BERT PARKS HAS BECOME a national issue.
Organizers of the Miss America pageant have said they are firing him at 65 because they want a man with a younger look. That is terrible. Bert should keep his job as long as his teeth last. That's what the fair-minded, grown-up woman in me says.
Now, let me tell you what the mean little teenager in me says. Let me tell you about the real Bert Parks.
I first met the real Bert Parks in what are loosely called the formative years. The first Miss America pageant was televised in 1953, and if I didn't see that one, I saw every one that followed. Every year, I sat transfixed before the tube, watching those gorgeous, long-haired women parading down runaways in bathing suits and evening gowns, models of what I was to become. Someday I, too, would have a 38-inch bosom, a 16-inch waist, and 32-inch hips, and someday I, too, would have a Clear Complexion.
Bert Parks would croon, "There she is, Miss America, Our Ideal," and there I would be, my face glued to the screen, lost in the reverie of what I would someday look like. Those are impressionable years for young girls, and Bert Parks let us know in no uncertain terms that if we were ever to land a husband, we'd better be tall and slim, with long hair, clear complexions, and soft southern accents.
When Parks sang his song, Art Buchwald wrote, he sent America to bed "knowing that no matter what disasters we would face in coming months, Bert Parks would always see that this country had a beauty queen."
Art Buchwald just doesn't understand. He is a man. What Bert Parks really did was send generations of adolescent girls to bed with the hopeless dream that someday we, too, would hold up a strapless bathing suit by Ourselves (also known as developments).
Well, the formative years passed, and for a lot of us something terrible happened. We didn't form. Oh, we got tall all right, and lots of us let our hair grow long and spent hours brushing and curling our crowning glory into super-long Miss America pageboys. We layered on the eye shadow and lipstick and rouge and eyebrow liner and mascara and powder, knowing in our hearts that Miss America's peaches-and-cream complexion had at least a quarter inch of makeup. No one could really be that much prettier than we were naturally.
For a while, we could comfort ourselves with the thought that, after all, the Miss Americas were a lot older than we were. They were 18, 19, even 20 and 21 years old. When you're 12, that gives you a lot of time.
Never mind that by the time I was 12 my friend Toni was Developing and my friend Donna had Developed. Mother was a great comfort during those trying times. "Let nature take its course," she would say, while firmly suggesting that I select a dressy pattern with optional straps. My older sister was more direct. "You wouldn't want your dress to fall down," she'd cackle.
One day when I was 14 and home with a cold, I assessed the situation carefully and realized it was, in a word, desperate. Maybe Miss America could wait for nature to take its course, but I'd waited long enough. I plunged into the full box of Kleenex, and a few minutes later I marched into the kitchen and nonchalantly asked for some tea. It is to my mother and sister's everlasting credit that they averted their gaze from my miraculous Developments and politely inquired about my cold. That's what I call class.
I came to my senses, of course, and realized Kleenex would never do. And as I got older I discovered the art of ridicule. I also became an intellectual. Each year I derived enormous satisfaction See MANN, B3, Col. 1> out of the fact that I gave vastly better answers to Bert Parks' silly questions than any of the contestants. Those girls might be beauty queens but they were also what we used to call dumb bunnies.
Bert's influence, nevertheless, was profound. My Grand Amour having left for college, I studied my way through my senior year of high school with Pecan Sandies cookies. By graduation I had lost my Grand Amour and gained 20 pounds. That summer I starved. I was, after all, about to depart on the most important journey of my life.I was about to go to college to find a husband. By September I'd brought my weight down to 102 pounds and my waist down to a memorable 17 inches. At least one part of me finally was measuring up to Bert Parks' ideal.
That waist, of course, is only a memory. So are the miserable teen-age years when my friends and I spent our fortunes on makeup and complexion remedies, when we dieted and exercised, when we pulled our waists in and pushed our chests out and poured ourselves into slinky dresses that would have been perfect for Marilyn Monroe.
Yes, those years and those struggles are merely memories, and though nature ultimately took her course, I have reconciled myself to the fact that I will never be a leggy southern blonde with a Clear Complexion, who can hold a strapless evening gown up by Herself. I deal with harsh realities now, not Bert Parks' ideals. Sure, Bert gave me some unhappy moments, but I'm not one to bear a grudge. I can even be charitable about Bert's predicament now: Bert's getting a raw deal and someone should give him his job back.
But scratch the surface of the adult woman saying that, and you're going to find a flat-chested, teen-age girl hooting maliciously across the ages: "Tough Darts, Bert."