She waited until the crowd was gone, until the runway lights were out and her last sequined smile was but an image in Uncle Buzzy's Polaroid pictures. And then she sat down alone in a corner of the Hyatt House lobby here and cried, mascara-stained tears splashing off the knees of her yellow nylon jumpsuit.
But even in sorrow, Pamela Shoemaker was a blue-eyed vision, toned and tall and porcelain pale. She had come here from Brentsville, just outside Manassas, a radiant woman-child confident of becoming Miss Virginia-USA and maybe then a star. As it was, she came in fifth.
Not bad, some of the 74 others who came here this weekend would say. She got to prance along the stage and drink up the applause, even got a nice trophy for her $293.50 entry fee.
It wasn't good enough for Pamela. In the world of Virginia beauty pageants, still peopled by blushing blondes and secretaries who proclaim, chins held high, that they want to be like Liz Taylor because she is both actress and "governor's [sic] wife," Pamela Shoemaker is a portrait of a new kind of Virginia woman.
Pamela can simper and bat long eyelashes, play the Tara coquette, or drawl out a story about planting corn in the family garden plot with her dear old "Nanny." She can even testify to being a born-again Christian, how she became, last June 1, a "lump of clay in Jesus' hands."
But there really isn't much country in the George Mason University freshman. She is pure pro, a proud combination of cheesecake and savvy. As a free-lance model, she commands $90 an hour. Her portfolio from Washington's Adair modeling agency features a shot of her clad only in a sheer, see-through blouse, her full, ruby lips pursed seductively at the camera.
She traveled the 80 miles to Cockeysville, Md., for the Miss Maryland-USA pageant last month. There she learned to grease Vaseline on her teeth so her lips wouldn't stick when she smiled and to brush a little blush makeup on her chest to accentuate her cleavage for the judges.
Even after the shock of her loss, she regained her composure quickly. "No," she said, "I won't be back because this time next year I'll be famous by myself."
And though Pamela's parents often leave the keys in the cars and keep the doors unlocked until bedtime, Manassas has become a part of suburban Northern Virginia, a bedroom community of Washington rather than the sleepy little farm town it once was. The glacier of progress has begun to move through, uprooting the wilderness, leaving Pizza Huts behind. As moves progress, so do the young women of Virginia.
It is Friday, the day before the pageant, and Pamela flings open the door of her basement apartment in Fairfax across the street from George Mason. She is bubbly, effervescent at 9 a.m. and drinking cinnamon stick tea. Disco music plays in a back room.
"My parents call me spastic," she explains to a sleepy-eyed visitor. "I call me . . ." -- she searches for the right word, tossing her blond hair, which is only slightly darker at the roots -- ". . . energetic."
With her roommate Kelly Latimer, almost as stunning, also a performing arts major. Though they have been together only a week, they have, says Pamela, "so much in common."
"Yeah," says Kelly, "we both want to be stars."
"Of course. That's why we're both in Fairfax. We're waiting for Marlon Brando to drive by in his limo and discover us," adds Pamela.
On the refrigerator door is a sticker advising "Must Be Born Again;" on the side, a calendar from AMP Telecommunications Company that paid her $1,500 to be Miss June. She looks fetching in a green tank top, a pair of wire cutters in hand.
The whole apartment is a shrine to Jesus and glamor. Next to a Bible and a cross on the mantle of the bedroom the girls share are rhinestone crowns: Kelly's Miss Osbourn Park High School, Pamela's Miss Osbourn Park High School, Kelly's Little Miss Prince William County, and Pamela's Jr. Miss Prince William County.
Walking to class, Pamela's husky voice booms. She smiles at whistles, ignores the boys behind the lips. Today is one of her "academic days," theater theory first and then advanced conversational Spanish, but she talks of the coming weekend.
"My figure can be skinny skinny for modeling, voluptuous for pageants. Right now I have an extremely toned, curved figure, 35-23 1/2-35. For modeling I have a good-sized bust, but for pageants they want cleavage. They stress you can't pad yourself, even put it in their newsletters, but my bathing suit pushes me up."
The Miss USA Pageant, she says, confident of winning the Virginia title and thinking ahead, "is geared to the things I want. Miss America [the contest with talent competition as well as bathing suit and evening gowns like USA] is usually a bunch of pre-med and pre-law students. This is more geared to what I'm into -- modeling, theater, the glamor industry." Another possible road, she says, could be situation comedies.
In class, the boys slip her side glances, stammer when spoken to. After a Spanish lesson devoted to Valentine's Day terms of endearment, she laments just a little as she walks home, the complaints of a beautiful girl.
"It's sad not to have a Valentine. I start going out with someone and they start acting like a puppy dog, putting me on a pedestal and taking me home to meet their mothers. I have to break up with them because it's no challenge. Someday I'll find my prince."
Once, she thought she had found him, a long-haired rock star in a national group. "Millions of teen-age girls were ogling him in Sixteen Magazine," Pamela says. "But he was mine." She hasn't seen him since spring, when she wrote to tell him she'd become a Christian.
On the way home to her parents' house in Brentsville, Pamela leans her head back, closes her eyes and clutches her stomach. As the car heads across the rolling countryside, the animation is suddenly gone. For the last three days, she's been on a grapefruit juice and tea diet, with a momentary lapse, Thursday night, for a 600-calorie, 7-Eleven doughnut.
She is thinking of her favorite, mint chocolate ice cream with lots of hot fudge. Stopping at a drugstore in one of the countless brick shopping centers, Pamela picks up some Maalox. "I wonder how many calories these have," she says.
At home, her mom, Molly, feeds her a pear. At dinner time, when father Jim, an electronics specialist with the Army Recruiting Command, comes home to a dinner of salad and spaghetti, Pamela goes to the health spa for one last workout. Brother Tim, 17, is asleep, preparing for all-you-can-eat night at nearby Captain's Seafood. Before the night is over, he will gorge himself on 12 ribs, a new record at the restaurant.
The Shoemakers live on what used to be the Shoemaker farm. Jim and Molly's two-story rambler is on the hill, granddad and nanny's down below, auntie's across the way. There was a time, not too long ago, Molly says, when the Jim Shoemakers were living pretty high.
Jim had a successful appliance store in Manassas. They had a maid, went on trips, could do pretty much what they wanted. But then Jim expanded, opening another store in Woodbridge just about the time the '72 recession hit. "It seems like it hit this area the hardest," Molly says. "No one was reading the signs right. Jim had to let his mom run the store and he went on the road selling furniture. But that got so expensive, with all the driving and motels, that he went back to government service to work toward his pension. . . I guess that's why there are so many chain and fast food stores out here anymore. They're the only ones who can afford it. That's progress, I guess."
Pamela pops back in, full of energy once again. "I almost fainted twice when I was working out," she says. "But I said, 'Lord Jesus, give me strength,' and taadaa," she does a theatrical jump, arms out Jolson-style, and rouses the two sleeping dogs.
With Tim back from dinner and Pamela's equally pretty little sister, Vicki, 14, ("My mom says I can start modeling as soon as I get my braces off") in attendance, Pamela models her jump suit, purple sequined evening gown and black and purple flowered bathing suit. The talk turns to strategy.
"You have to make sure to make eye contact with the judges," Pamela explains to a visitor while practicing on her regulation pageant silver stiletto heels. "And the walk is really important. You don't want a model walk, tut-ta-tut-ta-tut, or an athletic walk or a sleazy walk. You need to be elegant, think elegant. . . I'm going to act out there. I'm going to be Princess Caroline of Monaco."
Hearing all the talk, seeing his daughter in her outfits, Him pours another cup of coffee and grows misty-eyed. "Yu know, within two minutes after she was born, the nurse brought her out all bloody with shiny black hair, and I told my mother-in-law right there, 'That's Miss America 1980.' Then I calculated a minute and said 'No, 1981. It hit me like an inspiration.
"On Daddy," Pam says, and gives him a big hug.
Saturday, 9:30 a.m. Vickie is in the back seat of "granddad's red car." Mom drives; Pamela, in front, clutches Hanna, her rag doll. The sun slants down on the bare winter trees as the family barrels down the pitted back roads toward I-95. Hardly a car on the road, they pass solitary houses. Moments later they stop and turn around: curlers forgotten.
After stopping off to buy some new silver heels, they pull into the Hyatt and a traffic jam of pretty and not so pretty girls, accompanied by beaming, pear-shaped mothers and leisure-suited fathers. Flowers everywhere, good luck greetings. Pamela is wished off to an orientation meeting and practice.
Later, the butterflies are back. Sid Sussman, the 44-year-old head of American Pageants, Inc., had addressed the group. After more than 20 years in the business, Sussman is known as the King of Beauty Queens, a hefty man with rose-colored dark glasses.
"He told us there are 74 losers here and one winner, so think that you're going to lose and if you don't you'll be surprised," Pamela says. "He also announced that, no, he is not sleeping with anyone in the pageant. . . All the girls were standing around and looking each other over and talking about whether or not their boyfriends checked in all right. I mean, really. I was thinking this is the big time, let's get on with it."
Her roommate, Jo Ellen Wilbur, a Virginia Tech student majoring in electronics, has already gotten on her nerves. "She never wore high heels before and doesn't were makeup," says Pamela. "She's only 5-3 and she wore hiking boots to rehearsal while everyone else was in heels. . . I said I had been watching my weight real hard and she said she had to gain weight for the pageant. She's flat chested, but she's confident she can win . . . Everything I put on she says I look terrible in. I don't know why she's here. She said she just wanted to impress her boyfriend."
There is also talk that one of the contestants, who was in the pageant last year, has returned this year with new, surgically augmented breasts and a "rear-end lift." Cliques begin to form among the girls, one of which becomes known as the "chubbies." "They stand around together with one arm covering their stomachs and point at all the others," one girl explains.
Meanwhile, the hotel is overrun. Doting boyfriends populate the bar, waiting to catch a glimpse of their girlfriends. Little boys with glasses and tiny three-piece corduroy suits romp in the lobby. One clerk struggles at the reception desk with all the flower deliveries and room assignments. A room service waiter runs down the hall after a man who has just lifted a bottle of champagne from a tray in the hall. A bell hop explains to a woman with peach-colored hair how the door lock works.
It is Sunday, the final day of judging. The line forms in front of the ballroom two hours early. The 75 girls, a few still contenders, most not, having been paraded in swimsuits and formal gowns the first evening, are kept hanging even though the scores have been tallied the night before.
"We do that so we get all the parents and friends of the losers to stick around and pay the extra $10 for the second show," explains a part-time employee who says he works in a Seagrams distillery.
The 15 semifinalists are selected, and they parade to "Greased Lighting" and the "Beer Barrel Polka," the tunes provided by "Musical Director" Mervin Conn, a Borscht Belt Lawrence Welk, and his magic accordion.
During a changing break, last year's Miss Virginia-USA is paraded out, an example. Interviewed by "popular emcee" Dick Lamb, she reveals that she's just concluded two weeks of training for a job at Lowery Organ Center in Coliseum Mall in Hampton. "I can only play with two fingers right now," she says."It's heartbreaking to turn over the crown . . . I would like to go to New York and be a model."
The contest proceeds, the audience responds: She looks like that actress in Beach Blanket Bingo." "Wow, she looks like Cheryl Ladd." "Jiggle, jiggle, jiggle." "Her (cheeks, legs, nose) is twitching." One girl is so busy making eye contact with the audience and winking at the judges she forgets to turn to provide a rear view when the command is given. Another breaks out in hives as she walks down the ramp. Pamela has a cheering section of 10. They go wild each time she walks down the ramp. It becomes a contest to see which family can raise the applause meter highest.
Interviews are conducted with the semifinalists, emcee Lamb working off index cards. Susan Prutzman of Annandale, a student of Northern Virginia Community College, explains she'd like to go to Australia to "see the people and the different cultures and the little bears in the trees." Inge Horwath 18, and a Cleopatra look-alike from Arlington, says her pet python "Cool Breeze" has recently "passed away. . . He didn't eat for six months and then he died."
Eventual contest winner Pam Hutchens of Newport News, a breathless law student at Pepperdine in Malibu, Calif., says she'd like to combine law and modeling. And Pamela gets a laugh. "It says here that you like big men who look like Arnold Schwarzenegger," Lamb says.
"I said that kind of tongue-in-cheek. I was kidding," Pamela explains.
"I'm glad about that," Lamb says.
Pamela looks him up and down. "I'll bet you are," she counters.
And then it is time for the envelope. Pamela's family holds hands. Mervin Conn, in a dramatic touch, runs slowly up the scale. Pamela's name is not called. "That bitch," says sister Vicki of the winner.
"The whole time I was growing up and I thought I was an ugly, flatchested, skinny little runt," Pamela is saying, her face radiant once again. "And all that time I would see all these great models and actresses and wondered if I could ever be like them. I guess I want to prove to myself that I've got it in me, too. That they were no better than I can be. m
"I'll do it," she says.