Mary Therese Friel, LLC / Rochester NY / Professional Models and Talent / Modeling Pageantry and Self Development Training
space

Looking Back...

I was only 19 years old when my whole life changed. I went from being a local college student to a world traveler. I became Miss USA. After placing 6th in the Miss Universe pageant in Perth, Western Australia, I returned home to the U.S. to begin my world-wind tour. I traveled 362 days straight, all over the world. It was quite an adventure!

It all began April 30th, 1979 when I was crowned in Biloxi, Mississippi live in front of 660 million people. The rest was a blur, for a year.

I would like to share with you some of my more memorable experiences, the places I visited, and some of the people I met. Here we go...

 

It started getting really exciting when I was chosen to be in the top 5. There I am with Bob Barker, of "The Price is Right" fame. What A nice guy he was. He made all of us all feel very comfortable. We were so nervous! 1979 was the last year that Miss USA received a handcrafted crown from Sarah Coventry. The flowers have long since been pressed but I still wear my "official" sash when I make personal appearances. There I am, the newly crowned Miss USA 1979! I was so excited. It was a dream comes true!
Quite an impressive list of judges! I especially liked Eileen Ford. She was, and still is, the top modeling agent in the world. She asked me to join her agency after my reign, which I did. I also really enjoyed being interviewed by Leslie Nielsen. What a super guy and a really funny actor. He was in Police Academy, Airplane, and Naked Gun.
 
These three pictures represent the different areas of competition. Miss USA is judged on poise, personality and beauty of face and figure in the categories of personal and onstage interview, swimsuit and evening gown. The first picture is of me in costume, my opening number welcoming in the 1980 Olympics at Lake Placid, New York. The second is the swimsuit competition. The third is the evening gown. I selected this pink chiffon gown because I felt it really suited me and I felt great in it. I wore it in both the state and national competitions.
What a fantastic show!! It truly was a chance of a lifetime! Look at all the great things that we did.
 
I remember one of the first appearances I made as Miss NY USA was with Mayor Koch. It was the Mayors' Cup. The New York Yankees played against the New York Mets. I threw out the first ball. It was a lot of fun. The players (Mets) all signed the program for me and the Yankees gave me a neat baseball cap. I really liked Lee Mazzilli from the Mets and Reggie Jackson from the Yankees. We all became good friends. As Miss USA, I threw out the ball at the St. Louis Cardinal's game - what a blast! During my reign I was given the opportunity to attend many sports-related functions. The teams included The Green Bay Packers, San Francisco 49ers, Miami Dolphins, New York Giants, Chicago Bears, Chicago Night Hawks, New York Rangers, and Boston Red Sox. I have quite an interesting collection of footballs, baseballs, hockey sticks, etc. I had the opportunity to dine with some pretty neat sport stars too. There was Mario Andretti (race car driver) Pelè (world renowned soccer star) Gerry Cooney (boxer) and John MacEnroe, Bjorn Borg, and Billy Jean King (tennis greats). That was fun!
 
But the best of all was meeting the great, the one and only - Muhammad Ali. It was the most incredible experience ever. We sat and chatted for almost two hours. He was amazing! As we were finishing our visit I asked Muhammad what really mattered to him, how he felt in general about things and if he had any words of wisdom for me. His reply changed my life forever. He said, "Service to others is the rent we pay for a room in the hereafter." Since that day I have carried that message with me everywhere. As a result of our meeting I dedicated a large portion of my life to volunteerism. I have been given the 1,000 Points Of Light Award through the Independent Sector and Give 5 in Washington, D.C. and am currently encouraging others (particularly our youth) to volunteer and help make this a better, kinder world through The Goodwill Ambassador Club.
 
Some of the earlier personal appearances I can remember making on behalf of local charities include: The Special Olympics, The Heart Association, Cerebral Palsy, Camp Good Days, March of Dimes and Muscular Dystrophy. Here I am with a reporter explaining the importance of being named The Ambassador for The American Lung Association. Later that year Carol Burnett and I filmed a theater piece to inform people of the hazards of smoking. The other picture was a special visit to the Veterans Hospital. My Heroes! How grateful I am (and we all should be) to our service men and women for giving us the greatest gift of all - our freedom. Today I am still very actively involved with our veterans and encourage others to do so also.
 
One of the best things about being Miss USA is being given the opportunity to compete for the title of Miss Universe (I ended up placing 6th out of 76). Here I was giving the guys "a run for their money" - my security guy that is. They kept up well though! I really appreciated being invited to the stables to ride one of the police horses. I missed riding; it's one of my passions. I must have been pretty good because at the end of my ride, the head of the police force offered me a job.
I have always loved animals. I jumped at the chance to go see some of the native animals of Australia when I was asked. We boarded a small-chartered plane that morning and within two hours were in the middle of The Outback. The pressmen that went with me were awesome. They were almost as brave as Jim Fowler, of Mutual Omaha's Wild Kingdom, (who I later worked with.) The guys rustled up a kangaroo baby and a koala for me to hold and play with. They were furry and very cute.
 
Getting ready for the Miss Universe pageant was exciting and fun. The preparation included reviewing world affairs for the interview segment, selecting the perfect gown, choosing an appropriate swimsuit and designing the national costume. It also involved a rigorous daily work out routine and a whole lot of packing. Here I am pictured with the former Miss Universe, Margaret Gardiner from South Africa. We did these press shots right before I left for the Miss Universe Pageant.
The Miss Universe pageant was tremendous - the girls were beautiful, the place was magnificent and no two days were the same. The winner was Maritza Sayalero from Venezuela. Later she became my roommate in a penthouse apartment in New York City. She was one of the nicest, most honest, down to earth and most hard working young ladies I've ever met. We had a great year together! It was very interesting. She did not speak any English and I did not speak any Spanish. We played a lot of charades!
 

From boarding passes to ballrooms, scene changes to seating arrangements there is an awesome amount of work that goes into producing the triple crown shows. Those are: Miss Universe, Miss USA and Miss Teen USA. Pictured above are the contestants preparing for the opening number. (That's Donny Osmond with us.)

The Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants opened a lot of doors for me. I met a lot of people and made a lot of friends. Many of them where in the music world. There was a spanish singer and songwriter Julio Iglesias (who I would later travel with for a while) and Mick Jagger (of the Rolling Stones) who invited me to his Anniversary concert. Then there were the Beach Boys; I was a special guest at their concert as well. Those guys were fun, fun, fun! I met singer Kris Kristoferson who was very sweet and I introduced him to my sister Candy. Cher came to my birthday party with her friend from the rock group KISS and I spent some time visiting with country singer T.G. Sheppard (a good friend of Elvis'.)

Speaking of Elvis, I was invited and went to Graceland. Elvis' uncle allowed me to visit Elvis' grave and I was given permission to place my Miss USA pin there.

Then there was that fateful night - I'll never forget it. A group of us went to a birthday party for singer/dancer Ben Vereen. Ben was in the middle of singing when a hush fell over the party. Word circulated among the group. John Lennon had just been shot. We all raced over to the scene to see if there was anything we could do to help. Everyone was in shock. A happier memory involved meeting Ringo Star (of the Beatles.) And a funny memory was when I spent 15 minutes having this great conversation with this guy sitting next to me at a party. It wasn't until he got up and put his sunglasses on that I realized I just conversed with Elton John. WOW! When it comes to music, I think I can honestly say that one of the most colorful entertainers I've ever met was Frank Sinatra. I was invited to his birthday party as a guest of his right hand man, Jilly.

The middle picture shows me in my national costume - a rhinestone and sequin cowgirl. It took 2 people to get me into it. Boy was it tight! It was specially made for me by the world-renowned clothing designers, Guy & Rex. The picture on the right is of Skylab and some of the contestants. The biggest piece of NASA's Skylab debris was found and brought to the pageant. We made worldwide news and the picture made the National Geographic Magazine. Cool!

Look at these judges! We had internationally famous entertainers such as singer/songwriter Julio Iglesias, actress/singer Lana Cantrell, world famous impressionist, Yves Corbassiere and American favorite performer Tony Martin (married to the beautiful and talented dancer, Cyd Charisse) to name a few. I enjoyed meeting many performers over the year, from comedians like Rodney Dangerfield, Joey Adams and David Brenner to magician/performer, David Copperfield.
Well, talk about a "meeting of the minds" - five Miss USA's and five Miss Universe's going head to head in a week long Family Feud with Richard Dawson. All the money went to charity. We had an absolute blast! And we, the blondes, won. How about that!

After the Miss Universe pageant, I went back to perform my duties as Miss USA. What a dream life. I was in heaven! After I finished out my reign, I decided to enroll back into college. This time I attended Fordham University in NYC. It was then I was also able to totally commit to my modeling. I signed with the Ford Modeling Agency and the rest is history. Actually it was just the beginning!

My modeling spanned NYC, Boston, Chicago, LA, Philadelphia, Miami and Europe. I did the collections and magazine covers (Italian Vogue, Good Housekeeping, Shape, Glamour, Mademoiselle, Town and Country, etc). Also I appeared in Women's Wear Daily and W. as well as in most of the society papers. I did numerous interviews and special pieces with The New York Times, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, LA Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Miami Herald, and many, many more. I also was invited to do radio, television, talk shows and news shows.

My modeling career gave me opportunities to meet my own modeling idols, Cheryl Tieggs and Cheryl Ladd. If you can remember back to the original Charlie's Angels, Cheryl Ladd replaced Farrah Fawcett. Then Shelly Hack (The Charlie Girl) was brought in to replace Cheryl Ladd. They actually offered me a chance at the role but I am not, I repeat not, an actress, so I turned it down.

A little further on in my career two more opportunities to act came my way. The first was opposite Robin Williams in "The World According to Garp" and the second in "Breaking Glass" with Hazel O'Connor. Although very tempted, I turned them both down. It wasn't until almost a year later that I received another offer. A producer I knew was putting together a fabulous movie called "Opium". He offered me a chance to audition for the part of "The Jade Lady", and I did. (They were looking for an American beauty, so he thought I would do well in the part.) He liked my audition and offered me the role and I took it! They designed perfume called "Opium"(which I still wear today) and a wardrobe by the designer Yves St. Laurent. But wouldn't you know it, the movie fell through and I lost my big chance - Oh, well! That's show business!

Today, the closest I can say that I ever got to the Academy Awards was not being nominated for, but hosting them with Brooke Shields (Suddenly Susan) and Christopher Atkins (Blue Lagoon) in 1980.

Later that year I decided to do some more traveling abroad. I met Dodi Fayed and his father (who owns the world famous Harrods's Department Store in London.) Dodi who is now deceased, was Princess Diana's fiancé. I knew them both and was so sad when I got the news that they had both been killed in a terrible car accident. The last time I had seen the Princess was when I was a guest at her wedding to Prince Charles. My engagement ring had even been fashioned after hers by my fiancé, the Prince of Saudi Arabia. Yes, I was engaged to a Prince - after all doesn't every Cinderella story have one?

I first met the prince through some friends at the Cannes Film Festival on the French Riviera. It was just after I returned from a lovely trip as a guest of the richest man in the world, Adnan Kashoggi aboard the Nabilla, the largest private yacht in the world (outside the Queens').

We sailed (our little group of jet-setters) to the ruins of Pompeii, the island of Majorca and to Brazil for Mardi Gras. What a party, I think it was two weeks long! I had to leave before the party was over. I had to head back to NYC for a big photo shoot that had been scheduled for me. When I got back I found out that our little trip had made all the society papers and magazines, We had been the talk of the town. Yikes!

I often look back at my life and reflect. Sometimes I can't believe all that I've done - and that I survived it all! I thank God for that!

I am very grateful for the many opportunities I have been given. I met a lot of very interesting people during my travels.

It was pretty cool to meet and get to know some of the "elite" like the Rockefellers and the Duponts, Kennedys and the Forbes. I also learned a lot about people. I learned about power and fame, about reality and fantasy.

I also enjoyed spending time with such celebrities as Richard Dreyfus (I interviewed him for Entertainment Magazine). I really enjoyed meeting Christopher Reeves (Superman) at Studio 54 in NYC. I enjoyed doing a T.V. Sports special with John Stoessel and I really liked being interviewed by Bill Boggs. He invited me to have dinner with him, Linda Pearl and Desi Arnez Jr. (Lucille Balls' son). I vacationed with the King and Queen of Spain (I so admired her little dog, that she gave me the name of a breeder back in the states.) When I returned, I contacted them and bought myself a little miniature Yorkshire Terrier - Master Pitter Pat. Anyone who's anyone had to have a little dog to carry around with them to spoil rotten. Oh, heavens! Then there was the shopping trip I took with Tony Danza (Taxi) to buy his mom a mink coat for her birthday. Not to mention being in the same room with my idol, Barbara Walters as she interviewed Geraldine Ferrara.

Looking back, I think the time that I spent in the White House stands out the most. I enjoyed watching, participating, and interacting with some of the most interesting people in the world. I learned a lot. I got involved in campaigns, diplomatic relations and the social life in Washington - talk about overwhelming!

I remember fondly the time I spent at a Florida Heath Spa with Elizabeth Taylor and Goldie Hawn. Andy Warhol fascinated me during an evening out at the world-famous Regine's (he took a picture of me with his neat little spy-style camera). I remembered being thrilled when I was told I was being considered for a photo shoot with The Francesco Scavullo. What an honor!

I think the most funny time I can remember was when the Miss Universe group took me out to dinner at the same restaurant where John Travolta was (Tavern on the Green, in NYC) and I got more attention then he did - oops!

Shortly after that though, my life took a dramatic turn. I decided to make some changes -Big time! I called my parents and asked them if I could "come home". I needed a rest and a dose of reality to be sure! Can you just imagine my parents reaction? My father had just become President of his company and he and my mother were in the process of moving from my birthplace of Rochester, NY to their birthplace of Philadelphia, PA. But they were the greatest and said yes and opened their home to me. I joined them and settled down to become a schoolteacher at a local Junior College. I even picked up my studies again, in Pennsylvania, at Villanova University this time. It was so good to get "back to normal" and have a real life. I loved spending time with my folks, having a set schedule and a normal existence. It was now 1983. I was enjoying my life (at a much slower pace). The kids I taught at school were wonderful and I really found my niche. I love kids and I loved being a positive influence in their lives. I still teach today (in my own business) and I think it's one of the best things I have ever chosen to do. You can really make a difference as a teacher and that means a lot to me.

But by 1987 I was restless again (gee, no surprise there!) I wanted to return back to the one place I knew the best and loved the most, Rochester, NY. I bought 30 acres of land (with my Miss USA prize money) built a house, bought a truck, adopted 2 horses, 2 dogs, 2 cats, a rabbit, a bird, and a sugar glider and settled in. Shortly after settling I started my own company down on the farm. My place is now our place, Kent's and mine. It's called MK Ranch (the M for Mary, K for Kent- no kidding) and it's quite the place to be. We have over 450 models, beauty queens and self-development students who call it "home". We represent them both locally as well as worldwide (see clients/credits). Approximately 250 are currently working in Rochester NY (Our base) as models and actors.

As I look back over the past 22 years (when I was crowned Miss USA and my life changed forever), I am amazed at all I see. I feel I have truly been blessed to have "survived" it all. I believe that being raised a good Catholic girl helped me. I went through a lot, saw and experienced a lot, and accomplished much. I'm happy that I chose to return to my roots to live a normal life. I thank God for every day. I love my life and my work and most of all the chance to make a difference.