Every year Spiveys Corner, N.C. is the site of the National Hollerin’ Contest. Last year the Jaycees of that booster-minded town decided to sponsor a 21-year-old belle named Debbie Shook in the state beauty pageant (and Miss America trials), but when she won—well, the hollerin’ had just commenced. The shrill climax came last month when the 5’6″ beauty was summarily stripped of her crown.
Then Shook removed the crown herself in a temper tantrum that stunned a crowd of 2,000 in Raleigh’s Memorial Auditorium. It happened the night before the anointment of her successor, 1979’s Miss North Carolina. Debbie was informed by the pageant’s sponsors (the state Jaycees) that, having failed to “uphold and maintain the dignity and honor of the title,” she would be the first queen in the event’s 41-year history to be relieved of her title. Shook was shaken. “I took that crown that I had cherished and handled so gently,” she relates, “and pulled it off my head, bobby pins and all, and crushed it in my right hand.” Storming out, Debbie threw the crumpled tiara on the stage and her mother, who was at her side, grabbed a mike. “If you want to know what this is about,” she cried, “read the press in the morning.”
The press was not exactly uninvolved in Shook’s precipitous fall from royalty. In an interview in the Charlotte Observer, she charged that “the prizes promised me were not given.” Specifically, Debbie said, the state Jaycees had yet to cough up $5,500 for clothes or reimburse her for expenses incurred during her reign. The Jaycees now belatedly say they hope to make good on their promises.
Shook was no stranger to the beauty contest biz, having won them her whole life. She was chosen as Banner Elk Hospital’s “prettiest baby” before she was 48 hours old. Since then she has strutted off with titles like Little Miss Mountain Laurel and Soybean Festival Queen and then, in 1978, Miss North Carolina. The year of her reign, she insists, “was rewarding. But the [dethroning] incident was horrifying. I was deeply hurt.” Shook’s real goal, she says now, is to get her real estate broker’s license, “get married, have children and live happily in the mountains.”
In spite of the candor that got her canned, Shook is perfectly able to sound like a tap-dancing beauty contestant (that’s her talent) when she wants to. “If what I have gone through could help this year’s contestants,” she says earnestly, “I feel what happened to me would be justified.” A National Organization for Women representative, Mary King, likened the Shook martyrdom to Bella Abzug’s. When Monta Maki was crowned Shook’s successor, the Raleigh Jaycees’ president held a check for her wardrobe high in the air “just to make sure everyone sees it.” Then the new queen was almost disqualified too when it was revealed that she had earned $195 for a car commercial two weeks before the contest. Professional models are barred from most state competitions—and from the Miss America Pageant to which the winners progress—but the Jaycees ruled Maki would retain her title anyhow. There is no truth to the report that the new crown is made of reinforced steel.