Neva Fickling’s “This I Know” interview, 2005

November 18, 2012 

Neva Fickling’s “This I Know” interview, 2005

Here are Neva Fickling’s responses to questions from Telegraph reporter Joe Kovac Jr. during his interview of Fickling in 2005 as part of The Telegraph’s “This I Know” series:I grew up in Florida. There was a huge oak tree across the road from our house, and I would take my Betty Grable and Deanna Durbin paper dolls and climb up in the oak tree. I had a little friend from next door who would join me, and we would play for hours. I don’t think children play with paper dolls much anymore.

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In my high school growing up I could name the two girls that smoked and the one boy that drank beer.

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I can remember my grandmother during the war, thinking when my sisters wore short-shorts that was just really, really bad.

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My mother and daddy at a very young age were married and left Moultrie, Georgia 1 something like 1924 1 to seek their fortune. They went down to central Florida in a Model T Ford with an uncle. It took them three days on dirt roads.

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In my courting days, one of the lovely things of growing up in that area, you would get in the middle of a citrus grove 1 which usually had a lake in view 1 turn the radio up, and during the season when the orange blossoms were in bloom it was pretty romantic.

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My first long vacation was when my family took me to New Jersey. We had some good friends ... and the first time we went I’d never been out of the state of Florida. And on one of the visits we made, in 1939 I think, they took me to Atlantic City. And I’ll never forget walking down the boardwalk and there was Bess Myerson’s picture in the Miss America window, and a fleeting thought was, “Gee, that might be a nice thing to be.”

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I was the Tangerine Queen at Cypress Gardens when I was 16.

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You really cannot tell what’s in the package by the wrapping.

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I love that Tom Hanks’ movie, “Forrest Gump,” where his mama says something about picking out the chocolate. I always thought, “You know, you can put that one back and try another one.”

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I was maybe 11 or 12 and we went to a concert by Dorothy Kirsten, who at the time was one of the Metropolitan Opera’s top performers. I thought she was so beautiful and sang beautifully. And so I went backstage to get her autograph and I waited and I waited. I mean the line was huge. I was the last one. I thought she was going to leave the stage before I got there, but she didn’t. She waited. ... She said something about, “This is good luck that you’re at the end of the line.” ... I just thought that was wonderful. I guess I was inspired.

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As Miss America you learn to get dressed really fast. I was telling my granddaughter that the other day. Her dad had said something about her long shower, and I said, “Well you know, darling, you have to learn how to change in a hurry and put your makeup on in hurry.”

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I used to go around as Miss America with nothing but lipstick on. ... Many times I traveled without makeup. I don’t like makeup.

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I think you have to look to heaven for a good marriage, but I don’t think good marriages are made in heaven.

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I was the homecoming queen and all those things. I was voted as being a pretty girl. But I never really thought I was pretty until I got to be about 65 years old and I looked back on my early pictures, and I thought, “You know, I was kind of pretty.”

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It had been drilled in me all my life, pretty is as pretty does. And even when I won the bathing-suit (competition) in the Miss America Pageant and the Miss Georgia Pageant, it was the talent award that I really felt the better about. I had had to work on that. I had put time and a lot of effort into playing the piano.

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On stage, the last five of us were standing there and they asked three questions. One was, “Who do you think is the most important man in the world today?” And Truman was president at the time 1 and they’d asked that question several times and some girls would say, “My dad” and so forth 1 and I happened to say, “Well I think the president of the United States is one of the most important men in the world.” And Truman was very unpopular at the time. And so when I said President Truman, this low boooooo came out, and I thought, “Oh, that did it for me.” And then they said, “Where would you like to spend your honeymoon?” And I quickly recovered by saying, “Atlantic City.”

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There was an article in Time magazine about me one time. I had dated this boy, and it was written up that I was gonna be “waltzing down the aisle” with this fellow. And I thought, “That is a total, total wrong.” And I didn’t think I could handle the lifestyle.

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(Beauty queens) are not taught waves, and I hate the way some of them wave. ... I think a happy, animated wave is better. A wave is like a handshake. There’s nothing worse, as they say, than the dead-fish handshake.

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As Miss America you meet a lot of aggressive men, and the aggressive men turned me off. Whereas the shy man who seemed to have more inside than he was willing to put on the outside right away was very attractive.

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I’m never on the fence. If there’s anything about me, I’m either on one side or the other with passion. I guess it means I’m opinionated.

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While I’m never on the fence, I hope I’m never rigid either.

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I was at a dinner party in Utah about five or six years ago and (someone’s) impression was that we’re still fighting the Civil War here. He asked me some archaic questions, just absolutely ridiculous. And finally I said, “Well you know, we have indoor toilets, too.”

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When I was born in the middle of the Depression in 1933, my parents didn’t have two dimes to rub together. Mother made me this precious little dress out of some scraps. My daddy called me the million-dollar baby with the 3-cent dress.

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At Eisenhower’s inauguration, I sat by Nixon. He was nice. He was personable. You know, it’s sad. He did a lot of things right and a few things wrong.

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I was at (Eisenhower’s) inaugural ball. I went with a young colonel who was a nuclear physicist at the time. And the next day in The New York Times was our picture, and it was captioned, “Beauty and the Brass.”

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I don’t like to be introduced as a former Miss America. I mean, at this age, I’m very realistic.

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I can never put on lipstick before 9 o’clock in the morning. I have to have my coffee.

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I think a porch in the South is as important as grits for breakfast. I read something one time about the things you do on a porch, and it’s all so true: you shell peas, you court in the swing, you watch the rain, you rock your child, you read a book, you have a meal. I could live on the porch.

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Out here we have so many frogs, it’s absolutely wonderful. We have a frog symphony when it clouds up a little bit. And sitting out here listening to those frogs has been something I never expected. It’s just a delight. My daughter in Atlanta says, “Mama, we don’t have any frogs.” Isn’t that sad?

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I don’t know why, but when Santa Claus comes down the road in a parade or something and I’m standing there, I almost always have tears. I love Santa Claus. I guess it’s a happy cry.

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