Vanessa Williams, the reigning Miss America, said yesterday she did not remember ever signing a release for nude photographs taken of her with another woman two years ago, and that the pictures were to have been private.
Williams, 21, was asked Friday to resign after it was revealed the sexually explicit photographs of her will appear in the September issue of Penthouse magazine.
She spent the weekend discussing her legal options with lawyers and will reveal her decision at a press conference in New York City at 2 p.m. today. Pageant officials will hold a news conference today at 3:30 in Atlantic City to respond.
"I guess no one owns the right to the pictures. It's a legal question," Williams said in a telephone interview with the Associated Press. "I don't recall signing anything with photographer Tom Chiapel . I remember signing a stat sheet as a model. Every model at the registry had to fill one out."
Williams said from her lawyer's Westchester office that she was assured by Chiapel that the pictures were to be artistic photographs, never to be shown publicly, and that she would not be identifiable in them.
Williams' family is advising her to refuse to resign her title, her father said yesterday. "Our feeling is that she should continue with it," Milton Williams said by phone. "We feel she's earned it. We feel it could be seen as an admission of guilt, of having done something that was wrong and distasteful, and we don't feel she did."
Milton Williams said his daughter, the first black to win the contest, had not yet made up her mind.
No matter what she decides, however, pageant officials have decided that Williams will not be present at this year's show, nor will there be any acknowledgment of her reign, and that pictures of Williams will not appear in the Miss America program, pageant executive director Albert A. Marks Jr. told the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Pageant officials on Friday gave Williams 72 hours to announce her decision. This is the first time in the pageant's 63-year history a Miss America has been asked to resign.
The contract all Miss America national participants must sign makes no reference to nude modeling, but does include the statement "I have not been involved in any act of moral turpitude." The contract does not define "moral turpitude."
Another part of the document states, ". . . if I conduct myself in a manner which, in the opinion of the Miss America Pageant does not uphold and maintain the dignity and honor of the title 'Miss America' then I understand and agree that Miss America Pageant may at its exclusive option terminate my right to the title."
"She hasn't made her mind up definitely yet, but she's leaning towards not resigning," said Milton Williams' brother, Earl Williams of Baltimore, who spoke to his brother earlier yesterday. "It's important to her because she has taken the idea that she is the role model for a lot of little girls."
The Penthouse pictures, including photographs of Williams with another woman, were taken in 1982 when Williams worked as a receptionist for photographer Tom Chiapel of Brewster, N.Y. A representative for Chiapel sold the photographs to Penthouse without Williams' knowledge.
Williams said she did not recall doing the photo session until she recently found out about the planned Penthouse spread.
According to Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione, who purchased the pictures from Chiapel, the magazine does have a signed release.
The telephone for the Chiapel's TEC Model Registry is reported temporarily disconnected or no longer in service. The Syracuse Post-Standard has reported that Chiapel recently closed the Mount Kisco business and opened another studio, which also has closed.
Williams said she went to work for Chiapel as a makeup artist and receptionist in June 1982 after her freshman year at Syracuse University.
"Tom had expressed nude photography and asked me if I'd do it," she said. "I had never done it before. I was a bit curious, but I didn't know if I wanted to take the chance."
She said she did a session with him after he assured her the photographs would only be seen by her. When she saw a contact sheet, she said, "I wasn't really thrilled about them. I didn't want anyone to see them."
Sometime later, Williams said, Chiapel told her he wanted to pose her with another model "in a silhouette art form. He assured us that both of us would be unidentifiable . . . He assured me nothing would happen and I trusted him."
She said every shot in the session was posed by the photographer. "It was an uncomfortable situation, and in terms of the time period, short . . . I was not continually doing anything with the other model."
Williams said she had not talked to Chiapel and did not know why he released the photos at this time.
"I think it is a violation of my rights," she said. "It's obviously my own fault, but I trusted the photographer. I had never made any agreement with him or Penthouse."
"I was up there when she went to do the modeling shots," said Earl Williams, a computer analyst for the Defense Department. "I got the impression that she didn't get paid." Williams said his niece was friends with Chiapel's partner, Larry Kelly, and "she kind of trusted him to have her best interests in mind." Of Chiapel, he said, "he probably saw he could make some easy money."
Milton Williams said Chiapel offered to shoot some pictures for Vanessa's modeling portfolio and that the family saw those pictures, but not the ones that will appear in Penthouse.
Williams' mother, Helen Williams, said, "If this experience can possibly help some other woman who might be caught up in the same situation innocently, or help in some way to clean up whatever scum is out there who would do something like this to a young woman, it will be worth the sacrifice to the family."
"I was happy and sad for her the night she was crowned," Norman Sacks, Chiapel's assistant for about a year, told a Knight-Ridder reporter. "I knew him by this time, and I knew he would do something with those pictures. At her expense, he has gained his financial freedom. He is very, very greedy."
Guccione refused to say how much his magazine paid for the pictures.
If Williams does relinquish her crown two months before her reign ends in September, first runner-up Suzette Charles of New Jersey, who is also black, will assume the title. Charles told the Associated Press she was prepared to honor her contract with the pageant that would require her to serve out the term of Miss America.
"My commitment is to the pageant first," Charles said.
Marks said Williams would be allowed to keep the rhinestone-studded crown, about $125,000 she has made from personal appearances in the past 10 months, and a prorated amount of the $25,000 in scholarship money that was part of her prize.
"She served the pageant, and served it well, for 10 months," he said.
Marks said he first heard about the photographs from Williams last Sunday.
"She said, 'Well, it was three years ago, and young people do foolish things and I greatly regret it.'
"I think only Vanessa can answer why she posed for the pictures , nor are we sitting in judgment of her as a person. Our sole concern is the Miss America pageant -- its integrity and viability."
Pageant officials had not been in contact with Williams or her family over the weekend. Both of Williams' parents complained that they and their daughter learned about the officials' decision to ask for her resignation from news reports.
"We're also distressed that Vanessa did not have a hearing," said Milton Williams.
"She's in the hands of her lawyers," said Marks in response to the complaints. "Only lawyers should talk to lawyers."
Williams said she has received offers for various show business projects, and would like a good Broadway role, a TV spot or film, and will "probably decide within the next month" what she will do.
She said she is not bitter toward the pageant, and that the rallying to her support by the public, her parents and friends has been "wonderful."
"It certainly makes me feel loved," she said. "It's so much easier to get through this with that support."
Over the weekend the Williams family continued to be inundated with messages of support, family members said.
"They've gotten bundles of letters," said Earl Williams. "Their living room is full of flowers."
"We've had only two negative phone calls out of -- I can't tell you how many -- hundreds of calls," said Milton Williams.
Marks said earlier that the response to the pageant's actions had been "98 percent" in support.
"Now they're supplications," he said yesterday. " 'Please don't do this to that girl,' they say. When I talk to them, I tell them to please withhold judgment until they see the pictures."
As the pair of press conferences approached, the participants in the events of the past few days were attempting to anticipate the aftershocks.
Marks says he does not believe the pageant will be permanently injured by the events, adding that the publicity surrounding the events may even attract more viewers to the pageant in September "to see how we handle the thing.
"There'll be a lot of hullabaloo for a time," he said. "Your enemies always speak out, and your friends support you, and I'm sure we have more friends than enemies. I don't think it will have any net effect.
"There will be a Miss America '84 on the stage. How, who, where or why, I can't tell you at this time," Marks said.
Pageant officials have been in close touch with the pageant's four corporate sponsors -- Gillette Co. of Boston, American Greetings Corp. of Cleveland, Pillsbury Co. of Minneapolis and Beatrice Foods Co. of Chicago. Marks said three of the four sponsors had praised the pageant's actions and one was still "mulling."
On Friday American Greetings canceled advertisements featuring Williams in five magazines, fearing negative reaction. The ads were for a consumer sweepstakes called the Miss America Sweepstakes.
Williams was dropped this weekend from the list of entertainers at the Carlton Celebrity Dinner Theater in Bloomington, Minn. Williams was scheduled to appear with Bob Hope Aug. 29-Sept. 1. A spokeswoman for the theater told United Press International the talent agency that organized the show dropped Williams and did not consult the theater or Hope. Williams has been a member of the Hope troupe since she was crowned and traveled with Hope to entertain U.S. troops in Lebanon.
Milton Williams said he had not heard of the cancellation, and knew of no others.
The September issue of Penthouse, meanwhile, was rushed to distributors a week early because of "all the attention," according to magazine spokesman Sy Presten. Five million copies will be on newsstands today.