Jo-Carroll Dennison, who holds the distinction as the first Miss Texas to win Miss America, has died at the age of 97. She reportedly passed peacefully on October 18, 2021. She is survived by her two sons from her second marriage and by her three grandchildren.
Jo-Carroll Dennison, who won the Miss America competition back in 1942, turned that victory into a decades long acting career that saw her appear in both movies and TV series. She was a contracted player to 20th Century Fox in the 40s and 50s, appearing, at first uncredited, in several movies, as well as appearing in several TV series for Fox’s TV studios, including Dick Tracy and appearing in an episode of Abbot and Costello.
Dennison was born on December 16, 1923 in a men’s prison in Florence, Arizona. Although not the ideal place to give birth, the prison was where her parents were able to stop while in the area during a trip from Texas to California when the time came to give birth. Dennison began entertaining at a very young age, singing, acting and tap dancing in her parents’ traveling medicine show. Although entertainment was in her blood, she wisely pursued an education in business.
It was in Tyler, Texas while enrolled in business school that she was first approached to be in a beauty pageant for the first time. A local man stopped her on the street and asked her to represent his bank in the local beauty contest. She won that pageant and several others before being crowned Miss America in 1942. As Miss America, Dennison 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.”
Dennison was married twice. First she was married to actor Phil Silvers, whom she met while working on Something for the Boys for Fox studios in 1944. They were married from 1945 until they divorced in 1950. She later married television producer Russell Stoneham, known for producing such classic shows as The Streets of San Francisco and Barnaby Jones, in 1954. They divorced in 1981. Dennison’s last credited acting role was in 1976, although she has appeared in documentaries on Phil Silvers and Frank Sinatra since then. Before her death she wrote her autobiography Finding My Little Red Hat where she revealed she was sexually assaulted at the age of 12. The book was released in September of this year.
The news of her death was first reported by her son, Peter Stoneham. Services are private to the family. Rest in peace, Jo-Carroll Dennison. This news comes from The Hollywood Reporter.