Updated: Mar 30, 2020
By Maria Beale Fletcher:
It was my privilege to meet and interact with four of the December birthday celebrities over the years. Some of the memories that stand out in my mind I'll share with you here.
I arrived in New York City in September 1960 after a 24-hour train ride from North Carolina. Only eighteen, I'd graduated high school in three years and was the newly crowned Miss Asheville. I was excited to take dance lessons from professionals other than my parents, Beale and Peggy Fletcher. My ballet teacher at the June Taylor School of Dance was Richard Scott Thomas (born December 21, father of Richard Thomas, soon to be star of The Waltons). I enjoyed his ballet class immensely, though I was the youngest and least-experienced of his students.
There were two well-known actresses in my class of twenty students. Jane Fonda (another December 21 birthday), about twenty-five years old at the time, was one of the best dancers of those who were not professionally appearing on Broadway or members of ballet companies. Jane was an amazing, beautiful ballet dancer, though always sad looking; she never, ever smiled in class or said "thank you" when Richard Thomas complimented her. It's funny, the strange memories that last over the years!
Bert Parks (December 30 birthday) was delightful in his
honest appreciation of the Miss America contestants who
participated in the pageant telecast, which he hosted for
twenty-four years from 1955 to 1979. As a featured
performer in several of the national telecasts, I had ample opportunity to visit with Bert in long conversations before
the several rehearsals leading up to the performances.
I considered him to be a true friend and mentor. My most
vivid memory of him occurred after giving my live farewell address as the outgoing Miss America. I returned from the long walk on the ramp, where I waved goodbye to the audience of 20,000, and as I blew him a kiss from my heart, he smiled at me as tears ran down his cheeks and sang "There She Is, Miss America."
Fast forward to the late 1960s when I'm co-hosting a daily NBC talk show in Nashville, TN, The Noon Show. Albert Gore, Sr. (December 26 birthday), senator from Tennessee, had seen me singing at a music festival and asked to book me at a show he was hosting for his fellow congressmen and colleagues in his apartment complex in Washington, D.C. He was so very gracious, charismatic, and smiling, with gorgeous thick white hair, how could I say no!
He sent a limousine to pick me up at the airport, and I was driven to the Watergate Hotel Apartments, where he lived with his family for 20 years—an address that would become infamous a few years later in 1972 when five intruders were caught in the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee, leading to Richard Nixon's resignation from the presidency.
In the 1960s and '70s, in addition to my television talk show hosting, I sometimes worked as a spokeswoman, appearing on media shows around the US and Canada for several well-known companies, such as the Toni Company. In the late summer of 1970, when I was about 8 months pregnant with my firstborn, I was asked to appear on The Phil Donahue Show for the entire hour with another young woman, a feminist. I could already imagine Phil's eager anticipation at trying to set us up in a cat fight! (I knew I would not let that happen!) A few minutes before the curtain would rise for the live TV audience to see us seated on the stage, I asked Phil (December 21 birthday) if I could have a pillow to hold in front of me during the interview. My employer had asked me to wear a dress; the mini skirt was all the rage, and I was wearing a beautiful turquoise maternity dress that was mini skirt length! Donahue asked why that was necessary, and I said, "Not only is it necessary, but I will walk off this stage and not do your interview unless you honor my request and bring me a pillow to hold on my lap for the next 60 minutes!" All of a sudden, Phil Donahue starts yelling to no one in particular, "Someone find a pillow for Miss America now before we go on the air live in 2 minutes!" About 90 seconds later, a stagehand came running out to hand me a large, colorful pillow that I strategically placed on my lap, on my thighs where the hem of my dress was precariously resting.
The curtain raised to the thunderous applause of the audience, and after a few moments of banter, Donahue introduced the young feminist. Then he began my introduction: "And now let me introduce Miss America 1962, Maria Beale Fletcher. Maria, what b