It had taken me weeks to set up a meeting with Lee Meriwether, Miss America 1955  to interview her for my book, Pretty Smart: Lessons from our Miss Americas.  When we finally met in September of 2007, outside a small, storefront theatre, Theatre West, located on a gritty stretch of Cahuenga Boulevard, just off the 101 in the Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles, it was that morning hour on Saturday when people, fresh in the flush of their weekend, were having coffee and preparing the endless list of their Saturday chores. 

She is tall and slender, dressed in gray slacks, white blouse and a long indeterminate color raincoat. Her face reflected her life, with crow’s-feet and laugh lines, full of character and still strikingly lovely.

Lee Meriwether in partial theater make-up

Lee Meriwether in partial theater make-up

She was wearing a wig – short and grey. “I’m in make-up for my part.  I’m playing the Wicked Witch and the mirror in this production of Snow White,” she told me shortly after we said hello.

From that first hello, she was warm and gracious, her voice a little whispery. We walked up the street to a Mexican café for some spicy breakfast, but it was 9 am on a Saturday morning and they didn’t open until 10.  As we walked the block back to the theater and passed a Chinese grocery, part general store, part deli, part knickknack and kitsch, we stopped in for some coffee.  Peeking into the box of doughnuts, Lee said “Looks like too much sugar for me.”  I peeked into the other and said “Croissants on steroids.”

She punched the security code to get into the theater and we walked into the lobby which was painted a light brown with scuffed linoleum, a built in vinyl covered bench along one wall.  Settling there I pulled out my tape recorder and we began.

She told me stories about the people that she met and some of the characters she has played.  Occasionally she would assume the persona of a character and suddenly there was another person inhabiting her body.  It was thrilling to watch.

Lee is another intrepid soul.  Throughout her professional career she has played many roles, including Catwoman, Lily on The Munsters, Ruth Martin on All My Children and has swung from a trapeze in Circus of the Stars.  She has starred on Broadway and performed in many regional theaters.  She even has a sci-fi cult following from her role on Star Trek.

Lee is in her early 70’s but her energy is that of a much younger person. Her curiosity about the world was engaging and I knew that she would not stop acting and learning until the curtain came down when she takes her final bow.

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