December 12, 2011

Yolande Betbeze, Miss America 1950-51

Before "Survivor," "The Apprentice" and "Fear Factor," only two elimination contests mattered to America. One gave us a president, and the other gave us Miss America. I thought it would be fun to do some research into some of the women who have made up that contest and see where they are now. I'm going to make it a weekly post, so be on the lookout and I hope you like it, please comment. 

In 1950, the Miss America Pageant crowned 21-year-old Mobile native Yolande Betbeze (1929- ) as "Miss America 1951." She would inadvertently go on to reshape the pageant's format by refusing to wear a swimsuit during her reign. Lauded as a feminist hero, Betbeze forever changed the Miss America pageant and was later an active participant in the civil rights and anti-nuclear movements. 

Yolande Betbeze was born in 1929 to William, a butcher, and Ethel Betbeze of Mobile. Betbeze was raised in a strict Catholic family with Basque origins and was educated in a convent school. A talented opera singer, she captured her first crown in 1949 when she won Mobile's Miss Torch pageant. The following year, she entered the Miss Alabama pageant for scholarship opportunities. In 1951, Betbeze traveled to Atlantic City, New Jersey, to compete in the Miss America pageant.
 Shortly after winning the pageant, while meeting with representatives of sponsor Catalina Swimwear, Betbeze learned that she was expected to wear Catalina suits during her appearances around the country. Yolande declared, "I'm an opera singer, not a pin-up!" and refused posing in a bathing suit again. Because of Yolande's steadfast stance, Catalina, the swimsuit Pageant sponsor, pulled out of the Miss America Pageant and started the Miss USA Pageant. Her actions gained foreign press attention, enhancing American interest, and did much for the future of Miss America. Today, Yolande feels her actions have been pivotal in directing pageant progress towards recognizing intellect, values and leadership abilities, rather than focusing on beauty alone. Always courageous and sometimes controversial, Yolande has always been ahead of her time, tackling tough issues and making a stand before the issues at hand were fashionable.
 After her one-year reign as Miss America, Betbeze served as an ambassador to Paris, was active in the NAACP, CORE (Congress of Racial Equality), and SANE (The Committee for a SANE Nuclear Policy), and studied philosophy at the New School for Social Research in New York City. She continued to sing, appearing with the Mobile Opera Guild (now the Mobile Opera), and helped found an off-Broadway theater.
 Yolande was married to movie tycoon, Matthew Fox, and resided in California until the time of his death.
  She has one daughter and one grandchild. Yolande continues to travel the globe, devoting a great deal of energy to philanthropic causes. She celebrated her 50th Miss America Anniversary at the 80th Anniversary Celebration in October 2000. She currently lives in Washington, D.C., where she is prominent among the city's political elite.


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