Today In History: Vanessa Williams Resigns As Miss America
Today in 1984, Vanessa Williams was forced to relinquish her title as Miss America over objections to an upcoming nude photo spread in Penthouse magazine. Williams was the first black woman to ever win Miss America.
The nudes were taken by a photographer named Thomas Chiapel, who recruited her for the shoot while she was working as a receptionist at a modeling agency in New York. Chiapel told Williams that the photos would be shot in silhouette and that she would be unrecognizable. When Williams became famous, Chiapel sold the photos to Penthouse behind her back.
Williams sued both Chiapel and Penthouse, but dropped the suits after it came out that Williams had signed a model release before taking the pictures.
The Miss America pageant saw the height of its popularity from the fifties through the nineties. The beauty pageant, which has always had a fairly thin veneer of social respectability, has waned in viewership since the mid aughts.
After the Penthouse scandal broke, Vanessa Williams went on to a long and successful career in entertainment. She worked as an actress and a singer. She has appeared in multiple films and television shows, and has had many hit albums.
The issue of Penthouse that Williams appeared in is now illegal to own or read, as it contains nude photos of an underage Traci Lords.