NFF Interview: Meet the Women of PRETTY OLD

NFF: How long have you been involved with the Pageant? How did you hear about it the first time, and what made you want to get involved?

Sharon Maloney: In 2007, I learned about the pageant from Tamara Swihart whom I met in another pageant. Tamara, one of the main characters featured in “Pretty Old,” is a very persuasive person. I joined seven other Michigan women and journeyed to Fall River to enter the Senior Sweetheart Pageant. I was third runner up and had the time of my life. The contestants were so much fun. We would get on the buses, swap jokes, and tell stories. I especially laughed about the contestant who used a blow up dummy as a dancing partner in her act and her story about going to the store to purchase the dummy, the salesclerk looking at her skeptically when she told him it was for a stage prop and then offering to sell her accessories for the dummy.

Ida White: I have been involved with the Pageant since 2000 a nd I have attended every year since then as a contestant. I first found Ms. Senior Sweetheart when I was surfing the web for a pageant for senior ladies. I had won in Ms. VI Senior America ’99, and competed in the national. It had been a different experience for me, but a rewarding one. When I discovered the Ms. Senior Sweetheart Pageant in Fall River, I wrote them asking if they would accept a contestant from the US Virgin Islands. They said yes, and I was in. I actually wanted to relive the experience of being a queen contestant all over again. Over the years, I had done some theatre-type activities, and I knew I liked being in front of an audience. I was also hoping to connect with ladies my age and generation.


NFF: How do you think the Ms. Senior Sweetheart Pageant is different than other pageants?

Sharon: Ms. Senor Sweetheart is a family pageant. Husbands are welcome and join in the dinners, shows and side trips. Contestants are welcome to come back year after year and so form close friendships. Everyone is free to enter, and there are no preliminaries and no embarrassing on stage questions. We have formed close alliances. One of the contestants, an 84-year old, treated three of us from Michigan to the Miss America pageant in Las Vegas last January. The three of us were in bed by eleven o’clock every night but the 84-year old stayed out every night gambling until three in the morning!

Ida: To begin with from the moment you arrive at the pageant, from Lenny to the rest of the committee, you are given that sense that you are among family as well as friends. We stay at the same hotel year after year that caters to our every need. There's such hospitalityand that carries over to even the most seasoned contestant who is familiar with a stricter pageant style.  Then, day by day, tensions seems to melt away, and without a doubt it is not long before the sense of competitiveness for the win is reduced, and a sense of sisterhood takes over. To me, that is the difference. We accept that only one person will be crowned, and we spend a lot of time helping each other throughout our 10 days together including the day of the pageant. We each have the same chance at the crown, because more important than the talent is your interview with the judges. So more often than not, when the winner is chosen, it is someone that all of the contestants have a genuine bond with - someone whose inner beauty you have been touched by and you are happy for the person. Additionally, during our time together, we visit nursing homes and entertain those less fortunate than ourselves, and lift up their spirits and, in turn, our spirits.


NFF: What have you learned from participating in the Pageant?

Sharon: That divas are not welcome and usually do not get very far. Lenny, the bigger than life pageant director does not suffer divas. He has been known to send them home. Instead, we help one another, give advice, lend clothing, make wardrobe repairs for each other, trade makeup secrets and encourage, encourage, encourage. I have learned the endless possibilities of what one woman can do. One contestant had built a house, not a little ranch but a huge colonial; she hired one man to help her. She built it for her son. Since she had two sons; she had to build another one! Another started a foundation for Alzheimer’s in honor of her grandmother. Several, as many as ten of the contestants, have earned their doctorates and have written books. I earned mine at age 72; it is on my bucket list to write a book. You learn from these other women (we believe we are all type A’s) the endless possibilities life presents. Plus, let’s face it, we just enjoy the heck out of each other. The pageant makes you self reflect, make improvements, and learn to present yourself well. One contestant in her 80’s won a job as a TV announcer in California over several other candidates in their 20s and 30s. She had honed her presentation skills in pageants.

Ida: I have learned so much. Mainly that being “older” is a gift. Some of us live a little longer than others but all of us (as we advance to this age of senior-hood) have an opportunity to share our talent, our wisdom, our laughter, our stories, and our love. Beauty comes from within. No matter how much makeup, and eyeliner I might wear, if I don’t put that smile on my face, and be willing to let it shine through and cover up the trials and the tribulations, not winning the crown will becomes a painful moment, instead of a “going on with life moment.” As a result, I can keep on keeping on until the next event. We are photographed so often that I have noticed from the film, Pretty Old, smiling is so important for me. It take years off my looks and it’s the best anti-ager you can come up with.


NFF: Did you have any reservations about being featured in the film?

Sharon: Oh, yeah! I was sure I was going to be the “Amarosa” or more recently the “Lisa Lampenelli” of the film. But Walter, the director, wasn’t out to make us look either good or bad, but to tell the poignant and hilarious tale of seniors putting their troubles on the back burner and enjoying life. The film captures the essence of aging as gracefully as possible despite barriers such as ageism, racism, personal health issues and often being a caregiver to a family member. Even facing death, Francis Christian, one of the films stars, is the epitome of warmth and elegance, and yes, humor. What a lady, what a privilege to have known her.

Ida: I actually never looked upon the filming as an end product when they were shooting. It was all mind boggling because they had so much footage. I saw myself as one of the ladies they spent time with, yes, but I never thought that I would be one of the featured cast. Even now as I reflect on it I find myself surprised and, of course being my own worst critic, I thought I could have spruced myself up just a bit more. Seriously though, some of the subject matter is personal and painful, and after I saw the first cut of the film, it saddened me. However, by the first film festival, I realized the finished documentary was an art form in a venue that I never expected to be in, and it was speaking to people. And, therefore, as a featured lady, I was speaking to people and people seemed to think I had something important to say. (Obviously, I am a little bit wordy.) At my age, it is kind of nice to be featured in a film. I wish there could be other opportunities…


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