She has tried marijuana (then told her parents and got “properly scolded”). She thinks abortion and premarital sex are matters of individual choice. And she has “nothing against homosexuals.” Neither the confession about pot nor the opinions on morality are exactly avant-garde for a college sophomore these days. What makes them special in this case is that they come from Miss America, long considered the nation’s most professional goody-goody. Tawny Elaine Godin is changing that image.
“People think I am very outspoken,” says Tawny, who is on leave from Skid-more College after an A-average freshman year. “There is only one drawback—sometimes people take what I say too seriously. I’m just a 19-year-old girl. What I say isn’t gospel.”
Nonetheless, it has rarely been heard from a reigning Miss America. But Tawny is not turning her back on those nice folks in Atlantic City. Though she is not antiabortion, she does support the pageant’s ban on contestants who have had one. “It would be one thing if you could keep it quiet,” Tawny says realistically. “But if people found out they’d be up in arms.” And while Miss America wants equality as a marriage partner and in her career—she will try out as a broadcaster for NBC-TV—she ducks the feminist label. “I don’t like that word. I do like having doors opened for me and having my cigarette lit,” she says. (Her view is rhetorical since she doesn’t smoke.)
If she is not yet the Betty Ford of teenagers, Tawny represents a lunge forward in Miss America’s journey into the 20th century. Since 1969 when Pepsi-Cola dropped out as a sponsor, complaining that Atlantic City was out of step with its generation, contest officials have shown interest in livelier, less pallid winners. In an article about this year’s contest in Seventeen, pageant judge and author Frank Deford noted that Tawny’s bright handling of the first interview triumphed over her wooden gait on the runway. (“I am definitely not a bathing beauty queen,” Tawny protests. “Look at these,” she adds, pounding her thighs.)
Raised in New York and Toronto, Tawny (her real name) speaks French and Spanish fluently and has a nodding acquaintance with Russian, Greek and Latin. She has been playing classical piano for nine years and composing for three. Her Images in Pastels, which she played during the talent competition in Atlantic City, is now under consideration by two music publishers.
Last week Tawny decided to add another title to her résumé: Mrs. She became engaged to a 27-year-old doctor, Miles Little, whom she met last January during an appearance in his hometown of Spartanburg, S.C. “He’s perfect,” she says flatly. “I can’t find anything wrong with him.” She is apprehensive over what her southern in-laws-to-be will think about her experiment with marijuana, but Miles loyally defends her. “I think it’s great that she speaks her mind,” he says. She gushes of him: “Miles isn’t the least impressed that I’m Miss America. If I was going out with a guy who was gaga over me, I could walk all over him.”
Though Tawny travels an average of 20,000 miles a month, she managed to spend most of the last five weeks with Miles in New York at plays, dinners and a debutante ball (her own). During her year on the throne, Tawny will earn about $100,000 for endorsements and appearances. Already she has bought a $5,000 black mink coat and two full-cut diamond rings.
Miles is on a year’s leave from the Los Angeles County-University of Southern California Medical Center, where he is specializing in emergency room medicine. He hopes to marry Tawny by early 1977. After finishing his residency at the hospital in 1978 they probably will move back East.
All of which has left Tawny’s mother and her father, a dapper promotion and advertising manager for IBM, in a daze. “Eighteen months ago,” John Godin says, leaning against a wall in the living room of his three-bedroom condominium in Yonkers, N.Y., “Tawny was planning for a Ph.D. so she could be a linguistics professor. She had clear-cut plans to get married at 26. Obviously everything has changed. She has learned a lot about life, and I guess so have we.”