The "Queen of Stenographers":
How her typing skills saved the
sanity of 1925's Miss America
This bronze statue of Oakland's Fay Lanphier was sculpted by Howard Chandler Christy, a judge of the 1925 Miss America contest in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Christy sculpted the statue soon after Lanphier was crowned. Because of its undeniable likeness to Lanphier, the public reacted vociferously to its nudity, but Christy declared that Lanphier never posed for him.
Fay Elinora Lanphier was born at Greenwood, El Dorado, California, on December 12, 1905. Her father, Percivelle Casper Lanphier, died in Oakland in February 1920, four days before the birth of a fifth son and leaving Fay's mother Emily a widow with seven young mouths to feed. Aiming for a career as a secretary, Fay stayed on at Oakland High School and graduated in 1924.
That same year, as an 18-year-old, Fay won the Miss Alameda title, was crowned Miss California and came third in the Miss America contest in New Jersey. In 1925 this strawberry blond, hazel-eyed Oakland typist and Underwood stenographer became the first Californian to take out the Miss America title (she was also Rose Queen, and the only contestant in Atlantic City to represent an entire state).
After her win Fay became an overnight national celebrity and travelled to New York City in President Calvin Coolidge's special railway car, the Constitution. Motorcycle policemen escorted her car through Manhattan and she was toasted at a round of parties by such celebrities as Rudolph Valentino, Mae Murray and Will Rogers (who preferred a Remington portable).
When the partying died down Fay went to Greenwich, Connecticut, to become the first Miss America to star in a movie. She appeared as "Miss Alabama" opposite Louise Brooks and Douglas Fairbanks Jr in Paramount's The American Venus. Filming was completed at Famous Players-Lasky's Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens, while the Miss America pageant sequences were shot on Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. The movie was released on January 31, 1926, almost exactly coinciding with the launch of the new Underwood four-bank portable typewriter.
Paramount Pictures had sponsored an "American Venus" contest, held before the Miss America pageant, to determine which of the Atlantic City contestants had the best "photographic possibilities". Fay won and was chosen by Famous Players-Lasky production manager Walter Wanger to star in the movie. In 1928 a yellow journalism New York rag was forced to retract a claim that the 1925 Miss American contest was rigged in Fay's favour. Its entire widely syndicated story was just a pack of lies.
After the film's release, Fay embarked on a 16-week personal appearance tour which earned her an estimated $50,000 - at least half of which came from her endorsement of the newly launched first model Underwood four-bank portable typewriter. Cashing in on the movie's reach across the US, Fay appeared in stage revues called The Venue of Greenwich Village and at each port of call did promotional work in Underwood Typewriter Company branch offices.
After marrying her high school sweetheart, Berkeley and San Jose stationer and book store owner Winfield John Daniels, in Carson City in July 2, 1931 (her second marriage), Fay lived at 17 Richard Drive in the East Bay Oakland suburb of Orinda until her death from viral pneumonia on June 21, 1959, aged 53.