You're Wrong About

Vanessa Williams Part 1: Becoming Miss America

March 08, 2021
You're Wrong About
Vanessa Williams Part 1: Becoming Miss America
Chapters
Show Notes Transcript

Sarah Marshall: 

Oh, my God. It's like a cat or a dog show, but it's girls. It's just a girl show. 

Welcome to You're Wrong About. The podcast that is not a pageant, but a scholarship competition.


Michael Hobbes: 

And how dare anyone suggest otherwise.


Sarah Marshall: 

I scraped the bottom of my vast miss congeniality knowledge of the pageant the world for that one.


Michael Hobbes: 

I am Michael Hobbs. I'm a reporter for the Huffington Post.


Sarah Marshall: 

I'm Sarah Marshall. I'm working on a book about the satanic panic.


Michael Hobbes: 

And if you want to support the show, we're on Patreon at patreon.com/yourewrongabout and as you may have noticed last week, we both have other podcasts. I have a show called Maintenance Phase. Sarah has a show called Why Are Dads and those are available on your telephone wherever you listen to podcasts.


Sarah Marshall: 

Yeah. Or just, you know, call 1-800-Why-Are-Dads. I'm just kidding. That won't work.


Michael Hobbes: 

And today we are talking about Vanessa Williams.


Sarah Marshall:

I'm really excited.


Michael Hobbes:

Oh my God.


Sarah Marshall: 

Do you know that I wrote a weird little prose poem once called Misses about the fates of various Miss Americas?


Michael Hobbes: 

No way.


Sarah Marshall: 

Yes. I found it. I'm going to send this to you.


Michael Hobbes: 

Oh man. We're going to talk about some of these people today. This is great. Should I read it?


Sarah Marshall: 

Yeah. Find some people you remember.


Michael Hobbes: 

Okay. Margaret Gorman, 1921, won the title of miss America in a sea green chiffon and later owned a Greyhound named Long Goodie, Bette Cooper, 1937, entered the pageant as a representative of an amusement park in habit Kong, New Jersey and disappeared for 24 hours after her crowning, overwhelmed by the new found obligations. Bess Myerson, 1945, the first and only Jewish Miss America ignored multiple suggestions that she change her name, served as chair of the Anti-Defamation League and was arrested for shoplifting. Linda Lee Mead, 1960, competed in the talent portion with a comedy routine about split personalities. Elizabeth Ward, 1982, admitted to having a one night stand with Bill Clinton during her reign as Miss America and filed for bankruptcy in 1999. Gretchen Carlson, 1989, was nanny by Michelle Bachmann as a child. Shut the fuck up.


Sarah Marshall: 

Yeah, they all do each other's hair.


Michael Hobbes: 

Unbelievable. Here's Vanessa. Vanessa Williams, 1984, the first black miss America in the pageant's history was forced to resign her post after penthouse published photos taken of her before her reign as Miss America.


Sarah Marshall: 

Do you feel that to be accurate as a summary, Mike?


Michael Hobbes: 

Yes. That is 100% true.


Sarah Marshall: 

Yay. Good job, 2012 Sarah.


Michael Hobbes: 

So yeah. What do you, what do you know about this story?


Sarah Marshall: 

Yeah, so my understanding was that Vanessa Williams became Miss America. Nearly completed her entire reign cause I think Suzette Charles was only Miss America for like, seven weeks or something like that.


Michael Hobbes: 

That is exactly correct. Seven weeks, well done.


Sarah Marshall: 

Oh my gosh. I didn't remember before we pulled this up that penthouse was involved, but I'm not surprised it was. She was forced to resign and I don't know what the mechanics of that were or you know, how much agency she had within that. And the other thing I will say about her is that she is the only Miss America who I can name off the top of my head and who has any kind of cultural relevance--


Michael Hobbes: 

Dude, yes.


Sarah Marshall:

--for most people who aren't like pageant buffs.


Michael Hobbes: 

I know. This is like one of my favorite types of maligned 90s women that like, things just go great for her afterwards. She was the first Miss America ever to relinquish the crown. It was a huge deal at the time. It's kind of incredible that she was able to pull an extremely successful career out of the ashes of what looked, at the time, like it was going to define her forever. And now like, you talk to people about Vanessa Williams and the first thing they say is sometimes the snow comes down in June. Do you want to hear another foreshadowing fun fact?


Sarah Marshall: 

Yes.


Michael Hobbes: 

So for this episode, I was planning on buying a copy of the penthouse that Vanessa Williams was in because I wanted to see it sort of the layout and the texts and I wasn't able to because it is now either legal to own.


Sarah Marshall: 

Oh!


Michael Hobbes: 

For reasons, unrelated to Vanessa Williams, that we will get into.


Sarah Marshall: 

Oh! Unrelated to Vanessa Williams. My goodness.


Michael Hobbes: 

But I'm not going to tell you until the end. So you have to follow me all the way along this journey.


Sarah Marshall: 

Wow. I would love for you to start wherever you want to. But I will say that I am most excited to hear you describe the pageant world.


Michael Hobbes: 

Oh my God. I'm so excited. Yes. So speaking of which I would like to introduce you to Vanessa but I think it is better to let Vanessa introduce herself. So I am sending you a clip. This has Vanessa introducing herself at the 1984, Miss America pageant.


Sarah Marshall:

Yay. Three, two, one, go.


(clip): 

Miss New York, Vanessa Williams. I'm 20 years old and presently a junior at Syracuse University, majoring in musical theater. Through hard work and perseverance, I hope to make my dream of a successful career on the Broadway stage come true.


Sarah Marshall: 

That was wonderful. It's funny cause I've watched pageants kind of while I was growing up and I'm like, yeah, there's the weird passive posing section. So she looks like the statue of Liberty in that dress.


Michael Hobbes: 

Yeah, she really does.


Sarah Marshall: 

It is a white one shoulder, I don't know fabrics, but it's very flowy. It's got some Spangles. What I'm most amazed by is that she's able to look--to like, sell the idea that she feels comfortable doing this incredibly weird thing.


Michael Hobbes: 

Oh yeah. I keep coming back to, I realize it's a cliche, but the word poise, she just has poise. She doesn't look nervous. She doesn't seem like she's rehearsed this line in her head even though she obviously has. She just seems like she's coming out. She says a thing. And then she smiles cause she's delighted at what she's just heard herself say.


Sarah Marshall: 

Yeah. And she's like, hello audience in Atlantic city.


Michael Hobbes: 

I also liked that Vanessa's obviously wearing heels, but she walks like she's wearing pajamas or something. She just looks comfortable. She just looks like she's like, clopping out to the living room.


Sarah Marshall: 

No, I feel like he's like, welcome to my home.


Michael Hobbes: 

Yeah. So would you like to learn how Vanessa came to this place?


Sarah Marshall: 

Yes. I have so many questions.


Michael Hobbes: 

Needle scratch. I'll bet you're wondering how I got here. She's born March 18th, 1963. She is in Millwood, New York, which is about an hour North of New York City. Her dad is Milton. Her mother is Helen. Her family is the only black family on the block. And when her parents bought their house, all of the white neighbors formed a coalition to try to stop them. They got together. They tried to sort of challenge their mortgage papers. Basically saying there's no way they could possibly afford this. And the only way that they were able to buy their house was because the guy that was selling the house lived across the street. And he was like, I guess social justice warrior or something something like, he was committed to the idea of going through with this sale.


Sarah Marshall: 

Wow.


Michael Hobbes: 

Imagine moving into a house where you know all of your neighbors have tried to keep you from moving there. You know, Vanessa talks about how eventually her father sort of won over all the neighbors just cause he's like such a nice guy. He's like a fixer upper dude. And so he'll help the neighbors like, repair a fence or whatever. Like, he's super handy. She says he manages to have really great relationships eventually with the neighbors, but that's still sort of sitting in your head that it's like you had to prove yourself.


Sarah Marshall: 

Well, and also just the, I think the fact too that like, if things go well, it's also conditional. It's like, things can't go well in a sense, because you know, the acceptance that you experience, if the world is that poisoned against you, it's the exception.


Michael Hobbes:

Yeah. So a lot of the stuff about her childhood comes from her memoir, which is excellent. Called You Have No Idea. And it's very cute. She wrote it with her mom. So the chapters will sort of switch off. There'll be like one chapter from Vanessa's perspective. And then one chapter from her mom's perspective. So this is an excerpt of the kind of upbringing that she had because both of her parents are music teachers. They met in the music department at Columbia University a couple of years before they had Vanessa. And Vanessa says, "mom is downstairs in the family room at the baby grand piano, ordering students to play their scales. While my dad, a one man, woodwind and brass ensemble is upstairs teaching trumpet or clarinet or saxophone or French horn or oboe to the neighborhood kids." Her parents are not particularly strict, but they say that she has to learn a musical instrument and she has to practice every day until she's 18.


Sarah Marshall: 

That's pretty good.


Michael Hobbes: 

Oh yeah. And basically everything else, their main value is just independence. Like, I want you to be exploring the neighborhood. I want you to be out on your bicycle. I want you to be out in the woods. As long as you practice French horn every day, you should be going out and doing other stuff.


Sarah Marshall: 

I mean, that seems typical too. I feel like, something I love about Stephen King's It is that in this town where we know that there is something or someone that is like, ripping the arms off of children, they're like, okay, kids, because of the scary monster, we need you home by seven. But other than that, just like, run around, be free, go into the woods, hang out, you know, climb into the sewers. But be home at seven though. Cause there is a killer.


Michael Hobbes: 

So as we see in a lot of these stories, Vanessa even though like, she eventually becomes Miss America, right? Like, she's obviously very pretty. She never feels pretty because she's the only black kid in the entire school. What she says in her book is like, she's looking around and all of like, the pretty girls have long blonde hair and they're all from like, much more wealthy families than she is.


Sarah Marshall:

She's like a heroine in a romance novel who's like, I just don't know how beautiful I am because I grew up marooned on the Island of blonde white girls.


Michael Hobbes:

She also says "when the kids would do their classroom matchmaking in grade school, they would always suggest that I go out with Jacob, the Indian kid, because he was the only other Brown kid in the grade."


Sarah Marshall: 

I've known several women over the years who are like women of color, but they're not black, but who were cast as scary spice whenever you had to do spice girls casting. Cause it was just like, okay and then you're scary spice, sorry.


Michael Hobbes: 

She also gets the thing, and I feel like this is very typical for kids of color in like, very white spaces, that kids will say extremely racist shit to her, but they'll be like, oh you don't count. Like, I can say this in front of you cause like, you're not really black. And she's like... Her first big awakening on this is apparently when she's eight years old, she's on the school bus and another little girl just walks up to her and calls her the N word. She says, "I had no idea what the word meant, but I knew it was ugly because they said it with such venom." And her mom talks about like, very movingly in the book about how we knew that this was going to happen to her. But we didn't want to introduce that concept to her yet. We wanted to keep that away from her for as long as possible. And eventually when it happens, she comes home crying and her mom tells her it doesn't define you, but it does define the person saying it to you. And then, I mean, as opposed to a lot of the other women that we've covered on this show, Vanessa knew, it seems like from day one, exactly what she wanted to do with her life. From her earliest days, Vanessa wanted to be sort of singer, actress, dancer, like, something on Broadway in movies. She's obsessed with Meryl Streep. So she just watches Meryl Streep movies over and over again. And I guess she like, practices the accent.


Sarah Marshall: 

Oh, that's so great. It feels like she's also unusual because from what you've said, she came from like a loving and secure home.


Michael Hobbes: 

Yeah. It sounds like they're very nurturing and she's sort of living out there to some extent too. Like, they play--there's this really adorable photo of them all playing music together as a family. So I think like after dinner they would all like, as an ensemble play songs together.


Sarah Marshall: 

It seems important to acknowledge that it is possible to just genuinely and sincerely and truthfully believe that you have a talent that you want to share with the world and that you want to sing and dance for a living.


Michael Hobbes: 

Throughout her book, she doesn't have a lot of sort of self-consciousness. She seems to just be like, I am good at singing. I am good at acting. I would like to be a singer or an actress please.


Sarah Marshall: 

And that's what it is to have a vocation. Right? Is that like, if you're a professional singer, if you're in the arts, you can't wake up and be like, am I good? Am I bad? Will they like me? Will they not? You have to be like, okay, I have my voice lesson in the morning. I am my instrument. And like, each day I'm figuring out how to improve myself. And I think we don't know how to really recognize confidence from women also in American media.


Michael Hobbes: 

Totally. Especially like, young black girls who are comfortable saying like, yeah, I'm good at singing and I'm good at acting and I'm going to do this. So all of this family togetherness band practice after dinner type upbringing starts to rend at the seams when Vanessa is 10 and she experiences sexual abuse. So it's 1973. Her father's brother is dying of cancer and they have good family friends in Orange County. And so to just give him and Vanessa's mom a little bit of time to sort of manage all of the various logistics that come along with this, they send their kids off to their friends in Orange County. So these family, friends have two kids. There's Susan, an 18 year old daughter and John, a 12 year old son. They sort of hang out with his family for a couple of days. Then on one evening, they're all watching TV together with the family and John invites Vanessa to walk around the neighborhood with him. And he takes her to an abandoned construction site. She likes John. She has a crush on him. He's cute. They're talking at this construction site and he leans over and kisses her on the mouth. This becomes a big thing in the legal cases later, the fact that she had experienced abuse as a child, and so I was reading this like, very trepidatious. I was like, "oh fuck, what's John's going to do now." And after this little peck, John walks her back to the house of this family. She says goodnight. She goes to bed. And when she's asleep in the middle of the night, Susan comes into her room. And so this 18 year old daughter, Susan, asked her to lie down on the floor, get out of bed. And Vanessa lies down on the floor and Susan molests her. And then is just like, go back to sleep. Don't tell anybody. And goes back upstairs.


Sarah Marshall: 

And I feel like this is a time when like, we're just barely beginning to hear that anyone is sexually abused as a child. And there's like no literacy around the idea that there can be young female perpetrators of this.


Michael Hobbes:

And that it can be like other young people too.


Sarah Marshall: 

Right? Other kids. Yeah.


Michael Hobbes: 

We don't know Susan's story. Like, most of the children that abuse other children are experiencing abuse themselves. It's just one of these things that like, we're just not well set up to deal with at all. This is really sad that you know, Vanessa knows that something bad has happened. She feels extremely uncomfortable. As she's flying home, she decides she's not going to tell her mom because she's nervous about what her mom is going to say. She's afraid her mom is going to say like, "well, what did you do to invite this?" Or "what were you wearing?" Or something. So she's just nervous to tell her mom, but she decides that she is going to tell her dad, like, I need to tell somebody about this. And she lands at the airport and her parents pick her up and both of her parents are just ashen. Her dad has visibly lost weight. His brother just died. And so she basically tells herself like, okay, I can't tell him now because he's going through so much else. So I'm going to wait until sort of he's a little bit better and then I'll tell him. And it just sort of falls off of her radar.


Sarah Marshall: 

I think most kids don't look at themselves and be like, wow, I'm a kid. Like, I'm very vulnerable.


Michael Hobbes: 

Yeah.


Sarah Marshall: 

I am not big enough or mature enough to be tasked with handling this trauma all by myself. And it is my parents' job to take care of me. When you're a kid you're like, this is the oldest I've ever been. And I take my responsibilities seriously. And this is my job. Like, I think, you know, kids are more likely to think that than we might realize once we're so big and they seem so small.


Michael Hobbes: 

There's also the element of like, the story that she tells herself about the abuse. So there's a really interesting passage in her book where she says, "I struggled to make sense of it. I thought, 'okay, there's this thing I did. It felt good. And since it was with another girl, it was probably okay.' That's how I rationalized it. But even as I told myself this, I felt it wasn't really okay at all." She feels really uncomfortable with it, but she's sort of talking herself into, "oh, it wasn't such a big deal. And it's with a girl and part of it felt good and maybe it's okay." Like, she's just sort of torn in a million directions, like, trying to figure out how she feels about this.


Sarah Marshall: 

Well, and this is also the thing where like, if you want to minimize your trauma, which there are a million reasons to do like, there's always something worse. There's always something mitigating. You can always find a way, you know, to tell yourself like, it's not that bad.


Michael Hobbes:

Yeah. And so it's just really difficult to deal with all these complexities, especially when you're 10 and it's like 1973. And like, everyone's terrible on this shit.


Sarah Marshall: 

Yeah. Jesus. Oh my God. Yeah. And 1973, I mean, these are the years when like Ted Bundy is abducting and murdering college students and the police are like, sometimes college girls just leave a big blood stain in their pillow and walk away in the middle of the night and don't tell anyone where they're going, like, crimes against women, which have never been taken seriously are like, not in a particularly great place at that moment either.


Michael Hobbes: 

Exactly. Yeah. So what happens after this, and we see this in so many of these stories, is she just starts to pull away from her parents. The secret between them just creates this distance. And so over the next couple of years, she just becomes more rebellious. She becomes more moody. She starts lashing out at them for random things. They start fighting a lot more. Her and her mom are fighting so much and she's slamming the door so much at one point that her dad takes her door off its hinges. That he's like, "I can't take this anymore." So like, it just gets really tense in the house. And there's a really funny sequence in the book where she talks about how, you know, she started smoking weed at this point, she's like a freshman in high school and her and her friend are in the backyard in a sort of, they have like a greenhouse that's sort of like, a [inaudible] which is like walls and a roof. And they're smoking weed in the middle of the night in this little greenhouse and then they're done and they want to go back inside and watch TV and eat Veneta. And so they just pour like, whatever's in the bowl of the pipe, like, just on the ground and then like, alright, let's go back inside. And you know, when you're a teenager and you're buying super shitty weed, you often get weed with like stems and seeds in it?


Sarah Marshall:

Mhmm, I do.


Michael Hobbes: 

So, what Vanessa does not know is like, because this is a greenhouse, there's like, this little seed in her shitty weed ends up turning into a plant. And so like, four months later, her mom like, storms into her room and is like, you're growing weed out there like, you're a trafficker. And Vanessa's like," what? I have no idea. I don't even know how to grow weed." And then her mom takes her outside and like, yes, there is a legit weed plant in their greenhouse.


Sarah Marshall: 

Boy, it's like when a district attorney escalates something, you know, to like felony trafficking when it should be possession. But like, it's your mom and it's through greenhouse magic.


Michael Hobbes: 

Yeah and also it sounds like something that somebody would say as a lie to defend themselves in court, like, "oh, it just fell out of the pipe and then it became a plant." But like, it actually happened.


Sarah Marshall: 

Like, I totally believe that that happened. And that is exactly the kind of thing that is always happening to me. But also I like the idea that that is a lie that Vanessa Williams came up with in the moment. And then they're writing this book together. Yeah.


Michael Hobbes: 

She'll be like, I'll tell my mom about everything else, this is a lie I'm going to die with.


Sarah Marshall: 

You just gotta keep one secret and then you can let everything else go. But no one can ever know. No, I do think that happened though. That's great. Like, weed seeds are very durable.


Michael Hobbes: 

So this is also the time when she starts dating. When she's 16, she starts dating a guy named Joe who is 20 years old and a bodybuilder and studying to be a mortician. And I love in the book that both Vanessa and her mom go out of their way numerous times to talk about how hot Joe was. They want you to know that Joe was extremely hot.


Sarah Marshall: 

I think there's something really wholesome about like, parents being like, excited for them being like, "oh, that Joe, he's great." You know, if Joe really is great.


Michael Hobbes: 

So according to her, the sort of the central thing in the relationship is, you know, she's a virgin, she's 16 and he's 20 and he's presumably not. And so he keeps trying to get in her pants and she's not ready yet. And so she just sort of rebuffing his advances, but he basically gets bored of this it seems like, and she also gets bored of this. And so within sort of a couple months, it's like, they're still technically dating, but it's kind of petering out at this point. And so when she's 17, she goes to a New Year's Eve party. She goes with Joe. And as soon as she gets there, Joe just like, wanders off. And she spots him later on like, flirting with some other girl who Vanessa mentioned very briefly is Pam Greer's cousin. He's so uninterested in her by that point, that midnight comes and he's not even around to kiss her at midnight. So she's just sort of there with one of her female friends and this random dude just comes up and says, happy new year and kisses her on the lips and then walks away. And she's like, uh... okay.


Sarah Marshall: 

Well that night went sideways.


Michael Hobbes: 

So this is who she ends up dating for the next three years. And here, let me show you a photo. Vanessa would also like you to know that Bruce is extremely hot. Like this is, this is something she brings up throughout her book. All right. Here's a photo from her book.


Sarah Marshall: 

Wow. Yeah, I would join--I would join a cult if these two led it.


Michael Hobbes: 

Seriously.


Sarah Marshall: 

Okay. So the caption is ""Bruce and I posing for a Syracuse photography project on campus. And they're both wearing like, peak late 70s, early 80s, workout gear. She has a sweat band and some sneaks and legwarmers and he's tying his sneaker and he's got his foot up on a chair and is leaning over her shoulder and looking smolderingly at the camera. He like, okay, I think this explains it best. He has a like, relatively thin mustache and he doesn't look like a serial killer slash highway patrolman to me.


Michael Hobbes: 

Or like the villain from Sonic the hedgehog. Yes.


Sarah Marshall: 

Yes. Like he's pulling it off.


Michael Hobbes: 

So they start dating kind of semi sorta in secret because her parents don't approve of him. To this day, her parents say that they didn't approve of him because like, they were very co-dependent very fast. They just start spending all of their time together. She is a senior in high school. He is a freshman in college and he eventually transfers colleges so that he can be closer to her. So her parents say they don't like him because they're just too codependent, too fast. And she says they don't like him because he's white. And apparently according to her, they will give her lectures about sort of the difficulties of being in an interracial relationship. So they're kind of, sort of dating in secret. They're both young and they're both hot and Vanessa is very open in her book and I really appreciate this about the fact that like, they start having sex with each other relatively early and she's just like, yeah, the sex was great. He was hot. Like, she talks about it a lot.


Sarah Marshall:

Isn't it amazing that like, women, like one of the things that makes you know, that historically has made us credible or not, or like, assassinated as public figures or not is like plausible deniability about virginity. We just want to not have affirmative proof that they are having sex or God forbid enjoying it.


Michael Hobbes:

Exactly. And this is like, one of the reasons why I appreciate her book so much cause she's like, "yeah, I dated hot dudes and we fucked and it was lit." And it's like, yes.


Sarah Marshall:

How dare someone enjoy the fact that they're beautiful and they get to pull hot dudes and have sex with them.


Michael Hobbes: 

I know. So there's this event where they are hanging out in her parents' house and it's middle of the day, her parents aren't home. And so they're feeling sort of frisky and they pull out like, the couch in the living room is a pull-out couch, and they pull it out into the bed and they start like apparently going at it. And then Vanessa's mom walks in. You know, they don't even know that she's really dating Bruce. They don't approve of Bruce. And then her mom walks in. And the way that Vanessa puts it in her book is that they are "mid stroke." We were at it in the living room and her mom walks in. What her mom says really pisses her off is not only are they having sex, but after they stop having sex and, you know, wrap themselves in a sheet or whatever, and sit down on the couch, her mom is lecturing both of them. And neither one of them seem ashamed of it at all. They're just like sitting there holding hands. And they're just like, yeah, we're having sex. We are dating. I am 18. He is 19. This is what 18 and 19 year olds do. And her mom was like, no, you're supposed to feel bad about your mom walking in on you.


Sarah Marshall: 

She played her French horn today. So, you know.


Michael Hobbes: 

I know exactly. It's unclear if, sort of like, it was this sex or other sex that they were having. But during her senior year of high school, she doesn't get her period for six weeks. She's like, that's a little weird, but because it's the 70s and there's like, not great sex ed, she doesn't really know what the symptoms of pregnancy are. So she has to like, go into her parents' room and like, sneak one of their weird health books off of the shelf. And she like, has to flip to the pages that are like, symptoms of pregnancy. And she's like, "yep, my boobs are sore. Yep, I've been puking in the mornings. I haven't had my period." And she's like, "oh shit, I might actually be pregnant." And she goes, and she gets a pregnancy test. And there it is, it tests positive. You know, she tells Bruce immediately. "And she says, at no point was not getting an abortion and option." The minute she told him, he was like, "okay, we can find a clinic for you. There's Planned Parenthoods." And she's like, "yep, let's get me an appointment." And so she doesn't tell her mom. She said, she was like, "I'm at a rehearsal." And she goes to the clinic, gets an abortion. And again, she doesn't tell her mom until they're writing the book together. So we are now fast forwarding to the summer of 1982. Vanessa has just finished her freshman year at Syracuse University. Bruce has proposed to her and she has said yes, but she's also starting to feel a little bit smothered. She's just like, I'm spending too much time with Bruce. Bruce is way too into this. And I'm trying to build a career. Her current plan is she wants to study abroad in London her junior year so that she can like, audition for plays and stuff and like, go see plays on the West end. So she just sort of drifting away. Like, I need a summer of freedom. And so I'm going to send you a photo.


Sarah Marshall: 

Oh, cool. All right. So this is an action shot. This is her jumping. It's black and white and she's fully nude. It's basically like, the human body in motion I would say is the theme here. She looks like she's in a trampoline exercise class and Superman's looking at her.


Michael Hobbes: 

So this is the summer that she ends up posing for the nude photos.


Sarah Marshall: 

So how old is she? 18, 19?


Michael Hobbes: 

She's 19 at this point when she poses.


Sarah Marshall: 

Okay.


Michael Hobbes: 

The way that it happens is, you know, she needs to earn money for the summer. She's looking through the classified ads and there's an ad that just says models wanted. So she's like, oh, like modeling might be an interesting way into acting, being on the stage, et cetera for me. So she answers the ad. She meets this photographer, Tom Chappell, who runs this modeling agency. And he says, you know, the first stage to becoming a model is getting a portfolio, right? Like, she doesn't have any professional photos taken. She pays him a hundred bucks and he takes a bunch of sort of professional looking studio, well lit modeling type shots so that now she has this portfolio. He does this, he says, come back in a couple of days, pick up the proofs. She goes away. She comes back in a couple days and they end up just sort of making small talk. And he mentions like, well, you know, it's, it's hard to run an agency like this because I really need a receptionist. And I need somebody to sort of do makeup and other, like, various logistics for the women that come in to have their shots taken. And so she says like, well, why don't you hire me? And so he's like, yeah, sure, sounds good.


Sarah Marshall: 

So she's like a girl Friday.


Michael Hobbes: 

Yes, exactly. So she gets a receptionist gig. It pays decently well. It's regular hours. And you know, she's sort of slightly proximate to the sort of modeling world, right? She can like, find out how the industry works. One of the first things that she finds out when she starts working for Tom Chappell is that this is a total scam.


Sarah Marshall: 

Great!


Michael Hobbes: 

This is not a modeling agency. Tom Chappell has no inroads with the modeling industry.


Sarah Marshall: 

Well I'm sure he's the only guy who's unscrupulously claiming to run a modeling agency and then just getting contacts for a bunch of hot young women and taking their money, I assume.


Michael Hobbes: 

Well, this is the thing. So apparently this is a well-known business model where you pretend to be a modeling agency, but you're actually a modeling quote, unquote registry. It's like, you're officially registered as a model now, which means nothing like, I'm officially registered as a podcast host. Like there's not, that's not a thing.


Sarah Marshall: 

I mean if they pull you over and you're modeling without a license, you could get three months of hard times.


Michael Hobbes: 

Exactly. It's just something that sounds legit, but it's not in any way legit. And the whole scam is, you know, I can start selling you to the agencies. I can get you hooked up with an agency, but you need a portfolio first. Hey, guess what? I'm also a photographer. And I happen to do portfolios. That's the scam, is you're getting them in the door and then you charge them to make these portfolios. And then nothing ever happens.


Sarah Marshall: 

Which is like, not that bad cause I guess you're selling them a service that they do actually need. So I would make that like a 4.4 on the scam-ometer.


Michael Hobbes: 

And so Vanessa figures out that like, she got scammed, but like, whatever, she now has a portfolio. So as she starts working for Tom Chappell, he seems nice. Like, she goes and meets his wife and like they have a good working relationship. He pays her on time. And he is a photographer like, he does in fact consider himself a photographer. And he's like, kind of a little bit pretentious about it. And so at one point during the summer, he asked her if she's ever posed nude and she's like, no, I've never done it. And he's like, do you want to try it sometime? And she's like, sure. This is like her daring summer, this is the summer of freedom. She's finally away from Bruce after three years.


Sarah Marshall: 

I also wonder if this is a situation where someone kind of not thinking too much about like, being photographed nude because it just doesn't seem that significant to them is going to bite them in the ass later. Cause also like, in modeling, posing nude it doesn't have to be Perrion, you do it a lot for just a normal campaign where you might not be particularly sexualized. Like, it's just something that people do.


Michael Hobbes: 

And also she has no idea that she's going to be Miss America. I mean, so much of the problem for Vanessa is the juxtaposition between Miss America, there's a wholesome all American image and there's nude photos, right?


Sarah Marshall: 

Because Miss America is about grown men sitting in a panel and numerically judging women on how they look in bathing suits. And that's a wholesome family activity. It will be so horrible to corrupt that with images of a woman fully nude. And because that's worse.


Michael Hobbes: 

She trusts Tom Chappell. And she says like, these are just for you, it's up to you if you ever want to release them or not. And interestingly, he takes her out into a forest and they do these like, artsy nude whatever photos. And to this day, these have never leaked. I don't know if like, he gave her the negatives and she destroyed them or if he destroyed them or whatever, we've never seen these.


Sarah Marshall: 

They're in a vault with all the Al Capone stuff that Geraldo wanted to get.


Michael Hobbes: 

Yeah. So they've already done this nude photo shoot and everything goes fine. But then like, a week later it's sort of after work and he says, well, look, you know, I think the nude shot went really well last week. Have you ever thought about doing nudes with another woman?


Sarah Marshall: 

Just like, [inaudible] to say.


Michael Hobbes: 

I know. And he says like, "well, you know, I've got this sort of contact. Her name is Amy. She's 18. She also wants to be a model. And I'm thinking of doing these like, new photo techniques. I think there could be something really interesting, the sort of shapes and silhouettes." But he sort of talks her into this as like, an art project that they're doing together. Vanessa talks about these photos in her book. She has never expressed any shame about the actual photos. She's always been very clear about like, the human body is beautiful. Nude art is a perfectly legitimate form of expression. So like, to this day, and at the time she was never like, "I never should have done the nudes." She's like, "the nudes were fine. It was the world's reaction to the nudes that was not fine."


Sarah Marshall: 

You know, just, I'm not going to agree to the thing where I'm like, yes, that thing I did was terrible. Like, everything about it was wrong. It was wrong for me to be naked ever. It was wrong for me to have sex with anyone. Again, like, I really can't stress enough how relatively insignificant nudity is. It's strange to act as if the object of everyone's wholesome, apparently, fascination while slightly clothed is like, suddenly dangerous when unclothed.


Michael Hobbes: 

Yeah. And also, I mean, she talks about this entire shoot that they did together. It was like 35 minutes. And you know, she had had like a beer or two after work with Tom and you know, he was very adamant. Like, ",of course I'm not going to publish these. I'm mostly just like testing out the lighting and no one's gonna be able to see your face anyway."


Sarah Marshall: 

And is she thinking like, "yeah, so I would like to see how I look in these maybe."


Michael Hobbes:

Yes. And another thing she says in her book is "there's something so freeing about doing what you're not supposed to." And that seems like a part of this too, that there's just some very standard teenage rebellion stuff going on. Like, this is a little bit forbidden. It's a little bit sexy. It's kind of cool to do something you're not supposed to.


Sarah Marshall: 

Yeah, I mean, honestly it seems like things were fine until the Miss America pageant got its filthy little mind wrapped around all this stuff.


Michael Hobbes: 

So I'm going to send you some photos from the shoot. I will not be putting these on our website or anything, but you can pretty easily Google to them.


Sarah Marshall: 

So it's Vanessa and this other girl and they are standing facing each other with their legs touching and their arms around each other. And each of them have their hands placed on the others, like, lower back slash butt. And they're sort of like, symmetrically, loosely holding each other. They both have their heads bent and their foreheads kind of together. They're totally nude. It's pretty lovely. Like, I'm noticing that Vanessa has like, she's doing the thing that I, as an expert in modeling from watching 1 million hours of America's Next Top Model when I was growing up, she's doing the thing that I think is important in modeling, which is like, creating a narrative. Like, she has this expression of like, kind of wonder and like, peaceful joy on her face.


Michael Hobbes: 

If you're going to project anything onto it, it doesn't look lascivious. It looks like they're in love.


Sarah Marshall: 

Yeah. And like they're touching each other's butts. Cause that's what you do when you love someone, you touch their butt.


Michael Hobbes: 

Yeah and you have to go, boop.


Sarah Marshall: 

Yeah.


Michael Hobbes: 

And then I sent you two more.


Sarah Marshall: 

So the second photo, the second photo is kind of an action shot. The other girl is like, kind of on top of Vanessa and they're laughing and Vanessa is pointing at her chest, kind of between her boobs. And they're like having, you know, acting out, having some kind of a moment or just having some kind of a moment. It's just like, girl intimacy


Michael Hobbes: 

It feels very real to me. I mean, this is like, the thing of like, when you're having sex with somebody and like, you're about to, or you've just finished and you're like, joking around about like, what's this scar do or like, making fun of their chest hair or making fun of their lack of chest hair or whatever, like, this sort of playful pre post sex thing. Like, it's a very good reenactment of that vibe.


Sarah Marshall: 

Yeah. Or like putting your fingers on their veins.


Michael Hobbes:

Yeah.


Sarah Marshall: 

Yeah. And then this final one is like,, the sexiest one or the most explicitly sexy one. It is Amy on a stool. And she's like on her knees on a stool and then doing a backbend so that her hands are on her ankles. And she's like, arching her back, bent back.


Michael Hobbes: 

It's very yoga. Yeah.


Sarah Marshall: 

Yeah. And it's also very joy of sex. I'm calling on like, all of the print media I secretly consumed when I was a kid to contextualize these images. And Vanessa's on her knees in front of her. Again with this like, very kind of rapture. They both look rapturous, but Vanessa, I have to say, I like her modeling chops more in this. She has her face like, resting lightly, like, against the skin, like, right above the pubic hair on Amy. And she is, based on context clues, perhaps either about to perform some oral sex or just has.


Michael Hobbes: 

Yes. She also, Vanessa also talks about how extremely fake all of these setups were. Her knees hurt. Other modeling her back hurts. This is like a performance of spontaneity. But the procedure of making photos like this is the least sexy and spontaneous thing imaginable.


Sarah Marshall: 

Right. And I mean, it's a testament, it's unfortunate that like, she's good at what she's doing here because you're like, wow, it's so sexy. What a sexy scene. And it's like, yes, what a sexy scene between two freezing underpaid people holding it, being like...


Michael Hobbes: 

Yeah. I mean, this is kind of one of the you're wrong abouts about this episode is that there is one or two nude photos from the shoot. He's like, why don't we take some nudes of you alone while like, Amy is getting ready. So like that's the jumping shot that you saw, but it's not nude photos that gets her kicked out as Miss America. It's lesbian photos. The lesbianness of these photos is central to why she loses the crown.


Sarah Marshall: 

God, that lead was buried. Oh my, yeah, of course. There's nothing more dangerous than a lesbian, Michael. Nothing.


Michael Hobbes: 

This is why Playboy doesn't publish the photos. Hugh Hefner, won't publish lesbian stuff and they're too dirty for Playboy. Yeah.


Sarah Marshall: 

He's like, "no, no. I know what's sexy. What is sexy is a woman standing next to a cow in a little halter top shirt and jean cutoffs and she's standing there staring lasciviously at the camera and we're just going to do that for 60 years."


Michael Hobbes: 

So there's like two layers to the quote unquote "immorality" that Vanessa Williams is accused of that not only is she nude, but she's nude with another woman and she's simulating sex with another woman. And like, that's not something that mainstream America is ready to reckon with.


Sarah Marshall:

Right.


Michael Hobbes: 

But so there is a lot of discussion and this becomes a huge part of the controversy later about did Vanessa sign a release form? According to Vanessa, Vanessa has been extremely consistent on this. She did not sign a release at any point. Tom Chappell is interviewed, the only interview with him that I could find was a 1993 Penthouse interview where he says that she signed a very standard intellectual property release form. Like, he has all of these, he runs a modeling registry. He has these forms all over the place and he makes everybody sign one. Which does actually sound reasonably convincing to me just that he would--this is part of the like, let me take your portfolio shots. You have to sign this dumb thing.


Sarah Marshall: 

Yes. And then also like, did she sign it just at the beginning of her working relationship with him? And could he have made it clear to her or did he intentionally obfuscate the fact perhaps that it applied to these nude photos that are taken maybe like months later?


Michael Hobbes:

Exactly. So, I think she probably signed something. It's not clear if the sort of something would hold up in court. It's not clear what it is. Bob Guccione says that he's seen it, but he's never released it publicly. So we don't know what the actual document contains or when it was signed or anything. But, so she does this on like, a Thursday afternoon or whatever. About a week later, he comes back and he's like, "hey, do you remember that thing last week with the other woman and the silhouettes and stuff like, hey, I got the contact sheets. I got the negatives. Why don't you take a look." And this is very important. She never sees them blown up to photo size. She only ever sees like, the contact sheet. So she has to look at it with a little loop and like, maybe they're negative. Maybe they're not. Like, it's not clear what she can see in those. And so he shows them to her like, "hey, remember how I said you wouldn't be able to see your face in these? Look, you can't really see your face in these. They're just silhouettes." And she looks at them and she's like, "yep, you can't really see my face in those, no big deal." She looks at these and she leaves very confident. She's like, "A, you can't see my face. And B, Tom says, he's never going to publish them. It's just testing this stuff. Whatever."


Sarah Marshall: 

Yeah. And she was looking at the negatives, especially, you would have no way of knowing like, how he was going to develop them, like, how much you can do with contrast or whatever to make someone's face more visible.


Michael Hobbes:

Yeah. So at the time she's not even like, hurt or offended or feels betrayed at all. She just, she works for him the rest of the summer. She was like, "yeah, yeah. I know Tom. And you know, it's not like I'm going to become massively famous in the next year anyway." Right. Like nobody expects this to happen to them.


Sarah Marshall: 

Yeah. I was cleaning out my room at my parents' house last summer and I found a nude Polaroid of myself. After I saw it, I remembered how it happened. I was like, drinking with like, a friend of mine and like, asked her to take a Polaroid of me so I could see my boobs, I think actually, and then completely forgot about it for like, 13 years. And then I found it and I was like, "oh, if I hadn't found this in a drawer, I would never have thought of it again." And then it's like, how many other things in drawers might I never think of again, the world may never know.


Michael Hobbes: 

That's the thing. This is why we delete all of our old tweets.


Sarah Marshall: 

I don't do that. But it's good that you do.


Michael Hobbes: 

All right. So are you ready for another you're wrong about?


Sarah Marshall: 

I think so.


Michael Hobbes: 

There's not a set of nude photos. There are two sets of nude photos.


Sarah Marshall:

Oh.


Michael Hobbes: 

So we are fast forwarding to the end of the summer. She does not describe in her book how, but she just says like, I'm back together with Bruce. She hasn't told him about the first set of nude pictures. Because again, she doesn't consider it all that interesting of a story. She's just like, I did this weird thing with Tom one day.


Sarah Marshall: 

Also it's not necessarily his business.


Michael Hobbes: 

And also that yes. So she takes the train from where she's living to grand central station and she's walking out of the station and some random guy comes up to her and he's like, "hey, are you a model?" I think this is something that happens regularly to blindingly attractive 19 year olds that people just come up to you and ask if you want to be a model or whatever. Apparently he has his portfolio with him and he's like, "no, no, I'm a, I'm a legit guy. Like, let me, let me show you some photos." And so he brings out his portfolio and apparently they're extremely good. And they're better than any of the work that Tom Chappell is doing. And he's like, "look, I don't want to be pushy. Here's my number. If you want to do a shoot with me, anytime, just let me know." And then a day or two later, she gives him a call. He invites her to his studio, which turns out to be his apartment. So immediately Vanessa is like, "hmm, that's not great. But it's also like, not that weird for a photographer."


Sarah Marshall: 

Boy, she hasn't seen fame.


Michael Hobbes:

He takes a bunch of photos of her on the street. He then takes her inside. Like, "do you want to do anything a little bit more artsy, a little bit more daring." He pulls out some like, it's not clear if they're Helmut Newton photographs, but they're Helmut Newton ish. They're sort of a bit more like leather, industrial, fetishy something. And he's like, "look at these, aren't these cool looking." And she's like, "yeah, those are cool." And then he pulls out this like," sort of leather harness type contraption. Do you want to try a couple shots with this?"


Sarah Marshall: 

And there's this one Dio Williams album cover that I love.


Michael Hobbes: 

So here is the photo that they take.


Sarah Marshall: 

Yeah. This was very road warrior.


Michael Hobbes: 

Yeah.


Sarah Marshall: 

Okay. So yeah, it's her kneeling and she's--it's a front held shot. She's looking at the camera and yeah, she's wearing this leather harness. That is like, this is a good look. Like I, what are you trying to get me to buy a leather harness?


Michael Hobbes: 

The last two episodes have been attempts. Yes.


Sarah Marshall: 

Cause if you are, it's work and it's. It's leather. It's like, got, I don't know the terminology for any of this, but it's got like a metal ring that goes right over the pubic area. And then it's got two leather straps coming up and out toward the boobs and then two other rings, one over each boob.


Michael Hobbes: 

Yeah.


Sarah Marshall: 

And so it's just like, kind of a cutout bikini basically. And yeah, it looks good. And she's again, she's giving great face, I think. That they buried the lead, which is that she's good at modeling.


Michael Hobbes: 

Yes. And so she takes a couple shots with this. She says that like, as soon as she gets into this outfit, as soon as he starts taking photos, it just feels wrong to her. The way that he's posing her, she's like, this doesn't feel artsy, this feels like lad mag to me.


Sarah Marshall: 

It's hot for teacher.


Michael Hobbes: 

Yes. Exactly. The vibe just totally changes after she puts on this sort of harness type thing. And after he takes a couple of photos, she's like, "you know what? I'm not into this. I'm not cool with this anymore. I'm going to go." And so she changes in the bathroom, gets back into her normal clothes and just goes home. And she waits a couple of days because she feels nervous about it. But she eventually tells Bruce like, "uh, just so you know that guy whose studio you dropped me off at the other day, he convinced me to sort of do these sort of bondagey pics. And I just feel kind of weird about it." And what happens is a couple days later, her and Bruce go back to this guy's apartment and they're like, "look, we feel weird about what happened. We want all of the negatives. She wants to have an acting career. She wants to have a singing career. This could damage her. I'm sorry, but we just need to take the negatives from you." And he pushes back like, "this is my art. You can't do this. You signed a release, blah, blah, blah." But eventually they push hard enough and he's like, "all right, fuck it. Here's the negatives. Let's never see each other again." So this is basically where Vanessa is that there's these two sessions, but one of them is with this guy that she trusts and you can't see her face in the photos anyway. And the other one was like, maybe went a little bit too far, but also like, she has the negatives, they've been destroyed. So there's really nothing to worry about. So we are finally at the part of the show where we talk about how Vanessa ended up in the Miss America pageant. But before we talk about that, I just want to take a little musical interlude. I want to show you one of the most demented fucking things I've ever seen. This is the opening number for Miss America, 1984, which Vanessa will eventually win. We're going to watch a lot of clips of this. To preface this, we have to put ourselves in 1983 Mindset.


Sarah Marshall: 

Okay. I'm always in 1983 mindset, Mike.


Michael Hobbes: 

I know I can smell your hairspray.


Sarah Marshall: 

Three, two, one, go.


(clip): 

(song)


Sarah Marshall: 

This is kind of the choreography that they used in Newsies where they're like, "all right, we have too many people. We got to have them all do a little dance. Let's just put them all in a bunch of rows and have them do choreography together." I am most struck by the fact that so many of these women are wearing sweaters.


Michael Hobbes: 

I know. And also all the sweaters are like, extremely elaborate. Like, they look like carpets or the print that they have on public transit, like, on the seats.


Sarah Marshall: 

Yes. I feel like I'm watching a NutraSweet ad.


Michael Hobbes:

Look at the sweaters.


Sarah Marshall: 

These outfits are intense.


Michael Hobbes: 

Look how conservative they are. It's ankle to sleeve.


Sarah Marshall:

This is like, when you would be a hot 22 year old and you would dress like Marge from the PTA.


(clip): 

And now, a man who knows what it takes to get a star on his dressing room door, our master of ceremonies, Gary Collins.


Sarah Marshall: 

Why did they have to speak...in a...?


Michael Hobbes: 

I know! How did they do that?


Sarah Marshall: 

I cannot overstate how weird it is to watch people forced to dance and like, finding sweaters and jackets and skirt suits.


Michael Hobbes: 

They look so hot. They look like people in like, corporate HR training videos.


Sarah Marshall: 

Yeah. So basically they're like, "okay, we have 50 contestants. We have to get them all out on stage to do one awkward musical number before we immediately send 40 of them home." Because if they're taken out of contention before they even know what's happening, there'll be like, at least I got to dance around in my sweater.


Michael Hobbes: 

So yeah, What did you think of the clip?


Sarah Marshall: 

Uh, it was, it had, um... I'm Speechless, Mike. I am without speech.


Michael Hobbes: 

I've watched it so many times.


Sarah Marshall: 

I mean, okay. I'll give you my first impressions. I just feel like you understand watching this that the organization used to have something approaching real power. There's something that feels very of another time of people being on TV with so little irony. Like, just getting out there and like, dancing your ass off. And no one appearing, I'm sure people were thinking this, but no one is betraying the fact that they might be thinking, "am I going to look really ridiculous?" It's just like, no, everyone's going to look great. And yeah, the clothes are just like, none of these are fabrics that are known for like wicking sweat. That's all I'm going to say.


Michael Hobbes: 

No. So this is sort of setting the scene for the world that Vanessa is about to go into.


Sarah Marshall:

So I think, honestly, my biggest question at this point is what enticed her to get involved in Miss America?


Michael Hobbes: 

This is what's so weird about this story. So it is now spring of 1983, Vanessa is six months away from winning the Miss America pageant. Is anything missing from this story so far?


Sarah Marshall: 

Yes. Because as we learned in the Paula Barbieri story, typically, it's unusual even to go in and suddenly sweep a smaller pageant. And my understanding too, is that pageantry is a vocation. Like, people spend years, people dedicate their adolescents to this.


Michael Hobbes: 

Yes. It's incredible that for all of her life, I mean, she doesn't mention anywhere in her book having like, interest in the Miss America pageant or watching it as a kid, she probably did, but it's not a world that she's like, wanted to get into or has tried to get into. She's never thought about being in one of these beauty pageants her whole life. And she basically just like, stumbles into it. So when she's 20 she's at Syracuse University, she's in a musical called Swinging on a Star.


Sarah Marshall:

Lovely.


Michael Hobbes: 

Cameo alert, in this production of Swinging on a Star, Aaron Sorkin is one of her co-stars.


Sarah Marshall:

What?!


Michael Hobbes: 

Which is very random.


Sarah Marshall: 

And is he like, "Vanessa walk with me, I'm going to make my proposition in three parts. The first two will come last and the last will come first."


Michael Hobbes:

So one night she's in this production, her friend George comes and he brings his friend, Bill and Bill is on the board of Miss Greater Syracuse.


Sarah Marshall: 

Oh, well Bill seems like a big cheese.


Michael Hobbes: 

You know, Bill's doing it. So after the play, George is like, "hey Bill, what did you think of the play?" And the first thing Bill is saying is that the star of this play, Vanessa, could be Miss America if she wanted to be.


Sarah Marshall: 

Wow.


Michael Hobbes:

She's beautiful. She sings extremely well. She's a good actress. She dances. She is the full package.


Sarah Marshall: 

It's almost like a backhanded compliment though. It's like saying like, you could be economies [inaudible]. And it's like, but do I want to be?


Michael Hobbes: 

So George mentioned this to Vanessa and she's like, "uh, I guess?" And then she hears that Miss Greater Syracuse and Miss New York and Miss America, all of these huge scholarship funds associated with them. And she's like, "okay, like free money. It's at least an option. Right?"


Sarah Marshall: 

Yeah. If I were 20 years old and super hot in a Miss America kind of a way, and I basically knew how to do it already. I think it would seem like a fun adventure. It'd be like, why not? If it works out, then that'll be great. And if it doesn't then like, it's the same, I don't care.


Michael Hobbes: 

Yes, exactly. So she calls Bill, Bill assigns her to a woman named Vicky who is her pageant coach. Who sort of teaches her all of the stuff like, how to answer these questions. She takes her out for dinner at one point to test her table manners. Do you wanna know what the number one rule is? Like, the number one mistake that Vanessa makes.


Sarah Marshall: 

About like, trying to be a pageant gal? Wearing a hat indoors?


Michael Hobbes:

No, it's her filler words.


Sarah Marshall: 

Oh!


Michael Hobbes: 

So Vicky asks her test questions and then is like, "you have to count how many times you say, um, and you know, and get all of those out of your vocabulary."


Sarah Marshall: 

Oh, wow. So it's like they're training to be newscasters.


Michael Hobbes: 

Yes. We talked so much about the misogyny inherent in this critique of filler words. And like, part of being the ideal woman is to speak like a dude. And then, so it's not clear sort of how much time she spends training to be in the Miss Greater Syracuse pageant. She at one point says, she's thinking about doing a song from a chorus line, but she's like, ah, it's too much effort. I'm just gonna do something easier.


Sarah Marshall: 

I'm sure that's part of why she did so well, right? Cause if you're going in and your whole ego is on the line and it's not really conducive to like, placing well in a talent slash looks spectacular.


Michael Hobbes: 

I'm convinced that this is why she does so well in these pageants is because she doesn't ultimately give that much of a shit. And this is not a world that she wants to fit into.


Sarah Marshall:

That makes them feel much better to me. Cause I'm like, cause I, you know, I remembered it's like, she, you know, broke this barrier and achieved this dream. And then they took it all away from her and it's like, I'm sure the way it went down was awful in all kinds of ways because these stories always are. But like, the fact that the thing that she let go of wasn't the thing that she had been working towards for her whole life is, that's good to know.


Michael Hobbes: 

I also love, this is such an afterthought to her that she doesn't even ask her parents to attend. She's like, "yea, yeah, I'm in the Miss Greater Syracuse, but like, don't bother driving over here." It just doesn't matter to her at all.


Sarah Marshall: 

Whatever.


Michael Hobbes: 

And then she spends one paragraph describing the way that she became Miss New York. She just like, fast forwards through the whole thing. She's like, "I won Miss Greater Syracuse. And like, then I was in this other pageant, then I won it." And you're like, any details, Vanessa? Like, she does not give a shit.


Sarah Marshall: 

If you don't really understand why you're winning, you can't go into it that deeply. "Yeah, turns out I'm good at pageants, who knew."


Michael Hobbes: 

And so, she loves the fact that she gets some scholarship money for this and her summer job, so the previous summer, her summer job had been this receptionist for this modeling quote unquote agency. And this summer, her summer job is being Miss New York. So she like, goes around and does like ribbon cuttings and stuff.


Sarah Marshall:

I bet she has to do a lot of dairy stuff.


Michael Hobbes: 

Yes. And it's just like, it's just a summer job for her. And she's like, "well, great, this gives me more scholarship money. And it's going to make it easier for me to do my semester in London because then I can like, have more money for plane tickets and stuff."


Sarah Marshall: 

Yeah. I imagine that being a confidence booster.


Michael Hobbes: 

Oh yeah.


Sarah Marshall: 

Especially if you come in with no prior experience and just sweep things.


Michael Hobbes: 

She also spends this summer preparing for Miss America. And now we're going to rewind and talk about the Miss America pageant.


Sarah Marshall: 

Yay.


Michael Hobbes: 

The Miss America pageant is like, fascinating. And there's a reason why like 200,000 PhD dissertations are written about it because it's always fascinating to see, you know, the mainstream corporate TV station approved version of like, the ideal woman. Like, in the lyrics, you know, the infamous "there she is, Miss America" song, the lyrics are "there she is, your ideal, the dream of a million girls who are more than pretty can come true in Atlantic City where she may turn out to be the queen of femininity." Like, that's what they're doing here.


Sarah Marshall: 

It's a good thing they don't have this pageant in like, Weehawken or something. Cause that's a hard name to rhyme stuff with.


Michael Hobbes: 

You can go back as far as you want. But the idea of a beauty pageant has been around for like, hundreds of years. That smaller towns would do this of, you know, who was the most attractive woman in our town. Like, this is a human thing, judging women on their attractiveness, which humans enjoy judging others and sort of determining somebody's suitability for marriage. It was very explicit in the early Miss America pageants that we are here to pick a woman who's going to be the perfect wife.


Sarah Marshall: 

Really...


Michael Hobbes: 

That was not subtext. That was text.


Sarah Marshall:

Because if you're a wife, you need to wear a bathing suit, wear any evening gown, do Q and A and have a talent.


Michael Hobbes: 

Yes. You need to be hot. You need to be able to sort of display intelligence, but not like threatening intelligence.


Sarah Marshall: 

Yeah. You need to be really well-trained like a dog doing an agility course.


Michael Hobbes: 

It also has a lot of basis in like, weird eugenics stuff. In the early 1900s, there used to be things at state fairs where there'd be family contests for who had the best breeding. Like, this idea of sort of hereditary superiority was becoming more central to American life.


Sarah Marshall: 

So it's just like when you go to the state fair and they have the 4H kids showing their sheep or their calves, but it's just like, you show yourself.


Michael Hobbes: 

Literally. So the early Miss America pageants, when they introduced the contestants, they would have a whole thing about her breeding. But like, her father is from Switzerland and his father is Germanic and his father is Scandinavian. Like, this was an explicit part of the show.


Sarah Marshall: 

Right. Cause she's a [inaudible]. They're selling [inaudible]. America's really creepy. Like, I know I say that every week, but it continues to surprise me.


Michael Hobbes:

Also double creepy. The first Miss America was 16. She won her sort of qualifying beauty event, it was a beauty contest run by a local newspaper when she was 15. And then these editors were like, "that's the hottest 15 year old around." Like, ughh!


Sarah Marshall: 

As long as none of the girls kiss each other, I think that's all fine.


Michael Hobbes:

But so you probably already know this, but the first Miss America pageant, Atlantic City wanted to extend the summer tourist season. So in 1921, they invented something called the fall frolic on the second weekend of September.


Sarah Marshall: 

So it's the same as now you go to gamble and have like, a like, tiny Vegas of the East experience.


Michael Hobbes:

Also, I mean, I think it was like, very openly controlled by the mob at the time, you know, prohibition was going on, but this is one of the reasons why Miss America has persisted so long is because it's a way for Atlantic City to market itself as not the city of graft and vice.


Sarah Marshall: 

Cause there's nothing less creepy than a beauty pageant and nothing less suggestive of graft or vice.


Michael Hobbes:

I mean the most important thing to know about sort of the entire history of the Miss America pageant is that it has always been a vehicle to promote retrograde beauty standards. So in 1921, the first Miss America pageant, there was a huge debate at the time about the bob haircuts. The emerging fashion trends for women having short hair, not wearing these long frilly skirts with all of this extra fabric, they were wearing clothes that were much more functional and they could do things like, drive, ride horses, walk around by themselves. And the bob, not having long hair, was a symbol of women actually having some independence in their lives.


Sarah Marshall: 

And also, I assume it is to some degree a symbol of being a viable member of the workforce, because if you're working in a factory, if you're a wage earner, like, probably your hair is going to get in your way in a lot of fields.


Michael Hobbes:

Exactly. And also, you know, women were wearing makeup and that was also a sign of independence. So who wins the first Miss America pageant? It's somebody who wears no makeup and has really long hair.


Sarah Marshall: 

So it's like, no matter when they're doing it, they're trying to get back to earlier and in 1921, they're like, "back in the good old days of 1911 girls were girls."


Michael Hobbes: 

Exactly. So it's, you know, it's always enforcing the beauty and personality standards of 30, 40 years ago. There's also a fascinating thing. You mentioned that Vanessa Williams is probably the most famous Miss America, which I think she is too, the sort of the disposability of Miss America has really always been part of the pageant because they were picking somebody to be like, this perfect wife, essentially, in the early years, you know, the first couple of decades, they just expected you to win Miss America and then just disappear and then like, go get married to somebody.


Sarah Marshall: 

They weren't selling it as a launch pad to anything. It was like, this is your last fling as a free elf.


Michael Hobbes: 

Exactly. And so Margot Mifflin in her book, Looking for Miss America, which is excellent, she talks about how the first winner of the Miss America pageant, Margaret Gorman, shows up as an audience member just like, buys a ticket and attends a couple years after she wins and nobody recognizes her.


Sarah Marshall: 

Like, when Charlie Chaplin lost a Charlie Chaplin lookalike contest.


Michael Hobbes:

That seems wrapped up in the idea of femininity to me too. We want them to be around as long as they're young and pretty. And then we want them to disappear.


Sarah Marshall: 

Right? Just like with wives, you know, and the idea that the ideal wife on top of everything else is disposable. Which is why they get killed so often.


Michael Hobbes: 

I know. There's also a really interesting thing that the primary architect of the Miss America pageant, as we know it today, is a woman.


Sarah Marshall: 

Mmm... And her name is Serena Joy.


Michael Hobbes: 

No, I know you're going to giggle at this. Her name is Leanora Slaughter.


Sarah Marshall: 

I'm surprised actually that her first name isn't Lambs To The.


Michael Hobbes: 

I knew you would have something.


Sarah Marshall: 

Thank you.


Michael Hobbes: 

So in 1935, there's this huge scandal when it comes out that the current Miss America posed for a nude statue. This brings all this extra scrutiny to the pageant and the pageant organizers are freaking out. And so they bring on this woman, Leanora Slaughter to run the pageant and she takes it over for the next 32 years.


Sarah Marshall: 

And anytime a girl breaks a leg, she's the one who has to kill her.


Michael Hobbes: 

Before Lenora's Slaughter arrived, the women, you know, now it's like Miss Oklahoma, Miss Iowa, it's very sort of regimented who gets into the pageant. But before then, because there weren't state pageants, it would just be like, Miss Pittsburgh won one year, it would be like, Miss Florida Panhandle. It was just these random regions.


Sarah Marshall:

It was just a free for all.


Michael Hobbes: 

Yeah. And a lot of them were like, super janky. There's a point where Lenora's Slaughter has to kick out a Swedish woman who was pretending to be Miss Alaska and she's never been to Alaska or she's been there for like, a couple days.


Sarah Marshall: 

And they nailed her on the salmon questions.


Michael Hobbes: 

So basically Lenore's Slaughter's entire project over decades is just to like, de-jankify the entire process of bringing women in. She brings in the talent competition. She brings in Miss Congeniality as a thing. She's the one who develops all the eligibility criteria.


Sarah Marshall: 

Which are?


Michael Hobbes: 

To this day, you have to be unmarried and childless.


Sarah Marshall: 

Because you know, if you're married, then you've probably had sex.


Michael Hobbes:

Well, exactly. Another thing that Lenora Slaughter brings in, which I think is so fascinating, is she brings in this idea that when you win you get a scholarship.


Sarah Marshall: 

I assume it's because we just don't want women to have money like, ever. And this was especially back then, like, women just weren't supposed to have money, right. And women couldn't have credit cards until the 70s or something like that. And yeah. And if you take away all of the frills and dance numbers and everything, then what you do have is people being paid for walking around in a bathing suit. Our eternal fear of like, women having power and one of the surest routes to some form of power in America is just having cash in your hand, just money in your hand.


Michael Hobbes: 

Yeah. She also infamously, one of the eligibility criteria, this is word for word, "contestant must be in good health and of the white race." So we know that this rule was implemented by Leonora at some point in the 1940s. And she got rid of it at some point in the 1950s, but we don't know exactly when. I think this is just like, a lesson to keep in mind for stuff like this, that we have Lenora's Slaughter who literally includes, "must be of the white race" in the eligibility criteria. But also has always insisted that this is not racist. So in 1948, when she is pressed on this, she says, "we have eliminated the Negro from this contest due to the fact that it is absolutely impossible to judge fairly the beauty of the Negro race in comparison with the white race." So we're not being racist, even though we're literally barring anyone who's not white. No, no. It's that we couldn't passably judge different people on different beauty standards.


Sarah Marshall:

But the thing is that all members of the white race can be judged against each other according to an objective standards.


Michael Hobbes: 

Yes. Of course.


Sarah Marshall: 

Also the idea that you are selecting the best and brightest of like, eligible women of the white race, perhaps, because this is a time when people talked openly about protecting and perpetuating and keeping pure the white race. No, it's apples and oranges.


Michael Hobbes:

Yeah, sorry. People who do racist shit never think of themselves as racist. This is the most racist fucking thing you can do.


Sarah Marshall: 

Yeah.


Michael Hobbes: 

But then what's very interesting is, they end up repealing this rule at some point during the 1950s, but they don't have any black contestant until 1970 because all of these feeder pageants are like, still super fucking racist. So at one point in 1955, a woman named Dora Berry wins Miss State University of Iowa, which is a thing. And instead of recognizing her as the winner, the university just cancels all of her events. Like, as if it didn't happen. So basically there's no pipeline for black contestants to get into Miss America because all of these like, satellite pageants are just like, so janky and like, racist as hell.


Sarah Marshall: 

I mean, this is like Shannon Faulkner getting into the Citadel and then being like, "no, no, no, we didn't mean you. Delete. Forget it."


Michael Hobbes: 

In the 1960s, I was not expecting this, but we also get the origin of a myth that I have wanted to bust on this show since we began. The myth of the bra burning feminist.


Sarah Marshall: 

All right, let's do it. Let's dive into this cookie dough chunk.


Michael Hobbes: 

Did you know about this?


Sarah Marshall: 

Yeah, I knew that that--I mean, obviously, right. Cause the idea, the myth, I suppose, is that when you become a feminist, you burn your bra. And so of course being a child who like, hears jokes on the Simpsons and stuff like that.


Michael Hobbes: 

Yeah.


Sarah Marshall: 

When I was like, 10 and went I think that Halloween as quote a hippie, I asked my mom about this and she was like, "no, it wasn't. I mean, who's going to burn abroad, Sarah. They're very expensive."


Michael Hobbes: 

They're very expensive. Yeah.


Sarah Marshall: 

Yeah.


Michael Hobbes: 

So it is 1968, feminists have disliked the Miss America pageant for forever.


Sarah Marshall: 

Really? Why?!


Michael Hobbes: 

So there's a group called the New York Radical Women that organizes a protest in 1968 of the Miss America pageant. So it's organized by this woman named Florence Kennedy who's a woman of color. They put out this list of sort of demands and their number two demand, they point out there has never been a Puerto Rican, Alaskan, Hawaiian, or Mexican American winner, nor has there ever been a true Miss America, an American Indian. And so Florence Kennedy organizes a protest of the Miss America pageant. It eventually draws around 200 people.


Sarah Marshall:

That's a small protest too. It's amazing how like, the size of a protest that you might get on a good day at like, Boden has gone down in history for 50 plus years.


Michael Hobbes: 

Seriously. The main thing that they're pushing is this idea of sort of the Miss America pageant is a cattle auction. So they bring a sheep with them and they put a little beauty pageant sash on it.


Sarah Marshall: 

Aw.


Michael Hobbes: 

As like, you're being treated like sheep.


Sarah Marshall: 

See immediately I'm like, where did they get the sheep? Did they have like, a farmer friend who was like, "you can use one of my sheep."


Michael Hobbes: 

And the right wing press points out at the time, they're like, "it's a male sheep. It's not even a female sheep." And like shut up.


Sarah Marshall: 

That's not the point.


Michael Hobbes: 

Guys, everyone relax. So they have something as part of this protest called the freedom trash can into which they are throwing a bunch of symbols of their oppression. So in Margot Mifflin's book, she lists women's magazines, men's magazines, dishwashing detergent, floor wax, hair curlers, false eyelashes, stockings, girdles, and bras. So they throw all of this stuff into the freedom trash can. And then we get into the debate of whether or not they actually set it on fire.


Sarah Marshall:

Was it or was it not a dumpster fire?


Michael Hobbes: 

Exactly. So in Margo Mifflin's book, she says they were planning on setting it on fire, but they couldn't get a permit. And then the plan to burn it leaked to the press and the press went with the story of feminists are burning bras rather than feminists are planning to burn bras.


Sarah Marshall: 

You gotta go with the story where the feminists are setting things on fire. I also love how, like, the dangerous, scary, radical feminists are like, "we couldn't get a permit, so..." although perhaps accounts differ.


Michael Hobbes:

Another theory is that there's a New York Post journalist there named Lindsy Van Gelder who writes an article about this protest that starts with the sentences "men burn draft cards and what next will women burn bras?" So one theory is that the hypothetical led to this idea that women are burning bras. I also feel bad for Lindsy Van Gilder because she says later, she writes an article in 1992 where she's like, "uh, I accidentally created this bra burning thing and I went there like, with sympathy of being like, well, men burn their draft cards and that is good. Soon women will burn their bras and that is good."


Sarah Marshall: 

Women can't be, you know, we can't use rhetoric because, you know, it's impossible to believe that we're using like, you know, hypothetical's or poetic license. It's just like, everything a female writer says is bare recitation of the facts because anything else would be beyond her.


Michael Hobbes: 

But, this might be a debunking of the debunking.


Sarah Marshall: 

You always do this to me.


Michael Hobbes: 

For his book, Getting It Wrong, 10 of the Greatest Misreported Stories in American Journalism, an author named W. Joseph Campbell went back to the archives and looked for contemporaneous news sources about this protest. And he found an article from the local Atlantic City newspaper that includes the sentence as "the bras, girdles, falsies, curlers, and copies of popular women's magazines burned."


Sarah Marshall:

There were a few hundred people here. Can we not, is this not easier to establish?


Michael Hobbes: 

So this author, Campbell, also talks to a reporter who was there that day, who insists that they did light the trashcan on fire. But he also speaks to feminists who insist it was never lit on fire. So maybe it was, maybe it wasn't. We don't know.


Sarah Marshall: 

I mean, to me, it's kind of moot cause I think the myth of the bra burning feminist, like, no one was ever like, "one time, some feminists symbolically burned a bra in protest." It's like, the ideas that women across the nation are destroying their bras.


Michael Hobbes: 

I think at the sort of most, there was one protest where somebody lit a trashcan on fire that included a number of items. And there may have been bras in there. Like, that's very different from "women are burning their bras," like, the sort of the bra burning feminist myth, that's not what we're talking about. Like, a trashcan full of lots of stuff. It is patently a myth, regardless of what happened in 1968.


Sarah Marshall: 

Yes. Which tends to be how it goes. It's like, you have a story and you're like, "well, the details are kind of hard to figure out, but really the point is that the thing people pictured, never came close to happening."


Michael Hobbes: 

Exactly.


Sarah Marshall: 

If women could afford to burn that many bras at the time, they would have had fewer things to protest about frankly.


Michael Hobbes:

But so, I mean, to me it's like, the whole bra burning thing, the protest, all of this, this is kind of the beginning of the end for the Miss America pageant. The beginning of the decline.


Sarah Marshall: 

Although it still is like, limping along like Dick Cheney, but yeah.


Michael Hobbes: 

Yes.


Sarah Marshall: 

But like, the death of its relevance.


Michael Hobbes:

Yes. Because the whole idea of picking like, the ideal American woman just gets like, more and more gross over time, I think.


Sarah Marshall: 

Or just more and more obviously gross as more people who have power within society are women and are like, "hey, this is gross."


Michael Hobbes:

So by the time Vanessa is in the 1984 pageant, the sort of the wheels are starting to come off that, you know, there's the first black contestant in 1970 and that's, coincidentally or not, that's the year after Pepsi poles at sponsorship because Pepsi's like, "this just doesn't speak to Americans anymore. Like, we're a [inaudible] society."


Sarah Marshall:

We're the choice of a new generation, you guys.


Michael Hobbes: 

Exactly, join the conversation. There's little drips of progress. So in 1970, there's the first black contestant in 1976, there's the first black contestant in the top 10. In 1980, there's a black contestant in the top five. Like, we're just sort of ready for this barrier to be broken. And that brings us to Vanessa in the pageant in September of 1983.


Sarah Marshall: 

Vanessa walking into the creepy forest.


Michael Hobbes: 

I'm going to show you a clip of the swimsuit competition. And this is like, I've watched this so many times. There's this fascinating thing where as there's more criticism of the swimsuit competition and just the sexism just gets more and more gross. One of the things the pageant does to try to tamp down on this a little bit is they do a split screen where they show each contestant on one half of the screen. And then on the other half of the screen, they have an excerpt from their interview portion. So the idea is they're supposed to be showing these women as intelligent and well-spoken as they're also in a swimming suit. But like, all it does is heighten the juxtaposition of like, why are we doing this to these women? So here, I'm going to send you a clip. This has a couple of the contestants before we get to Vanessa.


Sarah Marshall: 

How dare you?


Michael Hobbes:

Three, two, one, go.


(clip): 

Actually, I'm a very energetic person and I love athletics. And I started the first women's track team down at Troy, Alabama. They didn't have a women's program at the university.


Sarah Marshall: 

Good for her.


Michael Hobbes: 

Good for her. They always pick weird excerpts. This is incredible.


(clip): 

Don't be afraid to be a woman. Don't be afraid to look good even if you do have something to say.


Sarah Marshall: 

Aww, it has to be so awkward to walk around in a bathing suit and heels.


Michael Hobbes: 

I know.


Sarah Marshall: 

It's like you're on Tony Montana's [inaudible] boat.


(clip): 

Miss Nebraska. I enjoy reading, but truthfully I have very little time to read novels, but I love to read poetry. I really do.


Michael Hobbes: 

She seems nice.


Sarah Marshall: 

They are picking weird moments. Like, I bet each contestant was like, "why did they choose that?"


Michael Hobbes: 

I know.


Sarah Marshall: 

Miss Nebraska swears she reads poetry.


(clip): 

Miss Florida.


Sarah Marshall: 

It's funny how like, the hair and makeup makes them all look 40.


Michael Hobbes: 

I know.


(clip): 

I honestly feel that I have something to do and that is a genuine love for life and for people in this country that I would love to share with these people.


Sarah Marshall: 

I feel like she would make a good first lady.


Michael Hobbes: 

I love that the hair is just totally motionless.


Sarah Marshall: 

Yeah. They all look like Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors.


(clip): 

Miss Alabama, Pam Battles.


Sarah Marshall: 

Pam Battles.


(clip): 

In Alabama, as well as all across the country, anybody, I believe anybody, can do what they want. If they set their mind to it, the opportunities there. And all they have to do is go for it.


Michael Hobbes: 

Just work hard. You'll be fine.


Sarah Marshall:

With the name Pam Battle, s,he should be like a mystery, thriller heroine. Pam Battles, the cartel. Pam Battles, the FBI.


(clip): 

And Miss New York, Vanessa Williams. I think that it is important for education to be endowed with a good financial backing. I believe that the more programs that are available for education, the better the student will ultimately become.


Sarah Marshall: 

She's the only one who they haven't picked a clip of her saying something totally a name.


Speaker 3: 

Vanessa said "socialism for our children."


Sarah Marshall:

Yeah. Well, and also it's amazing to me that she has entered this world so recently and is doing this like it is the most natural thing in the world.


Michael Hobbes: 

Yeah.


(clip): 

We're ready for the big finish if you are. And we'll all go forward with an old fashioned strut. We now present the story of the legend brought to you by McDonald's.


Sarah Marshall: 

Well, McDonald's ad. Oh my God. Okay. This is very hard to click out of. I'm doing it.


Michael Hobbes: 

Cause it only, it's a weird thing that they only have four sponsors. So every ad is for the same four companies and they keep mentioning the companies on the show.


Sarah Marshall: 

Yeah. So this is like, we have a copy of the Christmas Carol with George C. Scott. The, my parents taped off of CBS in 1989. And every single ad is for IBM.


Michael Hobbes: 

It's like the Alcoa model. Yeah. There's not like that much to say here. It's an interesting year in that there's actually four black women competing. And two of them end up in the top 10. Vanessa of course ends up winning. And the runner up is also black. Her name is Suzette Charles. She's Miss New Jersey. And she's like, been a pageant queen for years. And she's like, some songs on TV and she's like, semi famous in Atlantic City. So the whole pageant Vanessa is thinking, well, I'm obviously going to lose to Suzette. She also sings. She's really good. I'll probably come in second or third or whatever. And I'll still get some scholarship money and I'll go to London. And like, this little adventure will be over. So the whole time she's just kind of like, rehearsing what she's going to do when Suzette wins. Alright. Now we're going to watch Vanessa winning.


Sarah Marshall: 

Oh, I love it, they all hold hands together. There should be more holding hands in Miss America.


Michael Hobbes:

Three, two, one, go.


(clip): 

The first runner up and winner of a $15,000 scholarship is Suzette Charles, Miss Jersey.


Michael Hobbes: 

Suzette!


Sarah Marshall: 

And then it's like, "oh fuck, if Suzette's not winning.


Michael Hobbes:

She has had like, a very successful career. She was on like, soap operas. She sings. Like, she's done very well at this.


Sarah Marshall: 

Yay.


Michael Hobbes: 

She seems nice.


Sarah Marshall:

Yay Suzette.


(clip): 

Six of the brightest and loveliest young women in America are standing on our stage. One of them will be the new Miss America and the winner of a $25,000 scholarship. And our new Miss America is Vanessa Williams, Miss New York!


Sarah Marshall: 

Oh, I like seeing her smiling. And she's smiling really big. She looks truly happy. They put a crown on her and handed of her [inaudible] and flowers. I love who it's like, it means nothing. It means nothing at all. But it's very exciting when it's like, here's your new ruler.


Michael Hobbes:

They do say, go out and meet your subjects. Whoever wins.


Sarah Marshall: 

The one that you'll adore. And it's like, are they going to see her ever again? Like, I know that Miss America works ass her off during her tenure, but I feel like this is the first and the last we will see of her until she shows up as a weathered husk to place her crown on the new Miss America next year, and then disappear in a puff of dust.


Michael Hobbes: 

Vanessa is also heavily criticized for being one of the only Miss America's ever not to cry.


Sarah Marshall: 

Oh my God.


Michael Hobbes: 

I know.


Sarah Marshall: 

Shut the front door!


Michael Hobbes: 

I know. Just as a preview of next episode...


Sarah Marshall: 

I really thought you were going to say Vanessa is criticized for stapling a loofa to her dress. What? Like, does she have to cry? Like, she has to force herself to cry, to show sufficient gratitude. So it's like when Hillary Swank won an Oscar without thanking her stupid husband. That was lovely to watch. And I'm curious about what that was like for her.


Michael Hobbes: 

I mean, in her book, she says that first of all, her first thought is, I guess I'm not going to London now. So like, she's already kind of like, Oh God, I had this all planned out.


Sarah Marshall: 

Change of plans. London next year.


Michael Hobbes: 

And also, I don't think you can really tell in the footage because she's a pro, but like, this is not her at all. It's weird to win something that's a huge deal to other people and is not a big deal to you. But like, I'm not a pageant person. I have not dreamed about this moment. It's just a lot of emotions at once.


Sarah Marshall: 

Yeah. And just, and then the inevitable tension that comes from you winning something that you are good at and winning it because you're good at it. And you have a lot of the skills, but then were implicitly like, you owe everyone a show of like, ecstasy and gratitude and crying now.


Michael Hobbes: 

So what she says in her book is "up until that moment, I was just going through the motions. I hadn't thought about what it meant. I was Miss America, the first black Miss America. I'd made history. It was thrilling. It was unbelievable. It was crazy. It was also scary, but I didn't know that yet." And that's where we're going to stop. We're going to leave Vanessa on the podium, holding her flowers.


Sarah Marshall: 

I feel like I've introduced you to the concept of two parters and I regret that. You're just like, I learned by watching you. So what are we going to talk about next time?


Michael Hobbes:

So we're going to talk about what it's like to be Miss America, which I think is actually fascinating. Like, that's one of the most interesting chapters of her book.


Sarah Marshall: 

It is fascinating cause we never talk about it. And it seems like, backbreaking work. Like, anything where you're like, getting up early, running around, like, making a bunch of appearances, basically acting like you're on a political campaign.


Michael Hobbes: 

Yeah.


Sarah Marshall: 

And you have to be in an apparently great mood and looking good the entire time. Like, Oh my God.


Michael Hobbes: 

And very importantly, because she is the first black Miss America, this makes news in a way winning the Miss America pageant doesn't typically, and it invites a lot of questions. So they're not asking her about sort of like, what do you eat for breakfast? And these like, easy Miss America questions, asking her like, how do you solve inner city poverty? And she's like, I am 20. I do not know.


Sarah Marshall: 

I am a theater student from Syracuse. Like, get your shit together, America.


Michael Hobbes:

So immediately she is nothing like all of the other Miss Americas that have gone before her, like, the expectations of her are completely different.


Sarah Marshall: 

I know, I feel like it's like, it might've seemed to her like an easier, a much easier job that ended up being. But it turns out that when the embodiment of the spirit of Miss America is black, she gets to become a [inaudible].


Michael Hobbes: 

So next week we're going to tell the rest of Vanessa's story. And we're going to do it with a special guest. It's a writer and podcaster whose work I came across when I was researching this episode and she's going to do a better job of walking us through the downfall than I could. 


Sarah Marshall: 

I'm so excited about that.


Michael Hobbes: 

So that's it. What did we, what did we learn? What do we think about Vanessa?


Sarah Marshall: 

Vanessa is great. And I learned that you shouldn't underestimate yourself because you might accidentally end up succeeding more than you anticipated and it could get weird.


Michael Hobbes: 

Also if you dated somebody really hot when you were 16, it's okay to talk about that forever.