Miss Connecticut 1933: Marion Bergeron - Miss America 1933

While the specific judging criteria for the Miss America Pageant were secret, the newspapers reported they were based on poise, personality, carriage and figure. Marion Bergeron had entered a local pageant on a lark and just weeks later ended up being the youngest (age 15) Miss America in history! But she was not the only under-aged contestant in 1933, and she was not even the youngest; the poor organization of the Pageant resulted in at least four of the 31 contestants being under the requisite age of 16. Problems continued post-coronation: her crown was stolen from her room, RKO reneged on her screen test prize, her prizes included a car which she was too young to drive! Despite the problems, Marion was a life-long public speaker and supporter of the Miss America Pageant.

Visit Marion's page for more.


In the Dayton, Ohio Daily News, October 25, 2002.

Setzer, Marian Bergeron of Kettering, passed away Tuesday, October 23, 2002 at Kettering Medical Center. Marian Bergeron Setzer was the youngest Miss America in 1933 and the oldest living Miss America. Marian was crowned Miss Connecticut and then Miss American 1933. Following her year as Miss America she was a model for John Robert Powers agency in New York City. She was a featured vocalist with the Bands of Ozzie Nelson, Rudy Valle, Frankie Caryle, and Don Bestro. She remained an active representative of the Miss America Pageant until her death. She travel with her Miss America sisters raising money for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. Mrs. Setzer was a volunteer for Kettering Medical Center, Hospic, and various local civic organizations.

Marian was preceded in death by her beloved husband, Fred Setzer, Sr., in April 2002 and two infants sons, Christopher and Spike Ruhlman. She is survived by her sister Florence Rich; and family members, Donna & Bruce Le Blanc, Tracy Merrill, Christy Czarnecki, Cortney Merrill, Donald & Carroll Ruhlman, Leshia Daly, Jennifer Rulman, Geri & Robert Ruhlman, Cassie Ruhlman, Jane & Fred Setzer, Michelle & Rich Setzer, Kathy Setzer, Danny & Charlene Fullerton, Kristy & Scott McCulloch, and Julie & Mark Zobaum. The family wishes to express their deep appreciation to Mark Romer, M.D., his staff and South Dayton Family Physicians for their compassionate care. At the request of the family private service will be held. In Lieu of lowers, donations may be made to either Hospice of Dayton, P. O. Box 3509, Dayton, Oh 45401 or the Boys & Girls Club of Huntington West Virginia 520 Everett Street, 25701. Services of the care of Tobias Funeral Home.

Front Page Article

Also from the Dayton Dailey News, October 25, 2002 (reprint with picture)



She remained, to the end, beautiful. Well, you say, what's surprising about that? Wasn't that her job ? Marian Bergeron Setzer, after all, practically started out in life as Miss America. She was only 15 when crowned on the Steel Pier in Atlantic City in 1933, becoming the seventh Miss America and the youngest woman ever to hold the title.

And the Kettering woman remained a world-renowned beauty at 82, when, as the oldest living Miss America, she was featured in a People magazine centerfold spread with newly crowned Miss America Heather French in October 2000. "It's not often you get to be a centerfold at 82," Setzer quipped. Her death Tuesday, at 84, from complications from a rare form of leukemia "leaves a huge hole in our lives," said her son, Bob Ruhlman, as he and his sister, Donna Le Blanc, fielded calls Thursday from the Miss America Organization.

George Bauer, interim president and CEO of the Miss America Organization, said that Setzer was "absolutely admired and revered" by people throughout the pageant organization: "I didn't And they always added that little bit at the end - and so beautiful." To my eyes she was even more beautiful as an old woman than as the fresh-faced, golden-haired teenager whose head seemed too small for the enormous crown perched precariously atop it. It wasn't merely her slender figure and magnificent white hair and irrepressible, laughing blue eyes; it was because her physical attributes were more than matched by her luminous spirit. "I don't know anyone who met Mom who wasn't touched by her zest for life," Ruhlman said. That remained undiminished even though her life had hardly been an unending Miss America fairy tale: She lost two children in infancy and had been widowed three times. Her first husband, Donald Ruhlman, died at 54. Her husband of 16 years, Fred, founder of the Setzer Corp., died in April.

Her two-year reign as Miss America (the Depression pre-empted the pageant in 1934) happened quite by chance. The theater owner in nearby New Haven, Conn. - desperate for a last-minute replacement for a contestant who had broken her ankle - bribed Marian with the promise of a year's worth of free theater passes for herself and her sister Babe, then 11. "I was dying to see Dolores Del Rio," she explained, "but there was no money in the house for the movies." That random entry into the local contest had ripple effects throughout a lifetime. After winning the Miss America pageant, she lost her bid to join Ziegfield's Follies. "I'd love to use you, Marian," Flo Ziegfield told her, "but your stems are too short." Instead, she toured the country as a big band singer, performing with the likes of Rudy Vallee and Tommy Dorsey. "All I remember is that she said Rudy Vallee was fresh," recalled her sister Babe, better known as Florence Rich of Florida. "She called him an octopus."

Her touring life ended when she met Don Ruhlman during a performance at Dayton's long-vanished Van Cleve Hotel. She retired to raise three children - Donna of Tallulah, La., Donald of St. Johnsbury, Vt., and Bob of Kettering. Yet she maintained close friendships with other Miss America winners and even toured with a group of them in the '70s, raising money for the Boys and Girls Club of America. In 2000, she and Fred rode in a car leading the boardwalk parade in Atlantic City to celebrate the pageant's 80th year. "She was Miss America all her life, right to the end," Le Blanc said.

Setzer may not have spent hours in front of the mirror, sharing makeup tips with her daughter. But she taught her daughter innumerable lessons about beauty - the inner variety. There was the unforgettable day that Life magazine arrived to do a photo shoot for a story on former Miss Americas. "I wasn't home that day, so when the story came out here was this picture of my mother, my brothers, and a gerbil," Le Blanc recalled. Since she was, at the time, afflicted with thick glasses and a Toni home permanent, it was perhaps not such a bad thing Le Blanc missed the photo shoot. But the bullies at school taunted her anyway: "You must have been adopted! You're so ugly, and your mother was Miss America." She flew home, crying, to her mother, who knew just the right words to comfort her: "But you are beautiful. You sparkle. That's where beauty comes from - from inside." Le Blanc remembers "going to school the next day, and sparkling."

The glitz and glamor of Miss America was only a small part of her life. There was another, less-publicized side to her, the mother who served as PTO president and Girl Scout leader. She was a mother who took the Girl Scout troop for visits to Dayton State Hospital, where they played cards with and sang for the patients. "She wanted to show us the other side of life that little girls growing up in Kettering didn't know about," Le Blanc said. She was the mother who taught her children that she kept her word. Setzer volunteered to lead a Girl Scout trip to Washington, D.C., chaperoning all the children who sold enough soft pretzels would be eligible for the trip. "I figured I didn't need to bother, since my mother was going anyway," Le Blanc recalled. Her friends were traumatized when the train pulled away from the platform, leaving Le Blanc on the platform, crying and waving goodbye. But her mother was unsympathetic: "She didn't meet her soft pretzel quota, and that's that."

The lessons continued after Setzer's leukemia diagnosis a year ago July. She initially sought treatment at the renowned Houston cancer hospital, M.D. Anderson, where she quickly became absorbed in the dramas all around her. Her son Bob recalled her particular concern for a father and his gravely ill young daughter. "I've lived my whole life and now I've gotten sick," she said. "Look at what this young father will be forced to live with for the rest of his life. I realize how fortunate I have been, when I see these young women with breast cancer and ovarian cancer." Even in her final, painful months, when she was afflicted with shingles, Setzer never failed to apply her lipstick and to cover her head with a smart turban. She made plans for a private memorial service that will take place today. She could have written the script of her life as a tragedy. She lost two infant sons - one stillborn, another who died two weeks after his birth - and said goodbye to three beloved husbands. Yet today's service will be upbeat. "She wanted to concentrate on how fortunate she was and how grateful she is to all the people in her life," Ruhlman said. "Just as at the end of every movie there are credits, she wanted a portion of the service as credits to people who have been good to her in her life."

Her Miss America loving cup will be placed near the altar, filled with a bouquet of six red roses and one white rose. The flowers are a tradition among the Miss Americas who toured together; the white rose symbolizes the Miss America who has died. "We are all saddened here," said Bauer of the Miss America Organization. "We do not use the word 'former' here; we do not use the words 'stepped down.' You are always Miss America."

And, if you are Marian Bergeron Setzer, you never stop sparkling.

Contact Mary McCarty at 225-2209 or mary_mccarty@coxohio.com Copyright, 2002, Cox Ohio Publishing. All rights reserved. Illustration: PHOTO: Marian Bergeron crowned Miss America in 1933 LISA POWELL/DAYTON DAILY NEWS MARIAN BERGERON SETZER (with her husband, Fred, of Kettering, in a 2000 photo) was the oldest living Miss America.