Gretchen Carlson Recalls the Insulting Nickname a Miss America Judge Had for Her in New Episode of ‘Finding Your Roots’

Gretchen Carlson was crowned Miss America 1989, but winning the title came with some unexpected baggage. The former Fox News anchor recalls the feelings of “shame” and agony” that she dealt with during her reign in a new episode of Finding Your Roots, airing Tuesday, April 20 on PBS

One Miss America judge called Gretchen Carlson ‘Miss Piggy’ 

Gretchen Carlson wearing a blue dress and holding flowers at the Miss America pageant in 1988
Gretchen Carlson at the Miss America pageant | Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc

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In the episode, Carlson — who was an accomplished violinist as a child — tells host Henry Louis Gates Jr. that it was her competitive spirit that led her to enter the pageant world. But she wasn’t prepared for the way people would treat her after her Miss America win, especially comments about her appearance.  

“There was a lot of pain and shame and agony about why people were treating me that way,” she says in the episode. 

“One of my judges that year wrote a book about me,” she goes on to say. “And he called me, not by my name throughout the book, he called me Miss Piggy. 

“He thought I was too fat to have won, at less than, probably around 100 pounds,” she says.

The nasty Miss America judge was a famous screenwriter 

Carlson didn’t name the judge who body-shamed her after her win. But she is clearly speaking about novelist and screenwriter William Goldman. The Oscar winner penned the scripts for All the President’s Men and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, as well as the novel The Princess Bride, which he adapted for the screen. His casually sexist comments came in the 1990 book Hype & Glory, about his time as a judge for both Miss America and the Cannes Film Festival. 

In the book, Goldman disparaged not just Carlson but other contestants in that year’s pageant, who he called “cuties,” according to a 2019 profile of Carlson in the Columbia Journalism Review

The cruel comments clearly stuck with Carlson. 

“It was horrible,” she tells Gates. “It shows that shame hurts and it stays with you for life.”

Gretchen Carlson was the subject of the movie ‘Bombshell’ 

Gretchen Carlson at the 2019 Time 100 Gala
Gretchen Carlson | Taylor Hill/FilmMagic

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Carlson had to endure sexist comments as Miss America, but later in her career, she stood up after facing harassment. In 2016, she filed a lawsuit against Fox News head Roger Ailes, alleging he had sexually harassed her during her time at the network. Ailes ultimately resigned and Carlson received a multi-million dollar lawsuit with 21st Century Fox.  

The 2019 movie Bombshell is about the harassment Carlson, fellow anchor Megyn Kelly, and other women faced at Fox News and their decision to go public with their stories. In the movie, Carlson is portrayed by Nicole Kidman. 

Finding Your Roots airs Tuesday, April 20 on 8 p.m. ET on PBS. 

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