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Bryant, Anita (b. 1940)  
 
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Anita Bryant's career started out as an American success story: born into poverty in rural Oklahoma, she won a beauty pageant, became a popular singer, and was eagerly sought by Fortune 500 companies to advertise their products. She sang at the White House, was featured in People magazine, and co-hosted eight Orange Bowl parade telecasts for NBC. But after becoming the poster-girl for , her marriage dissolved and her career tanked.

Bryant became a controversial figure in 1977, when she successfully campaigned against a local ordinance in Dade County, Florida that prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. She then helped repeal similar laws in Eugene, Oregon, St. Paul, Minnesota, and Wichita, Kansas. She also inspired a major anti-gay initiative in California, which failed, and an anti-gay law passed overwhelmingly by the Oklahoma legislature, which was ultimately ruled unconstitutional.

Sponsor Message.

While Bryant's "Save Our Children" crusade in Miami relaunched the religious right's involvement in politics, it also galvanized gay men and lesbians to come out of the closet, become politically active, and fight for equal rights. "It was the beginning of two movements, the Christian Coalition and gay rights," the person who introduced the ordinance remembers.

In later years, Bryant somewhat modified her negative stance on homosexuals, whom she once compared to human garbage, though mainly she self-pityingly cast herself as a victim of others; and a large audience was reminded of her anti-gay past in the recent movie Milk (2008). Although Bryant has been out of the spotlight for several decades, her name continues to be a byword for bigotry and homophobia.

Rags to Riches

Anita Jane Bryant was born March 25, 1940, in Barnsdall, Oklahoma. Her parents, an oilfield worker and a housewife, divorced soon afterwards, remarried, and broke up again. Since her father had a Native American background, Anita was one-eighth Cherokee.

Bryant was raised primarily by her mother and her maternal grandparents in a strict Southern Baptist home. In her autobiography A New Day (1992), she claims that she suffered long-term sexual abuse from an adult authority figure, though not a family member. Because she felt her father had abandoned her mother, she also confessed to a life-long hatred of men.

When she was two years old, Bryant's grandfather taught her to sing "Jesus Loves Me." She then sang publicly at local events, in churches, and on the radio. While enrolled in Will Rogers High School in Tulsa, she competed in Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts show in New York, the breakthrough in her singing career. As a result, Carlton Records offered her a contract.

Bryant was chosen Miss Oklahoma in 1958 and was the second runner-up in the Miss America beauty pageant the following year in Atlantic City (she tied for Miss Congeniality). She received a scholarship to Northwestern University but rather than attend college she sought a show business career.

In 1960, Bryant married Bob Green, a Miami disc jockey with Robert Redford looks, whom she converted to Christianity the night before their wedding. He subsequently worked as her manager. The couple had four children: Bobby (who was adopted), Gloria, Billy, and Barbara. They divorced in 1980.

Singing Career

Bryant released several albums of pop tunes and religious anthems. At the peak of her career, she charged almost $10,000 per show. Her repertoire ranged from love ballads to gospel tunes to patriotic songs. Some of her biggest pop hits were "Till There Was You" (1959), "Paper Roses" (1960), "In My Little Corner of the World" (1960), and "Wonderland by Night" (1961). She switched from Carlton to Columbia Records in 1962.

In the 1960s, Bryant traveled with the Bob Hope Holiday Tours, singing for soldiers in, for example, Guantanamo Bay and Vietnam, for which she received the United Service Organization's Silver Medallion Award from the National Guard for the most outstanding service by an entertainer, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Leadership Gold Medallion. She also sang for Billy Graham Crusades in Madison Square Garden, New York.

Bryant performed at several White House functions between 1964 and 1969, sang at both the Democratic Convention in Chicago and the Republican Convention in Miami in 1968, performed the National Anthem at the Super Bowl in 1969, and sang "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" at President Lyndon B. Johnson's funeral in 1973.

Florida Orange Juice

In 1969, Bryant became involved in advertising. Her most prominent televised commercial was for the Florida Citrus Commission, which had her sing "Come to the Florida Sunshine Tree," followed by the tagline "A day without orange juice is like a day without sunshine."

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This fundraising card featuring a likeness of Anita Bryant was distributed by the Save Our Children organization in 1977.
  
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