Kudos to Donald Trump for finding ways to make the Miss USA pageant seem almost relevant again. This year the show (airing tonight on NBC) got a buzz infusion thanks to the selection of Heather Mills as a judge, and (perhaps a little less so) because Donny and Marie Osmond will host. Last year, of course, there was the Tara Conner scandal, which sparked a feud between Trump and Rosie O'Donnell, which helped turn the situation into a national news story.
Throughout the 56-year history of the Miss USA pageant, winners and losers have made it into our newspapers and nightly newscasts, but not being pageant scholars we couldn't remember what those were. So we called Gerdeen Dyer -- Atlanta newspaper reporter, longtime pageant follower and founder of Pageant.com -- to tell us seven Miss USA scandals.
Mr. Dyer is a consummate southern gentleman (or so we gleaned from his delightfully polite e-mail and phone message), and didn't want to dwell on the scandalous stuff. Fair enough, but there's still enough dirt in this list to keep it interesting and prepare you for what Trump might have planned for us this year.
1. "In 1952, Jackie Loughery was crowned the first Miss USA. She set the long tradition of Miss USAs being romantically linked to celebrities. She was later married to singer Guy Mitchell and to actor Jack Webb, two very big stars in the 1950s."
2. "Leona Gage of Maryland was crowned Miss USA 1957, claiming to be 21 and single. The next day it was discovered that she was 18, on her second marriage and the mother of two children. The crown was taken away. She got some public sympathy, but her attempt at a major show business career proved rocky."
3. "From 1985 to 1989, five consecutive Miss USAs -- Laura Elena Martinez-Herring, Christy Fichtner, Michelle Royer, Courtney Gibbs and Gretchen Polhemus -- were from Texas. Nobody claimed the pageant was rigged, but after the third year, the streak came to dominate news coverage of the event. Officials were glad to change the subject in 1990, when Carole Gist became the first black woman to be crowned Miss USA ... and was from Michigan."
4. "Shannon Marketic, Miss USA 1992, sued royals in the oil-rich nation of Brunei in 1997, saying she had been lured there the year before in a scheme to force her into prostitution. For jurisdictional reasons, the case never got to court, and there were different opinions about how much of her story was true. But the suit brought public attention to the fact that Brunei was an international magnet for models and beauty queens looking to make a lot of money fast. (It has cleaned up its act since.)"
5. "In 2001, Halle Berry became the first former finalist at Miss USA to win the Oscar as best actress. She had been first runner-up to Christy Fichtner in the 1986 pageant."
6. "In December 2001, Shanna Moakler became the first former Miss USA to become Playboy's Playmate of the Month. Although she had been known back in 1995 as one of the shyest Miss USAs ever, she shed her shyness in Hollywood."
7. "December 2006 (just weeks before the 2007 pageant) was the all-time scandal month for Miss USA. Tara Conner, the reigning queen, admitted excessive partying, including drug use, underage drinking and staying out late with famous guys. She was rumored to have kissed Miss Teen USA on the lips. She apologized and kept her job. On the heels of that, Miss Nevada USA, Katie Rees, lost her title over photos that showed her engaged in "Girls Gone Wild"-style behavior."
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