Can Miss America survive — and hold its head and crown high?
The future of the nearly-100-year-old Miss America pageant is up in the air after its production company, Dick Clark Productions, cut ties following the publication of CEO Sam Haskell’s slut-shaming and derogatory emails blasting former contestants.
Miss America’s Board of Directors voted Friday to suspend Haskell, vowing to conduct an “in-depth investigation into alleged inappropriate communications and the nature in which they were obtained.”
Haskell is one of seven men on the Miss America Organization’s 16-member Board of Directors — and holds the highest ranking roll, raking in $ 500,000 per year. His suspension came hours after forty-nine Miss Americas spanning seven decades issued a statement calling for the immediate resignation of Haskell, as well as the other head board members, Tammy Haddad and Lynn Weidner.
Disturbing emails reveal Haskell joked about calling former Miss Americas “c–ts.” He has not yet been dismissed from his position.
The board is made up of business professionals and several former Miss America pageant winners.
The Board said Haskell agreed to abide by its decision.
“In addition, the Board wishes to reaffirm our commitment to the education and empowerment of young women, supporting them in every way possible,” it said in a statement Friday.
The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority also reacted to the emails, saying it would “undertake an immediatereviewof its contract with the Miss America Organization and Dick Clark Productions to assess what steps we may need to take.”
Sam Haskell speaks on stage during Miss America 2018 on Sept. 8, 2017 in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
(Donald Kravitz/Getty Images for Dick Clark Prod)
Experts believe there’s one way to keep the organization afloat.
“To survive, the organization must evolve — and do something big,” Atlanta-based brand strategist Laura Ries said. “They should start by firing everyone at the top. Why are we having men run the Miss America pageant?”
Kate Shindle — an actress and the president of Actors’ Equity — who Haskell joked in an email that he wished she was dead, said Miss America’s mission is to empower young women through scholarship and service. A purpose, she says, that is still necessary in 2017.
On Twitter, Shindle called for the immediate resignation of Haskell — but she’s not holding her breath.
“Frankly, I have learned over last two decades that there will people who will take down the whole ship rather than relinquish control,” she told the Daily News.
“We want to take back Miss America from board members and CEOs who are more interested in passing nasty comments around about women’s weight than empowering young women through scholarship and service.”
Gretchen Carlson could be the one to lead the Miss America organization, experts suggest.
(AARON P. BERNSTEIN/REUTERS)
Hilary Levey Friedman, a pageant expert and Professor of Sociology at Brown University, told the Daily News that there are two ways the pageant could return to prominence.
“If the current board members do not resign, and the people associated with the emails, they will likely lose more sponsors and contestants and volunteers within the program, and if that happens, I’m sure there will be a Miss America pageant, but I’m not sure it will be on network TV,” Friedman said, after it was announced Dick Clark Productions would no longer put the pageant on-air.
“The second way it could go is that this is a real watershed moment and new leadership comes in and perhaps, and many people would like to see this be female leadership, this could be a real opportunity for the organization to do something that they haven’t done more recently, to return to the more historical roots of Miss America which put women at the front educational opportunities.”
Friedman called Haskell’s email etiquette “highly problematic,” especially given the organization’s efforts to promote female empowerment.
“I could not imagine how they possibly feel comfortable with the leader referring to a group of women as “c—ts,” Friedman said. “It’s just hard to imagine that that’s acceptable even to the most conservative of supporters.”
Miss America — which was first held in 1921 — awards scholarships to contestants who place the highest in each competition, but other contestants can be awarded varying amounts based on other criteria such as GPA, community service and field of study.
Miss America, Kate Shindle and Miss America Mallory Hagan were both slammed by Sam Haskell’s in his inappropriate emails.
(Evan Agostini/Getty Images/REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine)
Nearly $ 6 million was awarded to various contestants in 2014 (the most recent data available) in the form of national cash scholarships and state and local cash scholarships and tuition waves, according to the foundation’s website.
Prominent past winners include Vanessa Williams, Mary Ann Mobley and Gretchen Carlson.
Former Miss America contestant Taylor Marsh was one of many women who took advantage of the pageant’s educational opportunities — including the scholarship that allowed her to attend college since her family had little money following her father’s death while she was still a young girl.
Marsh, an author and former Broadway performer, won the Miss Missouri pageant in 1974 and went on to compete in the Miss America competition in Atlantic City in 1975.
“A lot of girls come from poor beginnings, they don’t have a lot of choices, they are trying to get out,” Marsh said. “I was definitely trying to get out. That’s what it was used for before social media. For it to continue I gotta tell you, it’s really going to need to see a change.”
The writer of the upcoming novel “Olivia’s Turn” was grateful to the pageant life for providing her with opportunities, but her feminist nature was sure to note that there is no way an antiquated attitude should be continuing in the 21st century.
Taylor Marsh, then 18 years old, competed as Miss Missouri at the Miss America Pageant in 1975.
(Courtesy of Taylor Marsh)
“Well if it’s going to continue it needs a full plate of women. It is ridiculous in 21st century that men are in charge of pageant like this,” she shared. “We don’t have to ask why men started this, whatever your body was it mattered.”
Marsh recalled how protesters from the National Organization of Women set up outside her hotel during the competition and berated her about her choice to compete. She responded, “Do you want to pay my college tuition?”
“I don’t know why people blame the girls,” she said. “Some of these people come from broken homes.”
“I’d hate to see it completely taken down, you know taken apart, because in these small towns it helps these women with their personal poise and it helps them interact with people, but you can’t just bring something from 1930s, 50s and bring it into the 21st century and make it relevant unless you change it,” Marsh continued.
Friedman, who taught current Miss America Cara Mund in her “Beauty Pageants in American Society” course at Brown, also felt the idea of prancing around in a swimsuit should be put to an end.
“In order to win you have do have to appear on national TV in a bathing suit, that being said, there are a lot of other skills and opportunities that are created for young women by participating in this program,” Friedman said. “But you still have to wear a bathing suit while you do it.”
Taylor Marsh (fourth from left), then 18 years old, competed as Miss Missouri at the Miss America Pageant in 1975.
(Courtesy of Taylor Marsh)
Marsh questioned the competition’s swimsuit portion, wondering if there was something it could be replaced with. Maybe some sort of business task, she questioned.
Former Miss America winner Mallory Hagan, who was victim to Haskell’s harsh words like “huge” and “gross” over email, also spoke out about the new direction Miss America needs to take in order to continue.
“In no way would I ever want to see this program or organization ever go away,” she said. “I hope this will bring light to the type of behavior that’s been in leadership of the Miss America organization and really help us put in place some people who care and who embody the mission of Miss America.”
Ries suggested hiring Carlson — a clear success story from the pageant and an important force in the #MeToo movement.
“Hire Gretchen Carlson, she’s available for a job. Hire her,” she told The News. “Gretchen Carlson knows the good things about the pageant. She’s spoken highly of the pageant. Putting someone like her in charge to bring it back to its glory — and to relevance.”
With MEGAN CERULLO