude pictures of her (for which she had not signed a release). Bob Guccione, planned to publish them in the upcoming edition of his Penthouse magazine. It was learned that Hugh Hefner (publisher of Playboy) was also offered the photos but refused to buy them because the photographer did not have a signed release from Williams.
I was shocked, not that Williams had posed for the pictures, beautiful young models do that, without her signed consent she had no intention for them to be released or sold; not that Bob Giccione had bought them and was publishing them - he had no shame. I actually had a little more respect for Hugh Hefner because he did the straight up thing. But the way the Miss America Organization immediately treated Williams like tainted meat, a leper, or pedophile.
Instead of standing behind her, saying that they did not condone her earlier lapse of judgement and that what had occurred to her was totally illegal, they hung her out to dry. Yes, the organization promotes young women who are pure and represent all thing good, American, and apple pie (God help us) and no woman wearing the crown should ever do anything to sully that reputation.
However, when they did not support her and she resigned in such a noble way with her head held high, did the organization say, something to the effect of, 'We appreciate your respecting the crown and the rest of the young ladies by stepping down, we appreciate the hard work and all the good will you brought to the Miss America brand this year, and wish you the best?' No, it was more, 'Don't let the door hit you on the way out.'
I have never been a pageant fan and after watching that play out, the Miss America organization loss most of my respect. I watched in glee over the years as Vanessa Williams soared and became, by far, the most successful, talented, and professional former Miss America of all time. And she always handled herself in the way the organization would have been proud. At the same time the organization foundered, lost audience and sponsors. Little girls no longer saw being Miss America as the all time goal of their lives, but, ironically aspired for the success Vanessa Williams had achieved (without the crown). All the while Vanessa gracefully moved on with her life. I never heard her speak ill will of the organization (she may have but I never heard it.)
Then last night I was shocked (and thrilled) when the Miss America CEO gave Williams a heart felt apology on national television for the way the organization treated her 32 years ago.
"Just when I thought our chance had passed, You go and save the best for last."