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Jo-Carroll Dennison, who parlayed her victory in the 1942 Miss America contest into an acting career that saw her appear in films including Winged Victory and The Jolson Story, has died. She was 97.
Dennison died Oct. 18 at her home in Idyllwild, California, her son, Peter Stoneham, told The New York Times.
A contract player at 20th Century Fox, Dennison also had uncredited roles in The Song of Bernadette (1943), Something for the Boys (1944) — where she first met her future husband, actor Phil Silvers — and State Fair (1945) and appeared on television in Lux Video Theater, in a Dick Tracy series and on an episode of The Abbott and Costello Show.
She was married to Silvers from 1945 until their 1950 divorce and to TV producer Russell Stoneham (The Streets of San Francisco, Barnaby Jones) from 1954 until their 1981 divorce.
Dennison was born on Dec. 16, 1923, in a men’s prison in Florence, Arizona. Her parents, Elizabeth and Harry, had stopped in the area while driving from Texas to California.
As a youngster, she sang, tap-danced and acted in her folks’ traveling medicine show.
In Tyler, Texas, where she was attending business school, a local man stopped her on the street and asked her to represent his bank in the town’s beauty contest. She won that pageant and several others on the way to being selected Miss America in 1942, then entertained the troops during World War II.
“Back in 1942, the pageant was mostly about looks. Yet, I never thought I had won because of the way I looked, but rather because of the way I felt about myself,” she said as Miss America celebrated its 100 anniversary last month.
“With this in mind, I flat-out refused to wear my bathing suit on the stage after the pageant, beginning with my very first tour stop at the Faye Theater in Philadelphia. I’m so delighted that the Miss America Organization has embraced this principle and now focuses on the totality of each candidate.”
Also last month, she published her memoirs, Finding My Little Red Hat.
Survivors include her sons, Peter and John, and three grandchildren.
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