This pageant in A.C. is for mature men only

Organizer Mark Soifer models the crown for Mr. Mature America while assistant Ray Esterlund shows off the sash and other accessories.
Organizer Mark Soifer models the crown for Mr. Mature America while assistant Ray Esterlund shows off the sash and other accessories. (APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 03, 2014

OCEAN CITY, N.J. Beauty pageants have long been the purview of pretty.

A place where contestants - usually women - are judged on good looks, personality, talent, and sometimes even intelligence, within a confluence of perfection often awarded by crowns and cash.

But when this Cape May County beach resort - a dozen miles from Atlantic City, where the grand dame of beauty pageants, Miss America, was born - announced in January that it would hold its first ever "Mr. Mature America" pageant later this month, people sort of . . . yawned.

Billed as the only pageant of its kind in the nation, the event will take place at 7 p.m. March 22 at the Ocean City Music Pier. Tickets are $10, and all proceeds benefit the Ocean City Food Cupboard and Philippines hurricane relief.

"Will people want to see this? I think there's a certain curiosity factor," said Mark Soifer, Ocean City's public relations guru, who has been creating wacky events like this one to attract the masses to this beach and boardwalk town for more than 40 years. "But we're not going to have the contestants parading around in Speedos or anything."

A dozen or so men of a certain vintage - over age 60, under age 90 - actually applied. Two dropped out - one has shingles and the other had to have emergency open heart surgery.

But six older gentlemen, including a former Ocean City mayor and another guy who could easily substitute for the world's most interesting (older) man in a Dos Equis commercial, are still signed up.

No Speedos are allowed, so the guys will strut their mature stuff nicely covered up in 1900s-era costumes - red-and-white striped shirts and pantaloons to match a straw boater hat.

The talent portion of the evening will go as you might expect - mostly. One contestant is going to sing, another will play the piano, but another guy is going to discuss his antique train engine.

In between the competition portions of the pageant will be a variety of acts, including an "old geezer" production number, and man-about-town area radio host Pinky Kravitz age 86, will be given the Mr. Mature America Inspiration Award.

Soifer, a published poet, has written a special runway song for the event that features the lines "Isn't he a handsome geezer! Certainly a people pleaser! So talented, so debonair! So completely covered by Medicare!"

Besides bragging rights, the winner will receive a large ham - yes, a cured and smoked meat product from Dietz & Watson - along with the chance to wear the simulated amethyst-encrusted crown, the manliest one pageant organizers said they could find, to baby parades, ribbon cuttings, and other local events for a year.

Organizers - Soifer, age 81, and his assistant, Ray Esterlund, age 65 - admit, however, that it wasn't until the ladies got involved that the whole thing really began to have that certain pageant sparkle.

"When we heard about it, we just wanted to be a part of it," said Johanne Santori, state director of the Ms. New Jersey Senior America Pageant.

The current Ms. New Jersey Senior America, Vanessa Shaw, age 62, a Broadway actress and singer, will perform a song and present the winner of Mr. Mature America with his crown and ham. A number of other female senior acts - including an 81-year-old baton twirler who can still do splits - will perform.

Santori said that much to the dismay of her pageant's organizers, the women's group has long lacked a male counterpart.

"We've always thought that mature men should get involved and have their own pageant, so we were thrilled when we heard about this event," Santori said. "We called right away."

Senior America Inc., the national pageant, is a nonprofit group based in Brick, N.J., created to enhance the lives of seniors by "tapping into their energy to enrich the lives of others," Santori said. The national group, which has local organizations in most states, emphasizes that it "honors women who have reached the age of elegance."

Santori said the national group, which has been around for about a decade, will crown a new queen June 5 at Harrah's in Atlantic City.

And Santori said that while Ms. Senior America is happy to assist with the proceedings for Ocean City's mature male pageant, being an old-fashioned kind of gal's group, they'd like to make it more official.

"We asked them if they would consider calling their pageant Mr. Senior America," Santori said.

And the reply from Soifer was what one might expect from an old-fashioned kind of guy's group: "Let's give it a little time and see how it goes."

More information about the Mr. Mature America Pageant may be obtained by calling 609-525-9300 or www.ocnj.us.


Contact Jacqueline L. Urgo at 609-652-8383 or jurgo@phillynews.com

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