Past Times

June 26, 2014

N.C. pageants winners took center stage

A former Radio City Rockette from North Carolina, who admits that she is a ham, began her reign Sunday as Miss America of 1962.

After winning the 2014 Miss North Carolina title last weekend, Goldsboro native Beth Stovall will try to become the second-ever Miss North Carolina to win the Miss America pageant. The only time that has happened was 1961 when Maria Beale Fletcher of Asheville took the 1962 Miss America title. Writer Dorman Cordell introduced readers to their “queen.”

A former Radio City Rockette from North Carolina, who admits that she is a ham, began her reign Sunday as Miss America of 1962.

Maria Beale Fletcher, 19, of Asheville, was radiant as she appeared … a few hours after she had won the crown which sent her on the road to a year of glamour and financial reward.

“I didn’t know whether I was dreaming or not when I woke up this morning,” she said. “I got a paper downstairs to convince myself that it wasn’t a dream.…”

Miss Fletcher said she had received a number of wires from members of the Radio City Rockettes. The 1960 high school graduate was a member of the Rockettes from last December until she quit in May to go home and compete in the Miss North Carolina Pageant.

The Rockettes are a 36-member precision dance line which is a featured attraction at the Radio City Music Hall.

She said many telegrams also had arrived from North Carolinians, including one from Gov. Terry Sanford.

Miss America said her reaction at winning the nation’s oldest crown of beauty was “Just very happy and very honored and very thrilled.” The N&O 9/11/1961

In 1987, N&O writer Kema Soderberg profiled Maria Fletcher along with other former Miss North Carolina winners.

As a teenager, Ms. Fletcher had wanted to be a Rockette at Radio City Music Hall. She entered the Miss Asheville pageant in an attempt to win $250 for dancing lessons. Though the money helped her win a job on the chorus line, she was disappointed to learn that the title obligated her to return to North Carolina for the state pageant.

Then, when she became the state’s only Miss America, pageant officials threatened to take back her crown if she associated with her fellow Rockettes.

“The message was a contradictory one,” Ms. Fletcher said. “I was a freak Miss America. They didn’t know what to do with me in Atlantic City. ‘Ex-chorus girl becomes Miss America; she’s got no college education.’” The N&O 6/21/1987

She did eventually get to college, thanks to the Miss America scholarship money. She graduated from Vanderbilt University, where she met her future husband in her freshman English class. She became a radio personality in Nashville and later vice president of a record company there. In 2011 at age 69, she was guest of honor at the state pageant on the 50th anniversary of her title.

Just a few years before Fletcher, Durham’s Elaine Herndon had seemed a likely candidate for the national title. According to O’Neil Hendrick of United Press, 1957’s Miss North Carolina was a “triple-threat queen.”

Not since “All the way Choo-choo” have Tar Heels rallied behind a native with such enthusiasm as that being generated for the new Miss North Carolina.

And 18-year-old Elaine Herndon is just as much a triple-threat with her beauty, talent and personality as former All-American Charlie (Choo-Choo) Justice was with his running, passing and punting for the University of North Carolina.

The men who know say the Durham beauty, “Lanie” to her friends, has an excellent chance to go “all the way” in the Miss America beauty pageant.…

She possesses all of the necessary requirements: beauty, talent, poise and personality. Her only apparent weakness is a lack of confidence.

The brown-eyed brunette “didn’t think I had a chance” when she entered the Miss Durham contest “for the fun of it.”

“I had terrific competition and no one was more surprised than I when the judges picked me,” she exclaims in awed retrospect.

She viewed her chances with similar, if not less, pessimism when she scanned the 47 other contestants in the Miss North Carolina beauty pageant at Burlington.

“They were all such lovely girls,” she said, and then repeated a familiar phrase: “I didn’t think I had a chance.”

There weren’t many, except the most partisan spectators, who thought likewise after seeing the girls in the preliminaries.…

Most observers agree that North Carolina will be well represented at the Miss America beauty pageant. What are Lanie’s thoughts on the contest?

“I don’t think I have a chance,” she says. The N&O 7/21/1957

Miss Herndon, of course, did not go on to win the Miss America contest, but she did take the Miss Dixie 1958 crown in Daytona Beach, Fla. Miss Dixie, “Queen of the South,” was a regional pageant made up of pageant winners from southern states.

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History fascinates us. We love to linger over old photographs or accounts of years long gone. Discovering our own personal histories can become an enjoyable pastime. This blog will provide some looks into that past. We'll look at NC history in general, and Triangle history in particular. We'll also try to give you the tips and tools (and connections) for looking at your own history.

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