Somewhere way back in time, say, the late 80’s, I was a contestant in the Miss Hollywood contest. Since my hopes were dashed that I would ever become Miss America, I set my sights on a much smaller piece of real estate.
And besides, I didn’t have to worry about wearing a bathing suit in stilettos or twirling a flaming baton.
The contest did include fitness (we had to perform a 30 second self-choreographed routine) while wearing a leotard and leggings. There may have been a headband involved, but I’ve evidently blocked that memory. There was also an evening gown competition, a live interview (wherein as you might imagine, I said something highly inappropriate), and my favorite, a live acting scene with Tony Franciosa. With absolutely no prior rehearsal. My own personal Actor’s Nightmare.
The experience was a great deal of fun, as I had just recently moved to Los Angeles. My roommate was my very best friend going on nearly 30 years now (she won, btw) and I have wonderful memories of all the other girls in the competition and how stinking much fun we had. And, as a starving actress, I was given free food the week of the rehearsal and telecast.
I have this piece of cinema history (viewed by about 15 people, most of whom were my poker buddies who watched the live event in my apartment because it fell on a Wednesday night) on a VHS tape around here somewhere. One of these days I’ll unearth it and see if I can have it transferred to DVD for show and tell.
But there is one thing about the experience which I regret.
At one point in the competition, all of the contestants prerecorded a speech about what Hollywood actress they greatly admired and why. The pool of actresses chosen were from the 60’s or 70’s. And it wasn’t even our choice. The selections were given to us, and the speeches were pre-written.
The actress that I was given was Jane Fonda. The only thing that I knew of Jane Fonda was that she starred in the movie, Barefoot in the Park with Robert Redford. A favorite film of mine. I knew nothing of Jane Fonda’s involvement in the Vietnam war, and the detrimental affect she had on our veterans, particularly the veterans she betrayed who were imprisoned in North Vietnam.
It’s safe to say that in my 20’s, I was rather self absorbed and mostly politically clueless. And since we were years away from the technological revolution, I couldn’t google her.
So on national television, as Jane Fonda’s picture was shown, I was heard talking about how much I admired her, and the phrase I spoke that haunts me was “she had the courage of her convictions.”
Many years have passed and I now am politically aware and active. I only wish I had better sense in my 20’s, and had simply declined Ms. Fonda as my personal role model. Since then I’ve read John McCain’s experience as a POW in the Vietnam war and I’m horrified at the treatment our military received both there and back here on our soil. My own father, a veteran, confided in me some years later that he has never ever allowed himself to watch any movie or show that Ms. Fonda ever appeared. Even to this day.
The reason all of this is swirling around in my noggin is because of something that recently crossed my email in-box.
The following story was written by the wife of a Vietnam veteran. Her name is unknown:
Ann Margaret, 1966
Richard, (my husband), never really talked a lot about his time in Viet Nam , other than he had been shot by a sniper. However, he had a rather grainy, 8 x 10 black and white photo he had taken at a USO show of Ann Margret with Bob Hope in the background that was one of his treasures.
A few years ago, Ann Margret was doing a book signing at a local bookstore. Richard wanted to see if he could get her to sign the treasured photo so he arrived at the bookstore at 12 o’clock for the 7:30 signing.
When I got there after work, the line went all the way around the bookstore, circled the parking lot, and disappeared behind a parking garage. Before her appearance, bookstore employees announced that she would sign only her book and no memorabilia would be permitted.
Richard was disappointed, but wanted to show her the photo and let her know how much those shows meant to lonely GI’s so far from home. Ann Margret came out looking as beautiful as ever and, as second in line, it was soon Richard’s turn.
He presented the book for her signature and then took out the photo. When he did, there were many shouts from the employees that she would not sign it. Richard said, ‘I understand. I just wanted her to see it.’
She took one look at the photo, tears welled up in her eyes and she said, ‘This is one of my gentlemen from Viet Nam and I most certainly will sign his photo. I know what these men did for their country and I always have time for ‘my gentlemen.”
With that, she pulled Richard across the table and planted a big kiss on him. She then made quite a to-do about the bravery of the young men she met over the years, how much she admired them, and how much she appreciated them.. There weren’t too many dry eyes among those close enough to hear. She then posed for pictures and acted as if he were the only one there.
Later at dinner, Richard was very quiet. When I asked if he’d like to talk about it, my big, strong husband broke down in tears.. ‘That’s the first time anyone ever thanked me for my time in the Army,’ he said.
That night was a turning point for him. He walked a little straighter and, for the first time in years, was proud to have been a Vet. I’ll never forget Ann Margret for her graciousness and how much that small act of kindness meant to my husband.
Ann Margaret is someone that the middle aged me greatly greatly admires. She is a class act and true American idol.