The Day I Met Anita Bryant

My favorite job during my college years at the University of Arkansas was selling women’s shoes for Dillards Department Store. I’d love to say it was because I craved high style and design in my life, but honestly, it was about the money. It sounds mercenary, but if you bring out enough boxes of the right stuff, lots of women will walk away with two shopping bags full of heels.

Anita Bryant was a notable exception. The sum of my celebrity sightings is hardly impressive. They include Wynona at a mall in Nashville while working my way through grad school and Bozo the Clown at the Batesville airport when I was seven. One could argue that compared to these two Anita hardly registers. I say that because I’m about to have to explain who she is to the majority of my readers.

Yay, Anita!

Anita Bryant was a runner up to Miss America in the late 50s who went on to record a few minor hits in the 60s, and then screwed up thousands of people’s lives in the 70s. Tall, dark, and wholesome, her big break came when she was tapped to be the national spokesperson for the Florida Citrus Growers. As you gasp in amazement at that plum gig, I’ll also throw in that she gained most of her notoriety as founder and spokesperson for the “Save Our Children” campaign of 1977, in which as America’s self-appointed mom she mobilized the religious right with sound bites like this all too familiar canard: “As a mother, I know that homosexuals cannot biologically reproduce children; therefore, they must recruit our children…” All of this was done in the name of Christianity, of course.

Long story short, she succeeded in removing a Dade County ordinance that prohibited people from being fired from jobs based on their sexual identity. Her work aided a ban on gay people adopting in the state of Florida, a ban that stands to this day. Then she went on to try rewriting discrimination into the legislation of California communities and other American towns, giving rise to the now common phrase, “The city council meeting isn’t over until the second-rate hack sings.”

Actually I just made that last bit up. It’s kind of mean. But maybe not quite as mean as helping to make it so that foster children who have been with a family from birth until they are 14 can never be adopted by the only parents they have ever known.

Of course, none of this registered with the extremely closeted and uninformed 22 year-old hillbilly boy fitting Anita for shoes that day back in 1991. I was just thrilled to have a semi-bona fide and attractive, in her own way, mostly retired gospel singer sitting there waiting for me to assist her.

I kept expecting her to smile or say something pleasant, or anything for that matter, as I tried to make a little small talk. She was a former Miss America pre-lim pageant queen after all, and therefore American royalty by default. One might expect at least a half-smile to come pretty easy. But she just sat there and said no to everything from Cole Haan to Amalfi without even making eye contact. She was perfectly in her right as a customer to say no with a frown, but it’s kind of unusual behavior for people in that part of the country. Maybe she could smell the gay on me. Or maybe her chickens had come home to roost. I don’t know. I suppose it doesn’t matter much now. What I do know is that dress Anita’s wearing in that photo above is completely awesome!

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38 Comments on “The Day I Met Anita Bryant”

  1. Susan Says:

    I can’t believe I remember this, but she had a singing show years ago at Eureka Springs. I figured it was country bumpkin type stuff, but it was fairly decent. I do remember thinking how much I wanted to look like Miss America with her big hair and sparkly dress. And I am far from being a Miss America anything..haha!

  2. David Says:

    She makes me want to spew.
    Pucci dress or not.
    Harsh, but true.

  3. bigskymind Says:

    It doesn’t surprise me at all that she didn’t smile. She was so filled with hate and meanness. Citrus deserved better.

  4. Troy Says:

    She actually was a decent singer. Maybe she’s grown up a little.

  5. Citizen D Says:

    I remember when she had the show in Eureka. When it opened, I remember asking my parents who she was and they explained her as being the orange juice lady.

    By coincidence, I’m 90% sure that my sister sold women’s shoes at the same time you did at Dillard’s in Fayetteville. I don’t remember exactly when she worked there, but I’ll ask her the next time I speak to her.

  6. Troy Says:

    Evidently her theaters in Branson and Eureka failed, as did another in Pigeon Forge, TN. She declared bankruptcy in AR and TN and left owing 100s of thousands of dollars. This might explain her sour attitude.

  7. crystal Says:

    or maybe her panties were wadded up.

  8. Kimmo Adams Says:

    Anita Bryant is not only AWESOME but she was right!

  9. Troy Says:

    So awesome, Kimmo, that she’s a permanent resident in the ‘where are they now’ files. If she’s so right, why don’t the religious right nutjobs drag her out of hiding and let her be their new spokesperson down in Florida? After all, that mess down there is her legacy.


  10. […] for shoes at Dillard’s Department Store in Fayetteville, AR. I posted about the day here, and to date it is the highest viewed post from any of my […]

  11. Jeep Says:

    I was in Anita’s fan club as a kid and was just 4 or 5 years from coming out when she hit the news with her anti-gay platform. I even chose her concert over an Elvis concert because I figured he’d be performing forever and it looked like the end of her career. I’ll always regret missing out on Elvis, though she was an able performer. She probably confused a lot of gay teens because she combined such a glamorous and dynamic personality with a very cruel and debilitating message. Of course, most of the other teens would have been smart enough to choose “The King.”

    Anita has written several books, and in one of them she mentions that, as a child, she yearned for the day when she could afford as many shoes as she wanted. At the time of the book she said she had hundreds of pairs. Someone mentioned she’s tall, but I think she’s only 5’4″. I seem to remember she said she wore a size 9 shoe and was embarrassed about her “boats.”

    p.s. Do the shoes in Arkansas really have “T.G.I.F” printed on them?

  12. peter Says:

    I cannot believe that so many people care about this obviously demented woman. I remember Anita well from my childhood. We all knew that she was nuts even in the 1970s. Outsdide of middle America she was the MOST HATED PERSON. Anita Bryant gave Christianoty a bad name, and turned off millions of people with her negativity. The Christian God that she purports to speak for is acepting and loving, and will have no time for her.

    Best of luck, Anita ! Reap what you have sown , you B@#$H!

    P.

  13. peter Says:

    Nornally a person that protests so vehemently has a skeleton in their closet. I have read that Anita, our dear friend, may have a gay son. If that is true, perhaps there is a sense of inadequecy as a mother, or maybe Anita really is a narrow minded, dried up, b@#$h!

  14. peter Says:

    I am going to sue you if I do not see my name and email off of this page, PRONTO !!

    YOUR WEBSITE IS SCREWED UP. I will get a lawyer and hunt you down. You have no right to post my email and name.

    Peter

  15. peter Says:

    You people are so wrong. Anita Bryant is an Icon, She took a stand for wholesomeness in a very confused time. Why is everybody so negative?

    What happened to family values?

  16. marky mark Says:

    Whatever, you guys need a hoby.

  17. icecream Says:

    Why does anybody care about thie washed uprerligious siner

  18. Manuel Jimenez Says:

    I really don’t know if the rumor about her having a gay son is true. I’ve never heard it confirmed. I do remember that back in the 70’s a lot of people said it would serve her right if one of her sons grew up to be gay. In fact a lot of people actually hoped it would happen. So maybe it’s more of an urban legend kind of thing than fact. But it would be nice to have it either confirmed or disproved.

  19. Kimmo Adams Says:

    Anita’s son is not gay. In fact he has children of his own. Why on earth the gays like to wish that her son is gay is beyond me. Being gay is a curse and wishing that upon anyone is just pure evil.
    Anita is an American icon!

  20. michael smith Says:

    She is an evil, hat filled woman who used the gay issue to elevate her career. In the end she reaped what she sowed. She went from being a well liked, well respected person to a pathetic loser
    that nobody could stand to look at. You cannot build a life around hate and trying to destroy the lives of others and expect to have a successful one yourself. Just like Hitler, George Wallace, the southeastern United states it will eventually destroy you. We were not meant to spend our lives trying to control & persecute others because who we truly are persecuting is ourselves. That is the lesson and legacy of Anita Bryant’s life.

  21. Gerry McGinty Says:

    I Love Anita. She sang to me at the Bob Hope Christman show at Yongsan, Seoul, Korea in 1964. I have an 8×10 Army photo B/W to proove it. Saw her in Branson and spoke with her after the show – she was awesome and cordial and wanted a copy of the
    photo. God bless her and her family, is my prayer. Thanks Anita for standing up against the militant homosexuals, the gay agenda that is so destructive to the youth of this great land and protecting the children with your untiring efforts. I would be proud to stand with her anywhere, anytime. I feel bad for her financial problems but we all go through periods of strife and uncertainty and for a reason; possibly to humble us,
    so God can use us more effectively by depending on Him and not on ourselves. America bless God! God help us.

  22. Gerry McGinty Says:

    The guy Michael Smith most likely doesn’t know what he is talking about and never met the lady. Prayer for homosexuals is so greatly needed and they can have liberation from their addiction through the right counseling same as those addicted to pornography and gambling. Through Christ there is hope for us all.

  23. Troy Says:

    I’ll take prayer any day and agree that through Christ there is hope for us all, but me being committed to a healthy, monogamous marriage to my partner and a committed father to our son should hardly be compared to a porn or gambling addiction. Sorry, Gerry. We’ll have to agree to disagree on that one.

  24. Gerry McGinty Says:

    God our Father instituted marriage (see Genesis) between a man and a woman.

  25. Troy Says:

    The Bible sanctions polygamy, slavery, prohibition of eating shrimp and banning women having their period to living outside of the family quarters. These were cultural norms we’ve learned to think better of. There are no Biblical Literalists, only SELECTIVE Biblical Literalists.

  26. Gerry Says:

    Troy, Apparently you haven’t read the whole Bible. You are referring to the old Levitical laws that were done away with at the Cross. I urge you to read what Jessus said in Matthew Chapter 15 vs 15-20. I believe fornication included homosexuality,adultry, and any other sexual sin outside of marriage of one man and one woman. God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis Ch 18 & 19) for good reason. But He sent His own Son to planet Earth to show us that we can be free from sin; to be our example that we don’t have to deliberately sin evey day in thought, word, and deed. That we can have eternal life through His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord if we confess our sins for He (Christ) is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Read 1 Corinthians Chapter 6, written by the Apostle Paul for some enlightenment. My preference is the KJV since the modern translations leave out Christ’s diety and His eternal existence with the Father. I am not a preacher but a lover of God’s Word and hate to see it miss-
    used, miss-quoted and abaused by modern anti-Christ. May God help us to understand His eternal Word and use it to our own soul’s salvation. Gerry

    • Troy Says:

      Yeah, Gerry. I have read the whole Bible. And if you have and believe all that you say you do about what Paul says, you’d be making sure the women in your life all wear hats every Sunday and keep their mouths shut during church. You would also prohibit female Sunday School teachers of high school boys. The problem I see with your point of view is the term “I believe…” and “my preference”. You believe what you THINK I do is fornication, but Jesus makes no such assertion. It is fine for you to believe what you believe, but your circular and narrow perspective makes talking with you about any of this pointless. And thanks for calling me an anti-Christ. That was really loving.

  27. Gerry Says:

    I know for sure, God never changes and His Word will endure forever. The Bible interprets its self, and when study, as it instructs us to do, we will stand convicted of our sins. Then it’s up to us to take the next step of confessing our sins and God does the
    forgiving. Justification by faith. When we try to interpret scripture on our own, we can fail miserably,
    therefore we need the Holy Spirit’s guidance and enlightenment. Pray before we opening up God’s Word.
    By the way, I am a Seventh Day Adventist Christian. May God help us is my prayer.

  28. Gerry Says:

    Please forgive the errors in the message above. It’s late and I am almost through packing for my trip to the Dominican Republic, where I live. G.

  29. Stacy Says:

    Well, I think this lady was screwed up, but I think 30+ years have past, so give her a break! She says she has adopted a more “live and let live” attitude. In the 70’s being gay did seem like a sickness or something and now it is not viewed that way! I was a very young girl when this crap happened, but I remember thinking gays were abnormal and now I don’t think that at all. I think it was just so new to people that they were scared or something! Gays don’t need you to pray for them people….God is not cruel and he wouldn’t have created them just to punish them! I think those who preach the word of god should preach that our god is a loving god and if he is truly that, then it shouldn’t matter who you have sex with! I think more people would go to church if those who were preaching would preach a little tolerance! We are only here on earth for a short time, so why the hell do so many spend their time hating?

  30. Patricia Says:

    My whole life I knew I was related to Anita. My grandfather was her brother. He always told us that she was his sister, but he kept his distance for a reason. I don’t approve of her antics of the 70’s. She showed a lot of racial discrimination then. She may be my great aunt, but knowing her views on homosexuality is important. I accepted my son for who he is and I will not allow him to be attacked by family. Hate is a strong emotion in the world and I will not condone it.

  31. Country Crock Says:

    For many years, Anita had a musical director from Dallas. I met him a couple of times but he was long-time friends with several of my friends, mostly entertainers. He was one of the gayest gay people I have ever known in the past 30 years. He was also extremely gifted and worthy of his position as musical director and arranger. So here was Anita singing on stage with a flaming queen playing piano and conducting her orchestra. Christian hypocrisy at its best.

  32. AB Research Says:

    Hi everyone — I am writing a book about Anita Bryant, and am really interested in the comments and the memories posted here, especially by family and friends of Anita and people who have met her and seen her shows. Patricia and Gerry and anyone else with such memories, I am interested in hearing more from you. Please contact me at:

    RiptideNYC@me.com

    Thanks!

  33. Vicky Bevis Says:

    As the mother of a gay son, I KNOW he wasn’t “recruited” into anything. From the time he was born, his father & I knew there was something “different” about him. Frankly, we knew before HE did that he was gay. HE WAS BORN THAT WAY!

    Although my husband of 45 ys. & I were raised as Methodists & very much believe in a Supreme Being, we have not had intimate contact with any church in many yrs. God knows we tried, but somehow, it never worked & I was raised in the most loving church I’ve ever known. It’s disturbing to my husband & I that so much has come to light concerning ancient Biblical times & the people. Why were some books left out of the Bible? How much has been lost in “translation?” (Remember the game “gossip” we played as children?) How much politics played in defining early Christianity?

    My son has a wonderful partner of 10 yrs. They are well-liked in their neighborhood, by their co-workers at work ( one IT & the other accounting ), they are kind, giving, wonderful neighbors, a good mentor for women who have children w/o any male influence in their lives, (he has more patience than I do), 1st. to offer help in any situation, & frankly, is FAR more “Christian” than any “straight” person I can think of at the moment. In fact, he’s the son who believes in a Supreme Being, not his straight, atheist brother.

    This country was founded upon the principles of tolerance, NOT the Christian Religion, even though many founders WERE Christian. Much of the strife today is directly devolved from intolerance into bigotry. To focus on a tiny part of the totality of the American Way to the exculsion of all the other serious problems facing us, defieds common intellect.

  34. EUGENE Says:

    ANITA BRYANT REALLY IS A GOOD LADY!SHE MEANT NO HARM .SHE IS NO WITCH!SHE IS IN MY PRAYERS.I KNOW SHE MEANT WELL!


  35. I applaud and pray for Anita Bryant! She was thrown to the lions by the Christians and the homosexuals. .No one stood with her in her corner, but Jesus in her hour of need. Jesus is about to return to this world and will be bringing CROWNS with Him to give to the saints who have suffered obeying Him. The rest of the world should shudder at that thought, for He will bring them judgment for their wrongful actions of ALL KINDS OF SINS, No exceptions.Be Ready!


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