THE BEAUTY PAGEANT
During a slow period in his career, Frank was reduced to going on the “appearance circuit”. This meant hitting the road and appearing at local events as a “celebrity”.
FRANK: I had several appearances in small towns where I was involved in celebrity events, All-Star Events, they’d call them. But the thing is, the smaller the town you would go to, you’d be lucky to have one person who would be perceived as being a celebrity, like a local football star or Tom Bosley. That’s where I would come in. This is where you would have to make an impression, one person at a time. A Frank Belmondo grass roots movement.
HAWLEY SMOOT: It’s very rare that you would have a superstar that is willing to work the circuit, but with guys like Frank, they almost have no choice. They need to get out there and meet people, open up doors.
FRANK: I had to teach myself several skills just to be able to go out on the circuit. I took classes on how to become a professional judge. Learning Annex has so much to offer. I also taught myself over two years’ time how to play golf, just so I could get into celebrity tournaments. I’m currently at an eight handicap. But do they let me play in the big celebrity tournaments, like Pebble Beach? Hell, no. They tell me I’m not a big enough celebrity, but tell me this – is Jack Wagner? The guy played Frisco Jones on General Hospital like ten years ago, and that song he did was in the late eighties? Come on!
In the summer of 1998, Frank played in six tournaments in the Great Lakes area, finishing as high as sixth in the Jesse Ventura Invitational. While Frank was able to make some money performing at the dinners held the night before the event “A few jokes, get the locals involved, keep them loose”), he wasn’t feeling like he was making a great impression.
FRANK: Sure, I was getting to play golf and make a few bucks while doing it, but I needed something more. At that moment of my career, I was at a Travelodge level. I needed to get up to a Holiday Inn level, at the least. I called Hawley and I demanded results, which is something that I rarely ever do.
HAWLEY SMOOT: Yeah, I could tell that he was serious. So I scoured the trades, kept my ear open for opportunities. Suddenly, I get a call from a friend of mine, Carl DiGregorio, who is the editor of Don’t Fade Away Monthly.
CARL DIGREGORIO, MANAGING EDITOR, DON’T FADE AWAY MONTHLY: We are a magazine that specializes in getting former celebrities who are trying to stay in the public eye some work. For example, on our cover this month we have the fabulous Bonnie Franklin, the former star of One Day at a Time, standing next to Rebecca Montenegro, the second place winner of the World’s Largest Squash competition at the Alabama State Gourd Festival. We get celebrities, or as we call them, Misplaced Stars, work appearing at conventions, boat shows, supermarket openings – we cover everything that a Misplaced Star would need.
HAWLEY SMOOT: Anyway, Carl calls me up and tells me that they had a Lance Bass incident involving the 23rd Annual Miss Allegheny County Preteen Beauty Pageant. Turns out, they thought they had Lance Bass to emcee the event, but it was an impersonator.
LANCE BASS, SINGER, *NSYNC: There’s been this guy claiming to be me, getting work from it. I don’t know how anybody could be fooled by him, though. First off, the guy can’t sing or dance. Secondly, he’s Korean.
HAWLEY SMOOT: So once Carl gives me this news I realize that Frank’s got an opportunity here to shine. So I get to work to find out where Allegheny County is, and make a few calls and – bang – Frank’s got a job.
FRANK: Allegheny County is where Pittsburgh is. I didn’t know that. And I was born, like, a three-hour drive away from there. You learn something new every day.
HAWLEY SMOOT: Frank was still getting some good heat from a Where are they Now? segment that they were running on VH-1, so much so that Who Took the Gravy? got a syndication deal on a UHF channel in the Pittsburgh area. So they were happy to have him come and host the show.
BOB BDZELIC, PRODUCER, 23rd ANNUAL MISS ALLEGHENY COUNTY PRETEEN BEAUTY PAGEANT: Frankly, when we found out that we weren’t getting Lance Bass from *NSYNC to host the show, and that the Korean kid was just not going to be a good replacement, we were desperate. But we persevered – you don’t have 22 previous Miss Allegheny County Preteen Beauty Pageants without learning to adjust. And Frank was willing to work cheap and do lots of publicity, so that was good.
FRANK: They set me up at a Sheraton – for two weeks! Class organization, I’ll tell you.
BOB BDZELIC: At first we got a lot of complaints from parents who were upset that Lance Bass wasn’t hosting the show, their kids were disappointed. So I say that we could try to get Joey Fatone, and they all shut up after that.
Frank used the first of his two weeks to appear on local radio shows such as “Beaver Falls Community Watch” and “Eye on Monroeville” to promote the event. While most of the questions asked by radio show callers were of the “Who in the hell are you?” and “Where in the hell have you been?” variety, along with one question delving into his brief career in the porn industry, Frank came off as a professional. The pageant committee, previously oblivious to the porn incident, considered letting him go. But since Frank did not appear nude in the film or commit a sex act in it, the committee stayed put.
Shortly after going through the press junket, of sorts, Frank found out something that made him look at the pageant differently.
FRANK: So I’m talking to Bob Bdzelic the day before rehearsals were to begin and he thanks me for doing so much press before the show and I thank him and things are going nice. He then says, “We would have had Jodie handle a few appearances this week, but she wasn’t available until tomorrow.” So I innocently ask who Jodie is, assuming she’s a local community celebrity, like a newscaster or a politician. Bob then tells me it’s Jodie Foster. I’m like, you mean, the Jodie Foster? The Academy Award winner? He says, yeah, her cousin is one of the members of the committee. I’m flabbergasted.
JODIE FOSTER, ACTRESS-DIRECTOR-PRODUCER: Being a former child star myself, I know how hard it is to not only get your foot in the door, but also stay there and thrive. I don’t want any of these kids to become a cautionary tale…like Frank. I mean no disrespect, but Frank would fit into the category of “cautionary tale”.
FRANK: I was torn. Here’s a great opportunity for me to show my stuff to a great talent like Jodie Foster, but I also knew that she would be the center of attention. The only way that I was going to make an impression is if I bring my A-Game.
The first day of rehearsals gave Frank an opportunity to showcase his talents. This included Frank having to sing for the first time in front of an audience.
BOB BDZELIC: In the 23 years of the Miss Allegheny County Preteen Beauty Pageant, the host of the show would always open with a song. The year before Franco Harris opened with Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration”, which really brought down the house.
HAROLD BRZINSKI, MUSICAL DIRECTOR, 23rd ANNUAL MISS ALLEGHENY PRETEEN BEAUTY PAGEANT: Despite his young age, Frank had a bit of Dean Martin in him, a roguish quality. So even though this was a preteen beauty pageant, we wanted him to do something with a little swing in it, something for the ladies in the audience.
The first song that Frank was asked to sing was the Hart and Rodgers classic “The Lady is a Tramp”. However, one of the pageant committee members, Sister Mary Alice McConnell of the St. Ignatius Church in Pittsburgh, realized during the first rehearsal that the song was wildly inappropriate.
SISTER MARY ALICE MCCONNELL: Frankly, I don’t know what they were thinking.
After a meeting with Frank, Harold Brzinski and members of the committee, the group settled on another standard, the Mack Gordon/Josef Myrow tune “You Make Me Feel So Young”.
FRANK: In hindsight, I realize that may have been an inappropriate choice, as well. But you live and learn. I think that I did a commendable job, considering the circumstances. We had fun with it.
Despite the upbeat nature of rehearsals, however, a level of discomfort began to develop between Frank and Jodie.
JODIE FOSTER: I wasn’t sure what it was at the time, but every time I’d see Frank, he’d have this suspicious look on his face, like he didn’t trust me.
“CHILLY” BILLY CARDILLE, LOCAL TELEVISION HOST OF “CHILLER THEATER” (1963-1983) AND PAGEANT JUDGE: Frank thought that there was some kind of conspiracy going on, that perhaps Jodie was trying to fix the pageant.
FRANK: I’m not saying there was a conspiracy, but what the hell is Jodie Foster doing at a preteen beauty pageant in Pittsburgh? Something was fishy.
Frank also noticed that Jodie was paying – in his words – “extra attention” to one of the contestants, 12-year-old Judith Brozlofski.
“CHILLY” BILLY CARDILLE There was one girl – her name was Judith, I believe – that Jodie kept commenting on, complementing her on her poise, stuff like that. It was almost as if she was selling her to me and the other judges, trying to convince us that she was “the one”.
As the talent show began, the opening number did not have the powerful effect that Franco Harris’ number did the year before.
“CHILLY” BILLY CARDILLE: Frank did a good job, he really did, but after that song everybody felt just a little bit uncomfortable. It seemed a little bit creepy, and it kind of set a bad tone for the evening.
FRANK: Luckily I was able to get the audience with the monologue. I’m a professional. I know how to bounce back.
While backstage, during a commercial break, Frank had a brief discussion with one of the stagehands, Pete Dinunzio.
PETE DINUNZIO, PROFESSIONAL STAGEHAND: One of my jobs was to collect the judges’ scorecards and bring them to the accountant tabulating the results backstage. Frank comes up to me and says that he thinks that something’s up with Jodie Foster, and to see if there are any “irregularities” with her judging, specifically with this one girl. He says there’s a twenty in it for me, which, by the way, I still haven’t seen one penny of. But that didn’t matter, because if you take out that one year where I was suspended I’ve been a stagehand at the Miss Allegheny County Preteen Beauty Pageant for fifteen straight years. I would never want this pageant’s integrity to be compromised.
Indeed, if there was one person that Frank could rely on to uphold the integrity of the Miss Allegheny County Preteen Beauty Pageant, it was Pete Dinunzio. Dismissing the one year in which he was suspended from working, Dinunzio constantly oversaw that the rules and regulations of the pageant were followed. In fact, in 1989 it was Dinunzio who broke the story that one of the contestants was, in fact, married. “You can’t have a Missus in a Miss pageant,” Dinunzio said to local reporters.
During the first two rounds of competition – the evening gown spectacular and the current events showcase, where each contestant had to read an essay about an issue affecting Allegheny County in the news – Foster had indeed given the highest score to Brozlofski in both rounds.
FRANK: Okay, the evening gown I’ll give her. She had a nice dress and she walked with good posture. But the current events showcase? Come on, she talked about littering, for crissake! With all of the stuff in the world going on, and she gets the highest score for that? One girl did five minutes on NAFTA and how it would affect the steel industry in Allegheny County. And she gets the top score for littering? Come on!
JODIE FOSTER: I felt that the girl that spoke about NAFTA was a little long-winded and didn’t prove all of her arguments, specifically in regard to her projections for increased unemployment rates in Allegheny County over the next three to five years. A freshman economics student at a junior college could have busted holes into her argument.
Things really came to a boil after the talent competition, where Foster once again gave the highest score to Brozlofski.
FRANK: Okay, by the time they get to the talent show section of the show, there are only twelve girls left. Out of the twelve, seven of them do baton acts. Seven, including that Brozlofski girl. Foster gives her a score a whole point higher than everyone else. And it’s not like she had her batons on fire or anything like that. She was just twirling them. So I just lose it.
JODIE FOSTER: We hit a commercial break and I go backstage to stretch my legs and use the restroom. Frank comes barreling at me like a man possessed, screaming “J’Accuse! J’Accuse!” I don’t know why he was screaming in French. Then he says, “You’re ruining the integrity of the Miss Allegheny County Preteen Beauty Pageant!” He says it several times.
FRANK: So I ask her how she could give that girl such a consistently higher score than the rest of the girls. She looks me straight in the eye and says, “She has a star quality.” When I hear that, I’m just shocked, just completely shocked. So I push her. Maybe that was a mistake.
A melee ensued in which a dozen people shove, punch and throw objects within a confined area. Foster managed to avoid any injury, but Frank received scratches over his eye and a slight concussion when a beer bottle hit him in the head.
HAWLEY SMOOT: Frank at the time didn’t tell me anything about Jodie, so when I see him get into a fistfight, I was as surprised as anyone. I believe that Jodie’s agent was the one with the bottle, but I can’t prove that. But after control was restored, and we were able to get back to the show, Frank showed once again why he is a real trooper. He said, “Just stitch me up and get me back in there, coach.” I’m not sure if it was the concussion that made him call me coach, but he was still ready to entertain.
TONY CARDELLA, DIRECTOR, 23RD ANNUAL MISS ALLEGHENY COUNTY PRETEEN BEAUTY PAGEANT: We had this clip prepared in case there were some stage problems about the history of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture in Western Pennsylvania, so we ran that while Frank was stitched up. When he came back out on stage, we did have a slight problem where he was responding out loud to everything I was saying to him in his earpiece for a few moments, and while interviewing one of the contestants for the question and answer portion of the show he called her Pepe. But overall he did a good job.
In order to preserve the integrity of the voting, Jodie agreed to not have her votes counted. Despite her bowing out of the judging, Judith Brozlofski still won the pageant by an overwhelming margin.
“CHILLY” BILLY CARDILLE: I can’t explain it. She just had that star quality. I saw it in Vampira, too, but in a completely different way. You can’t deny it when it is there.
FRANK: She was a nice girl and all, and I was happy to see her win, but I just didn’t see that “star quality” thing in her. Maybe it’s just me. Go figure.
Two years after winning the 23rd Annual Miss Allegheny County Preteen Beauty Pageant, Judith Brozlofski was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar® for her role in the Jodie Foster-directed Water Under the Bridge, where she played Maxine, a young girl suffering through kidney failure. To this date, there is no proof that Brozlofski and Foster had any prior connection to Foster or that she is related to her.
Frank and Jodie made up shortly after the pageant. When asked by a reporter if Frank could ever appear in one of her films, Jodie replied, “Not a chance in hell.”
(To see Chapter 14, click here)
(To see Chapter 14, click here)