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1950's - Decade in Review

Bert Perkins

1950 marked the start of post-dating the title. In September 1950, Miss Alabama, Yolande Betbeze, was crowned "Miss America 1951." Post-dating the title ended in September 2004 when Deidre Downs was crowned Miss America 2005. Jennifer Berry, Miss America 2006 was crowned in January of that year.

With television taking the country by storm, the advent of a pageant telecast caught the imagination of the American public. For the first time, the Miss America Pageant came into people's homes. The annual program provided a kind of entertainment never before experienced nationally. It seemed that the women onstage embodied the dreams of every young girl.

The first broadcast in 1954 joined the program in progress at 10:30 p.m. and broke viewing records from coast to coast. Twenty-seven million Americans watched the crowning of their new Miss America. Television had discovered a new entertainment form and Miss America took her place alongside other media images that seemed to define America to the world. It has been one of the most highly rated television entertainment programs featuring women every year since then.

By the end of the 1950's, Miss America had become an international symbol of the ideal young woman. For many, their earliest memories of television are of Bert Parks surrounded by intelligent, talented and beautiful young women vying for the crown.

1950's Timeline

At the urging of past winners, the Miss America title became post-dated by three months thus eliminating a Miss America 1950. It promoted her marketability for her entire year of service. Yolande Betbeze was the first post-dated Miss America when as Miss Alabama 1950 she became Miss America 1951. After winning the title, Miss Betbeze refused to pose in a swimsuit, which infuriated Catalina Swimwear, a major sponsor. Lenora Slaughter and the Board of Directors stood behind Yolande's decision, and Catalina Swimwear withdrew their support of The Miss America Pageant and began plans to start "Miss Universe" in 1952.
Yolande Betbeze, Miss America 1951
Yolande Betbeze
Miss America 1951
The Board of Directors prohibited a current Miss America from marrying during her year of service. The number of semi-finalists announced during final competition dropped from fifteen to ten to accommodate early deadlines of newspapers recording the event for the next day's editions. Scholarships were still awarded to contestants placing eleven to fifteen. Organizers decided to take those funds in later years to give more women educational rewards through Miss America competition. Future film star Anita Ekberg, as Miss Sweden, was invited as a special guest and received Hollywood offers galore. Colleen Hutchins, Miss Utah, was crowned Miss America 1952.
Colleen Hutchins, Miss America 1952
Colleen Hutchins
Miss America 1952
The seed money from previous contestants placing eleven through fifteen enabled pageant organizers to build upon their goal of presenting every young woman competing in Atlantic City a college scholarship for the very first time. Neva Jane Langley became the first Georgia representative to win the title. During the last month of her tenure, she was asked to "break in" Mary Korey as Miss America's first year-long traveling companion. Hollywood actress Marilyn Monroe served as Parade Grand Marshall.
Neva Langley, Miss America 1953
Neva Langley
Miss America 1953
A large majority of local and state pageants were now being run by Junior and Senior Chambers of Commerce, civic and service clubs. State and Local Preliminary competitions awarded over $100,000 in scholarships in addition to the National Scholarship fund in Atlantic City, making the Miss America Pageant the largest scholarship foundation for women in the world. Pennsylvania's Evelyn Ay, Miss America 1954 became the last Miss America not crowned on live television.
Evelyn Ay, Miss America 1954
Evelyn Ay
Miss America 1954
The Philco Corporation and the ABC network televised the first live Miss America broadcast on Saturday, September 11th. Twenty seven million viewers from coast to coast shared the thrills of the Boardwalk Hall audience as they watched from their own homes as California's Lee Meriwether captured the title for 1955. Bob Russell was the emcee. For the first time, the pageant also featured it's first "Illuminated Night Parade" down the Boardwalk.
Lee Meriwether, Miss America 1955
Lee Meriwether
Miss America 1955
Popular Miss America host Bert Parks made his debut. "There She Is, Miss America" (the pageant theme song) was first introduced by singer Johnny Desmond on a Philco Playhouse production, which starred Lee Meriwether. Long-time musical director Glenn Osser also made his debut. Representing Colorado, Miss America 1956 Sharon Kay Ritchie, became the first Miss America to be crowned with the style of crown we are familiar with today. On it's tenth anniversary The Miss America Scholarship Foundation reached the one million dollar mark in scholarships awarded to young American women.
Sharon Ritchie, Miss America 1956
Sharon Ritchie
Miss America 1956
A Governors' Conference was held in Atlantic City in June. A beautiful program of Pageant entertainment was presented to the wives of the visiting politicians. This provided a splendid opportunity to enlighten our State-governing officials about the real purpose and vast educational program of the pageant. A more comprehensive, as well as appreciative attitude resulted toward all State Pageant Committees. Forty million television viewers watched Marian McKnight, of Manning, South Carolina become Miss America 1957. She imitated Marilyn Monroe in the talent competition. Upon her victory, her town of 2,775 people went into action. All entrances and exits to the town were blocked by the Fire Department. All travelers were stopped, served refreshments and invited to join in the celebration.
Marion McKnight, Miss America 1957
Marion McKnight
Miss America 1957
Six additional $1000 scholarships were awarded to non-finalists displaying exceptional talent. The United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD accepted an invitation to send Midshipmen to Atlantic City to escort the contestants to the Coronation Ball. Marilyn Van Derber, Miss Colorado, became Miss America 1958 before a television audience of fifty million viewers.
Marilyn Van Derbur, Miss America 1958
Marilyn Van Derbur
Miss America 1958
The telecast increased from one and a half hours to two hours. Every state titleholder was assured of at least a $1000 scholarship at their respective state pageants before arriving in Atlantic City for the Miss America finals. Miss America's scholarship was raised to $10,000. The television audience increased to sixty million viewers as Mississippi's Mary Ann Mobley became Miss America 1959, a first for her state.
Mary Ann Mobley, Miss America 1959
Mary Ann Mobley
Miss America 1959
Two significant events occurred for the first time in Miss America history. First, the Parade was televised live in its entirety. And second, every state in the Union was represented at the National Finals. Seventy-five million viewers watched Mississippi's Mary Ann Mobley crown Mississippi's Lynda Lee Mead, Miss America 1960. A quarter of a million dollars in scholarships were awarded on the local and state levels alone.
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