‘We support each other,’ Dorothy says, ‘but his career comes first’
During her reign as Miss America 1977, Dorothy Benham said she was an old-fashioned girl who didn’t believe in smoking, gambling, drugs, abortion or premarital sex. She turned down a $1 million offer to pose nude for Hustler (“Money isn’t everything”) and idealized Jeanette MacDonald.
At the time, her husband-to-be, Russ Anderson, was a handsome but romantically inept ex-college jock who seemed a perfect match. “I didn’t get my first kiss until our third date,” Dorothy reports, “and that was just a peck. He was the shyest, least forward man I had ever met.”
Russ, who is now a Pittsburgh Penguins hockey defenseman, says that he was well behaved by default. “I figured she thought I was a jerk,” Anderson recalls of meeting Dorothy at a friend’s wedding in 1975. “It was after a game, I was thirsty, and I had some beers. To tell you the truth, I was a little bit tipsy. I made a move on her that night, and it didn’t work out.”
Fortunately, Dorothy was as interested as Russ was clumsy. “I never got that involved in girls before,” he confesses. So she asked him out—through a friend. Russ balked, citing academic pressures. (He was a C+ phys ed major.) Dorothy persisted and on their first date beat him at bowling. “I was concentrating on her,” he explains.
They were a regular item by the time Dorothy made it to the Miss America finals. Russ had strongly mixed feelings at the pageant. “I knew if she won I’d never see her.” Indeed, during her reign (he was by then a rookie with the Penguins) they were together only five times. “Being apart really helped us communicate,” says Dorothy. “We’re both jealous, but we try to control it.” Russ needn’t have worried. The blond, blue-eyed Benham was asked out only once—by Cincinnati baseball star Johnny Bench. Russ offered her a ring three days after her term was up.
Now the Andersons—both 24—have two homes, two cars and a six-figure income, but no college diplomas. (He quit when the Penguins beckoned; she dropped out to play queen-for-a-year.) While neither rules out going back to school, Russ plays a grueling seven-month, 80-game season, and Dorothy is inching toward a show business career. A classically trained soprano, she starred in Carousel at Birmingham, Alabama’s Summerfest last year and takes voice, ballet and jazz lessons in Pittsburgh. Last month she taped a PBS special with the Minnesota Opera Company. Russ loves to hear her sing, although the first time, she recalls, “He fell on the floor howling. He couldn’t believe that such a big voice could come out of me.”
Dorothy will perform again when she co-hosts the Miss America Pageant a second time next fall. Though Bert Parks won’t be there (“People have to realize he couldn’t be forever”), Russ will, with one eye on the Pageant and one on Atlantic City’s gaming tables. Dorothy snitches, “He loses at everything except roulette.”
When the Penguins play at Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena, Dorothy is there watching—and signing autographs. She even tapes out-of-town games on their Betamax for Russ to study. “We support each other,” she explains. “But Russ’s career does come first.”
As a Miss America hopeful, Minneapolis-born Dorothy had the right genes. Her mother was a runner-up in the 1952 Mrs. America contest, and older sister Totiana, 32, was a contender for Miss Minneapolis in the late ’60s. Dorothy rarely dated in high school. “I got bored too easily with guys,” she remembers. Perhaps because of her shyness and music lessons, her senior class voted her “Most Respected.” Her father, a geologist, numismatist and onetime circus owner, died in his 70s during her senior year.
Later her stepfather, high school choir director Oscar Dahle, encouraged her to study voice at St. Paul’s Macalester College. There she entered the Miss South St. Paul beauty pageant “only thinking about the money.” Even when she won Miss Minnesota, it was “just a job.” During her victory stroll down the runway in Atlantic City, Dorothy recalls, “I was numb. I was the only one not crying.”
Though she took the swimsuit competition that year (at 5’7½”, 35-22-35 and 120 pounds), Dorothy is proudest of winning the talent contest after singing Adele’s Laughing Song from Die Fledermaus, the operetta by Johann Strauss. “The girls in Miss America aren’t necessarily pretty,” she claims. “But they’re talented and intelligent. I don’t think I would have entered some of those other pageants that are just based on looks.” Refusing to take any controversial stands (she wouldn’t even root for the Minnesota Vikings), she earned nearly $90,000 for her personal appearances in 45 states and five countries.
Russ was born in Iowa but moved to Minneapolis with his mother and father, a dockworker, at age 3. An all-state tackle and football captain in high school, he preferred hockey. Ironically, during his sophomore year at the University of Minnesota, torn ligaments kept him off the gridiron, but he was able to skate and, once in the Gophers lineup, he never left. After the team won the NCAA championship his junior year, he signed with Pittsburgh.
“As long as I have the contract I want, I’m happy here,” he says of the Penguins, who were vying for first place last week. Dorothy would rather see him play for Minnesota to be near family and friends. Like many professional athletes’ wives, she keeps their four-bedroom house in Pittsburgh sparsely furnished in case of a sudden relocation. The Andersons seldom socialize, preferring to stay close to the tube or take in an occasional movie.
Dorothy’s an avowed clotheshorse who gets everything—including her $9,400 mink coat—at half price in return for promotion at a Minneapolis department store. Right now the Andersons say they are feeling a little strapped. Taxes and bad advice about investments have left them “with practically nothing,” she laments. They own two cars—a Chevy Blazer and a Saab—but drive the Saab only six months a year to cut the insurance bill.
Barring any injuries (he was sidelined with a fractured cheek last season), Anderson would like to play hockey “for another 10 or 15 years,” then open “a sporting goods store or a small bar somewhere.” Dorothy has children on her mind—”at least three”—but isn’t sure when to fit them in.
First, she wants to shape up her voice. “Shu-Shu [her poodle] cries when I sing,” she kids. “That makes me wonder.”