Bess Myerson, only Jewish Miss America

by | Jan 9, 2015 | Obituaries

Bess Myerson, the only Jewish woman to be crowned Miss America, has died.

Myerson, who also was a spokeswoman for the Anti-Defamation League and donated $1.1 million to help found the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York, died on Dec. 14 at her home in Santa Monica, Calif., The New York Times reported. She was 90. Her death had not been publicly reported.

After being crowned Miss America in September 1945, days after the close of World War II , Myerson went on to have a career in public affairs. She led two New York City departments—consumer affairs and cultural affairs—before becoming a spokeswoman and national commissioner for the ADL. Myerson also served on various boards and commissions under presidents Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.

Throughout the late 1970s, Myerson became one of the faces of Ed Koch’s mayoral campaign. She appeared on his posters and was often seen holding hands with him in public.

In the late 1980s, Myerson became romantically linked to wealthy sewer contractor Carl Capasso and subsequently was involved in a series of legal controversies, or what was known as the “Bess Mess.” In 1989 she was acquitted in the bribery of a New York judge. A year earlier she had been caught shoplifting.

Following the bribery acquittal, Myerson stayed out of the public eye for the rest of her life.

Myerson was born in the Bronx in 1924 to Russian-Jewish immigrant parents. She lived in the Shalom Aleichem Co-operative with a few hundred other Jewish families and attended the High School of Music & Art. As a talented piano player and performer, she went on to play at Carnegie Hall and appear on television shows such as “I’ve Got A Secret.” (JTA)