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Niagara Falls News

Niagara Falls Home to Miss USA Pageant in 1970’s

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls Home to Miss USA Pageant

Niagara Falls is known for its’ beauty, but from 1974 to 1976 that beauty was enhanced by some of the most stunning women in the USA as they traveled to Niagara to compete in the Miss USA Pageant.  The Miss USA Pageant is part of the Miss Universe Corporation and then President Harold Glasser negotiated with Niagara Falls USA to host the pageant for three years in the City’s brand new Convention Center.

Miss USA

Summer Bartholomew Miss USA 1975

Miss USA

Mayor Lackey with Miss North Dakota

The Miss USA Pageant was then televised live on the CBS television network to a national audience with terrific ratings. Because of those rating and the television exposure, the City of Niagara Falls picked up the entire tab for hotel rooms, meals and transportation for the pageant employees and supports staff.

The Miss USA Pageant completely took over the Niagara Falls Convention Center for three weeks as the individual State Pageant winners arrived and competed in such categories as evening gowns, bathing suit and individual interviews.

Miss USA Pageant National Field Director Griff O’Neil ran the entire operation from the Convention Center meeting rooms, using Niagara Falls’ citizens to assist in various volunteer capacities.

An example of that was WJJL radio personality Tom Darro, who headed up local transportation Niagara Fallsneeds as well as serving as MC for various pageant events. Tom was also in charge of transportation, securing brand new vehicles from local car dealerships for chaperones, visiting dignitaries and employees.

Local women were recruited to serve as the chaperones for the beauty queen contestants for the two weeks they were in Niagara Falls. The chaperones were instructed to keep a very close eye on the girls because under pageant rules the contestants were not allowed to smoke or drink in public. The lovely ladies were closely guarded at all times and access by the public was very limited.

Other locals who assisted in making the pageant a success were hair stylists, make-up professionals, city employees and off duty police. For two weeks a small army of volunteers served the pageant during their stay in the Cataract City to help make it a success.

Miss USA

Karen Morrison Miss USA 1974

Over the two actual weeks of competition the Miss USA contestants took part in a parade down Main Street, bowling tournament at Frontier Lanes in Lewiston, fashion shows and a night out to local restaurants. Such well known Niagara Falls area restaurants as the Como, John’s Flaming Hearth, Schimschacks and Danny Sheehan’s in Lockport served as host to as many as six contestants and their chaperones. Each restaurant would advertise their participation and welcome patrons to come in and take photos of the beautiful contestants as they were treated to the local cuisine.

Miss USA

Bob Barker at rehearsal

Over the three years the Miss USA Pageant was in Niagara Falls such well known stars Ernest Borgnine, Mr. Blackwell, Peggy Fleming, Bobby Gentry, The Lettermen, F. Lee Bailey and hockey star Derek Sanderson were brought in to serve as judges.  Also, entertainers such as Engelbert Humperdinck and The Lettermen were in Niagara Falls for the national broadcast.

Bob Barker, then the popular host of the “Price is Right”, served as the televised host for the three years the pagent was in Niagara Falls, a role he handled for decades for CBS.

Over their two week stay the contestants also posed for photos and video vignettes for the national telecast at such places as Old Fort Niagara, Prospect Point, Terrapin Point and the Maid of the Mist. When those photo sessions called for them to wear bathing suits in May at the brink of Niagara Falls the contestants would be seen bundled up in blankets between shoots.

The Miss USA Pageant Directors did discuss extending the contract with Niagara Falls after 1976, but the City declined because the expense of hosting the event was deemed too high. The Miss USA Pageant then pulled up stakes and moved to Charleston South Carolina for two years. After Charleston the Miss USA pageant moved from city to city for two to three year stints, until 2008 when it settled on Las Vegas under the ownership of Donald Trump.


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