The sash. The tears. The
glittering crown. And, best of all of course, the Underwood typewriter. In the eight
years that the Miss America pageant was staged in Atlanta City between 1925 and
1938, the thing the winners took home with them that proved to be of the most
lasting value was an Underwood portable. At that time, actuarial scientists had
calculated that the odds against a Miss America making a successful marriage
were 4-1 and that Miss America could expect “no more than 3.9456 years of
bliss.” Notwithstanding their luck with marriages, the Underwood typewriters offered
a lifetime of joy. Of those Miss Americas given Underwoods, we took a
look, back in March 2016, at the life of Fay Lanphier, who won the 1925 crown, and today we go to
the other end of the list of Miss Americas who were also Underwood typewriter
recipients, to Marilyn Meseke.
Miss Meseke was born Mary
Ellen Spurrier in Lima, Ohio, on October 7, 1916, less than two months before
her father, Virgil Hall Spurrier, died following a long illness from edema due
to congestive heart failure. Virgil died a week before his 21st birthday,
leaving a widow, Nellie Violet (nee Cook, 1894-1957) with two children under
the age of two. Mary Ellen was raised in Marion, Ohio, by her maternal
grandparents, Charlie and Clara Meseke, who changed her name to Marilyn Meseke.
She attended Harding High School in Marion (photo left) and through her
grandmother’s urging took up dance and piano lessons.
Meseke entered and won the
Miss Ohio competition twice, first in 1931 when still 14 and ineligible for the
national pageant, and again in 1938. That year’s Miss America was the first to
score talent and Meseke’s tap dancing skills stood in her good stead. Marion, Ohio, had become the first and only town to boost of both a Miss America and a US president
(Harding). Meseke, seen left in later life, moved to Florida in 1977 and died in Mount Dora on September
12, 2001, aged 84.
The first Miss America to
be given an Underwood typewriter, along with all her other prizes, was Fay
Elinora Lanphier, 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 1925 the strawberry blond,
hazel-eyed Oakland typist 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).
Lanphier became 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. The movie was released on January 31, 1926, almost exactly
coinciding with the launch of the new Underwood four-bank portable typewriter,
which Lanphier duly promoted on a 16-week personal appearance tour. Fay died from
viral pneumonia at the East Bay Oakland suburb of Orinda on June 21, 1959, aged
The second-to-last Miss
America-Underwood typewriter winner, in 1937, was 17-year-old Miss Bertrand
Island, Bette Cooper. Bette was born on August 11, 1920, to Mabel and Marin Le
Brun Cooper in Hackettstown, New Jersey. At the time of being crowned Miss
America, Bette had just begun her first year of junior college, after attending
Hackettstown High School. In 1936 she had entered a beauty pageant at the
Bertrand Island amusement park on Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey, and won the title
the following year, adding to it Miss Lake Hopatcong 1937. The morning after being
named Miss America, Bette, unable to stand being in the glare of the spotlight,
had made off with her chaperone Louis
Off. Eventually it was agreed that in exchange for Bette retaining her Miss
America title, she would take part in only a fraction of her expected duties. When
Mrs Elizabeth Cooper Moore (in photo right in later life) died at The Mews in Greenwich, Connecticut, on
December 10, 2017, at age 97, she was the oldest living Miss America at the
time. Yet her obituary in the Oakland Tribune made no mention whatsoever of her beauty contest career.
By 1961, Royal portables had become associated with Miss America pageants. Above, actress Joan Crawford prepares to be a judge
for the pageant in Los Angeles.