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MISS AMERICA

Four Oklahomans have claimed the Miss America title. Oklahoma ranks with seven other states that have won the title four or more times. During the Roaring Twenties the five-foot-four, eighteen-year-old Norma Smallwood from Bristow won the Miss America crown. In September 1926, with her long brunette hair worn in buns over her ears, she won the bathing suit competition and the "Best Evening Gown Award," wearing a delft-blue, velvet gown designed by Paul Nemzer. Amid a King Neptune theme, she received a five-thousand-dollar gold cup, a vaudeville contract, a thousand-dollar watch, a thousand-dollar wardrobe, and a mermaid statue. In 1928 she married Thomas Gilcrease, Tulsa oilman and art collector. The marriage ended in divorce, and she married George Bruce, a Kansas oilman. She died in 1966.

By the 1960s talent had become an important element of the pageant. In 1966 Jane Anne Jayroe of Laverne caused an uproar. She had studied music since childhood and aspired to become a conductor. At the pageant she led the orchestra in a novelty tune, "One, Two, Three," while she sang and danced. Other state pageant officials considered it a gimmick; thereafter, conducting the orchestra was eliminated as a talent selection. Although pageant officials did not recommend the travel, during her reign Jayroe performed in Vietnam USO shows. From 1984 to 1992 Jayroe worked as a television news anchor. In 1996 the former vice president of the Presbyterian Health Foundation was elected as the first woman to serve on the Oklahoma Academy for State Goals, a statewide public-policy organization. At the beginning of the twenty-first century Jayroe served as cabinet secretary for tourism and recreation, as executive director of the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department, and as executive producer of the Discover Oklahoma television series. Married to Gerald Gamble, she had one son.

In September 1980 Susan Powell of Elk City claimed the 1981 Miss America title, receiving a twenty-thosand-dollar scholarship. The twenty-one-year-old, a vocal-music major at Oklahoma City University, performed an expressive rendition of "Lucy's Aria" from Gian Carlo Menotti's opera The Telephone. Since winning the title, Powell has pursued an opera career and sung with the Boston Pops and the New York City Opera. She has also performed at the Oklahoma City Lyric Theater. In September 2001 Powell sang with the New Japan Philharmonic at a pops concert in Tokyo. At the end of the twentieth century she was host of the Discovery Channel series Home Matters, featuring cooking, gardening, and decorating segments. She lived in New York.

By the mid-1990s emphasis shifted from talent to the interview, with questions based on personal goals and social issues. In 1995 twenty-four-year-old Shawntel Smith of Muldrow won the title and a forty-thousand-dollar scholarship. Smith chose the "School to Work Education" program as her pageant platform. The U.S. Departments of Education and Labor appointed her as the National School to Work Ambassador to America's Youth. At the end of the twentieth century Smith cohosted with Jim Buratti on the Discover Oklahoma series.

SEE ALSO: RECREATION AND ENTERTAINMENT, WOMEN, WOMEN AND WORK.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Ann-Marie Bivans, Miss America: In Pursuit of the Crown: The Complete Guide to the Miss America Pageant (New York: MasterMedia, 1991). Connie Cronley, "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" Oklahoma Monthly 7 (May 1981). Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), 12 September 1966, 8 September 1980, 17 September 1995, and 28 October 2001. "Miss Oklahoma" and "Miss Oklahoma City," Vertical Files, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Angela Saulino Osborne, Miss America: The Dream Lives On: A 75-Year Celebration (Dallas: Taylor Publishing Co., 1995). Tulsa (Oklahoma) Tribune, 10 September 1926.

Linda D. Wilson

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