Vampires, Ghosts, and the Dark Shadows Beauty Pageants of the Early 1970s

Dark Shadows was a Gothic soap opera that ran on ABC-TV from 1966 to 1971. Its most popular character was Barnabas Collins, a sexy, scary, and very wealthy vampire. The series was a sensation in its time, but by 1970 was starting to run out of steam. A feature film spinoff called House of Dark Shadows was released in September of that year. To promote the film, MGM naturally staged a beauty pageant. Of course they did. It was called the Miss American Vampire Contest. The genius part was that the top prize was a guest spot on the TV show.  

Ads were placed in newspapers across the country, targeting girls, 18 to 25, who thought they had the right “vampire looks.” One newspaper story about the promotion, dredged up by the blog Dark Shadows in the Press, said that contestants would be judged by their interpretation of the vampire aesthetic, as well as “charm, poise, stage presence, and videogenic qualities for television.” One TV ad for the competition read, “It’s a contest you can sink your teeth into.”

Leading up to the release of House of Dark Shadows, regional beauty contests were held in a number of cities, from Dallas to Philadelphia to Miami. These prelims produced a handful of finalists, who traveled to Los Angeles to compete for the title on September 10, 1970. One of the judges for the New Jersey regional competition recalls her experience in the book The Dark Shadows Companion: 25th Anniversary Collection, saying, “It was fun for the first five minutes. After that it got terribly depressing. Some of the girls came in bikinis. Some of them came dressed as witches or vampires or dead bodies. One girl stood in front of me and just stared.”

You might be surprised to find out who won that beauty pageant, and what happened afterward. You can read all about it at Atlas Obscura.


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