This Day in History

On July 23, 1984, reigning Miss America pageant winner Vanessa Williams gave up her title. It was the first resignation of a Miss America winner, and it was because of a scandal relating to Penthouse magazine. Penthouse announced that it was going to publish nude pictures of the model in its September 1984 issue.

The fact that Vanessa Williams did not complete a full year as Miss America was particularly tragic, not only because of the scandal, but also because she was the first African American woman to ever win the pageant. However, another black woman, Suzette Charles, was the second place winner and she assumed the role of Miss America for the last two months of Williams' reign.

Tried to Sue Penthouse but the Lawsuit Would Not Stick

According to the details of the scandal, Vanessa Williams was working at a modeling agency in New York when a photographer asked to take nude pictures of her in silhouette, saying that her face and identity would be obscured in the pictures. As it turned out, however, the model was recognizable in the photos, which the photographer later sold to Penthouse. Williams initiated a lawsuit that contested Penthouse's intellectual property rights to the photos, but she later had to drop the lawsuit due to the existence of a model release form that she signed before the photo shoot.

Williams Continued on to Have a Successful Career

Fortunately, the scandal was not the end of Vanessa Williams' career. She later entered the entertainment industry as a recording artist and actress on Broadway. She has also worked in television, movies and has released some successful music albums.

Perhaps Williams' case is more proof that all publicity is good publicity and a "scandal" does not always have to have negative consequences for one's career -- even if you are in the public eye. Indeed, just because you do not have a legal solution to your problem -- an intellectual property lawsuit in Williams' case -- it does not mean that all is lost.