What Miss USA Looked Like the Year You Were Born
Since 1952, states have been sending their most dazzling denizen to compete for the title of Miss USA. While the goal of the pageant participants is always the same, the heel heights, hemlines, and hairstyles, as well as the competition's rules, stages, and even society's views on beauty contests, are constantly shifting.
Although it’s hard to tell from the black and white photos, the very first Miss USA—then called Miss United States of America—was a ginger. Jackie Loughery, a 5-foot, 4-inch redhead from Brooklyn, New York, won a much plainer crown than the current headwear when a second ballot broke a first-place tie. With the win came a contract with Universal Pictures and she enjoyed a successful career in TV and film that included roles in Pardners, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and Perry Mason.
Illinois resident Myrna Hansen, a 125-pound blond with brown eyes, wore the green dress she had donned at her prom during judging, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. A winner at 17, she would be too young to compete in today’s contest as the starting age requirement was adjusted to 18. She went home with a Hillman Minx convertible, a Universal Pictures contract, a solid silver and gold replica of the Statue of Liberty, and a $2,500 diamond wristwatch. Not a bad haul for a teenager who had already mailed her tuition in to study animal husbandry in Colorado, according to a 2013 interview with her.
South Carolina’s Miriam Stevenson was the first Miss USA to become Miss Universe. She initially tied with Brazil’s Martha Rocha, but her “fitter hips” are to thank for pushing the vote in her favor as it came down to which woman had a better figure given that swimwear company, Catalina, was the creator of the pageant and the major sponsor. Appropriately, Stevenson was crowned in her swimsuit. (Of course, she was also wearing her heels.) Rocha did not walk away empty-handed though. Stevenson gave her the car from the prize package according to Ranker. She also got to retain the Miss USA title as the rule that they have to pass the national title to the runner-up wasn’t instituted until 1967, according to the Miss Universe Organization.
As of 2018, Carlene King Johnson is the only representative from Vermont to clinch the crown for the Green Mountain State. A legacy member of the Sigma Kappa Sorority, the 22-year-old had attended Middlebury College and the dental hygiene school at Tufts University.
Carol Morris was the second American to do double-duty as both Miss USA and Miss Universe. The raven-haired Iowan with blue eyes called “sparkling opals” by famed Vargas Girl photographer Alberto Vargas was a minister’s daughter, champion swimmer, and started entering pageants in high school, according to the Des Moines Register. She was a student at Drake University when she competed to become Miss Iowa and then Miss America 1955. There, she played “Stardust” on the violin for the talent portion. Miss USA does not have a talent portion. Check out these other differences between Miss USA and Miss America.
Charlotte Sheffield, a blonde from Utah with a Grace Kelly vibe, was never supposed to be Miss USA, but 1957 was a competition rocked by controversy, according to Refinery 29. Maryland’s dark-haired Leona “Queen for a Day” Gage was disqualified when it was discovered that she was not only 18 (as opposed to her claimed 21), but also twice married and the mother of two children, both of which were/are against the rules. It was already too late for her to compete at Miss Universe. Instead, Sheffield took a stab at Miss World, a rival show, which would not be allowed now, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
The Bossier City belle Eurlyne Howell was the first Miss USA winner from Louisiana. The then-18-year-old placed as third runner-up at Miss Universe 1958 and went on to enjoy a Hollywood career. Shortly before her 20thbirthday, she was cast as the secretary on an ABC show set in her home state (but filmed in Los Angeles) called Bourbon Street Beat. She also appeared on Maverick and Gomer Pyle.
California’s Terry Lynn Huntingdon was a majorette with perfectly plucked arched eyebrows (and eyelash implants as she later admitted to Shape magazine) who became the first Miss USA to be crowned in her home state. After achieving second runner-up at Miss Universe, she majored in dance at UCLA and eventually married (and divorced) U.S. Senator Joseph Tydings of Maryland, according to the Baltimore Sun. It probably wasn’t a coincidence that Barbie, introduced in 1959, started out in kitten heels and a swimsuit. See how the doll’s looks and life have changed throughout the decades.
Linda Bement, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from Utah, was also the final contestant standing at the first nationally televised Miss Universe in 1960, according to the Miss Universe Organization. The avid skier and pianist later trained future pageant hopefuls and had two children with Hall of Fame jockey Manuel Ycaza, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
Sharon Brown, an 18-year-old brunette from Louisiana, was the first Miss USA in history to also win the Miss Photogenic USA award. As part of her prize package, she received the pictured fur cape and scepter, old-fashioned rewards that are no longer given out. She was the first Miss USA to be crowned on national television, according to the Miss USA Organization.
With great-grandparents hailing from the Philippines, Macel Wilson was the first Asian American (and non-white woman) to take the pageant’s top title. The Lodi News-Sentinel described her as “deeply tanned and lithe with flashing dark brown eyes” and mentioned that she arrived in Miami for the competition in a sarong and danced the hula for photographers. She was also the first Miss USA from Hawaii, as the islands had only become a state in 1959 and had only just started sending an elegant emissary.
Marite Ozers, whose eyebrow shape, wide grin, long neck, and blond hair make her a dead ringer for young Jennifer Lawrence, was the first naturalized citizen to be crowned Miss USA. The then-19-year-old beauty was born in Latvia, according to the Miss Universe Organization.
Bobbie Johnson was the first representative to win from the District of Columbia and the then-19-year-old remained in a league of her own until 2002. She told Shape magazine she owed her flawless glow to “pancake makeup, a small amount of concealer, and lipstick as blush.” She’s evidence these queens can have brains as well as beauty as she worked as an applications engineer in the computer department at General Electric according to her biography page.
Columbus, Ohio’s Sue Downey was the first Buckeye to become Miss USA. She and her very ’60s young Patty Duke hair flip were the second runner-up at Miss Universe. However, she was the recipient of the Best National Costume award at the International competition.
Maria Remenyi ascended to the throne only ten years after she emigrated to the United States. She was born in Denmark and raised in Hungary, but her family fled to California to escape the Hungarian revolt. She was also a smartypants according to her Miss USA biography page. Prior to walking the runway, she was studying astrophysics at U.C. Berkeley and working on computer programming at the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory. She transferred to Columbia post-victory, having fallen in love with New York during her time at the top.
Cheryl Ann Patton was the first runner-up to benefit from the newly implemented rule that required those who win both Miss USA and then Miss Universe to relinquish the national title. So Florida’s Patton was promoted when Alabama’s Sylvia Hitchcock went all the way, according to the Seattle Post-Inteligencer.
Dorothy “Didi” Anstett was an English major at the University of Washington when she became the first and only Evergreen State ambassador to attain the Miss USA sash. She gained even more notoriety when she briefly married pro basketball legend Bill Russell, who was 14 years her senior, almost ten years later.
A delegate from Virginia, Wendy Dascomb was yet another 19-year old to nab the Miss USA crown. She let Shape magazine in on her secret to appearing confident while being “scrutinized in a swimsuit. On pageant night, I simply walked as if I were going out to feed the horses. I refused to allow the thought of thousands watching me enter my brain. I chose a series of people in the audience, looked into their eyes, and tried to make them feel comfortable.” She now stays fit by living on a farm, riding and working with horses. Her vocal disillusionment with the pageant landed her on the first issue of Ms. Magazine in 1972.
Virginia became the first state to have back-to-back winners when Deborah “Debbie” Shelton succeeded Dascomb. Four years later, she’d appear on the March cover of Playboy. She made frequent appearances on hit ’70s and ’80s TV shows like Fantasy Island, The A-Team, The Love Boat, Fall Guy, and Cheers. Director Brian De Palma cast her in his controversial film Body Double but had another actress dub her dialogue because he found her voice irritating. She made small comebacks in 2008 when Ryan Murphy picked her to play a housewife on Nip/Tuck and 2012 when her mistress character attended J.R. Ewing’s memorial on the Dallas reboot.
Michele McDonald, Pennsylvania’s only Miss USA, was also the first high school student to secure the title. But success came at a cost. According to an interview with a Pittsburgh CBS affiliate, she missed her senior prom to participate in the pageant in a gown sewn by her mother. She managed to get home in time for graduation. There were also rumors that officials encouraged her to lose ten pounds via a crash diet before the Miss Universe judging. Prior to the win, she’d never traveled outside of her home state or flown on an airplane, but the Miss USA gig took her to 30 states and international destinations including Brazil and the Bahamas. She underwent a double-lung transplant in 2018.
Tanya Wilson’s tiara tale proves that if, at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. She only placed in the Miss Nevada pageant in 1969, but after moving to Honolulu with her mom, she stole the state show in Hawaii a few years later and the national pageant in 1972. Unfortunately for her, it was the first pageant held outside the continental U.S. and picketing for Puerto Rico’s independence and explosions at the hotel where the event was being held spoiled some of the fun. No one was hurt but the coronation ball was canceled, according to the New York Times. She also had to delay her engagement until the end of her reign as required by the rules.
Amanda Jones was the first of two back-to-back delegates from Illinois to become Miss USA and was first runner-up at Miss Universe. Both coincidentally rocked white evening gowns during the formal wear segment of the show. Jones is noted by the Miss USA Organization as an outspoken supporter of the women’s lib movement who marched in peace rallies, opposed the Vietnam War, and declared herself pro-choice.
Two months after being crowned Miss USA in a custom-made white Alyce Designs chiffon gown by fellow Illinois titleholder Jones, Karen Morrison jetted to the Philippines but could not duplicate her success at Miss Universe in Manila. At least, she had $7,500 cash, a $7,500 appearance contract, $3,000 in scholarships, a new car, a color television, a stereo, and a fancy wardrobe to come home to.
Summer Bartholomew and her “Breck Girl” waves had previously been voted Miss Heineken in 1973. After winning Miss California USA and Miss USA, she placed second at Miss Universe. Bartholomew served as a judge for the pageant from 1977 to 1982 and worked on several game shows in the 1980s including as a letter turner on Wheel Of Fortune and a hostess on Sale Of The Century.
Barbara Peterson of Minnesota was yet another long-haired looker in a decade of Miss USAs who were far from follicularly challenged. (Seriously, not one ’70s titleholder had locks above shoulder length.) She told Shape that she credited ballet for her striking build and continued to plié, relevé, and run through the positions in hotel rooms and on airplanes during her victory tour.
Texas has birthed more Miss USAs than any other state—ten and counting according to the Miss Universe Organization—and 21-year-old Kimberly Tomes was the first. She loved skiing, playing guitar, singing, and the outdoors and is one of two winners who attended Texas A&M University.
Judi Andersen, a 20-year-old from Hawaii who was also the first runner-up for Miss Universe, owned and operated a chiropractic clinic according to the Miss USA Organization.
Also 20 at the time of her victory, Mary Therese Friel of New York wore the same pink chiffon dress in the state and national evening gown categories. After losing Miss Universe in Australia, she traveled for 362 days straight according to the website for the modeling agency she runs. She met many famous and inspirational folks along the way, but Muhammad Ali left the biggest impact on her personally when he said, “Service to others is the rent we pay for a room in the hereafter.” It motivated her to dedicate a large portion of her life to volunteering for groups such as the Special Olympics, March Of Dimes, and the American Lung Association.
Arizona’s Jineane Ford took over the position when original winner Shawn Weatherly of South Carolina was crowned Miss Universe. Ford, a mother of two boys, spent more than 20 years working in the TV news sector in Phoenix before becoming a spokesperson and media consultant according to her Facebook page. Weatherly later perfected slo-mo running with a role on Baywatch.
Just like many of the pageants in the “greed is good” decade, the 1981 contest was a battle of feathered side bangs, heavily applied frost eye shadow, magenta lips, and bared shoulders. Five finalists were ushered into the soundproof glass isolation booth and one by one, Bob Barker asked them what advice they’d give to their sister/best friend who was competing at next year’s big night. Although Ohio’s Kim Seelbrede gave the same “be yourself” response as Miss Hawaii, she was ultimately the last lady standing.
Terri Utley was something of an anomaly in terms of Miss USA competitions in the ’80s. In a sea of skin and long locks, she stood out with her brown, short Princess Diana-ish hairstyle and modest décolletage-covering necklines. She’s also still the only Miss USA to hail from Arkansas, according to The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture. After spending a few years in Hollywood as a broadcast host for what would evolve into E!, she settled down for family life in Florida and eventually founded the Enlightened Family Institute, started working as a spiritual coach and motivational speaker.
California Girl and UCLA cheerleader Julie Hayek made a splash with the highest swimsuit scores at both the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants. After her reign, she finished a biology degree and then worked as an actress (Matlock, Dallas, and Twin Peaks), model, stock trader, and real estate agent. She told Shape that the key to her success was “visualization” and that she’d picture performing her favorite cheer “routine in front of 60,000 fans” to “help dissolve fears.”
Growing up a military brat and being in school in both England and Taiwan (where her mother is from) likely prepared 21-year-old Mai Shanley, the first Miss USA from New Mexico, for the year of extensive travel required during the winner’s reign. And clearly, she likes the active-duty way of life as she married an Air Force pilot four months after her reign ended and spent many years stationed in Europe with him and her two daughters, according to the Albuquerque Journal.
Laura Martinez, better known today as Mulholland Drive star Laura Harring, made history at 21 in a modest yet very-’80s gown with embellished puff detailing on the sleeves. The Mexico-born bombshell was the first Latina to ever sport the Miss USA sash and crown. She also jumpstarted the still unrivaled five-year-long Texas winning streak. Her voluminous hair proves that everything is bigger in Texas.
The pageant went back to favoring blonds in 1986, choosing Dallas doll Christy Fichtner to fill the Miss USA heels. This was also the year the periods were taken out of the Miss U.S.A. name. Fichtner was also first runner-up at Miss Universe. The Los Angeles Times reported that she came forward in 1990, joining fellow Texan Gretchen Polhemus, to criticize the operation’s exploitation saying, “No one is pushed [as] hard” as Miss USA,” and to complain about the long hours and few days off she endured. At least her crown wasn’t cursed like the one worn by England’s Queen Mother.
Michelle Royer was the third of five consecutive winners from the Lone Star State. Her personal style mixed cowboy boots, big metal belt buckles, and fur coats, one of which came with her victory. Royer briefly joined her other half behind the microphone of a radio morning show when her husband took a job as the on-air personality at WSHH.
Courtney Gibbs was yet another star who shown bright from deep in the heart of Texas. Although there was no need for them in her show gowns or swimsuit, she, like most women in America at the time, was an obvious fan of the shoulder pad trend. Like many other Miss USAs, she tried to make a name for herself in La La Land. Appearing in small parts in Joe Versus The Volcano and The Naked Truth, she also recurred as assistant district attorney Galen Henderson on All My Children.
Texan Gretchen Polhemus, who works as an on-camera reporter and corporate speaker, is able to look back and laugh at her and many of her peers’ late ’80s “helmet hair” according to an interview with Shape. She also believes it is easier to win with a more natural, simple makeup look now. To maintain her weight while on the circuit, she’d sneak cans of tuna into fancy events to avoid eating too much from a buffet.
Carole Gist, at the time a 20-year-old student at the Northwood Institute who worked at the Holiday Inn, solidified her place in the history books as the first African-American Miss USA. Less important but interesting to note, the Detroit-native was the first victor from the Wolverine State, one of only two winners who have stood at 6 feet, and also put an end to Texas’ five-year-long winning streak, according to the Miss Universe Organization.
Kelli McCarty, the first and only representative from Kansas to win, was also the first Miss USA to star in a pornographic film, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Despite a seven-year run on the NBC soap opera Passions, McCarty, who by then was almost 40 and a brunette, portrayed a step-MILF who slept with her stepdaughter’s boyfriend in Faithless.
Shannon Marketic got her start in the Miss Universe world in 1989. She was the first runner-up at the 1989 Miss Teen USA pageant. The Malibu-based blonde Barbie won Miss Photogenic along with Miss USA. Marketic was the fifth woman to win the title from California, which has had more winners than all other states except Texas.
Michigan’s Kenya Moore, the second African-American to wear the crown who coincidentally was also from the Wolverine State, leveraged her Miss USA win into an acting and producing career that included credits like Deliver Us From Eva, The Steve Harvey Show, and Waiting To Exhale. She also wrote an advice book to teach men how to land the woman of their dreams in 2007 called Game, Get Some! and starred in her own exercise video.
Given that the South Carolina stunner was teaching English literature to ninth graders when she and her French manicure were named the champion, it makes sense that she went on to write a guidebook for aspiring beauty queens in 2000 called Catching The Crown. She was a TV news reporter and anchor for networks like E! and KTLA for many years after she participated in the first Miss USA pageant to allow bikinis during the swimwear round, according to the publicist for the Miss Universe Organization. She told Shape the best part about being involved in the pageant world was being “able to build self-confidence and learn to speak in a room with anywhere from two people to 2,000.”
Chelsi Smith gave Texas yet another title before she had to pass it along to Shanna Moakler when she wound up winning Miss Universe a few weeks later in Namibia. Moakler went on to have an acting career but was always far more known for her Playboy Playmate status, her honesty about getting plastic surgery after three C-sections, and her tumultuous love life with far more famous celebrities including Billy Idol, boxer Oscar de la Hoya, Dennis Quaid, and Blink-182’s Travis Barker (with whom she starred in a reality show called Meet The Barkers).
Ali Landry is another Cajun country cutie and one of the last Miss USA victors to receive a commemorative pin. (Despite not receiving that once traditional prize, the modern day winners still get lavished with free jewelry from sponsors like Mikimoto.) Two years after her win, she shot to fame as the Doritos Girl from a popular Super Bowl commercial and landed on People Magazine‘s 50 Most Beautiful list. A trained jazz, tap, and ballet dancer, she’s appeared in many TV shows and films including Felicity and was married to Mario Lopez for less than a month in 2004.
Brandi Sherwood, who took over as Miss USA when Brooke Lee became the oldest woman to be crowned Miss Universe at the ripe old age of 26 years and 128 days, is the only woman to have been Miss Teen USA and Miss USA. She’s also the only Idahoan to win the pageant as of 2018, according to the Miss Universe Organization.
Miss Massachusetts USA, Shawnae Jebbia, nabbed the title with the help of her 5-foot, 8-inch frame, light brown hair, and hazel eyes. She graduated cum laude from Jacksonville University and dabbled in modeling and acting. After suffering from hearing impairment caused by Méniere’s disease, she was inspired to return to school to get a master’s degree in nursing.
In a recent #ThrowbackThursday post on Instagram, New York’s Kimberly Pressler, now a mom, referred to herself as a “baby-faced 21-year-old small town girl” and credited her hometown’s help with getting her on that world stage as her transportation costs, outfits, and head shots were donated by local business people and photographers. After her reign ended, she and her voluminous hair and bubbly personality went into TV hosting. She has been covering the Professional Bowlers Association for Fox Sports since 2010.
Lynette Cole was the first Tennessee representative to score the top spot at the Miss USA and was the first woman to place in the top five of all three Miss Universe-related pageants, a record that was not broken until 2006. Her athletic build also helped her win a separate preliminary Speedo swimsuit competition. Cole has gone on to television hosting gigs with ESPN and MTV and appearances on As The World Turns. Continue your walk down the sequin memory lane and check out what these 17 vintage photos to see what the Miss Universe pageant used to look like.