Miss New York State 1933 Florence Meyers - first runner-up
1st in Evening Gown competition
Although Florence came in second in the Miss America Pageant, most historical sources list her as third and she drifted into obscurity. This epitomizes the difference between winning and everything else — even the Miss America Organization listed her as third for the next 72 years until 2005! Along with Miss New York City, Florence was sponsored by RKO Theatres, the donor of the screen test prize. But when Miss New York City withdrew on the final night, and Miss New York State came in second, RKO gave the screen test to Miss New York City anyway. It was widely rumored that the Mafia was exerting its influence to have Miss New York State chosen as the winner. Florence had to overcome not only a debilitating toothache but also opposition from other contestants — complaints of artificial beauty and publicity agents caused "antagonism of the outlands" for New York; "the other contestants can't quite see why any girl from New York can be the queen of typical American girls."
|1930 Meyers family census form - Manhattan, NY|
Helen Meyers 37 (married) (NY) hairdresser in beauty salon
Florence Meyers 17 (NY) telephone operator
Some time between 1930 and 1933, Florence and her mother Helen moved from Manhattan to East Rockaway, Long Island. In 1930 Florence's two younger brothers, Walter and Edward, are not living with their mother but in a Bronx home; Florence's father had left the family ~1919 right after the birth of the third child.
Florence was born in New York City in 1912, the oldest of three children, and moved to Long Island shortly before the pageant.
|Florence from the panorama shot - age 21|
Curiously, Florence also competed in the Miss America Pageant seven years earlier, in 1926, when she was only 14. There was no pageant in 1927-1932, and current rules disallow state queens to compete at more than one national pageant, but there were less rules in 1933, and Florence had not competed as Miss New York, but rather as "Miss Bay Ridge."
In 1933 it is known that Florence was chosen as Miss New York State (to differentiate her from Miss New York City) after July 13th, as the Middletown, NY July 13th newspaper states that Miss Middletown winner was vying for Miss New York State. And it is known that she was chosen by August 30th as several papers (see below) ran a picture of her by this date, stating she won at a beauty contest in Long Beach, NY. It is thought the contest was just prior to these August 30-31 articles, which would place it in a similar time-frame as the Miss New York City contest (9/3/1933 Brooklyn Eagle newspaper clipping).
|8/30/1933 Oswego, NY||9/6/1933 Mansfield, OH|
At Atlantic City, Florence was one of the early favorites: The newspaper about the second day of the pageant states: "Miss Ohio, Miss New York City, Miss New York State, Miss California, Miss Wisconsin, Miss West Virginia, Miss Washington State and Miss Missouri seemed to take with the crowds."
|Florence was the winner of the evening gown competiton|
That day had been most eventful for Florence, as in the morning, she collapsed during the bathing suit judging: "Miss New York State owes her dilemma to a bad tooth. It may cost her an automobile, a $1000 watch, a trip to Bermuda and the other awards that go with the title of Miss America. The Empire State girl was the first of the contestants to appear before the five judges on the Auditorium stage. She had just reached the end walk when she uttered a cry and slumped toward the floor. Several alert spectators caught her and carried her off of the state. She was later rushed back to the contestants' quarters at the Ritz-Carlton hotel. She has been suffering with toothache since the Pageant began, it was learned, but despite the pain appeared in all the events, and won great popularity with the crowds for her personality and beauty."
|9/5/1933 Atlantic City - Florence on far right|
|Florence Meyers, first runner-up on right|
Miss America Organization historian Ric Ferentz confirmed rumors of influence-peddling: "two 'Italian-looking thugs' threatened the judges - it's New York tomorrow night or else." (Ric Ferentz, MAO historian, Feb 23, 2002). (Mafia influence was high in Atlantic City, the port of 40% of all the smuggled liquor during Prohibition.) Judge Russell Patterson revealed the same story in a magazine story. Miss New York City withdrew on the penultimate night, stating the Pageant was not on the "up and up"; Florence stayed in the Pageant and garnered the second place prize.
It is curious how little was known about any of the contestants in this pageant, probably a result of the Miss America Organization deliberately distancing itself from the 1933 competition in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. There were even three of the thirty-one 1933 contestants whose names were not known in 2002! And it is particularly underscored with Florence Meyers -- until 2005, the Miss America Organization records erroneously listed Florence as third instead of second. While the winner Miss Connecticut was interviewed on many occasions in 1967-2002, Florence was not mentioned. The winner received the crown, prizes (including a car), and publicity; second-place received obscurity!
The three decades of distancing was mentioned by winner Marion Bergeron herself. According to her 1982 Atlantic City Press article, "I was completely and totally ignored," she said without bitterness. "It's only been since 1965 or so that they (invited me back); I was thrilled to death." So, it is not surprising that MAO had not kept in touch with any of the other 1933 contestants either; they had not kept in touch with any of them in their desire to distance themselves from the 1933 fiasco.
In 1940 it is thought this is the correct census entry for Florence, working as a switchboard operator in NYC. Some time after this, Florence moves to California with her mother, and had some roles in movies as an extra. She died in California at age 89, survived by one son.
Social Security Death Index: BARBER, FLORENCE 05 Aug 1912 17 Dec 2001 (V) 89 90038 (Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA) (none specified) New York 112-09-040
To me, Florence epitomizes the difference between the winner and everyone else. While winner Marion Bergeron stayed in touch with the Pageant all her life, and was featured prominently in newspaper articles, in MAO videos, and in books from 1967 to the year of her death in 2002, the runners-up, Florence Meyers and Blanche McDonald were never heard from again. In fact, it has been hard to even locate anything about them at all.
-- Note that many books, articles and online sources state that Florence was third and Miss California Blanche McDonald second; this is incorrect. Even the Miss America Organization erroneously listed CA second and NY third until 2005, when historian Ric Ferentz found a nationally-syndicated 1933 article; the 1933 Los Angeles newspaper article confirmed. For more details, refer to the footnote on the contestants page.
-- Even the local Long Island newspapers of 1933 had no articles about Florence, despite her second-place finish. The Long Beach Public Library found nothing. The reference librarian Mary Thorpe at East Rockaway Public Library could not locate anything and referred me to Hofstra University. The archivist at Hofstra University examined newspapers and only found one brief mention in the 9/3/1933 Brooklyn newspaper. Fortunately, in 2011 Florence's niece contacted me through this website.
-- Florence was of Jewish heritage, but this was not unusual in the early 1930s and was not mentioned in any newspapers that I have found. She was not the only Jewish contestant in 1933 (Miss Pennsylvania Geraldine Glassman is also thought to have been Jewish, as is Miss New York City Elsa Donath), and certainly she was not the first Jewish contestant in the Miss America Pageant. It was only after the Miss America contest was revived again in 1935 that there was a restriction against Jewish entries, a rule in place for 1935-1944. It is thought that the first Jewish contestant was in 1924: Miss Iowa Alta Sterling was an orthodox (Hasidic) Jewish woman, and the pageant accommodated her costume and dietary restrictions. The first Jewish Miss America was Bess Myerson in 1945, a momentous event given the recent end of WWII and the Holocaust.
-- MEYERS, HELEN 15 Jun 1893 Oct 1971 78 90046 (Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA) (none specified) New York 129-12-8393
-- BARBER, ROBERT 28 Jul 1906 Feb 1982 75 90027 (Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA) (none specified) District of Columbia 577-18-9233, or BARBER, ROBERT F 29 Jan 1907 23 Dec 1987 (V) 80 90280 (South Gate, Los Angeles, CA) (none specified) California 566-12-4249