When you think of beauty pageants, buxom women in glamorous gowns is what likely comes to mind. However, that wasn’t always the pageant standard. At least for a few years in the 1970s. That’s when goth women who never felt like Miss America got their chance to be crowned titles like Miss American Vampire and Miss Ghost America.
In 1970, goth soap opera Dark Shadows was nearing its end, but the spinoff film House of Dark Shadows was about to hit theaters. With interest in the series waning, the word needed to be spread. Dark Shadows was never your typical TV show, and basic marketing just wasn’t going to cut it.
According to Atlas Obscura, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer placed ads in newspapers across the country for regional beauty pageants, targeting young women aged 18 to 25 with “vampire looks.” The contestants were to be judged on their “interpretation of the vampire aesthetic, charm, poise, stage presence and videogenic qualities for television.” The pool of winners was to be narrowed down and the first place winner would score a trip to New York for a guest spot on Dark Shadows. The final competition in California was hosted by Regis Philbin.
The pageants weren’t all fun and games, though. Nancy Barrett, who played Carolyn on Dark Shadows was a judge at a New Jersey Miss American Vampire pageant. In The Dark Shadows Companion: 25th Anniversary Collection, she was quoted as saying:
“It was fun, for the first five minutes. After that, it got terribly depressing. Some of the girls came in bikinis. Some came dressed as witches or vampires or dead bodies. One girl stood in front of me and just stared at me. ‘Am I supposed to smile at you?’ she asked. I gave a nervous laugh and said, ‘No, that’s all right. You can go on to the next judge.’ Another girl told us she was a witch. We all decided to make her a semi-finalist for fear she might ‘get us’ afterward.”
So who went on to become the ultimate Miss American Vampire? Jonathan Frid, who played Barnabas Collins crowned Christine Domaniecki in New Jersey. There were some disputes over the true winner, however. Prior to Domaniecki’s trip to New York, actress and activist Sacheen Littlefeather was named final competition winner. However, nobody knows if she declined the offer to appear on the show or the producers didn’t invite her. Domaniecki played a barmaid in episode 1126 and had made appearances at Dark Shadows conventions.
Littlefeather went on to gain notoriety as Marlon Brando’s representative at the 1973 Academy Awards when she declined his Oscar for The Godfather to protest the treatment and portrayal of Native Americans, according to Atlas Obscura. Afterward, she left Hollywood to pursue activism full-time, producing documentaries and working with organizations for Native American civil rights.
Due to the huge turnout of the Miss Vampire America pageant, another goth pageant followed in its footsteps the next year. Since Dark Shadows had ended its run, producers looked for “haunting beauties” to participate in the Miss Ghost America pageant for a $250 savings bond and a spot on The Dating Game.
While turnout left much to be desired — apparently there were more vampires than ghosts in America in the 1970s — the winner, 18-year-old Kate Sarchet ended up being crowned on an LA-based horror show called Fright Night. According to her date on The Dating Game, who went on to become famed writer Will Durst, though… she lived up to her title and ghosted him on their date.