Beneath the Crown at Tampa Bay Underground Film Festival: A beauty queen's life after the spotlight fades

A documentary about a Lake Wales woman once crowned the most beautiful woman in the world.

Thanks to the upcoming Tampa Bay Underground Film Festival and Mary Rachel Dudley, I was reminded this week of a beautiful woman from my past.

Dudley (actress/producer/Ask the Locals interviewee and a beauty in her own right) called to tell me that a film she co-produced, Beneath the Crown, is a TBUFF nominee this year for best documentary. The subject of Beneath the Crown is Sylvia Hitchcock Carson, who was crowned Miss Alabama, Miss USA and ultimately Miss Universe in 1967, and after the spotlight came to live quietly in Lake Wales.

For some reason I remembered her instantly; granted, I’d probably watched her win Miss Universe on TV alongside my mother, as gay boys are wont to do, but she stood out. Maybe it was the distinctiveness of that name, then just Sylvia Hitchcock, so un-beauty-pageant-y in its Anglophilic hauteur. Or maybe it was the distinctiveness of that face, more aristocratic than corn-fed American. (Even in her 60s, Carson could turn heads when she entered a room, says Dudley.)

Sadly, Carson died unexpectedly of cancer before seeing her story come to life on screen, but local audiences now get the chance to honor that life and find out what it was like for her before and after the crown.

Note: Dudley is part of Her Little Red Productions, a Florida-based production company with an emphasis on female filmmakers. Founder and CEO Susan Gallagher is the executive producer of BTC, which she also co-directed (with Emmy winner Dr. Lisa Mills of the University of Central Florida) and narrated.

Beneath the Crown at Tampa Bay Underground Film Festival, Sat., Dec. 3, 4 pm. Britton Theaters, 3938 S. Dale Mabry Hwy., Tampa.

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