You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category.

I was a few minutes late, rather than the half hour early I had hoped to be, to  meet Marilyn Van Derbur, Miss America 1958, for an interview for my triple award winning book, Pretty Smart: Lessons from our Miss America, Somehow the ticket agent at the Denver Airport had checked my bag through to LaGuardia.  

As I walked into the lobby of the Loew’s Hotel, a tall gleaming glass tower, 15 miles south of downtown Denver, I saw Marilyn, sitting erect, poised on the edge of a sofa just inside the revolving doors.
Her silver white hair was cut short and swept up off her face.  She was tall and slimmer than I had expected, her body, dressed in dark slacks and a light blue oxford well-starched button down shirt, was trim. I followed her into the hotel dining room.

Marilyn Van Derbur

Me and Marilyn Van Derbur, Miss America 1958

As we sat and talked, her light blue eyes were focused on me. All she ordered for lunch was a large bowl of blueberries that she dressed in a shower of Splenda.  I guessed that’s how she maintains her slim figure in addition to regular hikes in the mountains. 

As in other recent interviews with Phyllis George, Miss America 1971 and Rebecca King, Miss America 1974, I didn’t try to steer the conversation too much with direct questions.  Marilyn wanted to talk about her experiences as a child of incest and the people she had helped.  I was mesmerized by her intensity and passion.  I could see how she was a sought after motivational speaker, and how people felt comfortable turning to her in their pain. 

Her story is quite extraordinary, having been sexually abused for years as a child by her father.  Her family had been picture perfect to others, but behind closed doors, it was a torture chamber for Marilyn.  It took her decades to come to terms with what had happened to her.  By day she was the perfect child, by night a terrified creature in the dark.  To this day she has trouble sleeping and sleeps in a locked bedroom.  She is fortunate that her husband of many years, Larry, has supported her through all of her trauma.
Once she was willing to go public (that’s a whole other story) about her experiences, she found, rather than shame, support and gratitude from others who had similar experiences.
I knew from reading her book, Miss America by Day, that for a long time she didn’t like people to touch her, so I didn’t know whether she would want a hug at the end.  But she turned to me when we walked out and hugged me.  She had moved past her trauma and into embracing life.

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.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 5 other followers

Visit My Website

Share This Article

Bookmark and Share

Buy my award winning book!

Pretty Smart: Lessons from our Miss Americas ""

Blog Stats

  • 38,129 hits