In 1983, New York beauty queen Vanessa Williams became the first African-American Miss America. A year later, Penthouse magazine published a pictorial made up of pre-fame photos. There was just a whiff of Sapphic love about the sexy snaps, but believe us when we say that in 1984 that was enough.
Beauty-contest-loving Americans were outraged. Until then, Miss America had long been a celebration of Yankee wholesomeness. And no matter what anybody thought of the swimsuit competition, it had nothing to do with smut.
Williams did the decent thing and resigned, although we wish she would have also done the decent thing and not released “Save the Best for Last,” or made Eraser with Arnold Schwarzenegger, or married former LA Laker Rick Fox.
Suitably enough, beauty contests are now better known for their scandals than their winners. In 2006, Miss USA Tara Conner nearly lost her crown when she got drunk and traded spit with Miss Teen USA. But compared to the original fallen idol, they’re just amateurs. — Charles Bottomley