It’s hard to imagine now, but there was once a time not long ago when women were not very welcome in the anchor desk or reporting from the sidelines of a major sporting event.
Then along came Phyllis George! A fresh-faced Texas beauty, with deep dimples framing her warm smile, landing a co-hosting spot on “The NFL Today” pre-game show in 1974.
Network executives might have taken her for just another pretty face, a sex symbol to juice up their pregame coverage. But they underestimated George, who proved to be hardworking and insightful. She stuck with the show on and off for nearly a decade and threw open the door for all the women who followed her.
She was NOT without controversy when she went on to a very brief 8-month stint on CBS Morning News with co-anchor Bill Kurtis, which came to an end shortly after a VERY live-on-air awkward moment between her and a guest freed on a wrongful DNA rape conviction.
It takes moxie to be a pioneer, and George certainly had it. She passed away earlier this month, but her moxie lives on in her considerable legacy.
Here’s how I see it:
Moxie gives it another go.
George was runner up the first time she had a go at becoming Miss Texas in 1970. She was disappointed and was not interested in repeating the experience the second time. But the following year organizers pestered her to try again, this time as Miss Dallas. George resisted at first, but the thought of having a chance at that scholarship money was just too much to pass up. She decided to enter the night before the contest – using last year’s gown, swimsuit, and piano piece – AND WON! And she kept winning, taking the title of Miss America in 1971.
What was different the second time around? She was ready. Not just ready to win, but ready to fully embrace the challenge and opportunity of being Miss America.
“I needed the loss. I needed to lose to win. Like they say, “If you lose, don’t lose the lessons,” and I learned a lot,” George told Texas Monthly. “I came back and went on to be the fiftieth Miss America—the first one with a gold crown. That was pretty exciting.”
Moxie learns to live with mistakes.
George’s reign didn’t exactly get off on the right foot. Moments after the crown was placed on her head, the unthinkable happened. Here’s how she recalled the moment:
“I was about five-ten in heels, and Pamela Eldred, the exiting Miss America, was a petite little Dresden doll, and she wasn’t tall enough to pin the crown on very well. Plus, back then there was the robe and the scepter and the roses to keep up with. I started down the runway and turned to nod my thanks to the judges, and when I did, the tiara fell off and stones went everywhere and the audience gasped. All I could think was, ‘This is your moment, Phyllis—all your friends and family are watching—and look what you did!’”
“But even then I could laugh about it. As I told Johnny Carson three nights later, ‘You’ll remember me—I’m the klutzy Miss America.’ The crown incident broke the ice with reporters, audiences, everybody.”
George was gutsy enough to keep her head high even when her crown was smashed at her feet.
She readily extended that grace to others, too.
When Vanessa Williams’ reign as Miss America was tarnished by tawdry revelations that forced her to give up the crown, George refused to pile on.
“Back then a talk show host wanted me to go on his late-night show and talk about it, and I said, ‘Look, everybody has skeletons in their closet. There is no way I’m going to knock her.’”
There’s a saying I often see floating around Facebook: “Real queens fix each others’ crowns.” George was a real queen.
Moxie makes itself at home.
When George married KFC magnate John Y. Brown in 1979, it was a match made in political heaven. Just ten days after they wed, Brown decided to make a run for Kentucky governor. The newlyweds crisscrossed the state on the campaign trail, and Kentucky fell in love with them. George was a master at making small talk and connecting with supporters on the trail. Without question, she buoyed his campaign and helped him sweep into the governor’s mansion.
While on the trail, supporters would often gift George with beautiful handcrafted items. The crafts so impressed George that she spearheaded efforts to establish the Kentucky Art and Craft Foundation and urged Brown to start a craft-making initiative in Kentucky. George helped raise awareness of the talent, ingenuity, and beauty to be found in the wares of Kentucky makers, and she left a lasting mark.
It’s remarkable to me that someone who was not born and raised in Kentucky could so clearly and deeply appreciate the Commonwealth and its people.
Phyllis George Brown’s Wikipedia Page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phyllis_George