Fifty Wonderful Years

A behind the scenes look at the 1973 Miss California Pageant and the state of the feminist movement. By the early 1970s, pageants had become a target of feminists and the organizers and contestants found themselves facing protests and scrutiny from the media. Optic Nerve presents both sides neutrally, allowing the clueless pageant community to make the feminists' case for them.

00:00Copy video clip URL Static.

00:37Copy video clip URL Fade into footage taped off a TV monitor of a commercial for a Santa Cruz, California hotel, followed by footage of a parade featuring 1972 Miss California pageant winner Diane Wagner.

01:31Copy video clip URL Program intro.

01:54Copy video clip URL The excitement is in the air as the pageant contestants wait backstage for their grand entrance. The hosts perform a song and dance as the contestants glamorously circle the stage. TV personality and 1971 Miss America winner Phyllis George is also backstage. We then begin to see the preparation for that moment as the contestants learn how to properly walk during the pageant. Afterwards, a few contestants speak candidly, calling that style of walking uncomfortable.

05:36Copy video clip URL We watch as a few of the contestants as they get their make up done. One of the make up artists comments on her style of cosmetic application. “My whole philosophy behind make up is I want people to say, ‘What a beautiful woman,’ not, ‘What a beautiful make up.'” We then watch she does make up for a contestant.

07:37Copy video clip URL The contestants pose for a picture and slowly make their way off of the stage. This is followed by more footage of a few of the contestants as they talk about their use of Vaseline on their teeth to enable them to smile for extended periods of time.

11:33Copy video clip URL Cut to a segment entitled “A Scrapbook of Memories.” This features a montage of the many aspects of the competition.

12:27Copy video clip URL A pageant host announces the pageant semi finalists, which is followed by back stage footage from after the show and footage of a pageant meeting. An official addresses the semi finalists and urges the contestants to create memories that they can cherish during their time in the competition. She also talks about the importance of marriage. “Now, the most important day of your life should be the day you walk down the aisle with that special man. Your most important career should be marriage. Now I know there’s a lot of contrary thinking on that today, and that leads me into the element that thinks that.” The videomakers then begin to cover the sizable and growing opposition to beauty pageants through the women’s liberation movement, and the response within the pageant community. One woman addresses the pageant contestants and has some harsh words for women’s liberation advocates. “Just remember that when you are interviewed always be a lady, because these women aren’t and I think sometimes they’re just a little gruff and being a young woman representing Miss California I think it’s important that we remember that we are ladies.”

14:52Copy video clip URL Cut to footage of a protest rally against the pageant. Various onlookers comment on the protest. “I mean these girls are all so ugly they couldn’t run for Miss anything.” This is followed by footage of workers and officials praising the pageant program. “I really can’t say it’s just the grooming that’s important. I think it’s important because it gives girls an opportunity who may not carry, let’s say, A, B averages in school in order to earn scholarships, but have talent to earn a scholarship.” We then see a montage of footage from the talent portion of the pageant.

17:43Copy video clip URL Cut to a shot of a man encouraging the contestants to not hold back. “You are the light of the world. Don’t rush around trying to hide it. Let it out. Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.” A singer then performs for the pageant contestants. A pageant official talks about the scandal allegations that have come up in the past. “In all of the years I have been associated with the pageant, never once has there been a breath of scandal, nor has there every been a chance that a girl could get out of her room to get into any kind of problems.” She then states that “hanky-panky” is the furthest thing from the contestants’ minds. This then cuts to shot of a contestant who says, “I haven’t seen a man in so long. I sure need to hug my boyfriend.” A pageant official then says that the pageant operates as a “benevolent dictatorship” in order to keep the contestants focused on their objective.

20:54Copy video clip URL A make up artist applies a few finishing touches to the contestants. This is followed by footage from the pageant.

21:39Copy video clip URL Susan Kaye Shipley is announced as the new Miss California. She shares a few hugs with their fellow contestants before being adorned with her crown and sash. A few of the contestant chaperones comment on Shipley’s win.

23:50Copy video clip URL Cut to a press conference with Shipley. A reporter asks a rather strong question to begin the conference. “Most women I know think you’re completely out of tune with the times–that you’re a product of a male commercial rip off–that Miss California is a misnomer.” A flabbergasted Shipley responds by saying, “It’s true the public has a complete misconception about what the pageant is all about.” She then talks about the KQED/Optic Nerve documentary in production and calls for the public to watch it and see what actually goes on in a pageant, confident that the documentary will clear up any controversy. She then goes on to say, “If all of you here could meet the girls and know them, you would realize that these are very, very real people, very intelligent fine young ladies with very high ideals.” After the cameras are turned off, the all male group of journalists swarm around Wagner apologizing. “You are now a professional Miss America and we’re all professional reporters. And we throw the questions that have to be thrown.” They claim that controversy sells papers, but are clearly on her side, calling her “lovely” and asking, “Do you realize what a 200 pound Miss America would look like?” The tape ends shortly afterward.

27:22Copy video clip URL Tape ends.



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