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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

July 23, 1984

First things first. I would like to take the time to congratulate both Prince William and Princess Kate on the arrival of their new baby boy on July 22, 2013. While I will admit that I have not really kept up with the House of Windsor since the death of Princess Diana sixteen years ago, I am happy that the baby arrived healthy and happy, and I am sure that it is a very happy day for everyone in not just the royal family, but for the entire United Kingdom as well. Again, congratulations to William and Kate.

And now, on with today's entry.

The Tuesday Timeline is firmly set on July 23...but which year will be our destination for today? Well, we're about to find out in just a couple of minutes.

The only thing I can say is that sometimes people have to hit rock bottom in order to become a respected figure in the world. And in the case of today's blog subject, I think she has done exactly that.

But first, let's take a look at some of the other happenings that took place on July 23 over the years. July 23 happens to be a year in which a few famous faces were born, and if your birthday happens to be today, you're sharing it with the following people; M.H. Abrams, Vera Rubin, Ronny Cox, Don Imus, David Essex, Ian Thomas, Blair Thornton, Edie McClurg, Michael McConnohie, Woody Harrelson, Eriq LaSalle, Slash, Samantha Beckinsale, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Stephanie Seymour, Charisma Carpenter, Alison Krauss, Marlon Wayans, Monica Lewinsky, Kathryn Hahn, Michelle Williams (Destiny's Child), Bec Hewitt, and Daniel Radcliffe.

Okay, so maybe two of those names are more infamous than famous. They're still worth mentioning.

And, here are some of the major news stories for the 23rd of July.

1829 – William Austin Burt patents the typographer, a precursor to the typewriter

1840 – The Province of Canada is created by the Act of Union

1881 – The Boundary Treaty of 1881 between Chile and Argentina is signed in Buenos Aires

1903 – The Ford Motor Company sells its first car

1914 – Austria-Hungary issues an ultimatum to Serbia demanding Serbia allow the Austrians to determine who was behind the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand

1926 – Fox Film buys the patents of the Movietone sound system, designed to record sound onto film

1942 – The Holocaust: Treblinka extermination camp is opened

1950 – The Gene Autry Show debuts on CBS

1955 – Singer Chuck Berry releases the single “Maybelline”

1962 – Telstar relays the first publicly transmitted, live trans-Atlantic television program, featuring Walter Cronkite

1967 - 12th Street Riot takes place in Detroit, Michigan, which will lead to 43 deaths, 342 injured people, and over 1,400 buildings burned to the ground

1982 – Actor Vic Morrow and two children are killed on the set of “Twilight Zone: The Movie” after a stunt helicopter crashed on top of them

1986 – Prince Andrew marries Sarah Ferguson at Westminster Abbey, becoming the Duke and Duchess of York

1995 – Comet Hale-Bopp is discovered

2012 – Astronaut Sally Ride succumbs to cancer at the age of 61

So, as you can see, a lot happened in the world on July 23. But what date will we be looking at today?

How about we go back in time almost thirty years? The date? July 23, 1984.

And, you know something? In the two years that I've done this blog, I don't believe the Tuesday Timeline has ever done a spotlight on the year 1984. And, that's surprising to me because 1984 was a rather big year in the world.

It was the year that Los Angeles hosted the Olympic Games. It was the year that Michael Jackson's “Thriller”, Cyndi Lauper's “She's So Unusual”, and Tina Turner's “Private Dancer” were played on the radio. It was the year that “Three's Company” ended and “Murder...She Wrote” began. And, it was the year that we had TWO Miss Americas!

No kidding. We really did have two. And the reason why we had two was because of a scandal that erupted within the beauty which ended on July 23, 1984 when the woman at the center of the controversy had no choice but to relinquish her crown a few months into her reign to first runner-up Suzette Charles.

It was undoubtedly a low point for the former winner of the 1984 Miss America pageant, Vanessa Lynn Williams. But, if you think that she hid in a corner and cried about it...well, think again. But, let's talk about what happened that caused Vanessa Williams to give up the title of Miss America, as well as how she ended up winning the title in the first place.

Vanessa Lynn Williams (not to be confused with the “Melrose Place” actress Vanessa A. Williams, who ironically enough happens to be the same age as this Vanessa Williams) was born on March 18, 1963 in Millwood, New York. Born to a pair of music teachers, her parents made a point to insert the phrase “Here She Is – Miss America” in Vanessa's birth announcement.

It was like they had a crystal ball or something.

Vanessa and her brother Chris had a typical upbringing in a suburban neighbourhood, growing up in the community of Chappaqua. Vanessa studied music at an early age, and while she played a couple of musical instruments in her childhood, she preferred to write and sing her own songs. Graduating from high school as part of Horace Greeley High School's Class of '81, Vanessa studied at Syracuse University, enrolling in the Musical Theatre Arts program.

And it was during her time at Syracuse University that Vanessa Williams entered the Miss Syracuse University beauty pageant. She wasn't intending on taking part in the contest, but when a musical that she was set to perform in was cancelled, she decided to take part in the contest on a whim. It ended up being a good decision for her as she not only won the Miss Syracuse title, but she ended up winning the title of Miss New York! Winning the title of Miss New York allowed Williams the opportunity to compete in the Miss America pageant which was to be held in September 1983 in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

And Vanessa went into the Miss America pageant with an edge. It was often said that if a contestant had won at least one of the preliminary competitions, they certainly had an edge in the overall pageant. In Vanessa's case, she had won both the swimsuit and talent prelims. So is it any wonder that she ended up being crowned Miss America on September 17, 1983? Have a look at her crowning moment below.

Vanessa Williams ended up beating competitors Suzette Charles (New Jersey), Pam Battles (Alabama), Wanda Geddie (Mississippi), and Pamela Rigas (Ohio) for the title. And for Vanessa Williams, she had made history. She was the very first African-American winner of the Miss America pageant, a pageant which began all the way back in 1921! It took sixty-two years for an African-American woman to win Miss America, so it was an extremely big deal in the press.

Unfortunately, that win also created some waves in Vanessa's own personal life. And while I am sure that Vanessa was happy to honour the various commitments and opportunities that came with the responsibility of being Miss America, it was very bittersweet. Apparently, colour lines were still being drawn in the sand in early 1980s America, and some people actually sent Vanessa Williams death threats and racist hate mail. It was the first time that any reigning Miss America would be subjected to such disgusting behaviour, and while I am sure that Vanessa handled the situation with grace and poise (well, I suppose if you're Miss America, you really don't have much of a choice but to), it must have been a really frightening experience for her.

Of course, nobody ever expected the events that would begin to spell out the end of Vanessa's reign as Miss America on one hot day in July 1984. And by the time the dust settled and the crown was polished, people were debating on whether the right decision was made.

You see, one of the main things that the Miss America pageant promoted was their interpretation of what they felt the perfect lady should be. Mind you, the whole idea sounds incredibly stereotypical and some may even call it outdated or even sexist...but I am not on the Miss America committee, so I don't know their policies. I can certainly question them, but I don't have the say to demand that they change them.  And looking back on it now, I think that they completely overreacted to the scandal...but again, it was a different time and a different place.  And, in 1984, I was only three years old.  My main concern was finding a blue crayon so I could colour the sky in my colouring book.

Anyway, as I was saying, the Miss America pageant had its standards for its contestants, and certainly the Miss America committee made darn sure that all fifty-one of its contestants (including the District of Columbia) represented the pageant with grace, poise, and class.

So you can just imagine the shock that might have come across the committee's faces upon hearing the news that one of the contestants posed for nude shots, which were subsequently published inside a particular adult publication. Why, it would be a disgrace! Fortunately, in the case of the 1984 Miss America pageant, fifty of the fifty-one girls did no such thing.

Unfortunately, the fifty-first girl who DID admit to posing topless...happened to be the one to win the whole shebang.

Though, I'm sure that Vanessa Williams did not intend for the photos to appear in the middle of Penthouse magazine. But somehow they did.

Vanessa Williams received an anonymous phone call in July 1984 – ten months into her reign – stating that nude photos that a photographer had taken almost two years prior had resurfaced and this news blew Williams away, who had mistakenly believed that the photos had been destroyed. And, she certainly didn't sign a release form that granted permission for the photos to be used.

Certainly, the photos themselves could be considered quite tame compared to some of the photos that are floating around social media in 2013, but back in 1984, it was a huge deal. The photos were taken around 1982 – a year before Vanessa began competing in pageants. At the time, she worked as an assistant to photographer Tom Chiapel, who photographed her and another woman completely in the nude. At the time, Williams didn't think it was a big deal, as she was lead to believe that Chiapel was taking the photos to test out a new art concept.

But by the time Williams could do anything about it, it was too late. While Playboy magazine CEO Hugh Hefner turned down the offer to publish the photos in his magazine as he didn't have Vanessa's authorization to print them. Furthermore, given her high-profile gig, Hefner declined to publish the photos because he didn't want to embarrass her. A classy move on the Hef's part.

Now, the CEO of Penthouse Magazine, one Bob Guccione, didn't feel the same way as Hefner. He was more than happy to pay Chiapel for the rights to use the photos without even so much as seeking permission from Williams to use the photos, and he announced that the photos would be published in the September 1984 issue of Penthouse.

With word of the photos being made public, it caused a scandal in the Miss America circuit. Some sponsors of the pageant had already pulled out and several more were threatening to yank their sponsorship of the pageant as well as the story became a media circus in the summer of 1984. And the organizers of the pageant were scrambling, as many of those sponsors paid for the ads that aired during the pageant, some of the prizes that the contestants would win, and the scholarship opportunities that could come from winning the title of Miss America. And, to protect the contestants of 1985 from losing out on those opportunities, the committee strongly urged Vanessa to walk away from her title to save herself and the organization some face.

And on July 23, 1984, that's exactly what she did.

In a press conference, Vanessa Williams relinquished her title to first runner-up Suzette Charles, a Miss America first. Suzette Charles would later come to be known as the shortest reigning Miss America of all time, with her title lasting just seven weeks. Two months later, Vanessa Williams did file a lawsuit against both Tom Chiapel and Bob Guccione to the tune of five hundred MILLION dollars in damages caused by the scandal, but later dropped the suit, believing that success was the best revenge.

And, just how much success did Vanessa Williams have since being forced to give up the title of Miss America? Well...

  • Has released eight studio albums between 1988 and 2009, which includes eight Top 40 singles, four Top 10 hits, and at least one chart-topper
  • Has had roles in successful television series, including “Ugly Betty” and “Desperate Housewives”
  • Has appeared in several feature films including “Eraser”, “Soul Food”, “Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man”, and even “Hannah Montana: The Movie”
  • Starred in several Broadway plays
  • Has been nominated for several Tony, Emmy, and Grammy Awards
  • Has been a spokesperson for Radio Shack, L'Oreal Cosmetics, ProActiv, Crest Toothpaste, Disneyland and M&M's (where she voices the character of Miss Brown)
  • Is the mother of four children ranging in age from thirteen to twenty-six

Now, I ask you again...does this sound like the resume of a woman who let losing the title of Miss America bring her down? I think not.

Certainly the events of July 23, 1984 were such that Vanessa Williams would rather forget everything that happened. But what she has done since is nothing short of wonderful. The sweetest revenge certainly did come with success. And, I can't think of a better song to end this blog entry off than this #1 hit from early 1992...a song that is very much appropriate given all she went through.

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