Miss America 1984

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Miss America 1984
Date September 17, 1983
Presenters Gary Collins
Venue Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City, New Jersey
Broadcaster NBC

Vanessa Williams (resigned) Suzette Charles (succeeded)
New York New York (resigned)

New Jersey New Jersey (succeeded)

Miss America 1984, the 57th Miss America pageant, was held at the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey on September 17, 1983 on NBC Network. Debra Maffett (Miss California 1982) crowned her successor, Miss New York 1983, Vanessa L. Williams at the end of the nationally televised event.[1]

Among the contestants who did not place among the 10 finalists, Miss New Mexico 1983 Mai Shanley, eventually went on to win the Miss USA 1984 title.


It began in the summer of 1982. I had finished my exams the first week of May at Syracuse University and came home to find a summer job. I saw an advertisement in a local newspaper reading "models wanted," so I called up and talked to Tom Chiapel, who was the photographer and part-owner of TEC studios. He said to come down for an interview ... When I returned later to pick up the proofs, Tom Chiapel indicated that he needed a makeup artist. He offered me an audition, so I came in and did a face. He decided to have me work for him as a makeup artist-receptionist ... I had worked there for a month and a half when Tom Chiapel mentioned several times that he'd like to shoot me in the nude. I had never posed nude and I was curious. I was 19 years old. I agreed. He assured me that none of the photographs would ever leave the studio. He assured me ... I trusted him not to do anything with the photographs. That was my error. I did not give my consent to him or Penthouse to ever have them published, used in any magazine or in any way. Nothing. I signed an application giving my height, weight, color of hair and my talents ... I never told anyone about the pictures, not even my parents. I did not think it was a concern. We had made an agreement they would never be published. I feel as if I were just a sacrificial lamb. The past just came up and kicked me. I felt betrayed and violated, like I had been raped.

Vanessa L. Williams in 1984[2]

Vanessa L. Williams was crowned Miss America 1984 on September 17, 1983, becoming the first African American to win the title.[3] Williams later commented that she was one of five minority contestants that year, noting that ballet dancer Deneen Graham "had already had a cross burned on her front yard because she was the first black Miss North Carolina [1983]."[4] She also pointed out that "Suzette Charles was the first runner-up, and she was biracial. But when the press started, when I would go out on the - on the tour and do my appearances, and people would come up and say they never thought they'd see the day that it would happen; when people would want to shake my hand, and you'd see tears in their eyes, and they'd say, I never thought I'd see it in my lifetime - that's when, you know, it was definitely a very special honor."[4] Williams' reign as Miss America was not without its challenges and controversies, however. For the first time in pageant history, a reigning Miss America was the target of death threats and hate mail.[4][5] In addition, ten months into her reign as Miss America, Williams received an anonymous phone call stating that nude photos of her (taken before her pageant days) would be published in Penthouse. The publication of these photos ultimately led to her resignation as Miss America.

Williams believed the photographs were private and had been destroyed; she claims she never signed a release permitting the photos to be used.[6] The black-and-white photos dated back to 1982 (the year before she won the Miss America Pageant), when she worked as an assistant and makeup artist for Mount Kisco, New York photographer Tom Chiapel. According to Williams, Chiapel said that "he had a concept of having two models pose nude for silhouettes. Basically to make different shapes and forms. The light would be behind the models. I was reluctant, but since he assured me that I would be the only one to see them and I would not be identifiable in the photographs, I agreed. He had also gotten another model to agree to this."[2] Hugh Hefner, the publisher of Playboy, was initially offered the photos, but turned them down, stating: "The single victim in all of this was the young woman herself, whose right to make this decision was taken away from her. If she wanted to make this kind of statement, that would be her business, but the statement wasn’t made by her."[7][8] Penthouse published the photos without her permission in 1984, however, in what the PBS documentary Miss America described as "the most successful issue of Penthouse magazine ever printed, netting publisher Bob Guccione a windfall profit of $14 million."[5]

According to Essence magazine, Williams "was forced to resign from her title as she faced public shaming and bullying from the public at large."[9] Williams herself later described these events as "the betrayal, and the humiliation, that happened to me on a grand scale."[4] She also noted that her parents experienced "an incredible amount of shame and humiliation" and were equally the subject of harassment at the time.[10] After being given 72 hours to make a decision,[10] Williams formally announced her decision to resign in a press conference on July 23, 1984.[10][8][11] Later, on September 7, 1984, Williams filed a $500 million lawsuit against Chiapel and Guccione. She eventually dropped the suit a year later, explaining that she wanted to put the scandal behind her and move on.[12][13]

The title subsequently went to the first runner-up, Suzette Charles, who is also African American. Although she resigned from fulfilling the duties of a current Miss America, Williams was allowed to keep the bejeweled crown and scholarship money and is officially recognized by the Miss America Organization as "Miss America 1984";[14] Charles is recognized as "Miss America 1984 B".[15]

Williams returned to the Miss America stage on September 13, 2015 for the Miss America 2016 pagent, when she served as head judge and performed Oh How the Years Go By.[10][16] The pageant began with Miss America CEO Sam Haskell issuing an apology to Williams, telling her that although "none of us currently in the organization were involved then, on behalf of today's organization, I want to apologize to you and to your mother, Miss Helen Williams. I want to apologize for anything that was said or done that made you feel any less the Miss America you are and the Miss America you always will be."[17][18][19] Suzette Charles (Williams' replacement)[20] said in an interview with Inside Edition that she was perplexed over the apology and suggested that it was given for the purpose of ratings.[21] Williams also commented on the events surrounding her return, stating in an interview with Robin Roberts that "there's a lot of people who feel I should return, so the people who harbor the resentment I understand it but realize that all of those people that were part of the old guard are no longer there."[10]


Final results Contestant
Miss America 1984
2nd runner-up
3rd runner-up
4th runner-up
  • Ohio Ohio - Pamela Rigas
Top 10
Preliminary Swimsuit Award
Preliminary Talent Award


  1. ^ Singleton, Don (1983-09-18). "Vanessa Williams is crowned the first African-American Miss America in 1983". New York Daily News. Retrieved 2015-09-14. 
  2. ^ a b Eady, Brenda (1984-08-06). "Vanessa's Story". People Magazine. Retrieved 2015-09-14. 
  3. ^ "This Day in History – Sep 17, 1983: Vanessa Williams becomes first black Miss America". History.com. Retrieved November 28, 2010. 
  4. ^ a b c d Martin, Michael (2010-05-10). "Vanessa Williams On Scandals, TV And Her Mom". NPR (National Public Radio). Retrieved 2015-09-14. 
  5. ^ a b "People & Events: Breaking the Color Line at the Pageant". PBS. 
  6. ^ "Vanessa Williams Biography". biography.com. Retrieved 2015-09-15. 
  7. ^ Robinson, Joanna (2015-09-05). "Vanessa Williams Makes Peace with Old Nude Scandal, Returns to Judge Miss America Pageant". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 2015-09-14. 
  8. ^ a b Latson, Jennifer (2015-07-23). "The Scandal That Cost a Miss America Her Crown". Time Magazine. Retrieved 2015-09-16. 
  9. ^ Lewis, Taylor (2015-09-10). "Vanessa Williams Returns to Judge Miss America Pageant, 32 Years After Scandal". Essence. Retrieved 2015-09-18. 
  10. ^ a b c d e Roberts, Robin (2015-09-11). "Vanessa Williams on Returning to Miss America After Scandal". ABC News. Retrieved 2015-09-11. 
  11. ^ "Vanessa Williams Resigns". Getty Images. Retrieved 2015-09-16. 
  12. ^ Stark, John; Alexander, Michael (January 30, 1989). "Ex-Miss America Vanessa Williams Overcomes Her Disgrace by Showing and Singing the Right Stuff". People. Retrieved September 25, 2011. 
  13. ^ "THE REGION; Ex-Miss America Sues Over Photos". The New York Times. September 8, 1984. 
  14. ^ "Miss America 1984". Miss America Organization. Retrieved May 3, 2012. 
  15. ^ "Miss America 1984 B". Miss America Organization. Retrieved May 3, 2012. 
  16. ^ "Miss America 2016 - Vanessa Williams - Oh How the Years Go By (9-13-15)". Miss America 2016. 2015-09-13. Retrieved 2015-09-22. 
  17. ^ Fitz-Gerald, Sean (2015-09-14). "Vanessa Williams Finally Got Her Miss America Apology". New York Magazine. Retrieved 2015-09-17. 
  18. ^ Rogers, Katie (2015-09-14). "Vanessa Williams Returns to Miss America and Receives an Apology". New York Times. Retrieved 2015-09-14. 
  19. ^ Robinson, Joanna (2015-09-14). "Watch Vanessa Williams Finally Receive an Apology at the Miss America 2016 Pageant". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 2015-09-13. 
  20. ^ "Miss America 1984 B". Miss America Organization. Retrieved May 3, 2012. 
  21. ^ Inside Edition (2015-09-14). "Beauty Queen Who Won Vanessa Williams' Crown: Miss America Apology Was About Ratings". Inside Edition. Retrieved 2015-09-18. 
  22. ^ Marchetti, Nancy (September 19, 1983). "Miss Florida, Kim Boyce, Feels Good Following Top 10 Finish In Pageant". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. p. 1B. Retrieved July 19, 2014. 

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