Saturday, Jan. 24, 2009

Penthouse and the Pageant

When Vanessa Williams became the first African American to capture the Miss America crown, in 1983, fans hailed her triumph as a blow to the pageant's racial barriers. But within months, her reign was marred by scandal. On July 23, 1984, nude photographs of Williams — snapped the previous year during her stint as a photographer's assistant — surfaced in the pages of Penthouse. Amid mounting pressure from pageant officials and sponsors, Williams resigned her crown. Though the tawdry episode became a pop-culture punch line — The Simpsons alluded to it twice — Williams rebounded smoothly, recording a slew of hits during a successful singing career and racking up acting credits punctuated by her current star turn on the sitcom Ugly Betty.