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Grace Elizabeth Ward was the 1981 Miss Arkansas and 1982 Miss America. When she began her acting career in 1987, she changed her name to “Elizabeth Ward Gracen,” because another Elizabeth Ward was already in the Screen Actors Guild. In 1992, she became the first former Miss America to appear on the cover of Playboy magazine and in a nude pictorial feature.
Grace Elizabeth Ward was born on April 3, 1961, in Ozark (Franklin County) to Jimmy and Patricia Ward. Ward’s father was a supervisor at various poultry factories. Her mother was a registered nurse. She has a younger brother, Van Thomas Ward, and younger sister, Mary Margaret Ward.
Ward graduated from Russellville High School in Russellville (Pope County) in 1979. She attended Arkansas Tech University (ATU) on an honor’s program during her senior year in high school and later attended the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) and the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) in Conway (Faulkner County). She studied acting at HB Studio in New York City.
Her short pageant career began with winning first runner-up in the Junior Miss Pageant her senior year in high school in 1979. That summer, a local pageant coordinator, Randy Dimmit (later to become her pageant mentor), approached her at a local hamburger restaurant in Russellville and asked her to compete in the Miss Lake Dardanelle Pageant. She finished as first runner-up that year. The next year, she won and went on to finish first runner-up in the Miss Arkansas Pageant. A few weeks later, she competed in the Miss National Sweetheart Pageant in Illinois (a pageant made up of first runners-up from the Miss America Pageant system that year). She then won another local pageant—Miss White River. In 1981, she won Miss Arkansas and went to Atlantic City, winning the Miss America Pageant the following year.
Ward participated in Miss America Pageants over the next couple of years but later lost interest. Although she no longer supports the idea of pageants for young women, she maintains a friendly relationship with the Miss America organization.
While sex scandals floated around President Bill Clinton, rumors began circulating that he had raped Elizabeth Ward while serving as governor of Arkansas. In 1998, Ward publicly admitted a consensual sexual encounter with the then-governor in 1983. She later said, “I was backed into the corner by the press during the Starr investigation. It made it sound like my experience with Clinton was more like rape. I had no choice but to come forward and say it was consensual sex. It might be noted that a day after my interview went public, the judge in the Paula Jones civil suit dropped the charges against Clinton.”
Under the name Elizabeth Ward Gracen, she began her motion picture career in 1987 with two theatrical feature films produced in Arkansas: Three for the Road (1987) and Pass the Ammo (1988). Shortly afterwards, she moved to Los Angeles and embarked on an acting career. She has appeared in six other theatrical-release feature films, including Marked for Death (1990), Sundown: Vampire in Retreat (1991), Discretion Assured (1993), The Expert (1995), and Kounterfeit (1996).
Gracen has appeared in many television series and made-for-television movies. Perhaps her best-known role is that of Amanda Dariex (a.k.a. Amanda Montrose) in the popular Highlander and Highlander: The Raven television series. She provided voice work for the 2012 animated movie War of the Worlds: Goliath. She played Beth in the 2013 film Coherence.
For additional information:“Elizabeth Gracen.” Internet Movie Database. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001286/ (accessed May 7, 2014).
“Elizabeth Ward.” Miss America. http://www.missamerica.org/our-miss-americas/1980/1982.aspx (accessed May 7, 2014).
Gary JonesLittle Rock, Arkansas
Last Updated 5/7/2014
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