|First Lady of Kentucky|
December 11, 1979 – December 13, 1983
|Governor||John Y. Brown Jr.|
|Preceded by||Charlann Harting Carroll|
|Succeeded by||Bill Collins|
Phyllis Ann George
June 25, 1949
Denton, Texas, U.S.
|Died||May 14, 2020 (aged 70)|
Lexington, Kentucky, U.S.
|Resting place||Lexington Cemetery|
(m. 1977; div. 1978)
(m. 1979; div. 1998)
|Children||2, including Pamela|
|Alma mater||University of North Texas|
Texas Christian University
|Known for||Miss America 1971|
Miss Texas 1970
Phyllis Ann George (June 25, 1949 – May 14, 2020) was an American businesswoman, actress, and sportscaster. In 1975, George was hired as a reporter and co-host of the CBS Sports pre-show The NFL Today, becoming one of the first women to hold an on-air position in national televised sports broadcasting. She also served as the First Lady of Kentucky from 1979 to 1983.
George was born to Diantha Louise George (née Cogdell) (1919-2003) and James Robert George (1918-1996) in Denton, Texas. She attended North Texas State University (now University of North Texas) for three years until she was crowned Miss Texas in 1970. At that time, Texas Christian University awarded scholarships to Miss Texas honorees. As a result, George left North Texas and enrolled at TCU until winning the Miss America crown later that fall. She was a member of the Zeta Tau Alpha sorority.
George first competed for Miss Texas as Miss Denton in 1969 finishing fourth. The next year she competed as Miss Dallas and was named Miss Texas 1970, then was crowned Miss America 1971 on September 12, 1970. The Women's Liberation Front demonstrated at the event.
In August 1971, George traveled to Vietnam with Miss Iowa Cheryl Browne; Miss Nevada 1970 Vicky Jo Todd; Miss New Jersey 1970 Hela Yungst; Miss Arizona 1970 Karen Shields; Miss Arkansas 1970 Donna Connelly; and George's replacement after she was crowned Miss America Miss Texas 1970 Belinda Myrick. They participated in a 22-day United Service Organizations tour for American troops there.
CBS Sports producers approached George to become a sportscaster in 1974. The following year, she joined the cast of The NFL Today, co-hosting live pregame shows before National Football League games. She was one of the first women to have a nationally prominent role in television sports coverage. As a former beauty queen with a limited television background, she was criticized for not possessing the traditional qualifications for a sportscaster. After three seasons on The NFL Today, she was replaced by another beauty queen, Jayne Kennedy. George returned to the show in 1980 and remained until 1984. She became known for her interviews with athletes. Hannah Storm, an anchor at ESPN's SportsCenter, called George "a true trailblazer" for being an inspirational role model for women who wanted to pursue careers in sportscasting.
Another duty George had with CBS Sports was working on horse racing events, including the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. Additionally, George had a brief stint on a television news version of People magazine in 1978 and a job as a morning television talk show host as co-anchor of the CBS Morning News in 1985. She also hosted her own prime-time talk show, 1994's A Phyllis George Special, on which she interviewed then-President Bill Clinton, and a 1998 talk show titled Women's Day on the cable network PAX. George also appeared as a guest on The Muppet Show in 1979.
CBS Morning News
In 1985, CBS settled on Phyllis George to serve as a permanent anchor for its morning news program. George was given a three-year contract following a two-week trial run. As co-anchor, she interviewed newsmakers including then–First Lady Nancy Reagan.
A low point of her eight-month stint on The CBS Morning News happened when George embarrassed herself during a May 1985 interview with Gary Dotson and Cathleen Webb. Dotson just had been freed after six years in prison on a rape charge by Webb. Webb ended up recanting her story so Dotson was set free. Both appeared on the CBS program as part of (as George later told Tom Shales of The Washington Post) a Webb-Dotson press tour "charade." Both were on or had appeared on NBC News and ABC News as well as other media outlets. As the segment began to wrap, George first suggested the two shake hands. After a brief hesitation from them and no hand shake, George then proposed they "hug it out." A brief moment of awkwardness followed but no hug. The invitation to embrace was deemed highly inappropriate prompting a few phone calls from irate CBS viewers. George also was criticized in the press.
According to news reports at the time, George had been brought in to boost the ratings of the perennial third place ranked program. CBS News staffers were mystified as to why someone with little to no journalism experience was picked over a more qualified candidate from the CBS News roster of reporters and anchors. George had been a talent for the sports division, but had not worked in news. However, this experiment failed to work out, and George was ousted just a few months later. Maria Shriver, then a CBS News employee, took her place as part of another revamp of the program.
George founded two companies in the course of her business career, the first of which was "Chicken by George" chicken fillets. In 1988 after operating for only two years, George sold the company to Hormel Foods, which agreed to operate it as a separate division. In 1991, George received the "Celebrity Women Business Owner of the Year" from the National Association of Women Business Owners.
She also wrote or co-authored five books—three about crafts, one on dieting (her first book, The I Love America Diet, published in 1982), and the final one published during her lifetime, Never Say Never (2002).
George was married twice. Her first marriage was to Hollywood producer Robert Evans, and her second to Kentucky Fried Chicken owner and Governor of Kentucky John Y. Brown Jr. George served as Kentucky's First Lady during Brown's term in office. During her marriage to Brown, she had two children, Lincoln Tyler George Brown and Pamela Ashley Brown. Both of George's marriages ended in divorce.
- "Texas Birth Index, 1903-1997". Ancestry.com. Retrieved November 28, 2010.
- "The Thrills and Trials of Being Miss America". Spartanburg Herald-Journal. August 8, 1971. Retrieved February 20, 2010.
- "There she is: From 1921 to 2017, see the Miss America pageant through the years". Deseret News. September 15, 2013. Retrieved January 29, 2018.
- Musel, Robert (August 26, 1970). "Television in Review". The Bryan Times. United Press International. p. 16. Retrieved January 29, 2018.
- "People in News". Kentucky New Era. Associated Press. August 11, 1971. p. 23.
- Cauley, Paul (June 30, 2006). "Photographs by Paul Cauley, 1971 Door Gunner, A Co 101st Avn (Text by Belinda Myrick-Barnett)". Paul Cauley. Retrieved January 29, 2018.
- Davis, Shirley (October 19, 2000). "History follows former Miss Iowa First black pageant winner recalls her crowning moment". Quad-City Times. Retrieved January 29, 2018.
- "Phyllis George, former Miss America and sports broadcast pioneer, dies at 70". TODAY.com. Retrieved May 17, 2020.
- Perlmutter, Marty (December 5, 1975). "Phyllis George Finds Her Career". The Palm Beach Post. Retrieved February 20, 2010.
- Dallas Morning News (December 26, 1987). "Gardner Set For High-Visibility Role". The Toledo Blade. Retrieved February 20, 2010.
- Sandomir, Richard (May 16, 2020). "Phyllis George, Trailblazing Sportscaster, Is Dead at 70". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 17, 2020.
- "Miss America takes back seat to horses". Beaver County Times. United Press International. June 7, 1975. Retrieved February 20, 2010.
- Thomas, Bob (September 16, 1978). "Phyllis George wanted more than being female jock". The Register-Guard. Eugene. Associated Press. Retrieved February 20, 2010.
- "Phyllis George Quits". The Register-Guard. Associated Press. August 31, 1985. Retrieved February 20, 2010.
- "Phyllis George enjoys first day as co-anchor". Milwaukee Sentinel. January 15, 1985. p. 3.
- Serrill, Michael S.; Lopez, Laura; Winbush, Don (May 27, 1985). "Law: Cathy and Gary in Medialand". Time. Archived from the original on May 3, 2009.
- Shales, Tom (May 16, 1985). "Invitation to a Hug Phyllis George's Gaffe With Dotson & [Webb]". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 17, 2020.
- Bedell Smith, Sally (August 31, 1985). "Phyllis George Quits CBS Morning News". The New York Times. Retrieved May 16, 2020.
- "COMPANY NEWS; Chicken by George". The New York Times. Associated Press. August 19, 1988. Retrieved November 1, 2019.
- Trott, William C. (August 13, 1987). "CHICKEN BY GEORGE: There she is, Phyllis George, chicken..." United Press International. Boca Raton, Florida. Retrieved November 1, 2019.
- "George sells chicken". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. August 20, 1988. p. 2AS.
- Associated Press (July 23, 1991). "From a queen to a company boss". St. Petersburg Times. p. E1.
- "Chatting with Phyllis George". Fort Worth Star-Telegram. December 5, 2004. p. 3G.
- Smith, Liz (January 31, 2007). "Ex-Miss America Eyes Politics". New York Post.
- "There she was and she was so nice". Fort Worth Star-Telegram. October 11, 2002. p. 6 Life & Arts.
- "Appalachian Artisan Center's first Spring Celebration". The Hazard Herald. May 23, 2007.
- "Phyllis Meets The Parent". New York Daily News. November 20, 2000.
- "Phyllis George Seeks Divorce". The Dispatch. Lexington. Associated Press. April 3, 1978. Retrieved January 29, 2018.
- "Phyllis George seeks divorce from Brown". Ocala Star-Banner. December 9, 1997. Retrieved February 20, 2010.
- "The Reliable Source". The Washington Post. March 29, 2007.
- Polycythemia vera definition, mayoclinic.org; accessed July 30, 2021.
- Yetter, Deborah (May 16, 2020). "Phyllis George, former Kentucky first lady and Miss America, dies at 70". The Courier-Journal. Retrieved May 16, 2020.
- Profile of Phyllis George on the Miss America website (accessed March 7, 2008)
- One to One with Bill Goodman: Phyllis George - interview with Phyllis George on Kentucky Educational Television network, June 8, 2008