Pennsylvania has sent many candidates to the Miss America Pageant, but only one woman ever claimed the crown. That was 19-year-old Henrietta Leaver, Miss America of 1935.
Before her momentous trip to New Jersey, Ms. Leaver was living in McKeesport and working at G.C. Murphy’s, where she sold cold cream, rouge and lipstick. She claimed the title of Miss Pittsburgh while wearing a borrowed one-piece bathing suit that was black with white polka dots.
Standing 5 feet 6 1/2 inches tall, Ms. Leaver weighed 120 pounds. She also possessed a winsome smile, light brown hair, curly eyelashes, blue eyes, shapely legs and a 23-inch waist. It didn’t hurt that she resembled Loretta Young, a popular movie star of the era. Her abilities included cooking, sewing, tap dancing and swimming. Her birth date was March 28, 1916.
After becoming Miss America, she embarked on a national tour of theaters. During her reign, Pittsburgh sculptor Frank Vittor unveiled a life-size figure of he called “American Venus.” She posed twice for the sculptor while wearing a bathing suit; her grandmother, Ms. Hettie Ebbert, was present on both occasions. Imagine the young lady’s shock when she learned the sculpture would show her nude.
Fearing that people would form the wrong impression, the beauty queen threatened court action and insisted that the artist cover the statue. Mr. Vittor demurred. She later withdrew her objections after a jury of seven local artists, including architect Henry Hornbostel, decided the piece was a work of art. Drapery, the jury ruled, would spoil the figure and a bathing suit would make it look like an ad for a swimming pool.
A year later, in 1936, she competed in Hollywood, Calif., for the title of “most beautiful model” title and won again. The prize was a contract with 20th Century Fox. That year, she married John Mustacchio, the son of a McKeesport restaurant owner. The couple moved to Dravosburg and had a daughter, Patricia Lee.
Ms. Mustacchio sued for divorce in 1943 and a judge granted her request in 1944. She later remarried. In 1993, at age 77, she died of cancer in Columbus, Ohio.
Here at The Digs, we wonder whatever became of that “American Venus” statue? We would love to see it displayed prominently in Pittsburgh.