Vanessa Williams, the reigning Miss America, was asked to relinquish her title yesterday by the directors of the pageant after they learned that Penthouse will publish sexually explicit, nude photographs of Williams and another woman in its September issue. She is the first Miss America to be asked to resign in the pageant's 63-year history.
The pageant's executive committee voted unanimously for Williams' resignation.
"We have today asked Miss Williams to relinquish her crown and the title of Miss America 1984," a press statement said. "We will give her 72 hours to give that request consideration."
Pageant chairman and executive director Albert A. Marks Jr. said he expected Williams, the first black Miss America, to hold a press conference on Monday to announce her decision, adding that he thought she would resign. "She said she was sorry and she was tearful to the point of hysterics," he said.
Marks refused to say what would happen if Williams refused to resign.
"We will cross that bridge when we come to it," he told reporters during a press conference yesterday. He held up the cover of the September issue of Penthouse, which shows Williams with comedian George Burns. The issue, with a 10-page picture spread of Williams and another woman, will be on newsstands in August.
"For 10 months Vanessa Williams has served the pageant and the title of Miss America well," said the statement released by pageant directors, "but we must make it clear that we cannot and do not condone her actions either in posing for the photographs or in failing to reveal the facts at the appropriate time in the selection process that led to her being awarded the crown."
Williams, 21, has been the most heavily booked winner in pageant history and has already earned a record $125,000 in fees. Directors have not said if the first runner-up, Suzette Charles of New Jersey, who also is black, would replace Williams for the last two months of her reign. Charles said she hadn't heard from the pageant, but if asked would assume the title.
"It's very unfortunate that it has to come about this way," Charles said from her home in Mays Landing, N.J.
When she won her title, Williams was lauded as a role model for black women. NAACP executive director Benjamin Hooks compared her to Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier in baseball. Williams spoke to the National Press Club, met with President Reagan and was feted by legislators, including New York Sens. Alfonse D'Amato and Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
"For black people it'll mean something forever," said Rep. Major Owens (D -- N.Y.), a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, during Williams' Washington visit last October.
Yesterday was different.
Williams dodged 150 reporters when she arrived at LaGuardia Airport in New York after an appearance in Little Rock, Ark. She made no statement and was whisked away in a limousine.
The nude pictures were taken by free-lance photographer Tom Chiapel when Williams worked for him as a makeup artist and receptionist before she entered the contest.
Williams' spokesman Dennis Dowdell said Williams felt the "unauthorized use" of the photographs is "an invasion of her privacy."
In an appearance on ABC-TV's "Good Morning America" yesterday, Penthouse publisher Robert Guccione said that he has a release form signed by Williams. Guccione would not reveal how much his magazine paid for the pictures, but said it was "a lot."
"They're nude and they're very revealing," Guccione said. "They're rather like other photo layouts that appear in Penthouse. There is nothing coy about them. They're quite exciting."
Playboy magazine spokesmen said editors refused to buy the pictures after they had been approached late last year.
"We are not interested in the possibility of harming her career," said Richard Nelson, speaking for the magazine.
"The first thing we reacted to was a very sketchy . . . photo release," said Playboy's David Salyers. "Apart from the questionable legality of it, the editors met in a regular editorial meeting with Hugh Hefner, hashed it out, and decided it would not really be in Playboy's best interest, and would definitely be detrimental to Miss America's best interest.
"We're often offered unathorized photos of celebrities, taken by paparazzi or by various surreptitious means. We do not publish those kinds of things.
"The photos that ran, we would not have run. We're too conservative. We just don't do the two-ladies-together thing."
Guccione said it had "occurred" to him that publication of the pictures could hurt Williams' career and maybe even cost her the title.
"My first obligation is to my readers . . ." he said on "Good Morning America." "If there is anything wrong with her appearing in Penthouse, it is not her, it is the pageant that is wrong. The pageant is out of step with reality."
Captions accompanying the Penthouse photographs say that "Vannessa asked Chiapel to photograph her." Juxtaposed with the explicit black-and-white photos are pictures of Williams waving to the Atlantic City crowd last September, and talking with President Reagan.
Several hours after the pageant directors made their decision, Helen Williams, Vanessa's mother, said, "It's too bad, but life will go on for her. She is a very talented young lady."
Helen Williams said she had not talked to her daughter about the pictures and had no knowledge of them before an acquaintance called to tell her to turn on the radio.
"She just turned 19," said Williams, "and was very impressionable. I have a very strong suspicion she was duped by someone -- as so often happens in young women's lives -- and now that person is using this to financially benefit himself as well as Penthouse, without any concern for Vanessa."
It isn't clear when the photographs were taken. Guccione said he thought they were taken in 1983. Marks said Vanessa Williams told him the photos were taken three years ago.
No one from the pageant would say if Williams had violated pageant rules or the terms of her contract.
"But in signing the contract, they swear to good moral character, that they have not engaged in acts of moral turpitude and they will uphold the dignity of the crown," said pageant legal counsel Leonard Horn.
"The pageant celebrates the whole woman and its spirit is intrinsically inconsistent with calculated sexual exploitation," the pageant's statement said.
Marks said public opinion was "95 percent against" Williams. To Guccione's suggestion that Williams could work for his magazine, and "would have a better salary and a better future," Marks replied, "Any response I make on Mr. Guccione could not be carried either in the print media or in the electronic media."
Reporters crowded around the Williams' home in Millwood, N.Y., a Westchester County suburb of New York City. Inside, Helen Williams spent much of the day talking to the press.
At a nearby shopping area, someone had spray-painted, "Vanessa is a lesbian nudie."
She said she has not been harassed by neighbors.
"We have had many, many, many phone calls and letters and telegrams delivered," she said. "People have come over and they have been nothing but supportive of Vanessa and us. Some are just amused. Some feel it's too bad the pageant reacted the way it did. The former police chief's wife called and said, 'Vanessa will always be Miss America to me.' "
The NAACP's Hooks released a statement saying the organization "regrets that Penthouse magazine decided to publish nude photographs of Vanessa Williams at this time -- a month before the end of her reign as Miss America. The lifting of her crown not only penalizes the young woman for a past error in judgment, but by inference will be used to reflect upon her race. A double standard is continuously played out in America against black politicians, public figures and others who achieve eminence."
Writer Rod McKuen, who served as a pageant judge last year, said yesterday, "I don't think you can penalize somebody for something they did beforehand. I think all of us have things we don't tell people about. Who the hell wants to have all their flaws blown up?
"It doesn't make me think any less of Vanessa. I think she has been very good for women and very good for blacks. She has been her own person. It's just a pity."
In the Washington area, there were both condemnation and sorrow.
"I hate to see it happen to this particular individual, the first black female American chosen for this honor," said Claudia McKoin, a manager for Bell Atlantic Co. and former president of the Federal City Alumni Chapter of the black sorority Delta Sigma Theta. McKoin added that Williams should not have been asked to resign, since she posed for the pictures before the pageant.
"Right or wrong, those were the standards agreed to," said Patricia Toaste, director of the Office of Women for the City of Alexandria.
Neither had seen the Penthouse pictures, but Pat Press, a Washington writer and columnist, had.
"I feel sad for her," Press said, "a person who was so beautiful, talented, exceptionally bright. When you see them you are going to ask yourself, 'Why?' I think most black women, once they see the pictures, will think that the pageant should have come down on her."
Staff writer Leah Y. Latimer contributed to this report. CAPTION: Pictures 1, Vanessa Williams, from the magazine. Copyright (c) Penthouse Magazine, 1984; Picture 2, Pageant chairman Marks holding the Penthouse cover yesterday. UPI