- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 31, 2002

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) For 81 years, the Miss America Pageant has managed to right its crown and keep smiling through sex scandals, bra-burning protests, judging improprieties and its own struggle to remain relevant.
These days, however, no one is smiling at 2 Miss America Way.
Worsening financial problems, the messy departures of CEOs, a wave of criticism by state pageant officials and backroom politicking by the Miss America Organization's board of directors have put the pageant in tumult.
"It still has intrinsic value, but I think it needs leadership very badly," said former CEO Leonard Horn, who retired in 1998. "Unless and until they do the right thing to try to find the right leadership, I think the future of the Miss America program is in doubt."
Strictly speaking, Miss America is not a beauty pageant. Under its bylaws, the Miss America Organization is a tax-exempt charitable organization that provides scholarships to young women.
Historically, it has managed to subsist on the $6 million it has been paid annually by its TV network sponsor. But burgeoning production costs, huge increases in payroll and the economy have taken a toll.
Wall Street, in particular, has hurt the pageant: Investment income, which had averaged $1.3 million annually in the late 1990s, dropped to $176,000 in 2000. Last year, Miss America's portfolio lost $919,000, according to a recent report by outside auditor Matthew J. Reynolds, a CPA.
According to its tax returns, the Miss America Organization has lost money on an operating basis each of the past five years.
As of its 2000 tax filing, the Miss America Organization still had $10 million in the bank. But the auditor suggested cutting the amount spent on scholarships the purpose of the program from the $1.1 million directly spent last year. He did not suggest an amount.
More fiscal headaches could be on the way.
ABC, which paid $300,000 less for the TV rights in 2001 than it did in 2000, could pay even less this year, although ABC spokeswoman Cathy Riehl declined to comment on the reason for the decrease.
And the organization may face a major tab from its lawyers when the case of fired CEO Robert L. Beck goes to trial.
Mr. Beck, who was hired in 1999 to replace Mr. Horn, proposed that the pageant drop its long-standing ban on contestants who had had abortions or had been married. Loyalists were outraged, saying the changes would undermine the feminine ideal Miss America stands for.
Mr. Beck was fired two weeks after the plan was made public. In addition to severance pay, his suit seeks to force the pageant to drop the ban. It goes to trial April 8.
His successor has struggled, too.
Robert M. Renneisen Jr., a former casino executive, developed an agreement for a Miss America slot machine. That was criticized by Miss America 2002 Katie Harman and others who cringed at the idea of a machine that plays "There She Is."
Mr. Renneisen's plan to move the pageant to the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn., was defeated by the pageant's board of directors.
Five state pageant directors came to Atlantic City to complain to the board about Mr. Renneisen and his staff, and presented a 1-inch-thick file of correspondence backing up their gripes. It included a letter sent by Miss Harman's parents criticizing the way they and their daughter had been treated. The complaints ranged from Miss America being billed for $2,248 in catering expenses for a post-crowning party in her honor to unreturned telephone calls to pageant headquarters.
Three weeks after the five state officials aired their complaints, Mr. Renneisen resigned on March 1.
Whatever her current problems, Miss America is a survivor, supporters say. She's lasted this long, and the network of state and local pageants that feed into the Miss America contest remains vibrant, they say.
"The Miss America program is … near indestructible," said Tom Hensley, longtime CEO of the Miss Tennessee Scholarship Pageant.


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide