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My journey to write Pretty Smart: Lessons from our Miss Americas has been full of the unexpected, the glorious and the mundane.  I explored a world I knew nothing about, met people I never would have met and challenged myself daily to be bold, all the while struggling against the inertia that fear of rejection creates.  The hardest part was picking up the phone, which for that brief moment became a malevolent alien endowed with the potential for pain, as I pounded the number for a former Miss America into the handset, hoping that she would say yes to an interview.

Who would have thought that this nice girl who grew up in Queens, NY (me) and only peeked at beauty queens on September Saturday nights in the Pageant’s earliest television days, when these women seemed like exotic creatures from another universe, would spend a year traversing the country, talking to Miss Americas, peering at what’s behind the myths, the perfect make-up, the talent, trumped up and genuine?

So after I met them, on my flight home, or waiting in terminals eating stale sandwiches, I would chronicle my first impressions of each of the twenty-two fabulous former Miss Americas that I met over the course of a year: Jean Bartel 1943, Lee Meriwether, 1955, Marilyn Van Derbur, 1958, Mary Ann Mobley, 1959, Lynda Mead, 1960, Donna Axum, 1964, Vonda  Van Dyke, 1965, Phyllis George, 1971, Rebecca King, 1974, Tawny Godin, 1976, Kylene Barker, 1979, Susan Powell, 1981, Gretchen Carlson, 1989, Heather Whitestone, 1995, Shawntel Smith, 1996, Tara Holland, 1997, Nicole Johnson, 1999, Heather French, 2000, Angela Baraquio, 2001, Ericka Dunlap, 2004, Deidre Downs, 2005, Jennifer Berry, 2006.

Only the first few surprised me with their warmth, wisdom and generous spirits.  After that, I realized that those were qualities that each one of the Miss Americas I interviewed, exhibited.  Watch for my first impressions of each one of these beautiful-from-the-inside out women in subsequent posts.

Here are yet more photos of me with some of the Miss Americas I interviewed for my book, Pretty Smart: Lessons from our Miss Americas.  These women, as beautiful as they are on the outside are even more so on the inside. 
When I met them, I found them uniformly warm and gracious and generous with their time.  In person they shatter the “it’s only a beauty contest” perception with their intelligence, thoughtfulness, poise and eloquence.  As Frand Deford, the award-winning Sports Illustrated writer and four-time Miss America judge, says in his book, There She Is: The Life and Times of Miss America, “No matter how many times it happens, the press finds itself surprised every time a beauty pageant winner is something other than a classic dumb blond.”
When I interviewed Lee Meriwether, Miss America 1955, for Pretty Smart, we sat in the lobby of a theater in Los Angeles where she was rehearsing for a children’s play. 
Me & Lee Meriwether, Miss America 1955

Me & Lee Meriwether, Miss America 1955

Heather French, Miss America 2000
Here’s me with Heather French, Miss America 2000 (photo on right). Heather was the first to say yes to my request for an interview.  I flew down to Louisville, KY to chow down and chat with her.
  

I met with Donna Axum, Miss America 1964 (photo below) at her home in Santa Fe where we sat on a patio overlooking the mountains and talked for hours about people who limited their dreams because of “small box” thinking.

Donna Axum, Miss America 1964

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