Vonda Kay Van Dyke: The Ventriloquist Miss America

Hats off today to Vonda Kay Van Dyke (b. 1943), the first Miss America to attain that distinction showcasing ventriloquism in the talent portion of the competition. It’s funny — it’s a common trope in movie and television, when satirizing beauty pageants, to depict at least one ventriloquist competitor. In real life, it’s actually very rare. For at least a couple of reasons: 1) it’s an extremely difficult art form in and of itself, let alone performing it while looking poised and lovely (just think to pull it off, you’d need to be a combination of Candice Bergen — and Edgar Bergen!); 2) it has a bit of a stigma; it’s considered crazy, and nothing is more conservative than a beauty pageant.

Van Dyke was a student at Arizona State College at Flagstaff (now known as Northern Arizona University). She earned money by performing as a vent Legend City, a Phoenix Amusement Park, with her wooden partner Kurley-Q. She was Miss America for calendar year 1965. Her talent got her on The Ed Sullivan Show, What’s My Line?, The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and The Mike Douglas Show. After her reign was over, she wrote books, and recorded albums with a Christian theme, and was a spokesperson for Archway Cookies. I first heard about her here.

For more on show business history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous,