CHICAGO (CN) – Mothers of child beauty pageant contestants claim they and their daughters were battered, insulted and humiliated by the Tribune Broadcasting Company and its TV star Bill Cunningham, host of “The Big Willie Show.” The mothers say that after promising to “portray them in a positive light,” the WGN show falsely accused them of physically and sexually abusing their daughters, and encouraged the audience to bait and harass them with even tawdrier accusations.
One mother claims that the show’s producer, Elizabeth Howard, had her daughter change into a bathing suit backstage in order to bring her onstage and humiliate both mother and daughter. In doing so, the mom says, Howard had “touched her [the mother] and [the daughter] in an unwanted fashion.”
The mothers say, “the producers and staff of ‘The Big Willie Show’ then began kicking in the door to the greenroom in an attempt to force the plaintiffs back on stage after the plaintiffs had locked themselves in the room in an attempt to protect their children.”
In their complaint in Cook County Court, the mothers claim that Howard induced them to be on the show by promising that it “would focus on girls that appear in children’s beauty pageants and their parents,” and would “portray them in a positive light.”
Instead, the five mothers and daughters say, the show encouraged the audience to harass them and accuse them of “teaching their children to dance in a sexually suggestive manner so as to ‘entice pedophiles to attack them.'”
On member of the audience asked a mother, “So now you sell your daughter for sex at age 6?”, and another audience member said the mothers “are no different than pimps and your daughters are no more than whores,” according to the complaint.
The mothers claim the show and its employees misrepresented the real purpose of the show to entice them to go to Chicago, and accused one mother “of breaking her child’s arm because of a poor pageant performance.”
The show was taped on June 11 and is scheduled for broadcast this Friday, June 25.
The mothers say they “escaped the studio” and left Chicago, and that unless enjoined from broadcasting the footage, they and their daughters will suffer irreparable harm.
They demand damages for battery, emotional distress, negligent misrepresentation and violation of the Right of Publicity Act. They want Tribune enjoined from broadcasting the show, and the film destroyed.
They are represented by Jay Paul Deratany.