“Back when he was a boy in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, Leonard would watch white teams play through a hole in the fence….
“There was no high school in Rocky Mount for blacks, so young Leonard shined shoes, until, like his father, he could become a railroad man. Only when he lost his job in the Depression did he turn to baseball to try to make a living. Soon he was playing for the famous Negro League champions, the Homestead Grays of Pittsburgh…”
— From “A Long Toss Back to the Heyday of Negro League Baseball” by Frank Deford in Smithsonian magazine (November 2013)
Leonard died less than three months after seeing his birthday celebrated by his hometown. Still around, however: Buck Leonard Boulevard, Buck Leonard Park, a Buck Leonard exhibit at the Imperial Centre and the Buck Leonard Association for Sports & Human Enrichment.
“What I like most about Frank Deford‘s new novel—and I like many things about it—is the stunning fidelity with which it brings back to life a place and time that I knew intimately: North Carolina, Chapel Hill in particular, during the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. How he does this mystifies me, for he is neither a native North Carolinian nor an alumnus of the University of North Carolina; but he reveals himself in Everybody’s All-American (Viking, $13.95) to be about as close to a Tar Heel born and bred as any Baltimore Yankee (which Deford is) could ever hope to be….
“Deford recaptures the North Carolina scene dating back to 1954, the year his fictional protagonist, Gavin Grey, finished up at UNC. Not merely does Deford know all the words to all the songs, he knows the accents and inflections they were sung in and what the singers wore….”
— From “In Frank Deford’s novel, a football hero finds the hurrahs don’t last” by Jonathan Yardley in Sports Illustrated (Oct. 26, 1981)
Deford died Sunday in Key West. He was 78.
“That they will spend $60,000 a year to send their son to Duke and then they will will turn on the TV and see him half-naked with his face painted blue, contorted, screaming at some poor guy from Wake Forest or Clemson shooting a free throw.”
— Frank Deford, describing “American parents’ worst nightmare” on NPR’s “Morning Edition”
“In 1961, Miss North Carolina, Maria Beale Fletcher, was named Miss America. A former A-student in high school, Maria was also the daughter of professional dancers and had been a Rockette herself. After winning the title she expressed an interest in opening up a dancing school rather than going to college. The possibility so appalled the Pageant that four Miss Americas, who had returned for the ceremonies , were sicked on Miss Fletcher to give her some of that old-time Pageant religion. Eventually, Maria gave in and subsequently used the scholarship at Vanderbilt University, where she enjoyed an outstanding academic career.
“The point is not primarily what she finally elected to do; it is in the reaction of the Pageant to the idea that anyone might wish to deviate from the academic schedule. But anyway, for proof that Maria certainly made the right decision, it cited that she found and married an outstanding young doctor at Vanderbilt. As the Pageant will explain, over and over, a formal education is a most valuable American commodity.”
— From “There She Is: The Life and Times of Miss America” by Frank Deford (1971)
As Jack noted in his comments on Margaret “Mug” Richardson, the archives yield scant information on early Miss North Carolinas.
According to contemporary news accounts, the first Miss North Carolina was crowned at Wrightsville Beach in 1933, and later she is pictured in a lineup of contestants in Atlantic City. But Leola Councilman of Sanford is inexplicably ignored in both Miss North Carolina and Miss America pageant histories.
I had hoped this badge and photo from the collection could be traced to an appearance by Miss Councilman at the 1933 national convention of the American Legion, held in conjunction with the Century of Progress world’s fair. Alas, no, says Donna Hay of Encino, Calif., who has done remarkably detailed research on the often chaotic 1933 competition. The Chicago exposition rolled out “lots of state beauty queens throughout its year of operation [that] had nothing to do with the Miss America pageant.”
So who is that off-brand Miss North Carolina riding regally past the crowds along Chicago’s waterfront? Her name is remembered even less than Leola Councilman’s.
For a lovingly amused look at North Carolina’s state pageant culture, see Frank Deford’s “There She Is: The Life and Times of Miss America” (1971).