Pageant chief now says old rules may remain intact

Tuesday, September 14th 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) -- The head of the Miss America pageant
on Tuesday backed off plans to allow women who've been divorced or
pregnant to compete for the title, saying no final decision has
been made.

Robert L. Beck, CEO of the Miss America Organization, said the
pageant's board of directors has agreed to hold off implementing
the changes pending talks with state pageant operators.

The Associated Press reported Monday that the pageant had
decided to break with nearly 50 years of tradition by striking
provisions in the contestant contracts that require women to swear
they have never been married and never been pregnant.

The state pageant officials are furious about the changes.

They say they would mar the "high moral standards" Miss
America has stood for.

Former Miss America winners, current contestants and the former
CEO of the pageant have also all lined up against the changes.

"It's just sad," said Jack Lawson, chairman of the Miss
Montana Pageant.

Several state pageant directors who asked not to be named
Tuesday said there would be mass defections by states from the Miss
America program if the changes stand.

"I don't know what the outcome of the dialogue will be," Beck
said Tuesday in his first public statements about the controversy.
Asked if it was possible that the old rules will stand, he said:
"That's always a possibility."

The new rules, adopted at a June meeting of the board, would
require contestants to swear that "I am unmarried" and "I am not
the natural or adoptive parent of any child."

They would open the door to divorcees, women who've had
abortions and women who've given birth to children who later died.

The idea was to bring the contestant contract into compliance
with New Jersey laws against discrimination, Beck said in an
affidavit filed in court as part of the legal action.

Beck said Tuesday there was no underlying reason beyond a legal
review of the contract that showed it to be outdated and in need of

The pageant notified state operators about the change last
month, telling them their contestants would have to sign the new
contract to compete in Saturday's 79th annual Miss America Pageant

The states went to court Aug. 17 to fight the contract.

In an out-of-court settlement, the pageant agreed not to require
the contestants to sign the new contract, and the National
Association of Miss America State Pageants agreed to withdraw its
request for an injunction preventing the Miss America Organization
from forcing them to sign.

"While it was an issue several months ago, it is not an issue
today for two reasons," Beck said in a statement. "First, the
Board of Directors decided several weeks ago to not have the
revised contract apply to this year's competition, tabling
discussion of the matter until after this year's national

"Second, we have agreed to engage in a dialogue with our
franchisees to explore possible alternatives that ensure we are
compliant with applicable law and consistent with the traditional
values associated with Miss America."