Trailblazer Jo-Carroll Dennison, Miss Texas 1941 and the oldest-surviving pistillate to beryllium crowned Miss America, has died. She was 97.
Dennison, a swimsuit class victor who defied World War II-era conventions by refusing to parade successful a swimsuit during her year-long reign, passed distant astatine her location successful California successful precocious October, her person and publication exertion Evan Mills confirmed to CNN connected Monday.
Born successful 1923 successful Florence, Arizona, Dennison grew up successful her parents’ traveling “medicine show,” successful which she sang, creation and rode instrumentality horses. She was grooming arsenic a caput earlier being scouted for the Miss Tyler pageant successful Tyler, Texas.
Dennison wrote successful her memoir “Finding My Little Red Hat” — published successful September 2021 — that she had “sworn ne'er to execute successful nationalist again” pursuing those medicine amusement days. However, she yet agreed to vie successful the pageant connected the committedness of a escaped swimsuit from a high-end section store. After winning, she went connected to nab the Miss East Texas and Miss Texas titles, earlier competing successful — and winning — Miss America successful 1942 astatine 18.
“The Miss America Organization is saddened to perceive of the passing of Miss America 1942, Jo-Carroll Dennison,” pageant officials posted connected Instagram. “We convey her for her twelvemonth of work and volition miss her dearly.”
Speaking astatine the Miss America Organization’s 100th day gala connected September 7, Dennison praised them for canning the swimsuit information of contention successful 2018, successful lieu of celebrating the “totality” of individuals.
“Back successful 1942, the pageant was expected to beryllium astir looks,” she revealed successful a video present posted to Youtube. “Yet, I ne'er thought I had won due to the fact that of the mode I looked, but alternatively due to the fact that of the mode I felt astir myself. With this successful mind, I level retired refused to deterioration my bathing suit onstage aft the pageant.”
As portion of her reign she joined the warfare effort by selling warfare bonds and visiting soldiers connected hospitals and camps to assistance boost morale.
“Miss America was a tangible awesome of the state [they] had enlisted to defend,” Dennison said astatine the gala, arguing that it was the patriotic symbolism of her rubric — and not swimsuits — that impressed soldiers most. “It was their imaginativeness of ideology that made their hearts lb and bodies tingle.”
Like galore quality queens of the era, Dennison signed a movie deal. During her clip nether declaration astatine 20th Century Fox, she appeared successful films specified arsenic 1946’s “The Jolson Story” and 1950’s “Dick Tracy,” successful which she played Breathless Mahoney, a relation aboriginal made celebrated by Madonna other Warren Beaty.
She joined Emmy-winning comic histrion Phil Silvers successful 1945 and divorced 5 years later. After failing to break-through to large stardom, she retired from the surface successful 1953.
“It is stunning however poorly women person been treated successful the American culture,” Dennison wrote successful her autobiography, revealing she was sexually assaulted astatine 12 and expressing enactment for the #MeToo movement.
She aboriginal joined CBS shaper and manager Russell Stoneham (“Playhouse 90,” “Barnaby Jones” and “Streets of San Francisco”) successful 1954. They separated successful the 1970s and divorced successful 1981.
She is survived by their 2 children.