Jo-Carroll Dennison, crowned Miss America 1942, dead at 97

Last Modified: 9th Sep

Jo-Carroll Dennison, who was named Miss Texas 1941 and eventually Miss America 1942, has passed away at the age of 97. She was the oldest Miss America still alive.

Her death, which occurred at her home in California, was revealed by her book editor Evan Mills confirmed to CNN.

The late national beauty, described as a swimsuit rebel, was a swimsuit category winner but had refused to parade in a swimsuit during her year-long reign - defying World War II-era conventions.

Jo-Carroll Dennison had to wear a swimsuit as a movie contract player in 1944 (Image: New York Times)

Miss America pageant officials said in a statement via Instagram, “The Miss America Organization is saddened to hear of the passing of Miss America 1942, Jo-Carroll Dennison. We thank her for her year of service and will miss her dearly.” 

Dennison, born in 1923 in Florence, Arizona, was raised by her parents in their traveling “medicine show” where she sang, danced, and rode trick horses.

In her memoir Finding My Little Red Hat- which was released in September 2021, she revealed that she was training to become a secretary before being scouted for the Miss Tyler pageant. Although reluctant to participate as she had “sworn never to perform in public again” following her childhood, she eventually agreed- on the promise of a free swimsuit.

After winning the pageant in 1942, Jo-Carroll Dennison signed a movie deal, appearing in films 1946’s The Jolson Story and 1950’s Dick Tracy.

Jo-Carroll Dennison, Larry Parks in The Jolson Story (Image: EVERETT COLLECTION)

Back in 1942, the pageant was supposed to be about looks,” she said in a YouTube video, “Yet, I never thought I had won because of the way I looked, but rather because of the way I felt about myself. With this in mind, I flat out refused to wear my bathing suit on stage after the pageant.”

Jo-Carroll Dennison had also expressed her support for the #MeToo movement- revealing in her biography that she was sexually assaulted at the age of 12. “It is stunning how poorly women have been treated in the American culture,” she had written.

The model and actress went on to marry actor Phil Silvers in 1945 and divorced five years later. After retiring from the screen in 1953, she wed CBS producer and director Russell Stoneham in 1954. Their marriage ran its course in the 1970s and divorce was finalized in 1981.

She is survived by two children- sons Peter Stoneham and John Stoneham.

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