NO ONE IN their wildest dreams ever thought that the first causualty of the 1980s would be Bert Parks, the master of ceremonies of the Miss America Pageant. For those of us who have been watching the show for the past 25 years, the news of his firing could not have come at a worse time.
Bert Parks was the only link we had to a nostalgic American past. Every year, as he broke into song with, "Here she comes -- Miss America," the country choked up with tears and we all went to bed that night knowing that no matter what disasters we would face in the coming months, Bert Parks would always see that this country had a beauty queen.
There was a time when we watched the Miss America Pageant because of its prurient interest. But somewhere along the way many of us lost interest in the women parading up and down the runway. We tuned in just to watch Bert Parks sing and dance his way from Miss Alaska to Miss Mississippi, creating the excitement and suspense that kept us all on the edge of our seats. c
You can say what you want about Bert Parks, but he had teeth. He had more teeth than anyone who has ever appeared on television. When he opened his mouth he lit up every screen in America. As the cameras closed in on his teeth, you had the feeling he was going to bite down on your bathrobe and drag you right onto the stage of the Atlantic City Auditorium. It was of course an illusion, because Bert would never bite anybody -- but no one could deny that it was great show business.
Why was Bert Parks fired? The organizers of the Miss America Pageant gave as their reasons that Bert was getting too old and "too powerful." Bert gave as their reasons that Bert was getting too old and "too powerful." Bert was 65 years old. He looked 40 and had the zest of a teen-ager. If Bert Parks was emcee in the Miss People's Republic of China Beauty Pageant, they would have said he was just reaching his prime.
The Miss America Pageant needs a mature person to prevent it from turning into just another flesh market. Bert was the father figure that made it okay for the home audiences to still believe in the American dream, and we knew that with Bert on stage no harm could come to these young innocent girls.
I'm not sure what the pageant organizers meant when they said he was getting too powerful. His reported salary for emceeing this important event was $18,000. That's less than an office boy gets at Playboy magazine. So we know it wasn't money that drove the pageant people to take such a desperate measure. If he was difficult to work with, he must have had his reasons. When you have the awesome responsibility of choosing the person who will represent the purity of America womanhood for an entire year, you can't be a paper tiger.
So as we say farewell to the large automobile, 50-cents-a-gallon gasoline, the five-cent chocolate bar and 79-cent Mom's apple pie, we must now bid goodbye to Bert Parks.
We'll never forget you, Bert -- your teeth will always be in our hearts.