Like so many things bearing the Aaron Spelling brand name, this brisk TV movie about backstage intrigue at a fictional beauty contest is the equivalent of junk food—it tastes good at first, but regret kicks in almost immediately. The Great American Beauty Contest is very much a product of the producer who later subjected the world to Charlie’s Angels, because the movie comprises one scene after another showcasing vapidly attractive young women. On the plus side, the picture isn’t as sleazy as one might think, since there’s only one fleeting sequence of the contest’s swimsuit competition, and the lovelies in the cast represent an appealing collection of ’70s actresses. Spelling regular Farrah Fawcett is present and accounted for, as are Kathy Baumann (a buxom starlet in various B-movies), Susan Damante (of the Wilderness Family pictures), and Joanna Cameron (of the Saturday-morning superhero show Isis), among others. (Watch for a brief, wordless appearance by glamazon actress/singer Susan Anton in the final scene.)
Although each of the aforementioned startlets gets plenty of screen time, the actual star of The Great American Beauty Contest is the elegant Eleanor Parker, best known as the Baroness in the classic family film The Sound of Music (1965). She plays Peggy, a onetime pageant winner who now runs the contest. When the picture begins, Peggy and her handlers greet various contestants, including Angelique (Damante), an innocent who believes in the fairy-tale myth of pageants; Gloria (Cameron), a quasi-militant feminist hoping to win so she can deliver an anti-pageant speech during her coronation; Pamela (Tracy Reed), an African-American upset about being treated as a “token”; and T.L. (Fawcett), a wild girl who enters the contest on a lark. Also in the mix are movie producer Ralph (Louis Jourdan), who serves as a judge and expects sexual favors from wannabes, and Joe (Larry Wilcox, later of C.H.i.P.S.), T.L.’s rambunctious boyfriend.
Considering that The Great American Beauty Contest runs only 74 minutes (the standard length for early-’70s TV movies), Spelling and his collaborators include an abundance of “plot,” making up for in quantity what the project lacks in quality. Rest assured, however, that not a single frame of The Great American Beauty Contest will amuse, delight, or surprise. Instead, the picture functions like the broadcast of a real beauty contest—it invites the male gaze with a steady procession of bright teeth, lustrous hair, sexy curves, and twinkly eyes. And it’s hard to get too strident about a movie that not only features Fawcett doing an atrocious harem-girl dance, but also features characters commenting on the awfulness of said dance. In other words, The Great American Beauty Contest may not be an experience in truly guilt-free ogling, but it’s close.
The Great American Beauty Contest: FUNKY