Title: Miss Springfield Pageant Souvenir Program
Discovered: at North Kansas City estate sale
Your Crap Archivist tries not to fall for the idea that the America of yore was more innocent than the one boiling over all around us today, like some stew of sex and media. Still, I cede this much: As I survey the beaming contestants who competed in 1960's Miss Springfield Pageant for a chance to be named Miss Missouri, I'm fairly confident that, unlike the beauty queens of today, none of these Show-Me gals would ever have gotten in trouble for showing anything.
So meet Springfield's finest from 50 years back. On April 27, 1960, a dozen darling young things gathered in Springfield's Central High School to parade in bathing suits and be judged like horseflesh. Each presented a talent: pantomime from Virginia Morris and a "comic essay" delivered by Janice Johnson (my vote for the most beautiful). With a swan's neck and a radiant smile, Johnson is the only contestant whose hairdo doesn't suggest my great aunts and grandmothers.
They're suggested in the faces, though. The '60 pageant class carried a few more pounds than contestants of today. Their faces, therefore, look wider and fuller, more obviously cornfed — more human. They hadn't had their teeth chopped and buffed to the same ideal, so their smiles are distinctive. This was the middle of Missouri, so they have names like Hilma King, Sandra Sampey and Frankie Whipple.
After the judges picked a winner, Tennessee Ernie Ford took the stage. Ford hadn't scored a Top 20 hit since 1956, but the culture moved more slowly back then, so booking him was probably still a coup.
Unfortunately, I haven't tracked down that night's winner. Whoever she was went on to lose to Kansas City's Dusene Vunovich at the Miss Missouri Pageant. (Vunovich was the metro's fourth consecutive statewide winner. Also, that same year, she was named "first alternate" in a Michigan posture contest.) The first Springfield beauty to advance to the state and national contests was Sandra Lyle in 1962. It took another 27 years after that for a Missourian — Debbye Turner of Columbia — to win Miss America.
The first vegetarian Miss America, Turner — now Debbye Turner Bell — earned a veterinary science degree from the University of Missouri in 1991 and soon went into pet-related broadcast journalism. Just like the pageant circuit, this field has its ups and downs. In 2002, Bell interviewed President Bush about his dogs, and just last year, hosting a segment on the CBS Early Show, she got peed on by a beaver. There's a change worth noting: If that had happened to my Janice Johnson, nobody ever would have found out about it.