The Ms. Senior Sweetheart Pageant - OZY | A Modern Media Company

The Ms. Senior Sweetheart Pageant

The Ms. Senior Sweetheart Pageant

By Libby Longino

Film Still
SourcePretty Old The Movie


It’s never too late to be a beauty queen.

By Libby Longino

Ten days of pageantry, with eight days of rehearsals, nursing home visits and wining and dining before the two-day competition.

22: Contestants who participated in 2012. About 1,400 spectators showed up for the very first competition, and the crowds have stayed strong ever since.

58: Minimum age required to participate in the pageant.

1978: Year the pageant began as a Lion Club fund-raiser. The pageant went national in 1995 with contestants from California, Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and 14 other states. It now welcomes international contestants as well: women from England, Singapore and the Cayman Islands have all participated since 2005.

2012: Year that Pretty Old, a documentary about the pageant, was released, produced by Sarah Jessica Parker. It won critical acclaim at film festivals across the country, with The Hollywood Reporter saying, “the engaging documentary Pretty Old is pretty great.

In Fall River, Mass., you can explore the world’s largest historic naval ship exhibit, check out the Lizzie Borden museum and visit the only mall in the U.S. anchored by both Wal-Mart and Kmart. And every October there you can also witness a beauty pageant unlike any other, the Ms. Senior Sweetheart Pageant.

With its close-knit community and abiding sense of hope and humor Fall Rivers is the perfect venue for staging second chances.

The brain child of local army supply store owner, boxing trainer and wrestling announcer, Lenny “Low Price” Kaplan, the Ms. Senior Sweetheart Pageant is much like the Miss America or Miss Universe pageants, except that you have to be at least 58 to participate. Like their counterparts in the larger pageants, Ms. Senior Sweetheart contestants are scored based on a talent performance, an evening gown walk and an interview, though the Lifestyle and Fitness in Swimsuit category has been omitted. Those with their eye on the crown this October might want to warm up those vocal cords: The past three winners have all performed operatic selections in the talent competition.

And that’s a beautiful thing.It may seem odd that seniors in search of pageant plaudits would seek out Fall River, a once-great whaling center whose fortunes have declined with those of the local textile industry. But as illustrated in the 2012 documentary Pretty Old, Fall River – with its close-knit community and abiding sense of hope and humor – is the perfect venue for staging second chances. Among other contestants, the stirring film features Ida White, a 73-year-old from the Virgin Islands, whose husband is suffering from Alzheimer’s, and 86-year-old Phyllis Chicklett of Minnesota, competing after two knee replacements and four heart attacks. Much like Fall River itself, these women demonstrate that, even in the face of loss and tragedy, it’s never too late to take the stage.

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