Just dipping a TOE into the Bennifer discourse…but I really like Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck together and it’s not odd at all that they would find their way to each other. They didn’t break up on bad terms, always spoke highly of each other, and JLo didn’t want it to end anyway.
JLo was the biggest pop star on the planet at the time, the first woman to have a #1 movie and #1 album open the same week. Ben was really famous, but paparazzi weren’t following him around like that until he was with her. JLo said the press scrutiny got to him and that they might have had a different outcome in another place and time.
Well, it’s been 20 years. Ben is definitely used to being followed around now. And maybe this is the place and time for their happily ever after!
Plus: When is the last time you saw Jennifer Thee Lopez looking unpolished in any way? Y’all know what they was doing upstairs. And Ben must have been putting in work. She looks HAPPY happy.
What really happened to Vanessa Williams while she was Miss America?
Vanessa Williams said that if she hadn’t fallen (been pushed) so hard, she might not have fought as hard as she did to get back on top, so a mild thanks to Puritanical America and this weird aversion to nudity for giving us the greatness of Vanessa Williams’ career.
Since Vanessa Williams is on Celebrity Drag Race tonight, I wanted to dust off this old blog I wrote years ago when I was bored at the office on her birthday and didn’t have any patients.
So just picture me writing this at work on a random weekday afternoon instead of in my bed eating almonds late at night.
Y’all. I both love and hate the Internet. I love that you can find out anything about anything with a few keystrokes, but I hate how you can fall into a hole clicking page after page and all of a sudden, your entire afternoon has slipped away. That’s what just happened to me.
I was just casually looking at celebrity birthdays, then I saw it was Vanessa’s birthday, then I started watching her music videos, then I ended up wondering how she managed to carve out this career after such a fall from grace, and then I got all deep into the Miss America 1984 business, and then I started stalking the other finalists from that year on Facebook (I go hard), and now I have to share because I didn’t even know the details. I only knew she had some naked pictures published and relinquished her crown (to another Black woman, #bloop) and then bounced back a couple of years later and became the most famous Miss America ever.
I just finished listening to an interview she did with NPR a few years ago during promotion for her book, so now obviously I am a Vanessa Williams Expert and I can show y’all what I done learnt. Let’s start with this picture I found on Deneen Graham’s Facebook (center):
Miss America 1984 saw five women of color in the competition, so it was already a landmark year.
In the center is Deneen Graham, (now Deneen Graham-Kerns) a ballet dancer from North Wilkesboro, NC, who was the first (and to date, the only) Black woman to win Miss North Carolina. During her reign, but before the Miss America pageant, Graham had already had a cross burned in her yard because North Carolina was definitely not ready for a Black Miss NC. That’s her in the center, just to the right of Vanessa Williams. On the other side of Graham is Amy Keys who was the first Black woman to win Miss Maryland. Miss New Jersey Suzette Charles is on the right – she was runner up to Vanessa and succeeded her as Miss America when Vanessa stepped down. For the life of me I cannot find out the name and state of the Hispanic woman on the left, but Vanessa said in her interview that there were four Black girls and one Hispanic that year, so I assume she was the fifth woman of color. It was a big year for representation, and it was especially big for Vanessa because it was her first pageant cycle.
Vanessa Williams had never done a pageant before, though the local representatives of the Miss Syracuse Pageant had approached her multiple times while she was a student at Syracuse University. Vanessa was a musical theater major (who chose Syracuse over Carnegie Mellon), and after each performance, someone would approach her about competing in the Miss Syracuse Pageant. She said no until she unexpectedly had April free when Cyrano was canceled, a show in which she was scheduled to perform. The experience seemed like it could be fun and the scholarship money was a nice incentive if she won, so she entered. And she did win. And then she won Miss New York. And then she won Miss America.
Two years prior, Vanessa had been working for photographer Tom Chiapel as an assistant during the summer break of 1982 after her freshman year at Syracuse. He’s the one who took the pictures that ultimately forced her to give up her crown years later.
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.
Vanessa Williams had a stressful reign as the first Black woman to win Miss America. Security was heightened, she received regular death threats, her family was threatened, she wasn’t allowed to answer the door herself, and she traveled with a team of bodyguards. Two years ago, Nina Davuluri (also a Miss New York winner from Syracuse University) became the first Indian woman to win Miss America and unfortunately the country hasn’t changed enough. She and Vanessa traded stories about the hate mail and the threats, with Vanessa remembering back to the sharpshooters stationed on rooftops and Nina explaining how social media allows an even wider range of hateful expression.
Near the end of her reign, the pictures of Vanessa made their way to Hugh Hefner and Playboy magazine. He passed, noting that it would only hurt Vanessa Williams who had no intention of the public ever seeing these photos. Bob Guccione wasn’t as scrupulous and he published the photos in Penthouse. The Miss USA organization immediately pressured Vanessa Williams to step down, giving her 72 hours to publicly relinquish her title. She did, and then she sued Chiapel and Guccione, but eventually dropped the suit because she wanted to move on.
Four years later, she was back with her debut single “The Right Stuff,” a new Jack Swing cut that did well on the R&B charts, but it wasn’t until “Dreamin’“ that Vanessa Williams saw her first taste of pop superstardom. More hits followed and Vanessa Williams became one of the biggest stars of the 80s and 90s.
I think it’s worth nothing here that the record label who signed Vanessa was struggling at the time. Wing Records was a big deal in the 1950s, but pretty much had nothing going on for the next 30 years. Mercury Records (Wing’s parent company) injected some fresh execs into the label, and Wing signed a handful of R&B singers in the 1980s who became really successful on that tiny label (Brian McKnight and Tony! Toni! Toné! were also signed to Wing). I can’t find any evidence to support it, but I think Wing was probably one of the only labels to take a chance on her because they had nothing to lose.
And for good measure, here’s a recent song I really like from a couple of years ago:
She’s probably one of the most well-rounded performers of her generation, with very recognizable roles on TV, on Broadway, and in movies, plus she has shelves full of awards and nominations (though she has yet to actually win a Grammy, Tony, or Emmy even with all the noms). She herself said that if she hadn’t fallen (been pushed) so hard, she might not have fought as hard as she did to get back on top, so a mild thanks to Puritanical America and this weird aversion to nudity for giving us the greatness of Vanessa Williams’ career.
Plus, her daughter is a different kind of gem forging her own path now:
So good job Vanessa Williams! Way to have the best comeback of all time.
Today I Learned: Betty White Gave Arthur Duncan His Start
“She is probably one of the nicest, grandest and greatest of all people I’ve had the chance to meet throughout my life. Whenever she walked into a room, it lit up. She was very thoughtful and very helpful. She launched me into show business.” — Arthur Duncan on Betty White
Betty White, Queen of the American People and High Priestess of Television, is a national treasure who has had very few public missteps for someone who’s been in the public eye for the past 80 years. She’s a feminist pioneer who loves animals and the gays, so what else could you really ask for?
How about Civil Rights ally?
Arthur Duncan is a tap dancer most famous for appearing on the Lawrence Welk show off and on for almost two decades, from 1964 to 1982.
He was the first Black person to be a regular on a variety television program, and he’s been listed as an inspiration for countless entertainers from Savion Glover to Sheryl Underwood. Lawrence Welk’s show made him famous, but that’s not where he got his first big television break.
By the 1950s, Betty White had already built quite a resume in entertainment. She got her first job on television right after high school graduation in 1939, but other parts were had to come by because White was told she wasn’t photogenic. However, radio was still popular at the time, and White took her talents there. She eventually got her own radio show, which proved to be successful enough that another radio host, Al Jarvis, hired White to co-host his new TV show, Hollywood on Television, a live 5-hour variety show airing 6 days a week. When Al left in 1952, White hosted on her own. Sometimes she had guests, sometimes she sang, and sometimes she just talked into the camera, but it was enough to earn White her first Emmy nomination.
The same year Al Jarvis left, Betty White co-founded a production company with a writer and a producer, and the three of them built a new show partly based on some of the sketches that appeared on the variety show. Hollywood in Television was phased out, and a new sitcom took its place. With the creation of Life with Elizabeth (where Betty played the lead role), Betty White was one of the only women in television with creative control both in front of and behind the camera.
In 1954, NBC gave Betty White another television show, this time a talk/variety show called The Betty White Show where she again had creative control, and she hired a female director — a rarity at the time. She also booked Arthur Duncan, a young tap dancer who had been honing his skills touring the country with the Jimmy Rodgers show. Before The Betty White Show was expanded nationally, NBC received criticism from Southern stations over the inclusion of Arthur Duncan. It wasn’t uncommon to see Black performers in white movies (especially dancers), however many writers and producers wrote featured parts for Black entertainers that weren’t connected to the rest of the story so they could easily be edited out for Southern audiences. Cutting Arthur out of a television program wouldn’t be as easy because of the runtime to be filled in a television spot, so Southern stations threatened to boycott the entire show and air something else instead. Faced with backlash over Arthur Duncan, Betty White said
“I’m sorry. Live with it.” And she gave Duncan even more airtime.
(You can FF to around 8:10 for Arthur’s segment.)
The Betty White Show was canceled later that year, most likely due to multiple changes to its timeslot, and Betty and Arthur went their separate ways, but they remained fond of each other. In 2016, Betty White surprised Arthur Duncan on Forever Young, the spin-off of Little Big Shots for talented senior citizens.
Arthur Duncan credits Betty White for giving him television exposure that resulted in a lifelong career. Last year, he had this to say to the Sioux City Journal:
“She is probably one of the nicest, grandest and greatest of all people I’ve had the chance to meet throughout my life. Whenever she walked into a room, it lit up. She was very thoughtful and very helpful. She launched me into show business.”
Long live the Queen of Television.
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