Rhonda Lee Oglesby Coullet (1945–)
Rhonda Lee Oglesby Coullet was the only Miss Arkansas ever to resign her title. After briefly fulfilling her role as Miss Arkansas 1965, she abruptly gave up her crown and went on to achieve notable successes in show business, including starring on Broadway in The Robber Bridegroom.
Rhonda Oglesby was born on September 23, 1945, in Magnolia (Columbia County) to Horace and Cecil Oglesby, both employees of International Paper Company in Spring Hill, Louisiana, but she was raised in Stamps (Lafayette County). She has one brother, Scott.
In 1955, the family moved to Pine Bluff (Jefferson County). She attended Sam Taylor Elementary School and Pine Bluff High School, where she was a cheerleader. She was recognized for her beauty and singing ability in many beauty contests.
Her singing led to a music scholarship at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County), where she spent the second half of her freshman year touring Europe with the university’s Schola Cantorum Choir.
Representing UA, she was crowned Miss Arkansas 1965. She believed that the Miss Arkansas title would afford her the opportunities to perform her skills and talents to a statewide audience and so was disappointed at the more mundane activities given her to do, such as ribbon-cutting ceremonies, grand openings, and a steady stream of parades. After three months, at age nineteen, she disappeared and quietly moved to California. Only after much speculation in the press as to her whereabouts did she resurface and apologize for the unanticipated consternation her disappearance had caused. But after three months, she gave up the title (Nita VanHook replaced her as Miss Arkansas) and pursued a career on a national scale.
After settling in Los Angeles, Oglesby auditioned for the “first rock and roll musical,” the Los Angeles Aquarius Theater’s production of Hair. She was cast in the musical and was soon promoted to the lead female role. After eighteen months, the producers asked her to restage a dozen versions of the hit show, including those in Europe, where she remained for three years.
After returning, she settled in New York City, New York, and began playing a variety of roles (including that of Martha Mitchell, the Pine Bluff native and wife of U.S. Attorney General John Mitchell) on the National Lampoon Radio Show, alongside Chevy Chase and John Belushi; some years later she performed her song, “West Heaven,” on television’s Saturday Night Live as a tribute to Belushi, who died in 1982.
She was married to musician Armand Coullet, from 1970 to 1980. They had no children, and he died not long after Belushi.
Along with The Robber Bridegroom, she has starred on Broadway in Pump Boys and Dinettes and in off-Broadway productions of Cowgirls and National Lampoon’s Lemming’s. She also starred in many regional pre-Broadway productions, including Smoke on the Mountain, and played Belle Starr in Diamond Studs and Frances Farmer in Mrs. Farmer’s Daughter.
Rhonda Coullet also wrote the 1985 Grammy-nominated hit song, “Bigger Than the Both of Us,” for Jimmy Buffett, for whom she has also sung backup. She also sang with Spinal Tap on Saturday Night Live and did back-up singing, along with Cher, for Meatloaf’s Dead Ringer album. She appeared in the motion picture Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video (1979) and did narrative roles for the “Outlaws and Indians” segment of PBS’s The American Experience. She recorded songs for the Captain Kangaroo and Sesame Street television programs.
Her own album, The American Secret, contains several semiautobiographical songs that have been incorporated into her current theatrical musical production, The Runaway Beauty Queen, in which Coullet recounts her Arkansas roots, experiences, and inspirations.
For additional information:
Blum, Daniel. A Pictorial History of the American Theater. 4th Rev. ed. New York: Crown, 1977.
Run Away Beauty Queen. http://www.runawaybeautyqueen.com/ (accessed June 18, 2014).
Willis, John. Theatre World, 1975–1976. Vol. 32. New York: Crown, 1977.
Little Rock, Arkansas
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Coullet also spent time at the University of Denver (DU). It was through her husband Armand’s connection with Michael Butler that she became involved with the musical Hair.
I knew Armand and Rhonda at DU and later saw them in Las Vegas, where Armand asked me to direct and choreograph the Israeli production of Hair.